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Protecting the Empire

As the US seeks to establish its fighting capability in space, it continues to increase its military bases around the world. And given its desire to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, keep an eye on Pakistan's radical elements and provide a counter to China, the US is naturally considering a closer relationship with India.

Letter from America

the same kind of devils. The American drive to control nuclear proliferation is

Protecting the Empire

directly connected to the international

As the US seeks to establish its fighting capability in space, it continues to increase its military bases around the world. And given its desire to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, keep an eye on Pakistan’s radical elements and provide a counter to China, the US is naturally considering a closer relationship with India.


he US has announced that it will begin work on the design of the first new hydrogen bomb for its nuclear arsenal in 20 years. It already has over 10,000 nuclear weapons, over 4,000 of these are deployed, and 2,000 of these are on hair-trigger alert and ready to be used in 15 minutes. These missiles can reach almost anywhere in the world. With these weapons, the US can threaten anywhere in the world.

The reason is straightforward. The US nuclear weapons research and production complex is ageing and wants an overhaul so it can keep doing what it has done for six decades. It cannot let go. Or rather, the people who manage it, work in it and profit from it cannot let go. The US spent over $ 7 billion on managing and modernising its nuclear warheads last year. It spent almost as much on cleaning up the mess still left from making them.

The US is also seeking a new space war fighting capability. The US National Space Policy announced in October 2006 makes clear how important space capabilities have become. It says “The United States considers space capabilities – including the ground and space segments and supporting links – vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so.” To this end, the secretary of defence is instructed to, “develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries”. In short, space is to become a theatre of military operations that the US must be prepared to dominate.

The 2006 National Defence Strategy claims that use of space “enables us to project power anywhere in the world from secure bases of operation”. Part of this power projection includes what is called the “prompt global strike” capability. Among other things it involves developing a suborbital space capsule that would be launched from the US and could deliver conventional weapons anywhere in the world within two hours. A former secretary of the air force has said, “We haven’t reached the point of strafing and bombing from space...nonetheless, we are thinking about those possibilities.”

In 2005, the US military was given an “Interim Global Strike Alert Order” that requires it to be ready to attack hostile countries that are developing nuclear weapons. The military claims “we have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes” within “half a day or less” and that it is able to use nuclear weapons in such an attack.

Hegemony of Military Bases

Few would dispute that the US is a nuclear-armed empire with global reach. But it is not all up in the air. The US is also in Chalmers Johnson’s phrase an “empire of bases”. It has about 700 military bases in 130 or so countries and a large number of other military facilities in these and other countries. It is estimated there are now over 5,00,000 US military personnel and associated civilians stationed in over 150 countries.

It has long been evident that the US has placed its needs for military bases far above any concern for democracy in such countries. American agreements for creating and keeping bases have recently been described as often no more than “deals with devils”. Future agreements will no doubt involve the same kind of deals with network of US military bases around the world. The fear of a nuclear threat to American military bases and forces around the world has triggered the search for ways to defend them and to project American power through other means. As Andrew Lichterman has observed:

For the wars of the 21st Century, the United States is seeking unilaterally assured destruction, the capacity to reach across the planet to destroy an adversary’s most dangerous weapons before they can be used, or to kill leaders it has declared to be unacceptable, and then to prevent retaliation against either US forward deployed forces or the United States itself.

It would appear US military planners see future conflict as inevitable, and confronted with military forces armed with weapons and strategies based on following the US example their response is to find means to protect their imperial expeditionary forces so that they can be deployed and can fight wars without taking large casualties and so risking the loss of American public support.

But like the British and other empires, America realised that gunboats and armies are not enough. The US has long relied on countries serving as allies for regional conflicts. Some of these have been nucleararmed. Others have been used as bases from where US nuclear forces can be deployed. Still others have been encouraged to strengthen their military and play a role in American war plans. The most famous examples are Britain and France, who played these roles in Europe during the cold war. The US helped both countries with their nuclear weapons programmes as part of this relationship. In west Asia, the most famous and controversial example of a nuclear-armed US ally is Israel.

Japan is another long-standing key ally. The US has committed itself to “provide all necessary support for the defence of Japan”, which means Japan being defended by US nuclear weapons and missile defences. Japan has also agreed to act as a base for the deployment of a radar station for the US missile defence system, and continue to be a forward base for US armed forces for the Asia-Pacific region. Nuclear weapons may play a role here too. Consider

Economic and Political Weekly March 17, 2007

the calm response in US policy circles to prominent Japanese officials talking about acquiring a nuclear option. Frank Barnaby and Shaun Burnie have cautioned:

In the 1960s, the Nixon administration considered the option of arming Japan with nuclear weapons. Forty years on it would be surprising if there were not those in Washington considering that such a development would be in the medium term interests of the United States. And anyway, the US is already signalling that it would not be able to stop it.

Eyeing India

The next in line may be India. Ashley Tellis, who was an adviser to US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, served on the National Security Council and advised the state department on the US-India nuclear, has observed “If the United States is serious about advancing its geopolitical objectives in Asia, it would almost by definition help New Delhi develop its strategic capabilities such that India’s nuclear weaponry and associated delivery systems could deter against the growing and utterly more capable nuclear forces Beijing is likely to possess by 2025”. He draws an explicit parallel with past US cooperation, noting that “In a previous generation, the United States assisted the British and French nuclear weapon programmes in critical ways so as to deny the Soviet Union permanent strategic immunity vis-à-vis these two smaller states”.

The example Tellis has in mind is France. He notes “US aid to the French nuclear weapon programme is particularly pertinent: first, because it occurred despite President Charles de Gaulle’s withdrawal of France from the unified military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); and second, because of the form it took, namely, the quiet but effective practice of “negative guidance”, through which US weapon scientists were able to tell their French counterparts when and how they were in error, even if the Americans could not always provide the French with the information to remedy those mistakes. While there is clearly a world of difference between the US-French and the US-Indian relationships, there is good reason to believe that the latter may come to resemble the former at some point because of the anticipated growth of Chinese power.”

But what would the US want for such aid to India? The clearest exposition came in testimony to Congress in support of the US-India nuclear deal by Ashton Carter, who served as assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton administration, and his subsequent article in Foreign Affairs. He offered a list: First, “Washington should expect to have India’s help in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even if India’s assistance would risk compromising its friendly relations with Iran”. Secondly, “The United States will also want India’s assistance in dealing with a range of dangerous contingencies involving Pakistan…terrorists could buy or steal the materials (namely, plutonium or enriched uranium) necessary to building nuclear bombs from Pakistan thanks to diversion by radical elements in the Pakistani elite or if the Musharraf regime crumbles. And if an incident were to originate in Pakistan, the United States would want to respond in concert with as many regional players as possible, including India.” Thirdly, “Down the road, the US might also want India to serve as a counterweight to China”. Fourthly, there are “more direct benefits, militarily and economically.” These include “the intensification of military-to-military contacts and hopes eventually to gain the cooperation of India in disaster-relief efforts, humanitarian interventions, peacekeeping missions, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts, including even operations not mandated by or commanded by the United Nations, operations in which India has historically refused to participate”.

And, “US military forces may also seek access to strategic locations through Indian territory and perhaps basing rights there. Ultimately, India could even provide US forces with ‘over-the-horizon’ bases for contingencies in the Middle East.”

There are other interests too, of course. “On the economic front, as India expands its civilian nuclear capacity and modernises its military, the United States stands to gain preferential treatment for US industries”.

Some of these views were echoed in the US Congress. Congressman Henry Hyde, after whom the US-India deal legislation is named, explained in introducing it “a major argument in favour” was that “a closer relationship with India is needed to offset the rising power of China”. For Hyde, “it is clear that the US will need to draw upon new resources to handle the challenges of this new century”. For Congressman Rohrabacher “There is a danger looming in the future. Hopefully, China will someday democratise. Until then, we must have alliances with the world’s democracies like India in order to preserve the peace of the world.” Congressman Davis observed that India would be “a strategic partner for the United States in a volatile region”. For Congressman Royce, India would be “a true partner as we enter what will be a decades-long struggle, I fear, against Islamist terrorism”.

These are goals that cannot be met with nuclear weapons or from space.



9.5 x 2

Economic and Political Weekly March 17, 2007

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