Friday, August 24, 2007

India's Nucler Summer

India's woeful mishandling of negotiations over the 123 Agreement leave some to wonder about the government's ability to manage itself on the international stage.

Commentary for ISN Security Watch (24/08/07)

"Running around like headless chickens."

This was how India's ambassador in Washington, Ronen Sen, described the domestic critics of India's nuclear deal with the US. This tasteless remark believed to be directed at Indian lawmakers might eventually cost him his job. Unfortunately, for him and the Indian government, the critics are growing by the day.

From the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right to the communist parties on the left, a host of groups question the just-concluded agreement, commonly referred to as the 123 Agreement. Many argue that by including domestic US nonproliferation laws into the work, India has "surrendered" its sovereignty. While parliamentary ratification is not mandatory, should the deal be put to vote, the government would be shown the door.

If the BJP is the open adversary, the left parties have been a doubtful ally ever since Manmohan Singh became prime minister following the May 2004 elections. The left also demands that that the government not negotiate a safeguards agreement with the IAEA toward implementing the Indo-US nuclear deal. Without such an agreement, India would not be able to convince the powerful Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG) to accept the Indo-US deal and operationalize it. With internal “friends” like the left, Manmohan Singh does not need external enemies.

The problem however, is largely India's own making. From the very beginning, New Delhi did not factor in Washington's expectations while pursuing the nuclear deal. It never recognized let alone internalized US baggage vis-à-vis Iran. Even the Iran Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA) was not taken into account when India started its energy strategy toward Iran.

The Indian leaders pretended that they could obtain energy supplies from Iran and civilian nuclear technology from the US without squaring the circle. They failed to recognize India's non-parallel interests with the US over Iran.

This ignorance proved to be costly. Having talked of "civilizational links" with that country, India voted against Iran at the IAEA in September 2005 and again in 2006 to refer the Iran file to the UN Security Council. The manner in which India handled and justified its vote gave an unmistakable impression that New Delhi acted under US pressures, if not dictates.

This lack of clarity and foresight is not the prerogative of the present government alone, but has become a bipartisan national disease. When it was in office, the BJP was more than eager to send troops to Iraq to shore up beleaguered US President George W Bush. It eventually backed out when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee recognized opposition from his own collation partners.

For its part, the left in India is more Maoist than the Chinese. It is blissfully happy to live under a nuclear China but could not accept India going nuclear in 1998. Some also fault the government for not joining hands with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO.

As it stands, a vast majority of the lawmakers, especially the communist allies whose support is essential for the survival of the government, are unlikely to accept the nuclear deal. At the same time, the Indian government would not be able renegotiate the deal with the US without losing its credibility. The international community, especially the NSG, would be reluctant to deal with such a sensitive issue when Indian government looks to be on its way out.

Ever since the nuclear deal was initialed in July 2005, Indian officials naively hoped that the US would bring about far-reaching changes in its domestic nonproliferation laws, silence the nuclear ayatollahs, convince other countries to accept the deal and work with key players like China not to oppose the deal at the NSG. The Bush administration would take these far-reaching steps, New Delhi hoped, while it was not prepared to accommodate American concerns over the nuclear stand off with Iran.

Had India read US expectations early and clearly, it would have approached the nuclear deal more carefully and avoided the minefield. It would have understood the political price and prepared the domestic public accordingly. Even if India was not prepared to go all the way, it could have evolved reasonable redlines on the Iran front and convinced the domestic as well as US public. This however, did not happen and as it was forced to recognize, there are no free lunches in Washington.

The manner in which Indian leaders handled the Indo-US nuclear deal pose a fundamental challenge: Are they capable of making a cost-benefit analysis of India's national interest and to convince domestic skeptics before seeking international recognition and cooperation?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

India's nuclear dance over Iran

The full text of India's Nuke Dance over Iran published in August 2007 issue of Strategic Insights (Monterey, CA) is available at:

Friday, August 3, 2007

Indo-Israel defense ties

Indo-Israeli military ties enter next stage

A US$2.5 billion Indo-Israeli defense project marks a new phase in the two countries' relations.
Commentary by P R Kumaraswamy for ISN Security Watch (03/08/07)
India's recent decision to develop jointly a new generation of surface-to-air missile with Israel is a quantum leap in the two countries' relations.

In early July, India's Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the US$2.5 billion defense project with Israel. The development of missiles capable of intercepting aircraft and other aerial targets at a range of 70 kilometers to be undertaken by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries.
This is not only the largest single deal involving Israel but also marks a new phase in defense-related cooperation between the two countries.

Ever since diplomatic relations were established in January 1992, both countries have actively cooperated in the defense arena, with India obtaining a large number of small arms, weapons, avionics, ship-launched Barak missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel.

Counter-terrorism and border management techniques figure prominently in these regular deliberations.

Within the next few weeks, India will launch the first Israeli satellite, and there is speculation in the Indian media that it will be a spy satellite.

In recent years, service chiefs and other senior military officials have been periodically visiting one another. In May this year, the Indian Defense Minister informed the parliament that from 2002-2007, India obtained over US$5 billion worth of military weapons and systems from Israel. Others suggest that in 2006 alone India's defense imports from Israel stood at US$1.6 billion.

The bourgeoning Indo-Israeli military ties are helped by favorable winds from Washington: its endorsement for the Israeli sale of Phalcon airborne early warning systems to India was a case in point. This deal estimated at over US$1 billion dollars came against the background of the US vetoing similar sale to China.

The new decision on missile development conveys a number of strong messages. Until now, Indo-Israeli military ties have largely been a cash-and-carry affair. India's desire to modernize its aging Soviet-made weapons and defense systems were made possible by Israeli expertise in upgrading and avionics. Though important, this approach has its limitations, especially when Israel does not develop major platforms that India requires for defense modernization.

Since normalization, there were suggestions that meaningful long-term cooperation would demand greater synergy between the two defense establishments. A number of on-going programs in India are not radically differently from their Israeli counterparts. These include plans to develop light combat aircraft, main battle tanks, missiles such as Prithvi and Agni, unmanned aerial vehicles and early warning radar systems. The joint missile research therefore signals that both countries are confident about moving beyond traditional arms sales and onto the next stage.

The timing of the decision is equally important. Ever since Manmohan Singh became India's prime minister in May 2004, the left-leaning parties have been demanding an end to military cooperation with Israel. Though they are not formally part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), their support is vital for the survival of Singh's government.

In recent years, the communist parties have been critical of India moving closer to Israel. For them, seeking "strategic ties" with Israel represented a betrayal of the Palestinians and were harmful to India's interests. They even argued that closer military ties were the result of the "anti-Muslim agenda" of Israel and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Shortly after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, they demanded the recall of India's ambassador from Tel Aviv.

When Singh became prime minister, "a course correction" in New Delhi's Israel policy became a major foreign policy agenda for the Left. For them, military cooperation with Israel when the latter was brutally subjugating the Palestinians would make India a party to Israel's crimes.

Singh, who was leaning to the left on various domestic issues, could approve such a massive joint military research with Israel but it would also have to be considered within the domestic context. Partly to dispel apprehensions of the Left and silence the critics, a few days after the missile cooperation was approved on 23 July, Indian Defense Minister A K Antony told the media, "Successive governments since 1992 have had defense ties with Israel. This is not new. And the relation is not ideological, but purely based on our security requirements."

The decision indicates a growing Indian confidence vis-à-vis Israel. In the past, India was extremely apprehensive of any public display of friendship with Israel. By seeking greater military cooperation with Israel, New Delhi signals greater self-confidence and indicates that it does not anticipate any problems with Arab and Islamic countries over such relations.

New Delhi has not allowed its differences over the Palestinian issue to undermine its defense ties with Israel. For a while, there were suggestions that New Delhi would become the second most important partner for Israel after Washington. With its troubled relations with Europe, Israel is increasingly looking to other players like India for long-term relations. Seen in this larger context, the missile deal not only marks a synergy between the two defense establishments but also has all the ingredients of a strategic partnership.

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