Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is casting a fresh eye on the diplomatic and strategic foreign relations he inherited from his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The high-profile visitors dropping in for tea and trade this month signposted some refocused directions.
The most notable were Russian president Vladimir Putin who arrived on December 4 with a large military-trade delegation, followed by US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on his way back from Kabul, French external trade minister Francois Loos, who led a French trade mission, and Israeli industry and trade minister Ehud Olmert, who showed up with around 100 Israeli military, aviation and electronics industries executives.
Those who had expected the new man to initiate a revolution in India’s external military, strategic and diplomatic alliances found no radical upsets – only certain key policy adjustments.
India and the United States are already deep in preparations for the next step in their strategic partnership.
The decision by India and the European Union to build a strategic cooperation was taken when the Indian prime minister attended a December 6-7 summit in London.
But certain checks and balances are noted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s strategic analysts.
1. US-India military relations will continue to grow stronger. Washington will begin selling New Delhi non-offensive weapons and strategic and intelligence systems and is prepared to accelerate bilateral relations more dramatically. However, the Singh Congress government first wants to be sure that US policies on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq do not clash with its own interests and positions.
2. India will broaden its strategic relationship with Russia and continue to rely on Moscow for its air and naval forces’ fighter planes, bombers and warships – but has added two key provisos: a) New Delhi will be permitted to upgrade Russian-supplied weaponry with Israeli and US technology. b) Moscow will not sign major arms deals with Islamabad.
3. India and Israel will expand their military and economic ties. Since some Israeli-supplied weapons systems and upgrades draw on US technology – and Israel needs American permission to sell them to a third party – New Delhi will be integrated in a three-way US-Israel-India strategic framework.
4. While New Delhi will continue to boost its strategic relationships with the Americans and Israelis, Singh has inserted the element of stronger ties with Russia as insurance against any sudden turnabout in Washington’s policies
5. Europe through France will become India's biggest supplier of commercial aircraft. This is a big breakthrough for French and European aeronautics industries, but they will be largely excluded from India’s military equation – unless New Delhi approves a $2.5 billion contract for six Scorpene diesel-powered submarines from France – notwithstanding French plans to sell Islamabad more Agosta-class submarines, in addition to the three already supplied.
(More about submarine question below)
Washington sweetens Pakistan pill
The Bush administration defined the way it perceives its role in the interplay between the two West Asian nuclear powers in a comment delivered Monday, December 12, by US ambassador to New Delhi David Mulford:
“The United States wants to be a very big supplier of military equipment to India and is very sensitive to Indian concerns about the sale of US weapons to Pakistan.” He stressed the US desire to broaden economic and military ties with India, but added a reservation: New Delhi, he said, must “dehyphenate” its relationship with the United States and Pakistan. “It is important for both countries not to view developments through the prism of the other country,” he said.
An Indian journalist rejected this approach, questioning whether it was not up to Washington to make the running and conduct its relations with India as though there were no Pakistan.
Mulford replied by pointing out that Rumsfeld had visited New Delhi, not Islamabad.
He omitted to mention that such a visit was redundant when earlier this month Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was welcomed by President George W. Bush at the White House and the US had agreed to the sale to Pakistan of $1.3 billion worth of US weapons.
Neither did the US envoy refer to Rumsfeld's tough repartee with Indian leaders.
Singh questioned whether India could afford to base its most vital military systems on long-term weapons and technology deals with the United States. Singh noted past American sanctions against India as punishment for its nuclear tests and even legislation to bar US technology transfers. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in New Delhi, Singh told Rumsfeld that India would be entering into unacceptable risks, domestically and internationally, without a US pledge to refrain from similar punitive steps in the future.
Rumsfeld replied that improved relations during Bush's first four years in office and their upward trend for the future were sufficient guarantee of Washington’s goodwill towards India.
To smooth the way for his visit to New Delhi, the Bush administration put an ambitious proposal for a weapons deal on the negotiating table, its terms and prices yet to be hammered out.
The broad range of war equipment on offer includes the Patriot missile system, which can target planes and ballistic and cruise missiles, C-130 transport planes, Orion P-3C naval reconnaissance aircraft and seven F-16 fighter-bombers.
Washington threw in the Patriots and the F-16s to soften Indian opposition to the sale of the warplanes to Pakistan. Officially, the F-16 delivery to Islamabad is under review, but both Pakistanis and Indians know it is a done deal to be announced when the timing is right.
India is in principle against the F-16 sale to Pakistan. New Delhi was not won over by the offer of F-16s for its own air force because it already has Russian SU-30 MKI and French Mirage 2000 warplanes and does not need the American craft. But the Patriot was another matter because this system will give India the strategic depth to counter a potential Pakistani missile or F-16 threat. The Patriot also gives India an advantage over Pakistan's Chinese-supplied missiles and aircraft.
The United States also threw in naval frigates, Seahawk helicopters and protective gear for India’s special forces against chemical and biological weapons, while DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report India added to its wish list medium-range US Hercules tank-and-troop transport planes.
Israel steps into Russian gap
Most of all, New Delhi was glad of the chance to procure Orion P-3C long-range submarine-sniffing aircraft, which it lacks. Although Pakistan is receiving the same Orion P-3C aircraft, its superiority will be determined by the types of electronic and early warning systems with which it is fitted. India looks to Israel to give its air force that edge.
India is Israel's biggest trading partner after China and South Korea.
Seventy percent of India’s military equipment came from the Soviet Union prior to its collapse in 1991and since. Its armed forces complain that the availability of spare parts is irregular. Israel is filling that gap, which partly explains how military sales to India are set to climb to the top of Israel’s export list – from $1.6 billion this year, advancing in 20% leaps each year to an estimated $3 billion in 2006.
Last year, India took delivery of $30 million worth of Tabor and Galil assault rifles, night vision scopes and laser measurement and targeting equipment from Israel Military Industries. In March 2004, Israel contracted to supply India three Phalcon airborne warning and control systems mounted on Russian Ilyushin aircraft. Israel Aircraft Industries has already upgraded Soviet-designed MiG-21 fighters for the Indian air force. Israeli-made drones and laser-guided “smart bombs” are stocked in its arsenal.
New Delhi is shopping now for an assortment of advanced Israeli radar systems. Three years ago, Green Pines radar which is a component of the US-Israeli Arrow anti-missile missile system was sold to India and deployed in Kashmir. Now New Delhi is negotiating the purchase of the entire Arrow system, after testing it against Pakistani targets in spring this year.
Two India warships recently paid a four-day port-of-call visit to Israeli naval bases paving the way to more hi-tech trading, cooperation and possible joint naval maneuvers in the Arabian Sea. India naval planners see room for closer collaboration in training, operational exercises, hardware and naval platform design.