Arming America’s Asian Allies

American restrictions on Israel’s arms sales to India and Singapore will be counter-productive

Robi Sen drew attention to an op-ed by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post, that suggests that a combination of a change in the United States’ policy attitude and the commercial interests of its defence industry has left Israel in a bind. Since Israeli arms are helping bridge America’s alliances with India and Singapore — America’s strategic allies in Asia — Washington’s recent move to acquire almost total control over Israel’s weapons sales risks undermining America’s relationship with two of its key Asian allies.

Brahma Chellaney, writing in The Japan Times argues that one major irritant in the emerging India-US relationship are technology controls that were imposed on India since the 1970s, when India first announced its nuclear capability. Procurement of high-tech military equipment from Israel, often with Washington’s approval, allowed India to get around America’s export restrictions and also move away from its heavy reliance on Russian hardware. Indeed, in many ways, Israeli technology helped pave the way for the American defence industry to make inroads into India. Disruption of Israel’s arms sales to India, is clearly not in the interests of any of the three parties involved.

5 thoughts on “Arming America’s Asian Allies”

  1. I think the controls stem mostly from a “once-bitten, twice shy” mentality. Given that the US sends Israel about $3 billion in aid each year, it’s understandable that they were quite upset about the idea of the Israelis selling cutting-edge weapons system to a country that may use them in a future conflict with the US. Clearly, the US isn’t worried too much about that possibility when it comes to India and Singapore. So when push comes to shove, I doubt that any serious attempts will be made to curb Israeli arms sales and technological cooperation with these countries. It’s worth recalling that just last year, the US gave a green light to Israeli sales of the Phalcon radar system to India, even after it shot down an attempt to sell the system to China.

    Also, Glick has a history of getting a little hysterical in her columns. On more than one occassion, she’s suggested that the US is all but throwing Israel to the wolves on account of some concession it asked for. She’s also repeatedly accused the Sharon government of having a weak-minded and defeatist attitude when dealing with the Palestinians. So when she says that the US is set to cripple the Israeli arms industry, I’d take it with a grain of salt.

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  3. Eric,

    I do not read much of Glick, but I too could detect a tone of alarmism in her writing. However, even discounting her biases, the points she makes do give a lot to chew on. Not that Israel will be ‘abandoned’, it won’t, but that US is not doing itself and its allies any good by restricting Israeli weapons sales to India and Singapore.

    It is one thing to put certain countries on a blacklist and be very careful in selling as much as a rifle to them; but it is quite another to attempt to build strategic relationships with others, then take them for granted, and grudge them the defence equipment they need. Not the best policy if you want some of them to put boots on the ground (or paddles in the water) on your behalf one day.

  4. Eric

    “US isn’t worried too much about that possibility when it comes to India and Singapore” India has a pretty negative history with the US, in part because of the US, and the US is and has been uncomfortable with providing them advanced technology which is why this deal is so interesting and such as major deal. India during the Cold War used to constantly provide the Soviets information as well as was so hostile to the US that it war gamming in the area India’s Navy was always assumed hostile.
    I am pretty sure that the US is still uncomfortable but India must have done allot to convince the US as well as people in the current administration seem willing to lay out allot of trust to see what happens. I think that at worst India will gain some military technology and still be hostile to the US but as long as they don’t join forces with China and provide them US technology, I think there is little chance of that, there is little to loose.
    The really interesting thing is though that the US has been steadily allowing India access more and more to advanced and sensitive technology, such as advanced nuclear technology, yet very little of it seems to be making it into the news. I wonder what gives.
    Your comments about Glick I think you are right. She is alarmist. The US, especially this administration, would never abandon Israel and the US should expect Israel to play ball with the US. The reason I pointed out the article to Nitin was her interesting comments on the historical relationship between the countries.

  5. Nitin, my broader point was that I expect few, if any, restrictions to ultimately be placed on Israeli arms sales to India and Singapore. The US is just very touchy on the matter of high-tech arms sales by its allies to China, and responds aggressively when such deals appear on the horizon. You only have to look at the threats it made to the EU (hardly a tiny American client state, like Israel) when it mulled the lifting of its arms embargo on China to see what I mean.

    Robi, it may be a long time (if ever) before the US sees India as a military ally along the lines of, say, Australia, but I think it’s safe to say that at this point, it considers the country more of a friend than an enemy, with the thawing of ties with Pakistan accelerating the process. There’s still a lot of debate going on regarding this issue in the Beltway corridors, with many Pentagon and State Department careerists filled with Cold War memories viewing India warily. But a broad consensus has emerged between neocons like Wolfowitz and Feith, pragmatic conservatives like Rice and Rumsfeld, and center-left Democrats like Clinton and Kerry with regards to creating a solid defense partnership emerge between the two countries. Though the last group still gets the jitters over NPT-related issues.

    I think the world often underestimates just how concerned the American political establishment is over the potential rise of an autocratic, militarist, and ultra-nationalist China.

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