ISLAMABAD: Acquisition of advanced military and nuclear capabilities by India through its strategic cooperation with the United States weakened deterrence stability in the subcontinent.
This was the gist of an online discussion hosted by the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) on ‘Two decades of Indo-US strategic partnership: impact on strategic stability in South Asia.’ The event was organised to hear Pakistani and Indian perspectives on India’s space, missile and nuclear programme and see how India benefited from the foundational agreements it signed with the US.
CISS Executive Director retired Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi said the Indo-US strategic partnership started with the US think-tank community’s recommendation in 1992 for the then incoming Clinton administration to chart a new South Asia strategy in which India had a prominent role. Indian diaspora, he added, played an important role in shaping the US strategic thinking about India as a net security provider in the Asia-Pacific and promoting New Delhi as a counterweight to China.
“This strategic thinking underpinned all defence agreements signed over the course of two decades under the Indo-US strategic partnership, the prominent of which are the four American foundational agreements of General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in 2002, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) of 2018 and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) concluded in 2020,” he added.
Senior fellow at CISS Dr Naeem Salik said India’s space programme achieved a notable success only in the late 1980s when the country decided to combine the space and nuclear programme as complementary binaries.
India’s advanced space technology was demonstrated on March 27, 2019, when the country conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) test, an exclusive military capability formerly possessed by the US, Russia and China only.
He talked about how India’s signing of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) had emboldened New Delhi to produce advanced versions of missile categories, including the supersonic missile systems and potential hypersonic capabilities.
Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan from India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, while offering an Indian perspective on India’s missile and nuclear programmes, said South Asian strategic stability was a function of both behaviour and capability of states in the region.
Dr Mansoor Ahmed, another senior fellow at CISS, spoke about how India’s strategic programme had transformed in nuclear latent capabilities in the last two decades.
This includes its civil nuclear energy programme (comprising heavy waterpower reactors) outside safeguards and the nuclear fuel cycle.
More specifically, he saw India’s fissile material production capabilities, comprising uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing facilities, as having exponentially expanded in terms of their size and efficiency.
Equally worrisome, in his view, is India’s stockpile of a huge strategic reserve of high-quality reactor-grade plutonium which is weapon-usable and far exceeds the fueling requirements for the potential breeder programme.
He also warned that India’s nuclear buildup coupled with its rapidly growing missile and space programme was catalysing transformation in Indian force posture and doctrinal thinking, which could generate instability and undermine deterrence stability in South Asia.
Air University dean Dr Adil Sultan expressed the concern that the foundational agreements such as the BECA have a specific bearing on Pakistan as they will improve Indian military’s situational awareness and preparedness for planning precision strikes against Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020