The Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) organized a webinar on “Two Decades of Indo-US Strategic Partnership: Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia” on November 27th, 2020.
Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, the Executive Director of CISS, offered his opening remarks and welcomed the panelists and the audience.
He recalled that the moorings of the U.S.-India strategic partnership were anchored in 1992 when the think tank community in Washington D.C. recommended the new Clinton administration to chart a new South Asia strategy in which India had a prominent role.
Ambassador Naqvi also highlighted the role of the Indian diaspora in shaping the U.S. strategic thinking about India as a net security provider in the Asia Pacific and promoting New Delhi as a counterweight to China.
This strategic thinking underpinned all of the defense agreements signed over the course of two decades under the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership, the prominent of which are the four American foundational agreements of General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in 2002, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), signed in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in 2018, and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) concluded in 2020.
In the ultimate analysis, the foundational agreements between India and the US pose a serious threat to the strategic stability of the region.
In this context, the CISS organized the webinar to have both Pakistani and Indian perspectives on India’s space, missile, and nuclear program, and to discuss how the Indo-U.S. Foundational Agreements have been instrumental to India’s advanced military and nuclear capabilities.
Dr Naeem Salik, Senior Fellow at CISS, remarked that India’s space program achieved a notable success only in late the 1980s when the country had decided to combine the space and nuclear program as complementary binaries.
India’s advanced space technology was demonstrated on March 27, 2019, when the country conducted its first Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, an exclusive military capability formerly possessed by the US, Russia, and China only.
He also talked about how India’s signing of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) had emboldened New Delhi to produce advanced versions of missile categories, including the supersonic missile systems and potential hypersonic capabilities.
The second speaker was Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan, from India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, who offered an Indian perspective on India’s missile and nuclear programs.
In his view, South Asian strategic stability is a function of both behavior and capability of states in the region. He thought that the U.S.’s strategic partnership with India had played the role of a moderator on India’s missile and nuclear program, as New Delhi had built only limited nuclear and missile capabilities.
He also believed that Indian nuclear and missile forces had grown modestly, guided by the country’s No First Use and minimum deterrence doctrine, despite facing a two-front nuclear deterrence problem.
Ambassador Naqvi contested his claim by saying that thanks to the quintessential dual-use nature and ambiguity of the nuclear program, India had carefully covered its fissile material stockpile in such a manner that the real picture does not come out clearly in the reports of relevant international organizations.
Dr Mansoor Ahmed, another senior fellow at CISS, spoke about how India’s strategic program had undergone a revolution in nuclear latent capabilities in the last two decades.
This includes its civil nuclear energy program (comprising heavy waterpower reactors) outside safeguards and the nuclear fuel cycle.
More specifically, he saw India’s fissile material production capabilities, comprising uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing facilities as having exponentially expanded in terms of their size and efficiency.
Equally worrisome, in his view, is India’s stockpile of a huge strategic reserve of high-quality reactor-grade plutonium, which is weapon-usable, and far exceeds the fueling requirements for the potential breeder program.
He also warned that India’s nuclear buildup, coupled with its rapidly growing missile and space program, was catalyzing transformation in Indian force posture and doctrinal thinking, which could generate crisis instability and undermine deterrence stability in South Asia.
Dr Adil Sultan, the Dean of Air University Islamabad, expressed the concern that the foundational agreements such as the BECA have a specific bearing on Pakistan as they will improve Indian military’s situational awareness and preparedness for planning precision strikes against Pakistan.
He observed that the repeated Sino-Indian border standoffs have confirmed that India lacks the political will and the military capability to fight against China.
The webinar witnessed an animated interactive session and the participants found it to be very worthwhile.