Courtesy J. Sri Raman (t r u t h o u t | Columnist)
When China destroyed one of its own aging weather satellites with a ground-based ballistic missile on January 11, the media recorded a more than mildly earthshaking event. The impact of the event on South Asia, however, needs greater notice than it has received.
The successful anti-satellite missile (ASAT) test has sounded an alarm about a global arms race in outer space. An important step towards the race may be witnessed in Chinaâ€™s immediate, southern neighborhood. Indiaâ€™s response to the test may become part of a reckless reply from the US under the George Bush administration to the apparently unexpected Beijing move.
The official Indian response has been guarded. The â€œsecurity think-tank,â€ known to speak for the politically more circumspect establishment, has greeted the test with a clear enough call for the country moving for a closer tie-up with the Bush-modified missile-defense program.
Officially, concern was voiced over the test, with Indian Air Force chief S. P. Tyagi talking of the major role for space â€œin all future warsâ€ and adding: â€œIf we have assets in space, somebody will try to knock them off through hard kills or soft kills. We must be ready for all this.â€ Former chief adviser to Indiaâ€™s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) K. Santhanam was more explicit: â€œChinaâ€™s ASAT test is definitely a concern for all countries with satellite launch capabilities. Satellites, after all, form an important part of C3I (communications, command, control and intelligence) systems.â€
The think-tankâ€™s point was made trenchantly in an editorial of January 20 in the well-known daily Indian Express, with National Security Advisory Board member C. Raja Mohan as its Strategic Affairs Editor. Said the paper: â€œAmidst the emergence of a brash new space power in its neighborhood, India can either respond with a robust military space effort in collaboration with the US or consign itself to the status of a second-rate power in Asia.â€
The paper spelt out its meaning by voicing outrage at past opposition to â€œoffers from the Bush administration to assist India in the development of (its) missile development program.â€ Stating that â€œIndia needs partners in space,â€ the article added: â€œIt does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the US leads the list of such partners:â€
Mainstream Indian media are assisting official and crypto-official attempts at publicizing an alleged commonalty of space security perceptions and interests between India and the US. They are, thus, making out a case for extending the much-advertised US-India â€œstrategic partnershipâ€ to space.
Unnamed sources in the space research establishment have been quoted as vouching that India has the technology to build a satellite-killer similar to Chinaâ€™s, but vowing that India wonâ€™t â€œuse its prowess for military purposes.â€ These sources also suggest that India, too, like the US, has a policy and program that accord military importance to its space assets.
The claim has been made in connection with Indiaâ€™s Cartosat-2 satellite, sent into space by a polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) on the eve of Chinaâ€™s ASAT test. With the launch of January 10, say the sources, Indiaâ€™s satellite-based surveillance and reconnaissance program is â€œfinally heading towards completion.â€
The program, they add, â€œwill allow India to keep closer tabs on troop movements, missile silos, military installations and airbases of neighboring countries, as well as augment surveillance over Indian airspace.â€
It needs to be noted that all the important missiles tested by India are nuclear-capable. Among missiles of a lesser range, Prithvi (Earth) II (with a 250-km reach and a relatively light payload) has been hailed as ideal for nuclear missions. New Delhi has claimed that the Agni (Fire) series of intermediate-range ballistic missiles will only deliver conventional warheads. Experts, however, say that the cost of any of these missiles cannot be justified unless it is used as a nuclear delivery vehicle.
Agni III, tested without success last July, has long been projected as a deterrent against China. With a range of over 3,000 kms, it is capable of hitting Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. The security think-tanks are silent on any links between the failure of the test and the flurry of â€œoffersâ€ from the Bush administration to assist in Indiaâ€™s missile program.
The idea of Indiaâ€™s induction into the US missile defense and theater defense is nothing new. The first major indication of an attempt at US-India â€œstrategic partnership,â€ in fact, came with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeeâ€™s warm welcome to the missile programs of the Bush administration. Appropriately, it came on the third anniversary of Indiaâ€™s nuclear weapons tests, falling on May 11, 2001.
Vajpayee applauded â€œPresident Bushâ€™s vision of nuclear disarmamentâ€ and read the missile-defense programs as a move for â€œsharp reductionsâ€ in the US nuclear arsenal. The two countries promptly began talks on the proposal of an anti-missile shield that was tabled by Washington.
Vajpayeeâ€™s successor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has only carried the idea further. In my Truthout report last July (â€œStar Warsâ€ Premiers in India!), I noted the next major move towards missile defense and development cooperation. On June 27, 2005, former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Indiaâ€™s former defense minister Pranab Mukherjee signed a ten-year agreement titled the New Framework for US-India Defense Relationship (NFDR). The agreement has a provision for Indiaâ€™s induction into the missile-defense program. The Bush administration lured India into its global missile-defense (GMD) program with the bait of a weapons system (PAC3) that was bound to destabilize the subcontinent.
We noted then the irony of the Bush regime, which prided itself as a promoter of the India Pakistan peace process, taking a step that was bound to trigger a fresh arms race in South Asia. Considerations of peace in the region are not likely to weigh any more heavily on Washington in the present instance as well.
Indiaâ€™s induction into the missile-defense program will have even larger implications now. It cannot remain unlinked to the US role as a security guarantor for Taiwan – a role that Chinaâ€™s ASAT 1 test is seen to threaten seriously.