“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005
John McCain: U.S. Should "Facilitate" Indian Missile Defense, Nuclear Subs

Arms Control NOW

By Eric Auner

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see John McCain speak about the future of U.S.-India relations. Most of it was boilerplate material about oldest democracy/largest democracy and the need for stability in Asia. All of that's good, but he made a few points that merit a response.

McCain had this to say:

[T]here is no reason why we cannot work to facilitate India's deployment of advanced defense capabilities, such as nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, missile defense architecture, as well as India's inclusion in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter.

It is one thing to refrain from criticizing India for acquiring new military systems such as nuclear submarines and missile defenses. It is quite another for a high-ranking Senator to suggest that the United States "facilitate" such acquisitions. It is not clear what effect the introduction of deployed missile defenses would have on the subcontinent, but here are a few possibilities:

  • Pakistan will accelerate the expansion of its own nuclear arsenal in a desperate effort to maintain strategic parity.
  • Tensions between India and China will increase, exacerbating border tensions.
  • India will feel emboldened to move ahead with its Cold Start military doctrine, causing Pakistan to declare a lower thresh-hold for the use of nuclear weapons.

American involvement in an Indian missile defense system would likely make any of these scenarios more fraught and unstable. McCain also said this:

The United States should push for India's inclusion in...those parts of the global non-proliferation regime from which India is still excluded.

McCain made no mention of India's own decision to remain outside the global nonproliferation regime. He also failed to make India's inclusion in the regime contingent on any Indian action.

Unfortunately, as we saw with Obama's recent announcement that his administration will support Indian entry into multilateral export control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (a subject Daryl Kimball dealt with earlier), this approach to India seems increasingly to guide American policy towards India.

It is easy to make some Indians happy if you promise favors and ask for very little in return. Maintaining a global nonproliferation order; that's difficult.