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BMD Focus: US, China Duel In South Asia

In March, Pakistan successfully test-fired its 1,250-mile-range Shaheen II missile that can hit many of India's populous northern cities.

Washington (UPI) Aug 23, 2005
The South Asian nuclear arms race, one of the most potentially unstable and dangerous on the planet, has gone global.

Not only are Pakistan and India feverishly racing each other to develop more sophisticated and powerful nuclear delivery and missile defense systems, they are looking increasingly to China and the United States to help them.

China is no newcomer to this race. The massive infusion of North Korean Nodong missile technology to the Pakistan nuclear missile program over the past decade would never have been possible without the active, covert support of China, which shares common borders with both nations and is a strong, consistently supportive ally of both.

The trade ran both ways. UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave has reported how Abdul Qadeer Khan, the immensely popular father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, made many visits to North Korea providing crucial know-how for Pyongyang's own program that is now believed to have at least two workable nuclear weapons.

Bill Gertz of The Washington Times has reported the conclusion of U.S. intelligence that China has continued to provide expensive, rare-to-obtain chemicals that are crucial for the separation of nuclear weapons grade uranium to North Korea.

And as UPI has reported, U.S. intelligence chiefs concluded several years ago that Pakistan had far more reliable and accurate nuclear-capable intermediate range missiles than India, despite having a far smaller and less advanced industrial and technological base because China had provided to them far more advanced guidance systems and other technology than India was capable of coming up with on its own.

India and Pakistan, two nations with huge impoverished rural and urban populations mounting into the hundreds of millions, and the second- and fifth-most populous nations in the world, have also been spending ever larger sums of money on ever-more ambitious weapons systems to keep ahead of each other.

In March, Pakistan successfully test-fired its 1,250-mile-range Shaheen II missile that can hit many of India's populous northern cities.

Aware of the vulnerability of their much touted but relatively old fashioned and vulnerable nuclear missile bases, India has responded by taking a leaf out of Israel's book and has already deployed under its Eastern Command at least one submarine, the INS Sindhuvir, that is believed to be armed with Danush/Saganika cruise missiles, just as Israel has nuclear cruise missiles on three German-built U-boats to give it a survivable second strike deterrent capability against any surprise nuclear attack from Iran, Pakistan or anyone else. Israeli experts are widely believed to be advising India on its submarine-based second-strike cruise missile program.

Then, earlier this year, the United States infuriated India by announcing it was going to sell Pakistan 70 nuclear-capable F-16 fighter-bombers.

The planes would be far older than the more modernized F-16s and F-18s that the Bush administration has made clear it is prepared to sell to India, but even that would not balance the tremendous shift in the balance of strategic power if the deal goes through.

For instead of just having to monitor by satellite a handful of Pakistani missile bases to prevent the possibility of a surprise nuclear first strike, India would then have to keep track of up to 70 F-16s that are all small, maneuverable, can fly close to the ground and that have perfectly legitimate reasons for being in flight at any time of the day or night anyway.

Then, a couple of months ago, the long-term strategic balance in South Asia seemed to tilt back decisively India's way when the Bush administration made good on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's pledge to beef up India: President George W. Bush gave the green light to unprecedented close U.S.-Indian cooperation in ballistic missile defense development.

The United States is also preparing to sell India its state of the art Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile, the most advanced defense system of its kind in the world.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharref at first put a brave face on this announcing that Pakistan's offensive strategic (that is to say, nuclear) ballistic missile capability was already so formidable that it could overwhelm however many Patriot batteries the United States was ready to sell or provide to India.

But in any case, Pakistan is pressing ahead with further offensive weapons development as well: Last week, Islamabad announced the successful testing of a new solid fuel cruise missile.

The new weapon is subsonic, and as the old German V-1 buzz bombs were in World war II, it will therefore be vulnerable to being shot down by regular Indian fighter defense planes.

But cruise missiles can be produced in great numbers very cheaply once one has access to the high-tech guidance systems that allow them to zigzag over the landscape. And just by deploying them in any significant numbers, Pakistan will be stretching India's air-space ballistic missile defense system very far, and forcing India to spend more of its limited financial and technological resources to combat the threat.

And as was the case with Pakistan's 1998 nuclear missile tests that followed within days of India's first ones, the new weapon may well have been built so fast because it employed "off-the-shelf" technology quickly and quietly delivered by China.

China in any case has been backing the brutal military dictatorship in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and successive governments in Pakistan, both military and civilian, in order to preoccupy, distract, and drain India.

But now the U.S. strategic engagement with India has heightened the stakes of the game. India and Pakistan look like increasingly becoming surrogates of the United States and China, with Beijing and Washington increasingly drawn into the volatile, unstable arms race of South Asia.

That arms race has already put the combined populations of India and Pakistan, one fifth of the entire human race, in the cross-hairs of potential nuclear incineration. Now it threatens to draw in and polarize the two giant nations of the Pacific Rim as well.

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Washington (UPI) Aug 18, 2005
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