As India celebrates the third successful anti-missile test conducted off the Orissa coast on Friday,New Delhi might continue to have trouble managing the politics of missile defence at home and abroad.
Eight years ago,the external affairs minister Jaswant Singh surprised the world by embracing President George W Bush’s controversial plan to accelerate the development and deployment of missiles that could shoot down other missiles,especially those armed with nuclear weapons.
While a grateful Washington offered to share its missile defence technologies with New Delhi,there were few takers for it within the NDA government. Outside the government,the Opposition Congress party mildly,the communists wildly,and the foreign policy traditionalists in a confused manner attacked India’s new interest in missile defence. On the external front,our old friends in Moscow were upset and our neighbours in Beijing angry at India’s enthusiasm for missile defence.
When power changed hands in New Delhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh negotiated the nuclear deal with the United States in 2005,there was a second opportunity to advance India’s missile defences.
The US offered to make a joint declaration on missile defence the centrepiece of President Bush’s visit to India in March 2006. Afraid of CPM’s boss,Prakash Karat,the UPA held back. The government was also under immense pressure from Moscow and Beijing to join them in their global campaign against missile defence.
After India announcing its own missile defence test for the first time in November 2006,the foreign policy conservatives began to own it as a ‘national achievement’; the left was unmoved. While the comrades held India’s military space programme in check,China stunned the world in January 2007 by testing an anti-satellite weapon in space.
If India missed the big moment with Bush on military space cooperation,it now stares at President Barack Obama scaling back on missile defence and negotiating a compromise with Moscow.
For India two important lessons stand out: one,the case for new military technologies must be rooted in an appreciation of our own security interests and cannot be subject to the ideological fancies of a few. As a nuclear Pakistan descends into chaos,the importance of missile defence will continue to grow for India.
Two,unless our scientists and diplomats learn to work together,New Delhi will find itself unable to seize high technology opportunities when they present themselves for a fleeting moment or two.
(C. Raja Mohan is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore)