Speech of Prakash Karat
At The Public Meeting Held By the Left Parties On The
“New Framework For The India-US Defence Relationship”
On July 8, 2005
The framework agreement on India-US Defence Relations signed in Washington recently is a major step to harness India to serve the US strategic goals in Asia.
The Indo-US military collaboration began in January 1992 during the Narasimha Rao government. An India-US Army Executive Steering Committee was set up. This was followed by the setting up of the Joint Steering Committee of the two navies. Joint naval exercises were conducted in 1992. In 1994, the Joint Steering Committee of the two air forces was set up.
The Indo-US Military Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1995. This agreement, the first of its kind, provided for officers of the Indian Armed forces being sent to the United States for training programmes, staff exchanges and joint exercises.
The BJP-led government took forward the military collaboration to the level of a strategic alliance. This was in keeping with the Vajpayee government’s declaration that India was a natural ally of the United States.
After the interruption caused by the sanctions imposed by the United States after the Pokhran explosion in 1998, the BJP-led government proceeded rapidly to cement a strategic alliance with the United States. This involved regular joint exercises between the defence wings of the two armed forces and resumption of the International Military Exchange and Training (IMET) Programme for the Indian armed forces.
The BJP-led government offered port and airport facilities for the US armed forces when they began their military operations in Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Vajpayee government was disappointed when the United States decided to make Pakistan the frontline state and ally. The BJP-led government redoubled its efforts to make India act as a junior partner for the US strategic interests in the region.
It is in this period that the Indian government allowed the FBI to set up its office in Delhi. It was the first country to welcome the National Missile Defence programme announced by President Bush. The BJP-led government agreed to use Indian naval ships to escort US ships through the straits of Malacca.
The current agreement takes this strategic and military cooperation further. There are four major features which stand out and which are not in India’s security and strategic interests.
Firstly, the agreement says the two defence establishments will “collaborate” in multinational operations when it is in their common interests. There is no mention of the United Nations auspices for such operations. By this clause, India has accepted the US concept of multinational operations in third countries without UN mandate. It is well known that such operations such as the multinational force in Iraq are commanded solely by the United States military. The UPA government should explain what are the multinational operations outside the purview of the United Nations in which India can participate with the United States.
Second – the agreement states that both countries will expand collaboration relating to missile defence. It is well known that the United States is actively trying to build a missile defence shield by drawing in Asian countries as part of its National Missile Defence system. Japan has already agreed to be part of the system.
The United States cannot be offering the Patriot missile system without expecting India to be part of this overall missile defence system.
One should remember that in the 1990s the United States sought to prevent India developing its missile defence system. Two instances can be cited. In 1992 the US pressurized Russia to cancel the sale of the cryogenic rocket engines to India by threat of sanctions against the Russian space agency, Glavkasmos. In August 1993, the USA alongwith G7 countries issues a diplomatic note to India not to deploy the Prithvi missiles and to stop the Agni programme.
If the United States is today offering the Patriot missile system to India, it is only with the motive of interlocking India in its missile defence system.
India and the United States have gone beyond just talking about ballistic missile defence. In a report in The Hindu dated 9th October 2004 by Amit Baruah, an interview to the October issue of Force magazine by David Mulferd, the US Ambassador to India has been cited. “Asked if he saw the possibility of the two countries going beyond merely talking about such defences, the Ambassador was quoted as saying, `Yes, I think that is what is under discussion now. There has already been a discussion about technology and systems.’ Do you think that ballistic missile defences would destabilize the entire region? No, the Ambassador responded, stressing that these were defensive systems. `The only problem that I see is that it is a technically complicated subject and there are different generations of systems available. So the issue is to figure out which system is needed where. This is a complicated process.’ Mr. Mulford said.”
Third, the agreement talks about shared security interests in protecting free flow of commerce via land, air and sea lanes alongwith preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated materials, data and technology. It is unfortunate that the UPA government does not view security issues in Asia as those which can be discussed and resolved among the Asian countries but seeks to advance US interests in the region. For instance, the security of the sea lands is an issue in which the US has already involved the US Navy in the Malacca straits.
It is significant that Malaysia and Indonesia took the stand that they can cooperate with Singapore to ensure the security of the sea-lanes in their region when the later proposed to involve the United States. The formulations in this section seek to involve India in the proliferation security initiative sponsored by the US. The US has set up a Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI) in which Australia and Singapore are participants.
The littoral states of the straits of Malacca are Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are opposed to the introduction of external armed forces in guarding the Malacca straits. Unlike Singapore, which wants the involvement of the US, the two countries have been advocating a joint regional initiative in the ASEAN.
The Chief of the Indonesian navy stated in January 2004 that “Indonesia deems it not necessary to include troops from outside countries including the United States – to be involved in safeguarding the strategic waterway” (Jakarta Post, June 17, 2004)
Fourth – the prospects for co-production of defence equipment is mentioned. This is clearly meant to llure India to buy F16 fighter planes and open the market for US weaponary. But we find no specific commitment on lifting the curbs on supply of high technology which has been raised by India continuously.
The UPA government should know the track record of the United States in using weapons supply as a political tool. Time and again the US has cut off supplies or imposed sanctions through decisions of the US Congress or the administration whenever it perceives a country as not willing to accept its policies and strategic goals.
The United States wishes to see India as its reliable ally like Japan, South Korea and Philippines. That is why it offered to station an Indian officer in the Pacific Command and the Central Command. The demand that India should have a position in the Central Command was being made by the BJP-led government and the pro-American strategic experts. Further, the agreement displays USA’s interests to make the two armed forces compatible for joint operations through “inter-operatability”
The UPA government in its Common Minimum Programme has committed to pursue an independent foreign policy and promoting multi-polarity in international relations. Regarding the United States, the CMP states, “Even as it pursues closer engagement and relations with the USA, the UPA government will maintain the independence of India’s foreign policy positions on all regional and global issues.”
Can the Defence Minister and the UPA government explain whether this agreement is in consonance with this approach in the CMP?
Indo-US defence agreement comes at a time when the US is actively working to contain China. It is pressurizing the European Union not to lift its embargo on supply of arms to China. Donald Rumsfield the US Secretary of State has recently in Singapore voiced concern about China’s defence expenditure and acquisition of arms. The United States does not see China has a strategic partner but as a strategic rival. In contrast, the US approach manifested in this agreement is to prop up India as a counterweight.
It is clear that India will be given concessions only if it plays the role the US has designated for it in its global and Asian strategy.
The Union Defence Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee before leaving for the United States told the media that he is going on an “exploratory” visit. If such an “exploration” has resulted in this agreement, one shudders to think of what will be the outcome of a substantive visit.
This agreement has come just before the first official visit of our Prime Minister to Washington this month. There are apprehensions. The government is anxious to get US support for the permanent membership of the Security Council. The Government should be warned not to give further concessions to the United States.
The stand of the Left parties on defence, security and foreign policy issues is resented by the BJP. L.K. Advani had warned the UPA government not to allow the communists to meddle in security matters. This was stated when we protested against the Chief Minister of Assam saying that the FBI is welcome to investigate the bomb blasts in the state last year. Advani had justified the FBI being involved in such enquiries. After all, this is the gentleman who in 1999 welcomed the first India-US joint naval exercises. And this is the gentleman who was the first home minister to pay a visit to the CIA headquarters at Langley. It is not surprising, therefore that the BJP has welcomed this agreement wholeheartedly.
We are rejecting the contention that the Left cannot have any say in security, defence and foreign policy issues. It is our intervention that rallied the opposition against sending troops to Iraq at a time when the Vajpayee government was on the verge of deciding to do so. We shall not hesitate to express our opinion. Matters of security, defence and foreign affairs cannot be treated as a holy cow and kept away from public debate and scrutiny.
The framework of the Indo-US defence relations should be rejected. Let it remain just a framework skeleton. It should not be fleshed out.