The US, China and the Ghauri Missile

Chintamani Mahapatra,Res. Fellow,IDSA

 

The recent test-firing of the Ghauri missile by Pakistan has invoked sharp reactions in India. On the day following the test, a statement of the Indian Ministry of Defence said: "We are aware of constant outside assistance to Pakistan in this field despite the existence of multilateral export control regimes, unilateral declarations of restraint and supply restrictions on producer countries.... India will draw appropriate conclusions from these developments and take resolute steps to meet any threat to its national security."1 There was little doubt that the technology for the missile system came from China. In fact, soon after the test of the Ghauri missile, Pakistani media reported that the missile was developed with Chinese technology and some of the reports quoted the western diplomats as saying "initial technology" for the weapon came from Beijing.2 Moreover, there was a brief controversy over the source of the technology, with Islamabad saying it was indigenous, with China denying any assistance to Pakistani missile development programme and some American reports hinting at the North Korean connection. However, it was soon believed that Washington has been trying to whitewash the Chinese connection in view of the scheduled US-China summit in Beijing in June this year. The fact remains that even if there was a North Korean angle to this issue, China's hand would surely be involved in such a deal.

Reacting to the Ghauri missile test, Defence Minister George Fernandes said that India's "missile programme is well tuned to meet our security needs" and made note of three versions of the Prithvi missile, including a new 217-mile range naval version, all of which can target any part of the Pakistani territory.3 The Defence Minister, however, was more direct when he remarked: "Everybody knows that China has been supplying missile technology to Pakistan. China has told the United States that it is not supplying missile technology to Pakistan. It is up to the United States to take it up with Pakistan" and then went on to warn "There is no part of Pakistan that is outside the range of Prithvi" and that "we are capable of dealing with the situation in Pakistan." Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the other hand, sought to ward off any impression that the test-firing of a medium range missile by Pakistan would lead to a "nuclear race" in the Indian subcontinent. "No nuclear race will be started due to the firing of Ghauri," said Vajpayee at a news conference.4 Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath, however, reportedly told visiting US diplomat Bill Richardson that India would take all possible steps to meet its security concerns arising from arms policies in neighbouring Pakistan and China and that India would match its neighbours' weapons.5 Weeks after the Ghauri test, General V.P. Malik, Chief of the Army Staff, called for acquiring a "strategic deterrence" capability to counter the "emerging nuclear and missile challenges" to India's security. And after a few days, a revived Defence Minister's Committee began to discuss regional security environment and global trends, wherein Sino-Pakistan cooperation in the nuclear and missile developments came in for intense deliberations. Pakistan's acquisitions of missiles in the recent years included around 300-km range M-11 missiles, the suspected 650-km range M-9 missiles and the Ghauri missile with a range of 1500-kms. After taking note of the evolving "character of warfare and weaponry," the Committee reportedly emphasised the need for reorganising the armed forces, construction of appropriate battlefield doctrines and development of key capabilities.6

From the reactions in India, it has been quite clear that the main concern is the Sino-Pakistan nuclear and missile cooperation. There is no doubt about the fact that China has for long been assisting the nuclear and missile programme of Pakistan. More than any other source, enormous amount of information on this is available in the United States. Sino-Pakistan nuclear programme-related cooperation in the 1980s has been extended to cooperation in the field of ballistic missile development in the 1990s. A report prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for instance, says: "During the last half of 1996, China was the most significant supplier of WMD-related (weapons of mass destruction) goods and technology to foreign countries. The Chinese provided a tremendous variety of assistance to both Iran's and Pakistan's ballistic missiles programmes. China was also the primary source of nuclear-related equipment and technology to Pakistan...."7 Things had not changed since then and in April last year, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Einhorn said in a testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee, that China had not stopped its assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapon programme and that "concerns about transfers of missile-related components, technology and production technology persist, raising serious questions about the nature of China's commitment to abide by the MTCR [Missile Technology Control Regime] guidelines."8 However, it would be inappropriate for India to suggest that it is "up to the United States" to take up the issue with Pakistan. After raising the issue of US arms supply to Pakistan with the American government for decades, we should not be lax about the US approach to Sino-Pakistan cooperation in weapons of mass destruction-related programmes for the following reasons:

1. It is the US government which leads a crusade against nuclear and missile proliferation, has made India one of the target countries and simultaneously either condones or ignores the Sino-Pakistan nuclear and missile cooperation. Currently, Washington is following a policy of intense re-engagement of China and constructive engagement of Pakistan.

2. Economic matters have often taken precedence over proliferation concerns in Washington's dealings with China, notwithstanding the high priority accorded to proliferation issues in American national security agenda. After all, the Chinese economy has come a long way since the country started its economic reforms in 1978. The total trade turnover of China in that year was less than $30 billion and now it has crossed $230 billion. The figure would shoot further up, if one would include Hong Kong's trade into it. So, it is quite obvious that all the major countries, including the United States, are now trying to woo China back by keeping the memories of the Tiananmen Square on the back-burner. At a time when the Japanese government has announced its decision to pump in more than $120 billion to bring economic normalcy to the country, South Korea and the ASEAN economies are counting upon the International Monetary Fund to resolve their financial crisis, the Chinese economy is bound to draw the utmost attention. One need not expect the US to override its economic interests by quarreling with China over its missile cooperation with Pakistan. Several past records are available which suggest that token sanctions without the teeth to bite are imposed for legal purposes and for domestic consumption.

3. What may be more worrisome are the rising defence ties between the US and China. Ever since the visit of the Chinese Defence Minister to Washington in December 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin in September 1997 and the visit of US Secretary of Defence, William Cohen to Beijing in January this year, a positive atmosphere in security understanding between the two countries has been reinforced. After the Jiang-Clinton Summit of October 1997, when President Jiang Zemin reportedly promised to refrain from assisting Iran's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) activities/programmes, President Bill Clinton gave a certification to the US Congress in January this year that "China is not assisting and will not assist any non-nuclear weapon state, either directly or indirectly, in acquiring nuclear explosive devices or the material or components for such devices." Less than a month after this certification became official on March 19, 1998, paving the way for the 1985 nuclear cooperation agreement between China and the US, Pakistan test-fired the Ghauri missile.

A couple of days before the Ghauri missile test, the New York Times carried a report, indicating how two US companies--Loral Space and Communications and Hughes Electronics--provided crucial data and information to China on space programmes and rocket guidance system. While the US government was assessing if there was any breach of security and a federal grand jury was investigating the case, the Clinton administration quietly gave permission to Loral Space and Communications to launch another satellite on a Chinese rocket.10 On April 15, 1998, the New York Times commented in an editorial: "After Washington learned that the Americans [the experts from Loral Space and Communications and Hughes Electronics] might have discussed sensitive aspects of rocket guidance and control with Chinese officials, the Pentagon conducted an investigation. It found that American security had been damaged. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation. Despite this troubling record, the Administration recently granted Loral permission to assist the Chinese in launching another satellite.... The White House is also exploring ways to ease approval procedures for all American companies in this field. It has shifted primary responsibility for license approvals from the State Department to the more business-friendly Commerce Department." (Emphasis added).11 In the backdrop of intensive re-engagement of China through rising economic and defence cooperation, all kinds of preparations are being made for President Bill Clinton's trip to China in June this year. High level State Department officials, including Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, are making efforts to lay the groundwork before the President's visit. While the United States is apparently seeking to encourage China to embrace the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) by offering cooperation in the Chinese space programmes, and hence in its missile build-up, the June 1998 summit is not expected to produce any concrete result in this sphere. Undersecretary of State, John Holum, who recently visited China to prepare the ground for the June summit spoke candidly: "I'd hesitate to expect a whole lot. This summit comes very closely after the October summit. These are hard issues that we expect a long engagement with China on.... It will take sometime before we have a tangible outcome" on arms related issues under discussion between the two countries. What would actually continue to haunt India is the unlikelihood of China implementing its commitment under the MTCR, even if it agrees to join this regime sometime in the future. And still more worrisome would be a modernization of Chinese missile systems, once the US is able to strike a deal with that country.

4. The passage of the Brown Amendment is a clear instance of shift in US policy from one of punitive action against proliferation to constructive engagement of Pakistan. Notwithstanding the reports of the Chinese sale of ring-magnets to Pakistan, supply of military equipment authorized by the Brown Amendment was allowed to go ahead. The subsequent reports of deployment of Chinese-supplied M-11 missiles by Pakistan too did not deter the Clinton Administration from delaying the implementation of the Brown Amendment. Now there is a clear-cut policy shift of the Clinton Administration towards Pakistan.

The Clinton Administration has decided to restore IMET (International Military Education and Training) programme for Pakistan. This is, of course, one of the effective ways of expanding US influence over smaller allies. The Pressler Amendment, since its implementation in 1990, had come in the way. But it seems Pressler law is being slowly but surely pushed into history. The United States appears to be following a "policy of constructive engagement rather than punitive actions" as far as Pakistan is concerned. This policy was made clear after US special diplomat Bill Richardson's recent visit to Islamabad. Pakistani Prime Minister announced after meeting Richardson that he had been assured that Washington was not considering actions against Islamabad for test-firing the Ghauri missile. A Pakistani spokesman was more clear in his remark. He said: "(Richardson) has assured Pakistan that the United States has now moved away from its one-dimensional policy which focused on the nuclear dispute. Washington now wants to expand bilateral relations to strengthen economic and political ties." It has to be contrasted with what Bill Richardson said on the Indian soil: "We don't want to see an arms race here. We want to see tension reduced. So we're playing a mediating role."15 Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, who accompanied Richardson, echoed a similar view: "We are concerned about the nuclear missile competition in the region."16

5. In fact, the US position on Ghauri missile has not gone beyond expressing "regret" and calling for "restraint." Soon after the Ghauri test-firing, the US State Department spokesman James Foley said: "The US regrets this missile test and calls on Pakistan and India to exercise restraint. The development or acquisition of ballistic missiles by either India or Pakistan would be destabilizing." And then he went on to say: "At this juncture, with the new Indian government assuming power and renewed hopes that India-Pakistan can enter into a productive bilateral dialogue, we believe it is especially important to avoid steps in the nuclear and missile areas that could be seen as provocative and could adversely affect the political and security environment in the region." The US could have asked Pakistan for restraint before it conducted the test in full knowledge of Washington. If the test of the Ghauri missile was actually considered "regrettable and avoidable," why did the United States not persuade Pakistan to exercise "restraint" before the test? It is inconceivable that Washington was in the dark about Islamabad's preparations for the missile test. It is also similarly unthinkable that the Nawaz Sharif Government did not take into confidence the US Embassy in Islamabad about the planned test, especially when Bill Richardson and Karl Inderfurth were to visit Pakistan only about a week after the test.

Assuming that Islamabad did not share the information well in advance with the US Government, it is still unbelievable that the proliferation watchers in the United States were caught unawares by the Ghauri missile test by Pakistan. After all, there are so many other programmes which are under constant surveillance by the US government as well as non-governmental organisations. For instance, it was in March that the US State Department prepared a list of twenty Russian agencies and research facilities which would be put under "extra scrutiny" before receiving US assistance and sent it to managers of American programmes that finance ventures for Russian institutions. What was the need for such a list? It was the result of Washington's suspicion that Russian agencies are helping the Iranian missile programmes. Moreover, a legislation, already approved by the House of Representatives and currently pending in the Senate, requires the US President to provide Congress with a report "identifying every foreign person with respect to whom there is credible information" that after August 8, 1995 they helped Iran's missile development programme.20

6. It is not surprising that the United States has been following a selective and discriminatory policy on proliferation matters. One can compare, in this context, the US imposition of sanctions against Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Space Agency of Russia, Glavcosmos, with the US position on the M-11 missile deal between China and Pakistan. Interestingly, China gave a pledge to the US on refraining from assisting the Iranian missile programme during Chinese President Jiang Zemin's trip to Washington in October last. While the Chinese President made no such pledge regarding Pakistan, Washington is not known to have asked for it either. And now, while the US Senate is contemplating legislation to impose sanctions against Russian companies transferring missile-related technology to Iran, the Ghauri missile is likely to be accepted as a fait accompli, like the M-11 missile.

The US discrimination is confined to the Indian subcontinent. Saudi Arabia is rarely mentioned in US Government proliferation assessment, although it possesses Chinese medium-range ballistic missiles, called CSS-2. According to an American commentator, "...the United States, by its selective warnings, is undermining its credibility among important Arab states and feeding a cycle of suspicion that has accompanied other failed attempts at slowing the arms race in the Middle East...all the administration's most authoritative public reports on the subject--the Defence Department's 1997 proliferation study, the CIA's June 1997 report on technology acquisition and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's last annual report in 1996--fail to mention Israel and devote only a sentence or two to Egypt.... Saudi Arabia, also a US ally, rarely shows up on any government proliferation assessment. Nevertheless, government officials acknowledge that they "suspect" it is developing or already has chemical weapons and has Chinese medium-range CSS-2 ballistic missiles that can carry chemical weapons."21

7. The Pentagon, moreover, has planned to sell advanced weapons and military equipment to six allies--Canada, Italy, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Norway--which includes rocket guidance systems, upgraded missile motors and advanced air-to-air missiles. While Saudi Arabia is likely to buy $115 million worth of upgraded missile motors, Israel will buy $28 million worth of advanced air-to-air missiles. These missiles and missile components may not be that of ballistic missiles, but the fact remains that the US is assisting its allies in missiles acquisition to take care of their required and perceived security challenges.

8. The United States itself has been pursuing its missile capabilities, both offensive and defensive, programmes. The US considers the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missiles as one of the greatest challenges before it in the post-Cold War era. The Ballistic Missile Defence Organisation (BMDO) within the Pentagon is in charge of managing, directing and implementing the BMD programmes, such as Theatre Missile Defence(TMD), National Missile Defence (NMD) and advanced ballistic missile defence technologies. The BMD occupies a key role in American national security policy, particularly in its objective of maintaining a credible overseas military presence and dealing with various regional conflicts.

The United States also has a massive research and development programme in offensive categories of missiles. Recently, Lockheed Martin Corporation got a more than $2 billion contract to build a "stealthy, multipurpose cruise missile" for the US Department of Defence. It covers production of about 2,400 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles(JASSMs) over the next ten years.22

Concluding Remarks

At a time when India has gone slow in its missile development programmes, India's neighbours and others have been consistently seeking to acquire, develop, modernize or deploy missiles to protect or promote their perceived security requirements. India waited until Pakistan recently test-fired its 950-miles range Ghauri missile to rethink its missile programme. The Agni missile programme, which has apparently been suspended since 1994, has once again become a topic of discussion and debate.

In the backdrop of the developments and US policies discussed above, it would perhaps be prudent on India's part to take up the issue with Washington during the "strategic dialogue" between the two countries. It is true that India can very well deal with Pakistan militarily and this fact should make Pakistan a marginal factor in Indo-US relations. But the China factor must enter the Indo-US "strategic dialogue" and Pakistan must become a crucial factor in any efforts aimed at enhancing Sino-Indian CBMs. A careful reading of the statements by both Indian and American leaders and officials would indicate that Pakistan is back to the centre stage of Indo-American relations. Both Pakistan and the United States have a vested interest in making the issues of nuclear and missile proliferation hostage to Indo-Pakistan relations and equations. Although it would not serve India's interests to make Pakistan a factor in Indo-US relations, the missile issue in the subcontinent has significant linkages, which would compel us to make it part of the agenda of Indo-US strategic dialogue. The assurance of the Indian Defence Minister that our missile programme "is well tuned to meet our security needs" is not completely correct. If it is security needs vis-a-vis Pakistan, the answer is yes. But if we consider our significant security interests in an area which lies beyond the confines of South Asia and our long-term security requirements, then obviously our programme is not well tuned and a lot still needs to be done. Hence the defence experts of the country are of the view that the Agni missile programme would have to be saved from derailment as quickly as possible. Prithvi may be enough to meet challenges posed by Pakistan, but is Pakistan our only security concern?

In other words, several countries around India and around the world are equipping their military arsenals with missiles. Pakistan happens to be only one among them. It should neither inspire nor discourage India's missile programme. The initial euphoria about real arms control measures in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War has vanished into thin air. While the threat of a world-wide nuclear holocaust no longer haunts mankind, the Big Five possess enough WMD to destroy the earth many times over. According to a report prepared by the Natural Resources Defence Council of the United States, the five declared nuclear powers have in their arsenals some 36,000 warheads, out of which some 400 are close to the Indian territory in China. The START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is stalled in Russian legislature and even if in the future, the US and Russia begin to realise the goal of reduction of warheads to 2,500 per side, the numbers would continue to exclude thousands of tactical and reserve warheads.

Last year, the Institute of National Security Studies of the Washington-based National Defence University and China's Institute for Strategic Studies of National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had held discussions over international security issues. Significantly, the convergence of the US and the Chinese interests in controlling proliferation in South Asia, during the course of the discussions, was revealing. If that is the case and the US is either unable or indifferent to Sino-Pak nuclear and missile cooperation, India becomes the obvious victim of circumstances. Pakistan wants to compete with India, China wants to check growth of Indian missile capability by engaging India in a fierce competition with Pakistan; and the US aims at controlling proliferation by seeking a South Asian solution to the problem. The latest round of media offensive in the US is a clear example of that. An unidentified official of the Clinton Administration said on April 27, 1998 that Russia could be stirring an arms race in the Indian subcontinent by helping India develop a submarine-borne missile, Sagarika. Several hours later on the same day, Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan told the national Parliament that US officials conveyed to Pakistan that Washington was considering sanctions against his country after the test-firing of the medium-range missile. This is in sharp contrast to the statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that there was no such indication. Moreover, the US State Department has so far maintained a studied silence on the possibility of imposing sanctions against Pakistan. The whole idea is to negate the possibility of even any token sanctions against Pakistan by making a propaganda offensive against Russian assistance to Indian missile programmes.

In the current scenario, India must have its own dynamics of security logic which should be broad-based and not country- or programme-specific. Pakistan is certainly not unimportant from India's security point of view, but what is of greater relevance is the source of its nuclear and missile-related technology and equipment. The source, beyond doubt, is China. While China has an ongoing nuclear and missile cooperation with Pakistan, the US has been seeking Chinese assistance to meet the proliferation challenges in South Asia without bothering too much about Sino-Pakistan collusion in the same field. All this implies that India has become the target of USA, China as well as Pakistan. This is perhaps the biggest strategic challenge before India today, and in the near future.

 

Notes

1. Reuters News Media, On-line, April 7, 1998.

2. United Press International, On-line, April 7, 1998.

3. Sanjeev Miglani, "India Considering Building Nuclear Weapons," Reuters News Media, On-line, April 14, 1998.

4. Press Trust of India, Reuters News Media, April 15, 1998.

5. Harbaksh Singh Nanda, "India to Match Pak, China Missile Power," United Press International, On-line, April 15, 1998.

6. The Hindu, April 24, 1998.

7. For details, see Chintamani Mahapatra, "American Approach to Sino-Pakistan Nuclear and Missile Cooperation," Strategic Analysis, January 1998.

8. Ibid.

9. Michael Kelly, "Certifying China's Proliferation," Washington Post, March 25, 1998.

10. Reuters News Media, On-line, April 4, 1996.

11. "The sanctity of Missile secrets," New York Times, United Press International, April 15, 1998.

12. Carol Giacomo, "US-China Summit Arms Progress Unlikely," Reuters News Media, April 9, 1998.

13. Anwar Iqbal, "Pakistan says US Won't Impose sanctions," United Press International, On-line, April 17, 1998.

14. United Press International, On-line, April 17, 1998.

15. Reuters News Media, On-line, April 15, 1998.

16. Ibid.

17. United Press International, On-line, April 6, 1998.

18. Reuters News Media, On-line, April 6, 1998.

19. United Press International, On-line, April 16, 1998.

20. Reuters News Media, On-line, April 3, 1998.

21. Dana Priest, "US Goes Easy on Allies In Arms Control Crusade," Washington Post, April 14, 1998.

22. Tim Smart, "Lockheed Gets Missile Contract," Washington Post, April 10, 1998.

23. ABC News, On-line, April 22, 1998.

24. Ronald N. Monteperto and Hans Binnendjik, "PLA Views on Asia Pacific Security in the 21st Century," Strategic Forum, INSS, NDU, No. 114, June 1997, p.1.

25. "Russia Aids India on Missile," United Press International, On-line, 11:30 AM EDT, 27 April 1998 and Anwar Iqbal, "Pakistan Says US Considering Sanctions," United Press International, On-line, 10:41 PM EDT, April 27, 1998.