Vajpayee, Bush may explore tie-up in missile defence

WASHINGTON SEPT. 21. Besides finding ways to broaden the range of American technology transfers to India, the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the U.S. President, George W. Bush, might explore at their meeting on Tuesday in New York the prospects for cooperation in missile defence.

The subject of missile defence was added earlier this year to the continuing discussion on the so-called "trinity" of issues — cooperation in civil nuclear energy, non-military space programmes and transfer of commercial technologies that can be used for military purposes — and making it a "quartet" of technology items on Indo-U.S. bilateral agenda.

The scope and substance of Indo-U.S. cooperation on missile defence are likely to depend upon how effective President Bush has been in overcoming the objections of the sceptics within the administration.

The White House was indeed pleased with the immediate and enthusiastic response of the Government to the announcement of the controversial plans for missile defence by President Bush in May 2001 and has been eager to cooperate with India. Questions raised by the champions of non-proliferation within the administration, however, tended to dampen the initial expectations in both capitals.

The concerns in the administration centre around the potential regional consequences of such cooperation. Some sections here argue that the transfer of missile defence technologies to India would destabilise the Indo-Pak. nuclear equation and lay the basis for a new round of arms race in the subcontinent.

The suggestion is that in response to the Indian acquisition of missile defence technologies, Pakistan might expand its offensive nuclear and missile capabilities. And India, in turn will be forced to increase the size of its atomic arsenal.

But other sections here insist that the transfer of missile defence technologies could lead to greater stability, by complicating the calculus in favour of early use of nuclear weapons. They argue that it is the spread of offensive weapons and not defensive systems that leads to nuclear destabilisation.

Others here say by cooperating with India on missile defences, it might be possible to constrain the relentless war of terror being waged by Islamabad against New Delhi. By giving missile defences to India, it is being posited, Pakistan could eventually be forced to discard the current assumption that its support to cross-border terrorism is cost-free.

In India, eyebrows were raised within the Government when the Foreign Office rushed to support the American missile defence plan in May 2001. Since then a solid consensus has emerged within the Government on the urgency of developing national capabilities in missile defence.

India believes that missile defences are an all important supplement to its strategy of nuclear no-first use. Having deliberately accepted the risk of absorbing a potential nuclear first strike by its adversaries, India hopes the deployment of missile defences will help curb the temptations of a first strike against it.

India may have two other reasons behind its quest for missile defence. One is the presumed need to cope with the growing spread of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them around its neighbourhood. The other is the recognition that the development of missile defence appears an inevitable technological trend and a country like India has but to invest in it.

Opposition to India's interests in missile defence is not limited to sections of the Bush administration. Both Pakistan and China are nervous about Indo-U.S. cooperation in this sensitive area and are certain to raise objections.

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