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US Arms for India: End Use and End Result

US Arms for India: End Use and End Result

by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Ever since the exit of George W. Bush from the White House, his admirers in India have been a worried lot. They have been wondering nervously about the fate of the "strategic partnership" and the future of dangerous regional rivalries promoted during his days. They are happier after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to the country. They seem less concerned on both counts.

What has dispelled their gloom is a document signed during her visit: an end-use monitoring (EUM) agreement on US military supplies to India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has not tabled the text of the agreement in Parliament or shared it with the public so far. But a fair idea of its content is available from disjointed statements, official and quasi-official, made in the course of discussions.

The agreement is based on section 40 (a) of the US Arms Export Control Act, which asks the US administration to ensure, "to the extent practicable, (that) such program shall be designed to provide reasonable assurances that the recipient is complying with the requirements imposed by the United States Government with respect to the use, transfers, and security of defense articles and monitoring of U.S. arms transfers, and security of defense articles and services."

Purportedly, the provision reflects fears about exported US military equipment falling into the hands of elements inimical to US interests. Among the examples cited are Stinger shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles. It is another matter that the Stingers, now supposed to be serving the cause of the Taliban in Afghanistan, did not fall into their hands but were placed there in the eighties to reinforce anti-Soviet resistance. The point is that this boomerang effect of US arms exports is seen to make it necessary to impose conditions on the buyers.

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Some other arms-exporting countries have also resorted to restrictions on buyers. Indonesia, for instance, broke off military trade ties with Britain, which moved to stop use of its exported Scorpion light tanks against a separatist insurgency in Aceh which ended in 2005. Chad found itself not free to arm and use Pilatus-7 turboprops, supplied by the Swiss, against secessionists backed by Sudan in December 2005. It is the US alone, however, that insists on comprehensive EUM agreements, considered intrusive by many countries, as an essential condition for military exports.

India, for its part, got away with its supply of imported British-built BN-2 Britten-Norman Islander light surveillance aircraft to the junta in Myanmar in 2006-07, despite British objections and warnings (that were not pressed too hard). The US-India EUM agreement, however, may not exactly serve the cause of democracy.

The agreement falls under "foreign military sales" (FMS), or government-to-government deals, as distinguished from "direct commercial sales" (DCS) between private parties. The Golden Sentry EUM program (more comprehensive than the Blue lantern program governing commercial sales) covers the entire spectrum of equipment export, from shipping and receiving to use and final disposition. It is aptly christened "cradle-to-grave monitoring."

It offers the buyer the advantages of fixed prices, sovereign guarantees and after-sale support. In India as elsewhere, however, many including military experts find that these do not make up for more fundamental disadvantages.

Writing in the Indian Defence Review in March 2008. Major General Mrinal Suman, for instance, says: "(By such an agreement) the US retains the right to verify 'credible reports' that such items have been used for purposes other than agreed upon. What are 'credible reports'? Who vouches for their credibility? As has been repeatedly seen, governments the world over exploit such phrases to justify a particular course of action. Much-advertised 'credible reports' of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction is a case in point."

Critics point out that provisions of this kind can only be part of a pact between the US and a NATO-type ally, and not a country considered a notable member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Can't the agreement, they query, transform a "strategic partner" - which did not go beyond tactically voting twice against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during the Bush days - into a "client state?"

The fears find a reinforcement in the reliable reports that the EUM agreement may be followed by a Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CIS MoA) and a Mutual Logistic Support Agreement (MLSA); the US can enter into these pacts only with countries it can count upon as either NATO-style allies or client-states.

The MLSA is already on the US-India agenda for over a year. On February 27, 2008, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to New Delhi, pressed for early conclusion of the agreement. Under it, according to experts, India will be obliged to provide services including refueling and port facilities to US warships, bombers, aircraft, etc., and billeting of troops and storage of food for them. The MLSA has been compared to a similar agreement the US signed in 2002 with the Philippines, converting the country almost into an American base, according to protesters there.

Equally clear are the implications of the EUM agreement for South Asian peace and stability. The US now has such agreements with both India and Pakistan. What does this spell for the subcontinent?

Argues Indian security expert Brahma Chellaney, no bitter critic of Bush: "... as India gets sucked into the US strategic dominion" (through the EUM agreement and the other pacts envisaged), its special relationship with Moscow is bound to change. If America can merrily sell growing quantities of arms on both sides of the subcontinental divide and yet get New Delhi to accept restrictive measures, an economically struggling Russia has little incentive to stick to its traditional policy of not exporting arms to Pakistan."

In other words, we may soon be witness to the spectacle of both the US and Russia vying with each other to augment the arsenals of the nuclear-armed adversaries. The end result of the end-use monitoring agreement will then be the rapid escalation of an arms race that the people of the poverty-stricken region can hardly afford.


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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