U.S. And India To Strengthen Security Ties

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
February 28, 2008 By Mark Mazzetti and Somini Sengupta
NEW DELHI — With a landmark nuclear energy pact between the United States and India stalled, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that the nations would nonetheless strengthen their security ties as India looked to embark on a closer — and still contentious — level of military cooperation with the United States.
With its booming economy and a strong desire to upgrade Soviet-era weaponry, India has emerged as one of the world’s most prosperous arms markets.
During two days of meetings with Indian officials, Mr. Gates pressed the case of American defense companies competing for multibillion-dollar contracts with the Indian government, including a coveted $10 billion fighter jet deal.
But beyond the economic benefits of Indian military modernization, American officials contend that India can be an important stabilizing force in Asia and a critical counterweight to China’s regional ambitions.
On Wednesday, Mr. Gates denied that the Bush administration’s effort to strengthen ties to India and other Asian nations was planned specifically with China in mind.
But Pentagon officials said that during Mr. Gates’s meetings with Indian officials, more time was spent discussing China than Pakistan, India’s longtime rival.
Mr. Gates has logged thousands of miles on stops around Asia to deepen military ties and pave the way for future arms deals with three of Asia’s most important democracies: India, Indonesia and Australia.
A senior defense official traveling with Mr. Gates said that, given China’s military ambitions, it was essential to cement security relationships with other powers in Asia “not in an aggressive sense, but certainly as a hedge.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to talk publicly about American defense policy.
During a stop in Indonesia, Mr. Gates pledged more active Pentagon support for the Indonesian military, after more than a decade of estrangement over the Indonesian military’s past human rights abuses.
In Canberra, Australia, Mr. Gates promised to investigate whether a Congressional prohibition on foreign nations from buying the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet could be lifted. Australian officials have expressed interest in buying the high-tech fighter.
India and Australia are formidable naval powers in the Indian Ocean, a vital strategic corridor for oil supplies as well as for terrorist organizations and trafficking groups.
Security analysts predict that India’s spending for weapons could grow to as much as $40 billion over the next several years, more than its entire annual armament budget today. India is trying to upgrade its arsenal of submarines, tanks, jet fighters and transport aircraft. It has conducted several military exercises with the United States in recent years.
India announced last month that it would buy six C-130 cargo planes from the American military contractor Lockheed Martin, a deal worth about $1 billion. Earlier, the Indian Navy bought an American warship, the Trenton, which it renamed the Jalashva. The vessel increases India’s capacity to project its power in the Indian Ocean region.
Lockheed and Boeing are among the companies competing for the $10 billion contract to supply India with 126 fighter jets, to upgrade an aging fleet of Russian-built MIGs.
The Indians want to expand their strategic relationship with the United States, but not necessarily at the expense of traditional military partners, like Russia.
India has also insisted on high-technology transfer, which would have been unimaginable even a decade ago, when mutual distrust lingered from the cold-war era. India traditionally relied on Russia for its military hardware. In recent years, Israel has become a more important partner, and now so has the United States.