India may be able to purchase Patriot anti-missile missiles. Good.
As Robi Sen points out, what the United States is offering this time is significant — Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) missiles may not be state-of-the-art in missile defence, but they are certainly a lot better than the first Gulf War vintage PAC-1s. It is also expected that acquisition of PAC-2s will allow India to purchase, at some time in the future, the PAC-3 missiles. Be that as it may, the Second Patriot goes a long way in securing India against its most likely missile threats — from ballistic missiles of the Chinese/North Korean variety deployed by Pakistan and China.
India’s strategic commentators have contended for some time that India’s no-first-use nuclear doctrine needs good missile defence to complement it. Apart from indigenous efforts at developing anti-missile capability, India has been on the lookout to procure such systems internationally, and has previously considered Russian and Israeli systems. But purchases of this nature are as much about strategic relations as they are about technical capabilities. Seen in this light, America’s offer of Patriots puts considerable substance to the talk about bilateral cooperation in the area of missile defence.
Current missile defence technology is effective only at the ‘theatre’ level, which means that the missile defence ‘shield’ can only protect small geographical areas like population centres, defence installations or troop concentrations. The big challenge is to develop ‘national’ missile shields that can protect entire countries. It will be some time before a national missile defence shield is possible and affordable. That means two things — firstly, there is a case for scientists and engineers in India, Israel, Japan and the United States to put their heads together and speed up the process; and secondly, it means that Pakistan and the American non-proliferation ayatollahs are wrong owhen they point out that the sale of Patriots will make India impenetrable to Pakistani missiles (and hence result in an arms war).
There are strong vested interests in both Washington and New Delhi that would want to scuttle this deal — lobbies and dogmas abound in both capitals. But if clear heads and better sense prevails, patriots too will prevail.