Thursday, February 28, 2008

arms race fear as us plans indian missile shield

Arms race fear as US plans India missile shield By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi 28/02/2008 The United States and India are in talks to join forces on a missile defence system - despite fears it could trigger an arms race with China. The proposal, still at an early stage, is part of an evolving strategic partnership between the world's two largest democracies. But the fear in Beijing is that the US is trying to "encircle" China by using India and allies such as Japan and Australia as proxies, and thereby stifle its strategic rise. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said in New Delhi: "We're beginning to talk about conducting a joint analysis on what India's needs would be in the realm of missile defence, and where co-operation might help advance that." Mr Gates denied that the proposal was part of a tactic to "hedge" against the rise of China. "I don't see our military relationship in this region in the context of any other country, including China," he said. However, officials travelling with him suggested it was no coincidence that Mr Gates's tour had encompassed three democracies - India, Australia and Indonesia - with which the US had a "fundamental commonality of interests". Mr Gates's two-day Delhi visit is geared towards pushing sales for American defence contractors, as well as to strengthen bilateral strategic ties. Nevertheless, the suggestion of extending the US missile defence shield at a time when China and India have a number of unresolved border disputes, came as a surprise. Mr Gates insisted talks on the joint missile shield were at an early stage. "We're not looking for quick results or big leaps forward but rather a steady expansion of this relationship that leaves everybody comfortable and one that works in terms of Indian domestic politics and also for us," he said. Defence analysts, however, said such a collaboration would complicate relations with China as well as India's other nuclear-armed neighbours, Pakistan and Russia. Until now, Russia has been India's biggest supplier of military hardware. "Such an arrangement could trigger a regional arms race, with the potential to turn the sub-continent into a virtual flashpoint," a senior Indian military officer said. India is tentative about entering a joint missile defence shield with Washington, as it is pursuing a similar domestic programme of its own. But closer strategic ties with the US and the gradual acquisition of American military equipment has prompted Washington to push the relationship further. Analysts said offering closer defence ties shows the US is keen to build India up as a "counterweight" to China's burgeoning military might - even though Delhi itself has expressed reservations about the "encirclement" of China. In another move likely to heighten tensions with Russia, America yesterday tied up the military elements of a deal to build its controversial missile defence shield in Europe. The agreement came in Washington as President George W Bush met Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister. The Czech Republic is now likely to host a radar base that will scan the skies for missiles fired by "rogue states", notably Iran.

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