India's Strategic Concerns Prompt About-Face On Missile Defense

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - India has welcomed President Bush's plans to develop missile defense systems, a change of heart primarily driven by New Delhi's own strategic concerns, analysts here said Thursday.

"India lauds the desire of the U.S. to make a clean break with the past, especially from the adversarial legacy of the Cold War," Indian foreign office said in a statement.

"India believes there is a strategic and technological inevitability in stepping away from a world that is held hostage by the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, to a cooperative defensive transition that is underpinned by further cuts and a de-alert of nuclear forces," it added.

The foreign office welcomed Washington's stated willingness to "seek dialogue, consultation and co-operation" with concerned countries.

"India has always stood for a multilateral compact (policy) that results in an elimination of all nuclear weapons globally."

Policy reversal

India's response is a sharp reversal of its earlier stand that any U.S. move in the direction of ballistic missile defense would result in the "militarization of space."

Former Defense Minister George Fernandes hinted at one point that India may cooperate with Russia in jointly developing a similar anti-missile umbrella, to counter the balance of power in the post-Cold War period.

But Fernandes also urged the U.S. to "give up this whole exercise as it will lead to too many problems than once can visualize now."

Indian foreign policy analyst Gopal Verma Thursday attributed the policy reversal to the improving ties between India and the U.S., as well as Washington's increasing recognition of New Delhi as a major power.

This was clearly evident from the fact that Bush is sending envoys to New Delhi, among other world capitals, to highlight the necessity of Washington to change its nuclear policy.

India's response came after U.S. national security advisor Condoleezza Rice spoke by phone to Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will visit India on May 10 to brief leaders about the policy changes and nuclear arms reduction announced by Bush in his speech Tuesday.

Bush said the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty must be replaced because it "ignores the fundamental breakthroughs in technology during the last 30 years."

He said he wished to break with "the grim premise" underlying the treaty, in which the United States and the Soviet Union banned missile defense shields so as to leave intact the threat of nuclear retaliation against a first strike.

New Delhi's response is in sharp contrast to the concerns expressed in other capitals, including those of U.S. allies. This may be the first time in decades India has extended such support to the U.S. on any global nuclear issue.

Brajesh Mohan, a security analyst at Delhi University, said India response was in line with its acceptance of the "strategic and technological inevitability of missile defense."

Mohan said "Bush's decision to undertake huge cuts in the nuclear forces and move extant forces away from hair-trigger alert finds definite resonance with India's own nuclear doctrine that has as its ultimate goal - the elimination of nuclear weapons."

Apart from arms reduction, he said is the expectation of international cooperation, including that of India, in developing future defense technologies.

Rakesh Kumar, a foreign policy analyst at Jawaharlal Nehru University, cited concerns that the development of an American missile defense system would spark off an arms race by China. This would have a "direct bearing" on India's security.

Kumar also suggested the proposed missile defense systems would reduce the importance of the question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which India has not signed so far.

India and its neighbor Pakistan carried out nuclear test in May 1998, prompting international condemnation.