Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 89

Whether the Indian government’s seemingly contradictory position on missile defense and the ABM treaty is sustainable or not remains to be seen, however. The government’s sudden shift toward Washington provoked a furor among government opposition groups and was the object of withering criticism in a number of newspaper commentaries. It threatens also to introduce new tensions in New Delhi’s relations with Beijing–a point that was underlined repeatedly by those in India uncomfortable with the government’s shift. The tumult in New Delhi is also indicative of how fluid the diplomatic situation has suddenly become with respect to relations between and among the United States and Asia’s three major continental powers. The still nascent rapprochement between Washington and both Moscow and New Delhi comes after Bush administration officials had denounced Moscow as a dangerous proliferator of military technologies and had lumped India together with Libya and North Korea as beneficiaries of these Russian technology transfers. This earlier, more confrontational U.S. posture had contributed to increasingly close relations between Russia and both China and India, and had led some in Moscow to dream of the creation of some sort of Beijing-New Delhi-Moscow “axis.” That was never likely (and both Ivanov and Singh played down the notion during their May 5 press conference), but these most recent developments do have the potential to generate new tensions between the three, and particularly between both Moscow and New Delhi and Beijing. Indeed, the Bush administration’s overtures toward India and Russia are presumably intended to support a broader policy of isolating China. Meanwhile, Moscow’s own efforts to act as an informal mediator between China and India will likely continue, and were evident in Ivanov’s recent itinerary. It was probably no accident that his trip to New Delhi followed extensive consultations in Moscow between top Russian officials and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (see the Monitor, May 2).

The contours of the now evolving diplomatic battle over missile defense should become clearer in the months to come. The Bush administration is dispatching envoys to capitals around the world to sell its missile defense plan, and Russian-U.S. arms control talks look like they may be set to resume in the near future. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin in June. Jiang will then travel to Moscow in July for a long-awaited Russian-Chinese summit meeting at which the two countries are expected to sign a treaty of friendship and good neighborly relations. The content of this treaty remains unpublished, but some analysts suggest that it could contain secret memorandums spelling out a boost in Russian-Chinese defense cooperation and, presumably, in Russian arms sales to China. Such an arrangement would serve China’s needs in its escalating confrontation with the United States over Taiwan, and might also further advance what some believe is a key (and Machiavellian) element in Russia’s strategy of friendship with Beijing: to deflect Chinese attentions away from the still disputed Chinese-Russian border region toward Taiwan, and thereby to keep Beijing embroiled in a tense standoff with the United States (The Hindu, May 6; International Herald Tribune, April 18).

At the same time, Russian and Indian officials announced in New Delhi over the weekend that Putin will meet in Moscow in November with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behary Vajpayee. It will be their second summit meeting, and its results could say much about whether New Delhi–suddenly teetering between a traditional ally and a long-time antagonist–will choose in the coming years to lean toward Moscow or to Washington.