'US Missile Test Could Spark Another Arms Race'

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - The planned testing of a proposed US national missile defense system this week could spark another arms race, and India has indicated its willingness to cooperate with Russia in jointly developing a similar project.

Asked whether India would join a potential Russian missile defense system, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told reporters, "Once we reach such a situation, we will pursue it."

"The US should give up this whole exercise as it will lead to too many problems than one can visualize now," he added.

Fernandes was speaking on his return to New Delhi from a weapons shopping expedition to France and Russia. India has increased its defense budget for 2000-2001 by 28 per cent to $13.5 billion.

Fernandes said the planned test of the proposed American National Missile Defense system had come up in his talks with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders.

"The concern is visible. No one made any bones about it. It was felt that the US was trying to alter the balance of power achieved in the post-Cold War era. Russia has already categorically stated that it [NMD] will create an imbalance," Fernandes said.

On July 7, the US plans another test of the system, launching one missile from a launchpad in California and a second to intercept it from a Pacific atoll 8,000 kilometers away.

The system is designed to provide a protective umbrella over the US by destroying an incoming missile warhead in mid-trajectory, a collision at closing speeds of 24,000 kilometers per hour.

The incoming missile is detected at launch by early warning satellites and tracked by ground-based early warning radar.

US officials have said the system would not be able to neutralize Moscow's strategic nuclear arsenal that still includes more than 5,000 warheads.

However, the American NMD system could significantly undercut or even neutralize China's far smaller stockpile, US officials added.

Defense analysts in India warned the NMD could set off yet another arms race.

"The missile defense system will prompt the Chinese to build up their strategic force beyond what they had previously planned in order to ensure that it remains viable," predicted analyst RK Sharma on Wednesday.

"Though the expanded force of nuclear-tipped, long-range missiles of Beijing might not be directed at India, it would be a capability New Delhi cannot ignore, and as a result, India might build up the short-range missiles to defend against China," Sharma said.

Another analyst, GK Gupta, said, "It would be in India's strategic interest to strengthen ties with Russia and express its opposition to Washington's move."

"India was a close ally of Russia during the Cold War," Gupta added. "New Delhi should ally for geo-political reasons with Russia and Beijing. And this axis could counter the balance of power if the US went ahead with the tests."

Putin, Jiang Stress Opposition

Russian and Chinese leaders who held talks in Tajikistan Wednesday reiterated their opposition to the US NMD proposal.

"The leaders spoke about the fundamental importance of maintaining the strength of the 1972 ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Prikhodko told reporters after the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

China and Russia say the proposed shield, aimed at blocking missile attacks by "rogue states" like North Korea and Iran, would threaten existing arms control agreements by violating the ABM Treaty.