Assuming the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has done its job, the government must be aware of the fact that North Korea is preparing to conduct its third nuclear test, this time of a Chinese-designed boosted fission device. Transferred in toto to Pakistan by Beijing, Islamabad has, in turn, passed it on to Pyongyang for validation by an actual explosive test. China ceaselessly exploits North Korea’s status as a pariah state beyond the pale which can do things other states cannot without incurring cost. From the Chinese perspective, this will further tighten the nuclear screws on India by bringing Pakistan a step closer to the thermonuclear weapons threshold that India crossed in 1998, but not fully. The flawed Indian design did not produce the enhanced yield but has, ever since, been sought to be corrected and configured into a usable weapon, not by actual explosive testing but by simulation. Dr. R. Chidambaram, science & technology adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has been a votary of obtaining nuclear weapons by simulation. But he cannot, in good conscience, guarantee that fusion weapons so produced will actually work as they are supposed to, in real time, in real life. Surprisingly, the users of these weapons — the Strategic Forces Command and the military chiefs of staff — are not making any noise about it, though a minor defect in any conventional weapon has them hitting the rafters.
To begin preparing the ground for testing, as prelude to the next round of strategic dialogue, Delhi should issue a demarche to Washington, making it clear that the next North Korean nuclear test will be considered a Chinese-cum-Pakistani nuclear weapon explosive test, that’s likely to break India’s restraint on nuclear testing. Reminding the US about its complicity in China’s nuclear missile-arming Pakistan, the demarche should also lead to asking the Americans, point blank, just how an infirm Indian thermonuclear weapons capability will help maintain Asia’s balance of power. It is not a question to which India will get a straight answer because the grand US design, as I have maintained from the time the nuclear deal was being negotiated, is to push India, in small stages, into strategic dependency whereby India ultimately has to rely on Washington for its thermonuclear security because its own fusion weapons lack credibility.
By laying down the next North Korean nuclear test as tripwire, India should start pulling up when, for example, the US government — as it is prone to do — goes from friendly to bully in pursuit of its own agenda in double quick time. For instance, for Washington to insist that energy-deficient India must cut off its oil imports from Iran and opt for the “Mission Impossible” TAPI pipeline (Turkmen gas to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan), while allowing Taiwan, Japan and South Korea to import oil and gas from Iran, is a bit rich.
It is very likely that sooner or later Washington and Tehran will come to an understanding, even as India’s stand against Iran will jeopardise our leverage and goodwill in Tehran. All the effort India has made to fill the economic vacuum in Iran by ramping up trade will amount to nought. India learnt nothing from freezing relations with Myanmar to please the West. Nearly 25 years later, Delhi is scrambling to recover its position, only to find the Chinese too well entrenched.
Curtailing China’s ambitions is a convergent interest and, as Leon Panetta, the American defence secretary, said at the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore, India “will play a decisive role” in Asia’s future. But this role will not materialise if India permits itself to be nudged and elbowed into accepting US terms. Two cases in point: the US insistence, in the main, on India signing CISMOA (Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement) and LSA (Logistics Support Agreement) ignores the fact that India does not as yet perceive the US as trustworthy. Why not formalise workable technical solutions that have permitted joint military exercises to-date, instead? The other issue is American attempts to shape Indian military requirements. The Indian Army asked for a certain number of Javelin anti-tank, “fire and forget”-missiles, costing roughly $150,000 a piece. Washington, on its own, pared that order by half. Who is to decide on the quantity and quality of weapons purchased from the US — the Indian military or the US government? A senior US Defence official travelling with Panetta explained this as a snafu, as reflecting “old thinking” and not new ideas in the process of being “phased in”. US Ambassador Nancy Powell has talked of $8 billion worth of arms deals with American companies in the pipeline. Delhi has to ensure the “old” US thinking does not end up factored into new arms contracts.
The United States cannot be blamed though for trying to get its way. The blame rests entirely with the Indian government for allowing itself to be pushed around. Alas, the Congress coalition government with Manmohan Singh as figurehead Prime Minister is so dead in the water that it cannot even summon the will to resist US-imposed strictures on stuff India is paying hard cash for. It is frightening to think how much policy ground will be ceded to the US and other foreign governments till the next general elections by an Indian government that has apparently given up protecting this country’s sovereign prerogatives and interests.
The Washington round of the strategic dialogue, other than the demarche on North Korean test, should be about fleshing out cooperative military strategies to distract China and weaken its tendency to hegemonism in South China Sea and elsewhere, and fast-tracking co-development of new military technologies and weapons development, bypassing a series of arms deals that Panetta outlined as a prelude. Delhi has to be mindful of America’s short-term outlook that can hurt India’s strategic position in the long-term, if Delhi does not push back. On issues where Indian interests are compromised, the US should be told, in plain words, to back off. Given the stakes in Asia, it will.
[Published as "For US, India is doormat to Asia" June 6, 2012 in the 'Ásian Age' at www.asianage.com/columnists/us-india-doormat-asia-556 and the 'Deccan Chronicle' www.deccanchronicle.com/columnists/bharat-karnad/us-india-doormat-asia ]