Maritime cooperation between the United States and India is the key to bridging differences over the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Maritime counterproliferation remains a hub of the Bush administration's foreign policy. The U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement President George W. Bush signed last December makes it official U.S. policy to win "India's full participation in the Proliferation security Initiative," or PSI.' Washington has attempted to woo New Delhi into this U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" against the transport of nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry and ballistic missiles for some time now-without result. Negotiations will likely continue, but for an assortment of reasons-legal qualms about the initiative, mercurial public opinion, ingrained suspicions toward international nonproliferation arrangements, desire for mastery of the Indian Ocean-success is far from certain.
The Indian electorate has watched both the nuclear negotiations and the PSI closely. Sealing the nuclear deal, which relaxes controls on exports of U.S. commercial nuclear technology to India, promises to ease Indians' skepticism toward the PSI and other U.S.-orchestrated endeavors. Consequently, a reciprocal move by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is now thinkable.
Washington must seize what could be a fleeting opportunity. The U.S. Navy can help. Despite the diplomatic impasse over the PSI, the United States and India have been taking steps to put substance into what some observers term their "natural strategic partnership." MiIitary-to-military interactions are prominent in this fledgling partnership, and combined maritime activities are at the forefront of the military-to-military relationship. Cooperation between the U.S. and Indian sea services will bolster the two countries' ability to act together on matters of common interest. Equally important, it could help the two governments bridge their political differences over the PSI. Efforts to stem the flow of weapons-related materiel at sea would benefit.
Abstract appeals to the ideal of nonproliferation might not surmount New Delhi's resistance to maritime interdiction. Showing Indians that PSI participation will augment the capabilities of their navy and coast guard-and, in the process, strengthen their claim to regional preeminence-might. If New Delhi comes to view the tangible payoff from combined maritime interdiction as offsetting the political drawbacks of such efforts, it may at last lend its support to the initiative.
A Skittish Partner
Indian leaders have stated unequivocally that they regard the proliferation of doomsday weapons and components used to manufacture them as u direct threat to Indian national security. India has confronted such threats head-on in the past. Customs agents took action in 1999, seizing the cargo of the Kuwolsan, a North Korean freighter bound for Pakistan (or perhaps Libya) with a Scud missile factory on board.: In late 2006 the Indian Coast Guard apprehended the Omrcuii II, a North Korean vessel that violated Indian territorial waters while en route to Iran. While the Omrani II's holds were empty, the incident reminded New Delhi of the hazards of seaborne trade.3 These PSI-like operations show that India is prepared politically to take the kind of unti-trufficking actions contemplated by the Statement of Interdiction Principles, the PSI's founding document. The only question is whether it is willing to do so under the rubric of the initiative.
One virtue of a seafaring partnership is that it can remain unobtrusive. U.S. and Indian maritime tics have warmed rapidly over the past six years or so. in part because the Indian Navy is the smallest and least visible of India's armed services-and thus the least subject to political pressures. Navy-to-navy cooperation can take place without a large foreign footprint on Indian soil-a crucial advantage in view of Indian sensitivities about political independence, national sovereignty, and great-power threats emanating from the sea. Cooperative activities and exercises can proceed with fewer worries about micronianagement on the part of civil authorities in Washington and New Delhi. Maritime interdiction need not make headlines. This is especially true given PSI participants' penchant for operational secrecy.
All ofthat being said, the civil authorities maintain firm control of the military in India, meaning that the Indian Navy is never completely out of reach of political oversight. Indian constituents will hold New Delhi accountable if it overtly endorses the Proliferation security Initiative. They will demand tangible, measurable results linked to specific policies articulated by their leaders.
Otherwise, oft-voiced doubts about the legality of the PSI, the 2005 amendments to the Suppression of Unlawful Acts at Sea Convention, and similar ventures will continue to prevail over maritime interdiction. This is in keeping with India's history of going its own way in foreign and security policy and of deferring to the UN security Council, which so far has failed to pass a resolution explicitly endorsing the PSI. And Indians bristle at outside meddling in Indian Ocean affairs, even by a prospective strategic partner. They like to recall the 1971 deployment of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal, for example, and many of them see Diego Garcia as an American beachhead in their aquatic domain.
Despite talk of a natural partnership between Washington and New Delhi. Indian leaders still view the U.S. force presence in the Indian Ocean basin with some misgivings. While New Delhi wants a close strategic partnership with the United States, it debates each new step in that partnership, lone and hard.
Despite the popularity of last year's nuclear accord, for instance, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has condemned it for infringing on Indian sovereignty and for unduly constraining the nation's nuclear-weapons program. While the government clearly saw the benefits the agreement would hring, it had to convince members of its parliamentary coalition that it got as good as it gave on this core national security issue. Efforts to sell a wary public on PSI-related maritime efforts will demand no less. In 2005, for instance, Indian spokesmen vehemently denied that combined naval maneuvers involving visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) tactics bore any relation to the Proliferation security Initiative. And indeed, VBSS represents a general competency for naval and maritime law-enforcement forces, which may be called on to combat trafficking in any number of commodities, from narcotics to human beings to weapons of mass destruction.
Even so, New Delhi felt compelled to distance itself even from routine activities that might be depicted as a precursor to maritime counterproliferation. This is the measure of Indian leaders' wariness toward U.S.-led endeavors in India's geographic environs.
Attributes of Seagoing Forces
Convincing New Delhi the benefits of maritime interdiction exceed its political risks is central to coaxing India into the Proliferation security Initiative. The PSI is a largely maritime enterprise (although it also purports to interdict weapons-related items ashore and aloft). Under the Statement of Interdiction Principles, navies, coast guards, and other government agencies from some 80 countries now share information among themselves and execute combined operations aimed at detecting and thwarting suspect cargoes. Coordinating the efforts of multiple governments can involve delicate diplomacy-a task for which navies are eminently suited. The U.S. Navy has always been an emissary of the U.S. government as well as a fighting force.
Similarly, the Indian Navy is the armed forces' traditional leader in cooperative and diplomatic matters. Indeed, New Delhi's 2004 Indian Maritime Doctrine statement makes "naval diplomacy" one of the navy's core missions, directing service leaders to forge "healthy maritime partnerships" in the region.4
New Delhi's Maritime Doctrine harks back to the U.S. National Fleet concept. Government officials want to integrate not only the navy but also the coast guard into diplomacy, particularly toward coastal countries in the Indian Ocean region-a region Indian officials construe as reaching from the Strait of Malacca to their east to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, or even Suez, to the west. And they understand why maritime forces are often at the forefront of efforts to address common transnational threats. Navies deploy more often in the global commons than do ground or air forces, and they interact more regularly with other countries. Because they remain out of sight, moreover, navies, coast guards, and other maritime police entities find it relatively easy to train together without raising political hackles. Navies and coast guards have similar missions in the global commons and in littoral waters, and they share certain obligations under international law-fighting piracy, to name one.
Another attribute peculiar to coast guards commends this often-overlooked sea service to Indian strategists. Endowed with law-enforcement authority, coast guards are uniquely equipped for PSI-like enterprises such as counternarcotics and counterpiracy operations. They have spearheaded diplomatie outreach and international cooperation in the post-9/11 world, especially on behalf of the United States, which has come to see that the U.S. Coast Guard has more in common with many navies than does the U.S. Navy. And then there are raw numbers: to police the vastness of the Indian Ocean effectively, New Delhi must use every asset at its disposal. The Indian Maritime Doctrine, accordingly, entrusts critical duties to both sea services.
To firm up the seagoing partnership between India and the United States, then, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard should wage some quiet nautical diplomacy, supplementing the efforts of more traditional foreign-policy organs such as the U.S. State Department. A broad-based maritime outreach campaign toward the Indian Navy and Coast Guard would see U.S. mariners carry on face-to-face "personal diplomacy" with their Indian counterparts, backing their words with tangible efforts to build up India's maritime capacity. If this outreach program succeeds, New Delhi will come to see the Proliferation security Initiative as a way to advance Indian national interests. Prospects for Indian participation in the initiative will brighten.
What messages should U.S. officials strive to convey? First, they should impress on their Indian counterparts that the PSI poses no danger to Indian national interests. The United States, they should say, understands India's appraisal of its strategic surroundings, welcomes New Delhi's claim to leadership in the Indian Ocean region-as a means of burden-sharing for the U.S. military, if nothing else-and thus has no desire to use the PSI to displace India from regional primacy. As noted before, India remains somewhat ambivalent about its relationship with the United States: it covets closer militaryto-military ties, but at the same time it has historically shunned a formal alliance with Washington, and it worries about seeming to accept the junior role even in an informal partnership. Dispelling such worries should be a top priority.
Second, they should play up the economic benefits of maritime counterproliferation. Delousing the Indian Ocean shipping lanes of weapons-related goods will further India's economic and security interests as Indian leaders construe these interests. Governments would likely shut down the supply chain-including its crucial maritime link-if terrorists ever managed to use the sea lanes to carry out a catastrophic attack. As joint custodians of maritime security in the Indian Ocean basin, India and the United States can reduce the likelihood of an event that would have repercussions throughout the globalized world. The PSI pays economic dividends.
Third, they need to show Indian officials that collaboration in PSI exercises and operations will help knit together the larger U.S.-Indian defense relationship, allowing New Delhi to fulfill its objectives without consenting to a formal military alliance. The PSI is, after all, an informal affair, as befits a coalition of the willing. The Statement of Interdiction Principles imposes no binding commitment to join in any particular activity undertaken by fellow participants. New Delhi, then, can pick and choose its commitments. It can decline to act when an interdiction operation impinges on Indian interests, sovereignty, or legal reach. Indian officials should be reminded of the initiative's voluntary nature.
And fourth, U.S. officials should stress the PSI's benefits in terms of interagency coordination. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are notoriously stovepiped, limiting their ability to fulfill the missions set forth in the Indian Maritime Doctrine. Combined exercises and operations under the PSI foster tactical proficiency for standard naval missions-no small thing-but they also instill habits and procedures particularly suited to today's security challenges. Maritime interdiction demands cooperation among disparate government bureaucracies, including the armed forces, the intelligence services, and law-enforcement agencies. India can prosecute its Maritime Doctrine more effectively if the sea services work well on a joint basis-as the PSI will compel them to do. New Delhi can help itself while helping the cause of nonproliferation.
The same holds on the international level. PSI activities and operations are usually international in scope, both by design and by necessity. Apart from interstate war, many of the contingencies New Delhi foresees for the 21st century are best combated through joint, combined, and interagency efforts. PSI participation is clearly in India's interest; it remains only for the United States to make a persuasive case to that effect.
Indian participation in the Proliferation security Initiative is a necessary precursor to making the emerging legal regime opposing the transport of weapons-related materiel truly global. On the deckplate level, it's hard to see the PSI achieving its aims in South Asia without Indian help. Worldwide commitments are straining U.S. military resources; few American allies maintain force presences in the Indian Ocean basin sizable enough for them to pick up the slack; China has remained aloof from the PSI and in any event has yet to build up naval power outside East Asian waters. India is the only country in the region that appears able to police the oceanic commons.
The U.S. Navy thus should enter into a naval-diplomatic entente with the U.S. Coast Guard-forming a diplomatic National Fleet, as it were. Not only is the latter adept at many of the maritime security missions that preoccupy the Indian sea services, but its involvement would remove some of the geopolitical gloss from discussions of the PSI. Maritime interdiction would become less a matter of high politics than a functional matter for New Delhi, which in turn would be less apt to view the initiative as an American excuse for encroaching on Indian primacy or an effort to persuade New Delhi to carry water for the Pentagon.
By depoliticizing the Proliferation security Initiative, the U.S. Navy can boost its chances of adding a valuable new contributor to its global marine partnership.
1. Henry J. Hyde, "United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006," THOMAS Website, <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi- bin/query/F?c109:6:./temp/ 0 -c109HHJaev:e647>.
2. Joby Warrick, "On North Korean Freighter, a Hidden Missile Factory," Washington Post, 14 August 2003, p. A1.
3. "Detained Iran-Bound North Korea Ship Baffles India," Washington Post, 9 November 2006, <http://www.washingtonpost.eom/wp0 -dyn/content/article/2006/11/09/ AR2006110900124.html>.
4. Indian Navy, Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence, INBR 8, Indian Maritime Doctrine, 25 April 2004, especially pp. 100-103.