Missile sale to India will hike tension

Published September 3, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Sept 2: The proposed sale of a sophisticated missile defence system from Israel to India will not only increase tension between the two neighbours, but also escalate competition for arms in the region.

The views were expressed in an article in Far Eastern Economic Review issue of Sept 5 and co-authored by writers based in Washington, Beijing and Mumbai.

The issue emanates from Washington’s dilemma as to its response to the deal. The United States has veto power over Israeli exports of the system because the US has provided a bulk of the funding for developing it. But the proposed sale has set off fears of increased tension between India and Pakistan.

This question has prompted a heated debate within the US government, pitting diplomats in the State Department against military strategists in the Pentagon.

India is interested in buying the Arrow Weapon System, which is being developed jointly by Israel and the US to intercept short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Thee Arrow is primarily a defensive system, it is powerful enough to propel a 500-kilogram payload about 300 kilometres.

South Asia analysts believe a decision to sell the Arrow to New Delhi could prompt Pakistan to boost its offensive capability to counter India’s defensive shield, or begin seeking ways to get its own version of missile defence.

The Pakistan government could send its own signal back to India, says Michael Krepon, a South Asia specialist at the Henry L. Stimson Centre, a Washington think-tank focusing on international security issues.

If Washington does scuttle the sale, there will be a certain irony at work. India was one of the only countries to voice support of the Bush administration’s controversial plans to develop advanced missile-defence systems. Now it’s attempting to put that position into practice with Israel’s help.

Will Washington end up giving Israel the green light? A Senate hearing on July 30 revealed the divide between the Defence and State departments. Supporters in the Pentagon and Vice- President Dick Cheney’s office argue that the system meshes with President George W. Bush’s goal of cooperating with friendly countries interested in developing missile defence.

They believe providing the Arrow would bolster US relations with India. The State Department, on the other hand, is worried that allowing the sale to go ahead would send the wrong signal to China, Russia and other weapons exporters at a time when the US is calling for a reduction in proliferation.

For some in New Delhi, the decision on the Arrow sale is a test of the US commitment to better relations with India. What does this new relationship consist of if the US does not deliver in areas of interest to India?” asks one Indian official.

Beijing has not commented publicly about India’s efforts to buy the Arrow, but it has always rejected the contention that China poses a threat to India.—APP

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