Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 110

Singh’s visit to Moscow appeared also to bring the two countries closer together on the issue of U.S. missile defense plans, though published reports exhibited some disagreement as to the basis on which this result was achieved. This ambiguity was perhaps unavoidable, given the mixed signals New Delhi has sent out on the subject since U.S. President George W. Bush’s May 1 speech outlining U.S. missile defense plans. The Indian government offered an immediate and–given New Delhi’s earlier sharp opposition to U.S. planning in this area–unexpected embrace of aspects of Bush’s speech. New Delhi has also responded favorably since the May 1 speech to overtures from the Bush administration for a broader warming of American-Indian relations. During an early May visit to India by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, however, the Indian government appeared in part to reverse itself by announcing that it saw eye-to-eye with Moscow on the need to retain the 1972 ABM Treaty. Despite the obvious contradiction, Indian officials have since continued to maintain that they favor both aspects of Washington’s missile defense plans and Moscow’s defense of the ABM accord.

Indian reports of this week’s talks in Moscow differed over whether Singh and his Russian interlocutors had “agreed to disagree” on the missile defense issues, or whether Singh had actually moved New Delhi closer to Moscow. But, however one chose to interpret Singh’s remarks in Moscow, he did clearly offer yet another ringing Indian endorsement of the ABM treaty–and appeared to signal some common Russian-Indian positions on related strategic issues as well. If the ABM treaty “is unilaterally abrogated, abridged or adjusted, this will lead to greater uncertainty instead of promoting a new more cooperative security framework,” Sing told reporters yesterday. “That is why we are recommending to the United States that any step in that direction must be made with Russia and in consultation with Russia.” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, for his part, claimed after meeting with Singh yesterday that “Russia and India share identical or converging views on the issues of international security and strategic stability.” He also said that the two countries “are in complete agreement the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of a ramified structure of global strategic stability” (Times of India, The Hindu, June 6).

Singh also indicated during his Moscow visit that New Delhi is unconcerned by Moscow’s efforts–being pursued in parallel with its moves to bolster Indian-Russian ties–to improve relations with China, one of India’s historical rivals. “We understand Russia’s military relationship with the People’s Republic of China, we address ourselves to that question in a responsible manner,” he told reporters. But a July summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is fast approaching at which the two sides will sign a friendship that could launch Moscow on the road to even closer defense ties with China as well. Whether the Kremlin can square improved ties to China with India remains to be seen. Equally interesting will be Beijing’s reaction to what could be a quantum leap in Indian-Russian defense cooperation, and particularly the possibility that Moscow will help India develop a nation-wide air defense system. If Moscow can manage the two relationships, the benefits may be considerable. Not only will it have befriended Asia’s two rising powers, but it could also earn significant profits from the military buildups being pursued in both countries. It will have to turn those profits and those relationships to good use, however, or face the potential risks that are also inherent also in its arms sale policy: that is, the danger of arming Moscow’s two most potentially powerful neighbors.