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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 34

Arms Salesmanship

From N.C.’s Writings

Saturday 11 August 2007


The USA has a whole battery of Think Tanks with enormous amount of materials at their disposal. And these Think Tanks are supposed to help in the moulding of public opinion and government policies.

And yet when it come to the actual application of policies, the Clinton Administration has been displaying an amazing lack of coherent thinking and mature understanding of the impact of its policies on the world abroad. It has hardly covered itself with glory in Somalia nor has Bosnia added a feather in its cap. The mishandling of North Korea brings it no kudos; one hardly detects a sustainable policy approach towards China. In the ugly trade war with Japan, the honours have certainly not been collected by Washington, and Prime Minister Hosokawa’s downfall does not necessarily promise an upturn for President Clinton’s Japanese policy, if he has one at all.

In this rather messy background, Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott’s Indo-Pak safari last week has been a rather pedestrian exercise without an indication of any fresh thinking on South Asia. Granted that he was far more cautious and sophisticated than his impulsive Under Secretary, Talbott’s visit has been no path-breaking achievement. Strobe Talbott came, saw but hardly conquered.

In New Delhi, he tried bravely to assure that Washington intends “to cultivate good relations with India for the sake of that relationship and to do the same with Pakistan”. In other words, New Delhi should not be concerned about what Washington would be doing with Islamabad. Consequently, it iis no business of India to bother about what the USA would be giving or denying to Pakistan: that should be treated as a bilateral issue between two countries, just as Pakistan should treat any Indo-US deal as of no consequence for itself. On paper this sounds good logic, but it is really naïve indeed. One is reminded of the response from the Indian side when in the fifties the US-Pak military alliance was signed and Jawaharlal Nehru protested to President Eisenhower for having brought the Cold War hazards to this part of the world. The US response was that the military aid to Pakistan at that time was meant to help Pakistan fight the Communist threat, that was the Soviet Union, and not its neighbour, India. To which came Krishna Menon’s memorable response that he had not come across a gun which fired only in one direction, and that every accretion of arms to Pakistan would be a matter of concern for India. This time even such an alibi is not available to justify the US supply of military hardware to Pakistan.

The strategic importance of Pakistan in the Pentagon’s future projections in Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf zone has hardly gone down even after the end of the Cold War. The crescent of potential turbulence that stretches from Sinkiang to Iran calls for an American foothold in this region, and that is precisely what Pakistan alone can provide. And within Pakistan, it is the military junta which in Washington’s perception provides both stability and reliability. The offer to release a fresh fleet of F-16s along with other equipment to upgrade the Pak Air Force serves the double purpose of placating America’s most trusted and durable element within Pakistan and also strengthening a very important watchtower for the US strategy in this important region.

During Talbott’s talks in New Delhi, there was a feeling that the ingenious formula, offering F-16 in exchange of Islamabad agreeing to cap its nuclear weapons programme, would be a non-starter as no government in Pakistan would agree to give up its nuclear weapons programme. However, after Talbott’s Islamabad talks—which he described as a “total success”—it is becoming clear that what the Clinton Administration is immediately concerned with is the disposal of the F-16 fleet along with other lethal items for the Pak Air Force, for which the one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment is being pressed in the US Congress. The immediate compulsion of the Clinton Administration is to sell the products of the giant aircraft and missile manufacturers in the USA. Senator Pressler has already exposed this with regard to the F-16 offer to Pakistan. And if Narasimha Rao is willing—as some of his entourage would like to get if they have their way—President Clinton will readily offer to sell another consignment of aircraft, maybe of some other brand to India. Let us not forget the rumpus over our cryogenic rocket deal with Russia which has been bullied by Washington to go back on its contract to make room for the promotion of the American rocket products. And now the pressure is being mounted on New Delhi to abandon its missile programe. “If you need rocket or missiles, we are ready to sell our stuff, why make yours?” seems to be the latest jingle in the American arms bazaar which President Clinton is promoting.

Strobe Talbott tried to be smart, trying to assure the Prime Minsiter that the supply of the F-16 fleet would not disturb the strategic parity between India and Pakistan. To which came the prompt response that India has many more fronts to guard other than Pakistan which appears to be obsessed with India alone.

The question arises: what about the widely-advertised mission to cap Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programe? In New Delhi Talbott elaborated that the deal with Pakistan was “an equation” with “strict unambiguous condi-tionality”—of which one half is the release of F-16 and the other half is “agreement in advance to a veriable cap” of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Two days later, at Islamabad, he threw more light. In carefully-worded comments it was stated that the USA and Pakistan have agreed to go in for “further consideration” of the American proposal. And this joint effort would be for “developing our approach” to the equation. And for all that only a “preliminary accord” has been reached. And when further consideration was completed and “an approach” was developed, then would they come to produce the goal of capping, then reducing the finally eliminating nuclear weapons. A fairly protracted process which, for all you know, may outlive the Clinton Administration. But the supply of F-16 fighter aircraft would be immediate. Incidentally, the Clinton Administration is likely to run into difficulties in the US Congress over this one-time waiver, as Senator Pressler has threatened filibuster.

In New Delhi, the US Deputy Secretary sought to underplay the issue of F-16 as having only “a potent sysmbolism” in the South Asian region and urged the need “to look beyond symbolism to reality”. However, such pseudo-philosophical profundities can hardly conceal the stark reality. With protocol politeness Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had to gently warn the US Deputy Secretary that the supply of a fleet of the F-16 fighter aircraft would be a matter of serious concern for our defence and this would compel the government to go in for counter-measures that would be a back-breaking burden on the economy of India. The repeated reiteration of this point in official pronouncements in the last few days since the Talbott visit actually reflects the overwhelming public perception that the American tilt for the military esablishment of Pakistan persists despite all the affidavits to the contrary by the US Adminsitration officials.

The non-proliferation drive of the US Administration, particularly after the end of the Cold War, hardly impresses the Third World. Behind the tenacious drive to disarm Iraq and the current threats to North Korea, as also the pressure on India and Pakistan to abandon the nuclear option, there is a clear move to perpetuate the dominance of the nuclear weapons powers over those countries who are denied the nuclear weapons—the very basis of the NPT.

The Western commentators and policy-makers harp on the anomaly of India preaching to the world of the urgency of nuclear disarmament while refusing to sign the NPT. The fact that the NPT by its very nature discriminates in favour of those powers who have already acquired the nuclear arsenal and are not called upon to dismantle them, but insists on the nuclear have-not powers to pledge not to produce the weapon—this discrimination itself offends the sensitivity of any self-respecting country. This is all the more galling when one takes into account the facts that the big brothers of the nuclear club, particularly the USA and Russia, have a stockpile each which can destroy the entire world, while the maximum that a country like India and Pakistan hopes to produce is a variant of the Hiroshima level which, however hideous, does not threaten the entire humankind.

Secondly, Washington’s calculation that if Pakistan could be cajoled to agree to cap its nuclear weapons programme, then it will be possible to persuade India to follow suit, is made invalid by the fact that the nuclear threat to India does not come from Pakistan alone but more seriously from China, and now from other Central Asian countries, particularly Kazakhstan which has a portion of the huge nuclear stockpile of the former Soviet Union. And why should India leave out the danger of nuclear threat from Israel which had once made a sneaking attack on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal at Kahuta? So, if one is really serious about dispelling the Indian threat perception, one has to extend much beyond a two-country arrangement between India and Pakistan, or even its latest version of 5+2+2 (that is, the five permanent members of the Security Council which includes China, plus Japan and Germany alongwith India and Pakistan)—most of whom are heavily weighed against India. Really speaking, there is no earthly reason why India should budge from its original stand of the universal approach to the problem, instead of regional.

Thirdly, the Indian perception is that the nuclear powers are not serious about reversing the nuclear arms race towards nuclear disarmament. Had they been genuinely serious about nuclear disarmament, why did they not readily respond to Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative when he placed before the UN Special Session in 1988 a detailed and realistic Action Plan—which was updated by Narasimha Rao in his intervention before the Special Session of the UN Security Council in 1992? There has always been a condescendingly polite appreciation of the Indian initiative without any effort at serious follow-up discussions by the big bosses of the nuclear corporate club.

Here is a foretaste of the new form of world overlordship through nuclear monopoly of a select group of powers with the US at the head, and to ensure economic domination through control of world trade as the GATT represents, in which discrimination is sought to be practised even through non-economic means. In this context, the arms sale is first on the priority list for the USA. The message is clear for all VIP visitors to Washington: Don’t bother to make your own weapons, that is only a fetish. Instead, buy it from us, from our well-stocked arms supermarket.

There is no basic change in the outlook and practice of the world’s surviving superpower. Essentially, Washington is a prisoner of the Cold War strategy of domination through areas and trade in the new context. While taking up the crusade to force others to disgorge their nuclear weapons, the USA wants to consolidate its nuclear overlordship. And, by trying to block the hi-tech programme of rockets and missiles of others, it seeks to ensure the market for its own deadly products. A fine vision indeed of a new world order—basically not very different from that of John F. Dulles—only revised and made upto date under Bill Clinton.

(Mainstream April 16, 1994)

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