Once proudly non-aligned, India has turned its back on strategic policy independence through a military cooperation agreement with the United States that analysts say has taken the five-year-old "strategic partnership" to an unprecedented plane.
The new "Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship" unveiled last week involves more than arms deals and envisages the "outsourcing" of several functions to India, including joint-military operations in third countries, patrolling of sea-lanes and disaster relief operations.
Besides the two countries have also agreed to collaborate on Ballistic Missile Defence and other research and development efforts, and enhance "capabilities to combat" WMD proliferation.
"This is the most far-reaching and comprehensive military agreement that India has ever signed with any country", Achin Vanaik, an independent security analyst and political science professor at Delhi University told IPS.
Vanaik said the deal went farther than the treaty of friendship and cooperation signed in 1971 with the then Soviet Union and aims to place Indo-US security cooperation beyond the objective of meeting threats from one country or group of countries. ‘’It is also a remarkably one-sided deal", he added.
Under the agreement, the US will enlist India as the chief agency that helps it ‘embed’ itself strategically in Asia so as to ensure Washington’s dominance in this increasingly important region in the face of a rising challenge from China.
A senior US official recently outlined the "embedment" rationale at a closed-door briefing in New Delhi.
In return, India is likely to be given the firm offer of some 1970s-generation weapons platforms like F-16 warplanes, and a new version of the ‘Patriot’ anti-missile missile system, as well as co-production of US-developed weapons.
The agreement only says that "our defence establishments shall … in the context of defence trade and a framework of technology security safeguards, increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development".
But the agreement is part realisation of a US’s offer outlined during a Mar. 25 briefing by three senior US administration officials "to help India become a world power in the 21st century".
It conforms to the stated US goals of containing China, stabilising Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, and dissuading Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.
Going by past experience, as well as US strategic doctrine, the joint and collaborative operations envisioned in the "framework" agreement will be fully controlled by the US -despite the language of "partnership" and promoting "cooperation" when "it is in their common interest".
The US insists on total hegemony and exclusive control over all such joint military operations. Even within NATO, the US has always rejected the idea of having "two fingers" on the trigger.
The controlling finger is always American. This was the case in recent interventions from Somalia, through the former Yugoslavia, to Iraq. No amount of rhetoric about "partnership" and "common interest" can mask the great asymmetry between US and Indian power and the crude Machiavellian calculations that go into Washington’s strategic moves.
Evidence of the latter comes from new disclosures in the form of recently declassified official US documents about Washington’s perceptions of India around the time New Delhi intervened in the Bangladesh war in 1971.
These records show that then US president Richard Nixon said what the Indians "need really is … a mass famine … world opinion is on the Indian side but they are a slippery, treacherous people".
"It is a sour irony that Indian policy-makers should have forgotten lessons from the past", said Anuradha Chenoy, professor of international relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi.
"It is equally sad that they want India to become a great power by riding on the back of a predatory hegemon,’’ she added. Under the new agreement, the US would like to use India to outsource operations aimed at "defeating terrorism and violent religious extremism", and "protecting the free flow of commerce via land, air and sea lanes" and preventing the spread of WMDs.
This last is likely to take the form of Indian participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a limited agreement among just 21 states, mostly Western, to intercept suspect shipments on the high seas to check them for WMDs or materials from which such weapons can be made.
India’s participation in the PSI, is likely to bring her into conflict with a number of Asian states which oppose it, including China, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Interdiction of third-country ships on the high seas is against the Law of the Seas. India’s participation in such operations will also legitimise the US’s role as self-appointed gendarme of the world and blithely bypass the United Nations and other multilateral bodies.
One of the more tempting baits the US is holding out to India concerns "co-production" of weapons, something Indian defence planners have always been keen on because it involves the transfer of technology. But this is only a promise yet.
"All in all, this seems like an outrageously unequal bargain", said Chenoy. "India will lose her policy autonomy and serve as a low-cost foot-soldier or surrogate in the US scheme of things," she said.