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Americas Next Target: Indian military bases
A classified report commissioned by the United States Department of Defense, states that the country wants access to Indian bases and military infrastructure with the United States Air Force specifically desiring the establishment of airbases in India.
The report on the future of Indo-US military relations, being distributed among decision-makers in the United States and made available to a handful of senior members of the Indian government, also speaks of the USAF's desire for 'having access closer to areas of instability'.
"American military officers are candid in their plans to eventually seek access to Indian bases and military infrastructure. India's strategic location in the centre of Asia, astride the frequently traveled Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) linking the Middle East and East Asia, makes India particularly attractive to the US military," the report says.
The report can be distributed only with the permission of Director, Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defence. The report is the most comprehensive picture of American perspective of its military relation with India and its future aspirations. To some extent it also uncovers Indian military thinking vis-à-vis the US.
It has quoted US lieutenant generals as saying that the access to India bases would enable the US military 'to be able to touch the rest of the world' and to 'respond rapidly to regional crises'.
The report, prepared by Juli A MacDonald, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, for the department of defence, is based on interviews of 42 key Americans, including 23 active military officers, 15 government officials and four others.
In India MacDonald met 10 active Indian military officers and five government officials besides several members of the National Security Council, and outside experts advising the government. For understandable reasons, none of the individuals are identified by name, but by their ranks or other positions. The report points out that many American military planners are thinking about 'different sets of allies and friends for addressing a future strategic environment in Asia that may be dramatically different from today'.
"For many, India is the most attractive alternative. For this reasons, several Americans underscored that eventual access to Indian military infrastructure represents a critical 'strategic hedge' against dramatic changes in traditional US relationships in Asia," the report says.
A South Asia Foreign Area Officer of the US state department has been quoted as saying that India's strategic importance increases if existing US relationships and arrangements in Asia fails.
He cites three key possibilities for that: If US relations with other traditional allies (eg Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia) becomes more acrimonious or politically uncomfortable for both parties; or if access rights that the United States takes for granted become more restrictive; or if our traditional relationships collapse resulting in a US military withdrawal.
The FAO, who is specialises on South Asia and among those few American diplomats who can converse in Hindi, says, "The United States needs to develop alternatives in Asia. India is the optimal choice if we can overcome the obstacles in building the relationship."
An American Colonel says, "The US Navy wants a relatively neutral territory on the opposite side of the world that can provide ports and support for operations in the Middle East. India not only has a good infrastructure, the Indian Navy has proved that it can fix and fuel US ships. Over time, port visits must become a natural event. India is a viable player in supporting all naval missions, including escorting and responding to regional crises. In the same vein, the US Air Force would like the Indians to be able to grant them access to bases and landing rights during operations, such as counter-terrorism and heavy airlift support."
It is significant that during the 1991 Gulf War-I, India provided refuelling facility to US warplanes. And during Operation Enduring Freedom, several US warships used Indian facilities for rest and recuperation. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Indian naval ships provided escorts to merchant vessels from North Arabian Sea till Strait of Malacca in the most active cooperation with US navy in history. In fact, it is in naval cooperation that America sees the immediate future of Indo-US military relations. It is not just access to bases and ports that the US military hopes to get in India, but also training facilities in India.
A common theme among high-ranking American officers is that the US military would benefit from training with Indians, particularly if the training could occur on Indian territory. "India has a variety of landscapes, from ice-clad mountains to deserts, and it would help the Americans because military training ranges shrinking and becoming increasingly controversial in the United States," the report says. And for the US navy training with Indian navy is the best way to become 'proficient in the Indian Ocean region', the report adds.
The American decision-makers 'believe that the military relationship should result in shared technology and capabilities, and ultimately they would like to be able to respond jointly to regional crises'.
Such American dreams are sure to set off significant political resentment as it would offset India's long held tradition of non-alignment, especially its military neutrality. In real terms it would indicates how India, thrust strategically into the Indian Ocean, could emerge as America's key ally in Asia as the continent goes through a historic political churning.