Michael Krepon on Indo-US Relations

01 Nov, 1997    ·   22

IPCS Seminar: New Delhi, held on 8 September 1997

In his presentation on Indo-US relations Michael Krepon perceived the dominant US view of India to be that of a market and not a security threat. This perception has gained strength in President Clinton's second term. His new foreign affairs team accords high priority to India. The most important area for co-operation is the economic agenda. There were three other main areas.

1.                   The ability of the coalition government in India headed by Mr. Gujral pursuing political and economic initiatives.

2.                   Many India watchers believed that the initial steam had gone out of economic revivalism, which could adversely affect liberalisation programmes and market reforms.

3.                   Another area of concern was the slow progress of the on-going secretary level talks and recent incidents of heavy firing across the Line of Actual Control between India and Pakistan.

There was recognition in Washington that this was an important and opportune moment for the two South Asian countries to improve their relations. There was also curiosity in Washington as to what instruments of national power India would pursue to obtain a seat at the high table (Security Council). India-Pakistan relations, he stressed, were more important at present than ever before. The fact had to be recognised by India that Premier Nawaz Sharif had overextended himself and was domestically vulnerable due to the steps he had taken to improve ties. Krepon felt that the issues that would determine the nature and scope of Indo-US relations in the near term future would be:

·                     The ability of the Indian government to sustain its economic development programme.

·                     The ability of India and Pakistan to forge closer and friendlier ties.

·                     The thresholds which the two countries would set for their nuclear and missile programme.

Krepon also thought, that Washington was cognizant now of the need to recognise Indian security perceptions. The Indian stand on keeping its nuclear option open was better appreciated, so long as that option was not made visible or allowed to cross defined thresholds. Any change in the current situation either through renewed testing or overt weaponisation could lead to a crises. Furthermore, as the US doubted the stability of the coalition government, meaningful discussions could not be fruitfully conducted on these sensitive issues. Krepon also thought it unlikely that the US would engage Indian on nuclear issues, like meeting the safety requirements of Indian atomic power plants or signing deals in the energy sector, without getting something in return.

The perception in Washington regarding India's nuclear capability was that it was viable. The US was keen to get on with a broader agenda, with priority on economic co-operation, if the overall security situation in South Asia improved. The best way for India to activate broader US interest was by engaging in a range of CBMs that could restore Washington's confidence.

Coming to the respective missile capabilities of India and Pakistan it was felt that since deployment could quickly be effected, command, control, communication and intelligence capabilities had to be high. The missile issues in South Asia were also colouring political issues. Krepon felt that there were many ways in which CBMs could be negotiated.

Four CBMs relating directly to the 'missile race' were especially important, viz.:

1.                   Keeping track of each other's potential missile flight paths

2.                   Employing commercial satellites for imagery

3.                   Keeping monitoring outfits in the hands of non-governmental organisations and

4.                   Initiating steps for increasing the effectiveness of existing CBMs.

The US would be willing to provide the technology and reconnaissance capabilities to implement these measures. He cited the Middle East example and the CBM options pursued by Syria and Israel. They had agreed to open windows in which aerial reconnaissance could take place. The two nations had also agreed to each other's aircraft overflying their territory at previously agreed altitude boundaries, fully loaded with sensors. This was an important step towards providing transparency. Another methodology was for a third party providing the two sides with oblique cameras, whereby visual ranges cold be enhanced through camera inclination. For this, an Open Skies policy was a must.

The response to Krepon's presentation was wide-ranging. An opinion was expressed that while India was willing to consider any measure suggested by the US to curb its indigenously developed nuclear capability, the US could be indirectly blessing Indian nuclear ambitions. A stable ground needed to be identified between these slippery slopes. From the Indian point of view it was felt, if the option was acknowledged, bilateral co-operation could proceed on a number of issues. India, while respecting US non-proliferation concerns, would require something in return for its restraint. Another respondent felt that in the context of Indo-Pak talks, militaristic posturing was necessary for the dialogue to proceed. There was an inherent and intricate dynamic prevalent in Indo-Pak ties and India could ill-afford a soft-posture.

Michael Krepon thought that the US would not mind militaristic public pronouncements as long as talks between India and Pakistan progressed. The key question was whether there would be more talks or just more loose talk. Regarding perceptions in India that the US would adopt the role of a mediator, Krepon felt that the US did not want to mediate, because it was not in the US interest to alienate either country. Still the view of the US being a potential mediator was strongly held in South Asia and could not easily be dispelled. As to perceptions in India that the US continually left a major proliferator like China off the hook, but chose instead to engage in constructive economic co-operation with it, Krepon felt that China was now displaying a more positive behaviour. Agreeing that there were many contradictions in US policy, Krepon suggested that these contradictions were not conceived in the nature of intrigues but as improvisations to meet current problems.