European responses have ranged from skepticism to outright opposition, while Russia and China have warned that unilateral abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could undermine global security and ignite a new arms race, one that could easily spread to South Asia.
Why, then, was India one of the first and only country to express its support, albeit lukewarmly, for the NMD? The anwser lies in the fact that conditions are ripe for a fair-weather friendship between India and the U.S. The Bush administration is anxious to tap India's pool of skilled labour and market of over one billion people. Moreover, several administration officials view India as a valuable strategic counterweight to China, with whom U.S. relations have soured because of the recent spy-plane incident and differences over Taiwan, weapons proliferation, human rights, and missile defenses.
India, for its part, would like to see the U.S. lift what remains of the sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests, most of which prohibit the export of military and dual-use goods. In addition to the prospect of military and technological assistance, India also hopes to win U.S. support for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Being the only country to jump on the NMD bandwagon therefore seems like a good way to grease the wheels of India's rise to greatpower status.
Unfortunately, any potential benefits of currying favour with the U.S. will be washed out by the long-term consequences of a U.S. anti- missile system. The implications for India's national security are especially worrisome. First, the likely Chinese response would be a qualitative and quantitative buildup of its nuclear forces. A classified U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released in August 2000 confirms this assessment, reportedly predicting that China's strategic arsenal could swell to 10 times its present size as a response to the NMD. To achieve such a buildup, China may decide both to equip its nuclear missiles with multiple independent re-entry vehicles and to resume nuclear tests, steps that India would find threatening.
Second, China will be less likely to honour its non- proliferation commitments in the face of growing U.S. unilateralism and support for Taiwan. Traffic of sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile components and technologies to Pakistan, among other countries, would likely increase.
The fallout from the NMD may simply increase the threat to India from its two immediate neighbours, with both of whom it has a history of conflict. China and Pakistan will be engaged in rapid nuclear buildups and will be cultivating a strategic relationship based on the proliferation of nuclear technology and ballistic missiles. These unsettling security trends could undermine improved relations between India and China as well as halt progress towards a resolution of the longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
India's social and economic development may
be affected as pressure rises to respond with further increases in military
spending levels, which have already risen by double-digit percentages each of
the previous two years. India may also be pushed closer to a decision to fully
weaponise and deploy its nuclear forces. Such a step would entail massive
expenditures on nuclear command, control, communications, and intelligence, and
force officials to make critical decisions about
Spending more money on bombers and nuclear weapons means that fewer resources will be available for priorities such as disaster relief, poverty alleviation, and economic development that are more important to India's future than senseless and destablising arms races. India will still be able to pursue its interests without endorsing the concept of missile defences. Indeed, supporting the NMD may ultimately slow India's rise to greatness, not accelerate it.
(The writer is a specialist on nonproliferation at Council for a Livable World Education Fund, a Washington DC-based arms control advocacy group.)