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“Your association has taken a significant role in fostering public awareness of nuclear disarmament and has led to its advancement.”
– Kazi Matsui
Mayor of Hiroshima
June 2, 2022
U.S., India Discussing Arms Deals, Military Ties

Wade Boese

Top U.S. officials visited India in November seeking closer military ties and possible arms deals with New Delhi after a more than three-year period during which such relations were prohibited.

On November 5, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes in New Delhi and agreed to begin discussions on possible arms deals soon. In September, President George W. Bush waived sanctions, enacted after India’s May 1998 nuclear tests, that had prohibited the United States from selling U.S. arms to or maintaining close military contacts with New Delhi. (See ACT, October 2001.)

Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Command, traveled to India November 28 to meet with India’s top defense officials. The two sides reportedly discussed conducting joint military exercises, cooperating on combating terrorism, increasing military contacts, and reviving the U.S.-Indian Defense Policy Group, the forum through which Washington and New Delhi will hold talks on resuming military ties. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who will serve as the senior U.S. official in the group, is expected to visit India in early December.

U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill told reporters November 21 that the two countries have been discussing “exercises and education, arms sales and so forth” and that the United States anticipates a “robust U.S.-India defense relationship of a kind that is unprecedented in our bilateral relationship.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said that there have been no decisions on potential arms sales, including what types of weapons the United States may make available to India. An Indian diplomatic source speculated that New Delhi might be interested in electronic, avionic, and radar technologies, and added that India has a “keen desire” to boost military-to-military relations between the two countries.

India and Russia

From November 4 to 7, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee traveled to Russia, where he was expected to sign deals to lease four long-range, low-level penetration Backfire bombers and to buy advanced air-defense missiles, rocket systems, and an aircraft carrier. However, Vajpayee left Russia without any signed arms contracts.

Neither government offered explanations for why no deals were completed, although it is not unusual for Russian-Indian arms negotiations to be protracted. The two countries have been discussing the deals for some time, including during an October 2000 visit to India by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Whether the possibility of buying U.S. arms influenced India’s deals with Russia remains unclear. India did not suggest the two were related, but it is possible that New Delhi could try to use U.S. and Russian interest in selling it arms as bargaining leverage to gain more advanced weaponry, greater technology sharing, or lower prices.