Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chinese missile ambitions target India

This essay on Chinese missile reorganisation first appeared on the ORF website.

Though China constantly reiterates that its rise will be peaceful, Beijing’s actions on the ground suggest a different message. Several US and Russian analysts believe that China’s reorganisation of missile facilities in Delingha in July 2007 have repercussions for India, Russia, and may be some of the Central Asian states too.

According to Hans Kristensen, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, China has been busy reorganising its missile facilities near Delingha in the northern parts of central China. This site is believed to be one of China’s missile bases. Based on commercial satellite images available from Google Earth, Kristensen states that the images reveal that the previously used liquid-fuelled missiles deployed in this region have been replaced with newer solid-fuelled missiles.
According to his analysis, the launch sites for the older Dong Feng-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) underwent upgradation to fit them for the new DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles. The DF-21 missiles have a range of approximately 1,330 miles (2,150 kilometres) and are capable of carrying a single warhead with a yield of 200 to 300 kilotons. It is believed that two versions of this missile are deployed and some could have been modified to carry conventional warhead. Kristensen points out that the latest US government’s annual report on China’s military power reported that the China might have 40-50 such missiles on 34-38 launchers, whereas the 2006 report put the number of these missiles at 19-50 on 34-38 launchers.
The DF-21 launch sites, at a height of 10,000 feet (3,000 metres), are located on the slopes of mountain range north of Delingha. Kristensen noted that these sites have been witnessing significant changes between late 2005 and late 2006. In late 2006, the southern site that used to be large missiles garage, with about 40 small buildings and more than half a dozen service trucks, underwent major change, with a single service truck visible on the launch pad and the access road that appeared to have been paved. The second launch site to the north also underwent major change and the operations too appear to have increased in the last year or so. Third, the northern primary launch site too has been upgraded between late 2005 and late 2006. Significant expansion took place with numerous buildings constructed, access roads paved and there is work in progress next to the underground facility. More significantly, there appears to be six 13-metre trucks on the launch pad. Although the satellite images were not a high resolution, Kristensen concluded that they are in all probability the six-axle transport erector launchers (TELs) in use with the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile. He also noted a vague line across the trailer two-thirds toward the rear that resembled the position of the hydraulic pumps used to erect the missile canister to a vertical position.
Other analysts suggested that there is also the possibility that these missiles could be of a longer range DF-31 or the advanced version DF-31A, which has a range of approximately 12,000 km. This multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) has a capability to hold 3 warheads each capable of a 20-150 kiloton yield. These are also possibly equipped with penetration aids such as decoys and flares to complicate warning and missile defence efforts. These missiles that went through performance tests in 2003 and 2004, is expected to have initial operational capability by 2007. Both the DF-31s and DF-31As are road mobile and use solid propellant engines. Media reports quoting intelligence sources reported the presence of a Belarus MAZ7916 12-wheel mobile missile TEL at the DF-31 production facility in Nanyuan, Beijing in the 1990s. These are supposed to have better cross-country traveling capability than the current Hanyang TEL truck used by the DF-31.
The significance of this reorganisation is that placing medium-range ballistic missiles (which can hit target approximately 2500 kilometers away) in the site can put the entire northern India at risk, including New Delhi. The more serious consequence arises from the fact these are mobile platforms, which means these missiles can be launched from further down south at closer ranges targeting almost all of India. Interestingly, Kristensen points out that these medium-range ballistic missiles are also within the range of three main Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) sites on the other side of Mongolia – the SS-25 fields near Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, the SS-18 field near Uzhur and a Backfire bomber base in Belaya. However, it is very clear that the Chinese have not carried out the reorganisation to present a counterforce threat to Russian missile silos.
One also wonders about the logic behind such reorganisation. One may argue that the recent reorganisation was more of a routine nature. Also, as Kristensen points out, most of China’s ballistic missiles are mobile and the support units are devised in such a way to follow the launchers wherever they are transported to. The replacement of liquid-fuel with solid-fuel rockets also signifies the fact that they can be made ready for firing much faster, and this sends a signal to all the neighbours, be it India or Russia. Hence, what the Chinese may consider a routine exercise may send a wrong signal and have serious implications. If India and Russia are the likely targets, one has to see what the available capabilities are with these two countries. India has tested a number of intermediate-range missiles, including the Agni-3, capable of taking both Beijing and Shanghai, though these missiles are still not operational. Russian capability in this area is far superior to India’s or China’s. The critical issue is that as China modernizes its strategic forces, India must also step up its very slow missile development programme. There has been a debate about China’s military doctrines, in particular its no-first-use policy. China’s increasing capabilities may accelerate this debate.
These developments appear to be part of a larger pattern of aggressive military expansion, rising military expenditure, and a general opaqueness about China’s military programmes and ambitions. For example, SIPRI, an independent and well-respected Swedish think-tank, reported Chinese military expenditure, if calculated in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, shows that Beijing spends almost US $ 200 bn every year. China is also one of the world top arms importers. China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January 2007 is another indicator of its ambitions that go well beyond its borders.

Obama Presidency and India

This analysis on Obama Presidency and India first appeared on the ORF website.

With the results of the US Presidential elections out, Senator Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to assume the highest office in the US. How does an Obama administration look to India and the region in general? There are three issues on which the Democrats can be thought to have a less pro-India policy as compared to the Republicans.

In general, Indo-US relations have not prospered much under Democratic presidents. More specifically, the pro-interventionist stance of the democrats could result in an Obama administration wanting to involve itself in trying to solve the Kashmir problem. Obama’s recent comments on the Kashmir issue and the reported consideration of Bill Clinton as special envoy on Kashmir are pointers to this pro-active stand that India has to be prepared for. He said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”
The democrats have been more interventionists than republicans. Democrats have traditionally believed that the US should intervene in regional conflicts to protect human rights. During President Bill Clinton’s term, the US militarily intervened in a number of conflicts including Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Congo, Liberia, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. More specifically, the Democrats have generally taken a more interventionist attitude towards Kashmir, and Obama seems set to continue that trend. The Bush administration has taken a less active approach to Kashmir, and McCain could have been expected to continue that policy. Obama has paid greater attention to India policy recently, if only to seek the support of the Indian-American community. Some believe that a Kashmir-specific pro-active policy need not be necessarily bad, given Obama’s pro-India statements. But because Obama believes that solving the Kashmir problem is a pre-requisite for getting Pakistan’s support for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), New Delhi needs to be cautious.
Obama’s tough talk on Pakistan might be soothing to the ears of Indian policy makers. While Obama pledges huge military/financial aid to Pakistan in the war on terror, it is conditional. Pakistan has to prove that it is making considerable progress in eliminating training camps, evicting foreign militants/terrorists that are based on Pakistani soil, as well as preventing the Taliban/al Qaeda from using Pakistan as a base for attacks in Afghanistan. He was also categorical that if his administration has credible intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban/al Qaeda in Pakistan, the US forces will be sent into Pakistan to hunt them down. It is too early to say whether Obama will carry forward his tough stand on Pakistan once he assumes office.
Second, for the Democrats, the issue of non-proliferation has been so important that it sets limits to Indo-US friendship. The policies during the Clinton administration were a pointer to this. India’s nuclear tests of 1998 proved to be a setback, as it invoked series of economic and technological sanctions on India by the US and its allies, including Japan and Australia. India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) continues to be an important factor for the democrats. It does not seem to bother them that much that China violated the NPT, despite being an NPT member-state, especially with Pakistan. Though the US-India nuclear agreement received bipartisan support, most of the opponents were Democrats. Though he finally, reluctantly, supported the US-India nuclear deal, Obama had tried to introduce killer amendments to it. India should be prepared to see the Obama Administration and a Democratic-majority Senate reviving the CTBT issue, which has been comatose for a while, as well as the FMCT with vigour.
Third, the democrats have generally tended to have a stronger partnership with China as compared to India. This may not be palatable to India. In fact, President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin agreement in 1998 to “jointly manage South Asia” had angered India. It was President George Bush who managed to break that trend and establish a strategic partnership with India.
How the next administration would shape its policy towards Beijing will also influence the extent of India’s role in Asia. Obama has raised issues with regard to China, although his concerns are with regard to economic rather than military issues. Obama has said that while the US should have cooperative relationship with China, it should not hesitate from being “clear and consistent” if the US disagrees on issues such as manipulation of its currency, human rights violation, its economic and diplomatic policies with Sudan or Iran. However, trade troubles with China appear to be the focus and have emerged as a serious political issue in the campaign. Analysts believe that a bill aimed at levying punitive duties on Chinese goods supported by Obama indicates that the US would pursue a hardline approach towards Beijing on trade issues. Though close US-China relations, with South Asia being jointly ‘managed’ by the US and China, is an unappealing thought, a serious dispute or a US-China clash will have wider security consequences throughout Asia and will affect India also. We need neither.
On another important foreign policy issue, both candidates were critical of Russia, and this could put India in a tight spot. India does not want Russia to be written off; in fact, to the contrary, India believes that Russia will be one of the poles of power in the new Asian security framework.
Overall, though a Republican administration would have been better for India; New Delhi, however, needs to get ready to play with an Obama administration.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal: Impact on the Asian Strategic Framework

This analysis on India-US Nuclear Deal and the Asian Strategic Framework appeared first on the ORF website.

Recent statement by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to House International Relations Committee head Howard Berman that it is the “highest priority” for the US to get an assurance on ban on the export of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology to countries like India that are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the forthcoming Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in November 2008 has raised fresh doubts on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Should that concern the Indian government?

It might be pertinent to go back to some of the basic facts of Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. First of all, Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement is a broad framework agreement between India and the US, and not an agreement dealing with the specifics. However, if India and the US have to do nuclear commerce, few conditions had to met, including an NSG waiver and an India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Once these conditions are met, India is allowed to do business with the US and other countries in the nuclear arena. Major countries seeking to do nuclear business with India are Russia and France.
Second, if France and Russia are willing to export enrichment and reprocessing technology to India, it will be difficult for the US to prevail upon them not to do so. For the US to bring about an NSG legislation banning export of ENR technology to countries that are not parties of NPT might be a wishful thinking and not a realistic option. This might be the case particularly in the current international scenario, when Russia and the US are on opposite sides almost on all major international developments.
Thirdly, India already has indigenous enrichment and reprocessing technology and therefore it should not be of any great concern if the NSG countries are not willing to part with these technologies. India may not possess the most advanced version of this technology, but the fact that it has this technology indigenously available should be sufficient. However, if India is insistent on an advanced version of this technology, India could even agree to an arrangement for reprocessing or enrichment in a third country, as the international community has suggested in the case of Iran. The concern appears to be that if non-nuclear states get hold of this technology, they could divert these technologies to produce fissile material. It should also be noted that this should not be major concern to the international community because such technology if obtained from other countries it would automatically go under the IAEA safeguards..
Lastly, the Indo-US civilian cooperation agreement is about more than just nuclear energy for India. The agreement has several strategic connotations. The agreement is a consequence of the US’ recognition of India as a major power in the coming century and India’s role in the emerging Asian strategic framework. The current century being an Asian century and the major players being US, China, Russia and Japan, it is important for the US to have an improved and comprehensive relationship with India. It should also be noted that both the US and India have concerns about China’s rise and more specifically its military modernisation that could seriously impact the way China conducts business with the rest of the world. Besides, if the US did intend to take the US-India relationship to a higher level nuclear technology controls would have been a hindrance. Trade in strategic goods and technology is possible only through change in the international and the US’ domestic regulations on this issue. The Indo-US nuclear deal has been a consequence of this line of thinking. However, some believe that the Indo-US nuclear deal is a way of bringing India into the global non-proliferation regime.
Whatever be the US reasoning, the deal is in India’s interest. If India has to sit at the high-table, it is the US that can help India get there. China will continually try to bring India down, as was witnessed at the recent NSG meeting. On the other hand, while China may not be interested in seeing another giant in Asia, it does not want India to forge closer ties with the United States or other Asian powers that could be detrimental to Beijing’s own regional and global role.1 Although Beijing does not categorise India as a challenge or threat, it does view India as a “future strategic competitor” that would join any anti-China grouping. In fact, a well-known China scholar, Mohan Malik, has pointed to an internal study undertaken in 2005 that recommended that China should undertake measures to keep the current strategic leverage in terms of territory, P-5 membership, or the Nuclear Club; hold on to diplomatic advantages through its special relationship particularly with India’s neighbouring countries; as also maintain the economic lead over India. 2
Lastly, there have been several formulations on the evolving Asian strategic framework both in the west and Asia. It is widely expected that the US, China, Japan and Russia will be major powers in this emerging framework. All the powers except China are for an inclusive approach, whereas China appears to adopt an exclusive approach, which seeks to keep other powers out of Asia. This, along with the factor of history and unsettled boundary issues, could lead to serious frictions in the future. As such, China’s military modernisation has generated considerable debate. The growth of China as a major military and economic power along with its global aspirations for a superpower status remains a serious concern not only to the United States, but Russia, Japan and India. The most worrying aspect is the pace of its military modernisation as also the secrecy that shrouds it. There are also concerns about the leadership in China. It has become evident that the military leadership in China does have an independent agenda of its own and also that it does adopt a hardline approach on important national security and foreign policy issues. It might be imprudent to say that the political leadership is more balanced and therefore PLA’s approach should not be taken seriously. It is also important to note that the military leadership plays a critical role in decision-making particularly during crises. Even if analyses of Chinese civil-military relations exaggerate the PLA’s role, it is the perception that matters. Perception of a potential China threat would produce a series of actions that may be visible in the form of alliances or force posturing by other Asian powers.
If India is a major pole of power in the emerging security framework, it might do well if India engaged with Russia with a sense of equi-distance between the US and Russia. In fact, India and the US need to leverage the mutual suspicion between Russia and China. Although tactical in nature, Sino-Russian relationship does have the potential to emerge as a potent strategic force if the current trend in international politics continues for the foreseeable future. In fact, there are several commonalities between Russia, US and India – terrorism, WMD proliferation and a stable Asian security order. The US has to shed its biases about Russia and exploit the Russian wariness of China to its fullest in order to build a cooperative security framework in Asia.
• Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her areas of research include US foreign and security policy, military strategies of major Asian powers including China, US, Japan and Russia. She can be reached at 1 Mohan Malik, “India-China Competition Revealed in Ongoing Border Disputes,” PINR Report, October 09, 2007, available at
2 Mohan Malik, “India-China Competition Revealed in Ongoing Border Disputes,” PINR Report, October 09, 2007, available at The study, undertaken on the behest of Chinese leadership’s “Foreign Affairs Cell,” had incorporated inputs from China’s South Asia specialists like Cheng Ruisheng, Ma Jiali, Sun Shihai, among others.