No. 41, December 2005
India's Place in the US Strategic Order
II. The Class Logic of the Indian Rulers' Drive for 'Great-Power' Status
III. From Central Asia to the Gulf to the South China Sea
IV. Why the US Promotes India's Great-Power Ambitions
App. I: Indo-US Joint Military Exercises after 2002 – A Partial List
App. II: Growing Relationship with Israel
App. III: Manufacturing Justifications for an Aggressive Alliance
App. IV: Internal Requirements of 'Great-Power' Status
India as 'Global Power'
While the US government is always interested in securing large contracts for American arms manufacturers, that does not explain its decision, as Condoleezza Rice put it, to "make India a global power". That decision is dictated by broader strategic considerations.
First, the US is not worried by India's ambitions: it knows that India is unable to project power across Asia independently. For example, India's plans for a rapid-reaction force which could be deployed immediately in countries along the rim of the Indian Ocean cannot be pursued without fast long-range aircraft with aerial refueling capabilities, Airborne Early Warning and Command aircraft, attack helicopters, and a carrier in addition to the INS Virat. A significant share of this would have to be imported from the US.45 Any drawn-out intervention abroad would require even greater infrastructure, which India lacks. (In fact, even the European Union countries are not equipped with the infrastructure for sustained projection of military force independent of the US. This was demonstrated during the Balkans crisis, when they were forced at last to turn to the US to intervene.)
Moreover, given the balance of military strength, India's attempts to project power cannot be sustained in the face of US opposition. Indeed, Vajpayee reportedly confessed that strategic partnership with the US was essential to his 20-year programme to attain great-power status; "otherwise India's ability to project power and influence abroad anywhere would be greatly compromised."46
The second reason for the US to promote Indian ambitions is that it suits US interests to do so. This is spelled out with brutal candour in at least three important US sources.
The first is a report commissioned by the US Department of Defence in October 2002, titled The Indo-US Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions. The report is based on interviews with 42 key Americans, including 23 active military officers, 15 government officials, and four others; as well as with 10 active Indian military officers, five Indian government officials, several members of the National Security Council, and outside experts advising the Indian government.47 The second source is the writings of Ashley J. Tellis, a former aide to Robert Blackwill during 2001-03 when he was recently ambassador to India; he is considered at the moment a key US policy analyst on India.48 The third source is the September 2005 study by Stephen Blank of the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, cited earlier.
Context: US strategic perspective worldwide
On the face of it, it would appear that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US faces no serious challenge to its global hegemony. It military expenditures are half of world military spending; around 3.5 times the total of the remaining members of the UN Security Council (China, Russia, UK, France); and double the total of the world's next six largest spenders (Russia, France, Japan, Germany, UK, and China – even taking China's actual military expenditure to be double the official figure). The US is the only country with the infrastructure and forces to project military force over long distances, and thus to fight sustained wars abroad, as it is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan at present. (Countries such as France and the UK are able to mount relatively small intervention forces to carry out operations against second-rate forces in, say, Africa.)
Yet it is economic power that ultimately sustains military power, and US power is fragile at its economic base. The US's share of world income has fallen from half in 1950 to 21 per cent today; its share of manufacturing from 60 per cent in 1950 to 25 per cent in 1999; its share of the world's stock of foreign direct investment from 47 per cent in 1960 to 21 per cent in 2001.49
No doubt the US economy is said to be 'doing well'. However, US economic growth today is being maintained only by a systematic and massive expansion of consumer borrowing and government borrowing. An increasing share of goods and services are imported. Thus the US current account – the balance of a country's earnings and its expenditures from trade in goods and services, and investment income – has been in deficit for two decades, and is now out of control, touching $668 billion in 2004. The figure for 2005 will be much higher. This gap has had to be covered by borrowings from abroad, making the US by far the world's largest debtor.
The giant US current account deficit is funded by soaking up more than 70 per cent of the world's savings. Other countries place their savings in the US for three reasons: because the US is the world's dominant imperialist power; because the US dollar is still the leading currency for international payments; and because many of these countries want to prevent the dollar from declining, since the US is their main export market.
However, this game cannot continue endlessly, as the debt would have to be serviced by larger and larger shares of the US national income in the future. International investors and central banks are aware of this, and are contemplating shifting their investments elsewhere. If this were to happen, the US dollar would fall, US interest rates would rise, and the US economy would be in danger of collapse.
The US military plays a key role in staving off this eventuality. It protects the US's status as the dominant imperialist power worldwide and hence safe harbour for the world's capital. It ensures (for example, by the invasion of Iraq and the threatened invasion of other countries) that the bulk of the world's oil trade continues to be carried out in US dollars. It maintains physical control of much of the world's crucial resources (such as oil) as well as of trade routes – trump cards to be used against potential rivals for hegemony. It can also challenge potential rivals in an arms race such that it can undermine their economies.
However, US military power too is increasingly vulnerable. For one, it must cover the whole globe, and check resistance anywhere, for its supremacy rests precisely on the inability of any power to defy it; it is in a state of permanent war. Indeed, precisely because it intervenes everywhere to protect its supremacy, it is the number one target of anti-imperialist forces around the world.
Secondly, while the US military is well-equipped to knock down conventional standing armies, it has a poor record against guerrilla resistance or popular upsurges. The earlier liberation of Vietnam and the current Iraqi resistance have proved this amply. (In such cases its only hopes lie in the manipulation of ethnic tensions.)
Thirdly, one of the legacies of the great Vietnamese struggle is that the US ruling classes now fear the domestic political consequences of large military casualties and of military conscription. Thus the US armed forces are much smaller than would be required by its global hegemony. The US may indeed finally institute conscription, but it would have to pay a heavy political price internally for doing so.
New US 'global defence posture'
This new "global defence posture" is related to the new requirements of US global hegemony:
Apart from main operating bases and 'lily pads', there will be even more skeletal sites, called 'cooperative security locations'. With little or no permanent US presence, these may be maintained by "contractor or host nation personnel". The US wants a free hand to use these sites as it wishes:
Need for Indian bases, training facilities
The US's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of 2001 openly asserted the need for more forces and bases in Asia "due to the expansion of threats there across the spectrum of conflict". Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Brookes told Congress in 2002 that
American officers, says MacDonald,
US lieutenant generals told MacDonald that access to bases in India would enable the US military "to be able to touch the rest of the world" and to "respond rapidly to regional crises". Moreover, in case US relations with traditional allies (eg Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia) ever become more acrimonious, or collapse, or in case US access rights to bases are restricted, "The US needs to develop alternatives in Asia. India is the optimal choice..."
An American colonel told MacDonald that
India has already provided port facilities for US forces engaged in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, it has given the green signal for the US to use Sri Lankan bases:
The September 11 attacks in the US, and India's eager offer of its bases for the invasion of Afghanistan, marked a turning point. Before that point, one US Navy ship used to visit India in almost three years; now, according to US Pacific Command officers, there are regular trips. Before September 11, the Indian government would not allow US troops with weapons on the ground when responding to the Gujarat earthquake. "Today, after September 11, the US military has full access", says MacDonald.
The US also wants facilities for training in India; according to MacDonald, "India has a variety of landscapes, from ice-clad mountains to deserts, and it would help the Americans because military training ranges are shrinking and becoming increasingly controversial in the United States". And for the US Navy training with the Indian Navy is the best way to become "proficient in the Indian Ocean region".
Indian armed forces to do the "low-end" tasks
In these critical areas, he writes, "the enormous disparity in power capabilities and resources between Washington and New Delhi will be so stark as to render Indian preferences entirely irrelevant." Yet even in such matters, "Indian power could be dramatically magnified if it were to be applied in concert with that of the United States. In such circumstances, Indian resources could help to ease US operational burdens..."
Moreover, he emphasises that Indian forces can be assigned tasks in areas/issues which the US feels are not worth its direct intervention:
MacDonald suggests Indians could be assigned "low-end operations":
The most immediate candidate for such "partnership" is the Indian Navy. Cooperation between the two Navies took off after the September 11, 2001 incidents in the US. For six months the Indian Navy undertook joint patrols with the US Navy to escort commercial ships and patrol the busy sea lane running from the North Arabian Sea to the Malacca Straits.
That episode set a useful precedent. MacDonald says that "naval cooperation represents one of the most promising areas of service-to-service cooperation". For one, "The Indian Navy is the only Indian service that is organised to operate outside of India's borders". It would invite less political opposition within India; in the words of an American admiral, "The Navy may be the easiest service to move forward with cooperation because the US Navy leaves no footprints in India. Exercises are conducted out of sight, with no US troops on the ground in India."
The 'New Framework' agreement of June 2005 specifically mentions, among other things, that Indian and US militaries would conduct joint and combined exercises and exchanges; conduct joint responses to disaster situations; and collaborate in multinational operations and 'peace-keeping' operations. Note that there is no mention of the United Nations; these operations will evidently not be carried out even nominally under its banner. This is part of the US's systematic effort to use disasters and regional conflicts in order to introduce its troops and those of its allies in situations to which they earlier had no access. The July 18 2005 joint statement between Manmohan Singh and George Bush speaks of a new "US-India Disaster Relief Initiative that builds on the experience of the Tsunami core group". That group, which included India, was later dissolved and its efforts were placed under the UN, but the US nevertheless managed to use the disaster to introduce its troops and equipment into Indonesia's Aceh province and Sri Lanka (in the latter case it sent 1500 Marines and an amphibious assault ship for 'humanitarian purposes').
Proliferation Security Initiative: violation of international law
"Delivery systems" presumably mean missiles and the like; the term "related materials", however, is so vague that even materials for manufacture of fertiliser could be seized on the ground that they could be used for making WMDs. During the operation of the sanctions regime against Iraq (1991-2003), Iraq was prevented at one point from importing pencils on the ground that they contained graphite, which could be used in weapons manufacture.58
At their own initiative, and without the sanction of international law, the PSI participants may board and search any vessel in their waters or even on the high seas (ie, beyond the territorial waters of any state) that is "reasonably suspected of transporting such cargoes", and seize such cargoes. Even aircraft "reasonably suspected of carrying such cargoes" to or from proliferators of WMDs could be required to land and have their cargoes seized. (What would be the consequences if such aircraft refused to land? Presumably they could be shot down with their alleged cargoes of WMDs.)
As with the farcical US claim of WMDs in Iraq, which formed the US's justification for invasion, the PSI's claims would not be subject to the scrutiny of any international body, but could be based on US 'intelligence' (note the phrase "reasonably suspected"). Since in international law such actions as described above are understood as acts of war, India's joining the PSI could have grave consequences.
A little over a year ago, when US Secretary of State Colin Powell was pressing India to join the PSI, senior Indian officials had expressed serious reservations regarding its legality.59 Now, however, India appears on course to become a participant in PSI. At the Seventh Asian Security Conference in January 2005, Pranab Mukherjee claimed that proliferation of WMDs through the sea lanes was "one of the biggest problems", and said "initiatives such as the PSI" would "need to be examined in greater detail". He said that the Indian Navy and Coast Guard could play a significant role in dealing with such threats.60 On May 21, 2005, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash said that if India were to join the PSI, "India's status in world affairs warrants that we should be one of the core countries."61
In September 2005, the Indian Navy carried out its biggest-ever joint exercise with the US Navy. Led by aircraft carriers and supplemented by guided missile destroyers, frigates, helicopters, spy planes and fighter aircraft, the navies practised interdiction on the high seas as well as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) of vessels. Senior Indian officials denied that this was related to the PSI.
Missile 'defence': an offensive alliance with grave consequences
In May 2001, George Bush announced a "new strategic framework" for the US, including that the US would proceed with its plans for 'national missile defence' (NMD), that is, a system aimed at defending the US from incoming missiles by knocking them out before they descend towards their targets. Bush announced his intention to "move beyond the constraints" of the 30-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The logic of the ABM Treaty was that if a nuclear-armed country were to achieve an effective defence against other countries' nuclear weapons, it might feel freer to use its own nuclear weapons on others, without fear of retaliation. Other powers would multiply their missiles to ensure that the sheer number of missiles pierced the shield; and thus a dangerous new arms race would begin.
Bush's declaration met with widespread criticism. The official China Daily said Bush's plans appeared aimed at establishing "absolute military supremacy" in the world. Pursuit of that aim would "break the present fragile global security equlibrium" and "trigger a new arms race in the international arena and destroy what has been achieved so far with international disarmament efforts." A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said "The US has been unable to give us arguments to convince us that they see clearly how to solve the problems of international security without damaging disarmament agreements which have stood for 30 years". Germany remained unconvinced and raised "very, very serious questions" over the project. Public opinion around the world was even more hostile.
The Vajpayee government was one of the few countries in the world to openly welcome Bush's announcement, justifying it strangely as a step toward nuclear disarmament. Talks began with the US on how India could join the system. On January 1, 2004, Bush announced the 'Next Steps in Strategic Partnership' (NSSP) with India, including cooperation in missile defence, the Indian official response was ecstatic: the NSSP was "unique... completely out of the ordinary".
However, the Vajpayee government fell five months later, and the new Congress-led UPA government was guarded at first in its statements regarding missile defence. After all, the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA included a few general statements about maintaining an independent foreign policy. The Indo-US Defence Policy Group, the forum through which US-India strategic ties are being implemented, nevertheless met at the end of May, shortly after the new regime assumed office. The US delegation made a presentation regarding missile defence, but the response of the Indian side was not made public. Over the next year, several more exchanges took place on this issue, including a visit by an Indian team to the missile defence exercises in California during April 2005.
In an address to at a meeting in Delhi in August 2004, Satish Chandra, deputy to India's National Security Adviser, laid bare the real import of missile defence. In an address to the Delhi Policy Group, it said missile defence was part of the "paradigm shift [in the US] whereby it could consider the use of nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive mode". In his address Chandra lamented the fact that instead of striving for a nuclear weapon free world, the US had been "advocating new rationales for the retention of nuclear weapons and developing new types of nuclear weapons." "The annulment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the US moves to develop ballistic missile defences are clear indicators that the strategic thinking in the US is undergoing a paradigm shift whereby it could consider resorting to the use of nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive mode. Thus, while the nuclear weapon build-up of the 1970s and 1980s was justified mainly on grounds of deterrence, the Nuclear Use Theorists (NUTS) envisage the actual utilisation of these weapons in situations short of nuclear war..." (emphasis in original).62
Chandra's dissent was irrelevant; the decision had already been taken. In October 2004, US ambassador Mulford told Force magazine that the US and India had already gone beyond merely talking about missile defence: "There has already been a discussion about technology and systems.... The only problem that I see is that it is a technically complicated subject and there are different generations of systems available. So the issue is to figure out which system is needed where. This is a complicated process."63
The systems being set up for Japan's missile defence give us an idea of what may be planned for India: ground-based interceptor missiles deployed in Japan itself, and sea-based interceptor missiles deployed on US Aegis destroyers around Japan. The third element is still being developed, namely, laser beams mounted on the nose of converted Boeing 747 jets, which would fly round-the-clock around China's coast, and would fire at any missile launched by China or North Korea. (The airborne laser programme, however, has huge technological development problems.)64
Even assuming the missile defence system works, it is obvious that Japan is much smaller than India; the latter would be more difficult and expensive to defend. It is possible that in India's case the system is not intended to defend the whole country, but only select locations – military sites and metropolises. At any rate, China will most probably respond by building more missiles in order to overwhelm the system, as it is doing with Taiwan already; and India would probably respond by building more Agni-3 missiles and arming them with nuclear weapons, in order to retain the ability to retaliate against China.
The Indian public needs to be made aware of the insanity of such a path, of its huge costs whether or not such weapons are actually used, and of whose interests it serves.
India as the linchpin of a proposed 'Asian NATO'
An alliance is meaningless unless it is against something. NATO was originally fashioned as an alliance against the Soviet Union; the principal target of an Asian version would be China. Toward that end the Indian armed forces, particularly its Navy, have been active. According to the new Maritime Doctrine, the Indian Navy is to dominate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) "choke points, important islands, and vital trade routes". By late 2004, it was to have started policing the IOR together with the Singaporean, Thai, and Philippine Navies.
Accordingly, the Navy has embarked on a 'Look East' programme, sending goodwill missions to Southeast Asia (during which Indian vessels took part in naval manoeuvres with Japan and Vietnam); making port calls in Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan; and conducting joint patrols with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The purpose is to build links with countries near China, to familiarise the Navy with the South China Sea as a potential theatre of operations, and to develop the Navy's ability to operate far from home.
The Indian government's stepped-up plans for the Indian Navy and its massive expansion of the Andaman and Nicobar bases should be seen in this light. According to one report,
India has built a particularly close relationship with Vietnam. Once a heroic fighter against US imperialism, Vietnam is now, tragically, an indirect US ally:
It is reported that, in exchange for transfer of missile technology, India may ask for an option to use Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, the finest natural deep water harbour in Asia.68
India's ties with the close US ally Japan are growing. Japan's navy, known as the 'Maritime Self-Defence Force', is now operating in the Indian Ocean region in support of the US occupation of Afghanistan. The special significance of this operation (which was extended in April 2005 by a special legislation) is that it marks an important precedent: Japan's first participation in an overseas military operation since 1945. The term 'Self-Defence Force' for the Japanese military is clearly outdated. Japanese naval ships have used Indian port facilities during this period. In May 2004 Japan made a public offer to establish a 'global partnership' with India to balance China's rising power.69 In April 2005 the Indian and Japanese prime ministers met, reaffirmed their 'global partnership', and pledged to work as partners "against proliferation" of weapons of mass destruction. They announced that the Indian Coast Guard and the Japanese Coast Guard would establish a framework for effective cooperation, as would the two countries' navies.
In 2000, the Indian defence minister George Fernandes declared that Vietnam and Japan were emerging as India's strategic partners for countering piracy from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. "By doing so", says the US War College study, "they also serve notice on China that they will contest its efforts to dominate that sea."70 Further, "India might find possibilities for enhanced defence cooperation with Thailand, Australia, Singapore, and the United States...."71 Indonesia may join the list.72
In a speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry-World Economic Forum conference in New Delhi, India's foreign secretary Shyam Saran made a fairly explicit statement of the plans for an 'Asian NATO'. "In the context of Asia, there is no doubt that a major realignment of forces is taking place", he said. China was emerging as a "global economic power" with significant military capabilities. The US and India could "contribute to creating a greater balance in Asia". In managing the security situation of the region, he said, there is a need for bringing "more and more countries within the discipline of a security paradigm for this region."73 (By contrast, the East Asian Summit scheduled for December 14, 2005 excludes the US, and any permanent economic and political body that develops from it may do so as well – a prospect the US does not like.)
The US War College study spells out the benefits of an 'Asian NATO':
However – and this is crucial – the entire scheme will fall apart if India does not nurse great power ambitions. Only if India sees itself as a great power, a "counterpoise to China in the region", will it want to promote a broad anti-China alliance. And so the US must push India to pursue its "manifest destiny"75:
India's great-power ambitions, then, are crucial to the success of US plans for Asia. Indeed, the further Indian foreign policy is subordinated to US strategic designs, the better India's chances of winning US backing at last for its single-minded drive to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. While admitting that the US had not supported India's claim to UNSC membership, Manmohan Singh told Parliament that "when the time comes, I have reason to believe that we will not be ignored." (3/8/05)
45. Natural Allies, p. 124. (back)
46. Raghuvanshi, "India Aims to Project Power across Asia", cited in Natural Allies, p.40. (back)
47. Cited in Natural Allies; Siddharth Varadarajan, "America, India and outsourcing imperial overreach", Hindu, 13/7/05; and Josy Joseph, a series of six articles beginning with "Target Next: Indian Military Bases", 21-26/4/03, www.rediff.com. (back)
48. Cited extensively in Natural Allies. Also see India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States, Ashley J. Tellis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005. (back)
49. "US Hegemony: Continuing Decline, Enduring Danger", Richard Du Boff, Monthly Review, December 2003. (back)
50."US military abroad: More bases won't curb terrorism", William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, 2/8/03. (back)
51."Pentagon to close 35 per cent of overseas bases', Associated Press, 23/9/04. (back)
52. Ibid. (back)
53. Natural Allies, p. 13. (back)
54. Natural Allies, p. 91. (back)
55. Natural Allies, p. 91. (back)
56. Cited in Natural Allies, p. 14. (back)
57. Papers of a recent Chennai seminar on the topic organised by the Centre for Security Analysis can be found at www.csa-chennai.org. (back)
58. At any rate the possession or transfer of WMDs or delivery systems as such is not against international law, unless it is done in violation of specific treaties to which one of the states concerned is a signatory. For example, proliferation of nuclear technology by the the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan was not as such in violation of international law, since Pakistan is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The US owns overwhelmingly the largest quantity of WMDs, and has actually used both nuclear and chemical weapons on populations of other countries, but it arbitrarily decides which countries' WMDs to designate as dangerous. (back)
59. On August 30, Satish Chandra, deputy to the National Security Adviser, pointed out that the PSI was part of a set of unilateral measures by the US, and "there are obviously problems of legality in the interdictions envisaged under the PSI. There are also problems as to what would trigger these interdictions." – Hindu, 6/9/04. (back)
60."US initiative must be examined", Asian Age, 30/1/05. (back)
61. "Proliferation Security Initiative: New Delhi discussing reservations with Washington", Hindu, 22/5/05. (back)
62. "India signals wariness on missile defence", Siddharth Varadarajan, Hindu, 6/9/04. (back)
63."US, India have gone beyond talking about ballistic missile defences", Hindu, 9/10/04; emphasis added. (back)
64. "Dangerous race in space", Bruce K. Gagnon, Japan Focus, reprinted at www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/GG09Dh04.html. (back)
65. Natural Allies, p. 1; emphasis added. (back)
66. "India bids to rule the waves", op cit. (back)
67. Natural Allies, p. 75; emphasis added. (back)
68."India bids to rule the waves", op cit. (back)
69. Natural Allies, p. 148. (back)
70. Natural Allies, p. 78. (back)
71. Natural Allies, p. 79. (back)
72. See "India and Indonesia envision strong partnership", P.S. Suryanarayana, Hindu, 1/10/05, and "US firms up military ties with Indonesia", P.S. Suryanarayana, Hindu, 27/11/05. (back)
73. "India ready to help US in Asian power rejig", Times of India, 29/11/05. (back)
74. Natural Allies, p. 79. (back)
75. The phrase 'manifest destiny' is used in US history to describe "the supposed inevitability of the continued territorial expansion of US boundaries westward to the Pacific, and even beyond. The idea of 'Manifest Destiny' was often used by American expansionists to justify US annexation of Texas, Oregon, New Mexico and California and later US involvement in Alaska, Hawaii and the Philippines". – Encyclopedia Britannica, 1999. (back)
76. Natural Allies, p. 79; emphasis added. (back)
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