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Arms Race in The Indian Ocean Region

by K.T.Rajasingham

Nuclear proliferation, arms race, conflict, ethnic and religious intolerance in the Indian Ocean region continue to escalate. Race for nuclear and conventional arms build-up between Pakistan and India threaten the region's stability. Arms race is on -- not to the finish, but to make it fast to the starting-line. Missile test-fires are being conducted in this region at a sickening regularity. Now, countries of other regions, too, have begun to convert this region into a nuclear dumping zone. Israel - a country located in the Mediterranean region, test-fired submarine launched cruise missiles off the coast of Sri Lanka in the latter part of May 2000. On June 16, India test-fired its short-range surface-to-surface Prithivi (Earth) missile from the Interim Test Range at Chandipur-on-sea in the Bay of Bengal, off the eastern coast of Orissa. Similarly, on April 11, India test-fired Dhanush, the ship-launched version of the surface-to-air missile.Earlier, Pakistan on February 7, test-fired Hatf--1 surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which had a short range, but which could carry greater payload and had a far-improved accuracy.During the peak years of the Cold War period, the US, France, Britain and the former Soviet Union had naval bases in the Indian Ocean region. These superpowers had refuelling facilities in Socotra Island in the former South Yemen, Reunion, Gan air base in the Maldives, Asmara in Ethiopia, Port Victoria in the Seychelles and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. Though the US withdrew from its bases in the Philippines in 1991, it still has a significant military presence in the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia.Lying almost 2,000 miles north-east of Mauritius, Diego Garcia was ceded to Britain under an agreement signed in 1965. During that same year, Britain leased the island to the US for a 50-year period, which expires on 2016.(Diego Garcia - Geography note: archipelago of 2,300 islands; Diego Garcia, largest and southernmost island, occupies strategic location in central Indian Ocean; is the site of joint US-UK military facility. Approximately 3,000 native inhabitants, known as the Chagosians or Ilois, were evacuated to Mauritius before the construction of UK-US military facilities; now there are UK and US military personnel and civilian contractors living on the island.)Intense military activities, such as nuclear and missiles test-firings, turned the Indian Ocean region a nuclear dumping ground. It is feared that, the people in the region, are prone to nuclear radiation, which would sooner or later, fatally affect their life-span. A proposal to declare the Indian Ocean Peace Zone was the brain-child of Sri Lanka, which was endorsed in the early 1971, by the 113-member Non-Aligned Movement. Subsequently, the proposal to declare the Indian Ocean a zone of peace was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly in the same year. The main element formed the basis of the 1971 declaration was the steady escalation of arms race and competitive military presence in the region.A committee was set up in 1972, to implement the General Assembly resolution calling for the establishment of a Zone of Peace in the Indian Ocean. Accordingly, a global conference was proposed to be held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo was scheduled and rescheduled, no less than eight times, but it never got off the ground.The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world, covering about 20 per cent of the Earth's water surface. It is bounded on the north by southern Asia, on the west by the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, and on the east by the Malay Peninsula, the Sunda Islands and Australia and on the South by Antarctica. The Ocean is nearly 10,000 km (6,200 miles) wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia; its area is 73,556,000 sq.km (28,400,000 sq. miles) including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Ocean's volume is estimated to 292,131,000 km3, (70,086,000 miles3. Small islands dot the continental rims. Island nations within the Ocean are Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, Comoro, Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka. Indonesia borders it. The Ocean's importance as a transit route between Asia and Africa has made it an epicentre of conflict. Currently, about 25 per cent of oil used by the US comes via the Indian Ocean sea lanes and Persian Gulf region. US also depends on the Indian Ocean for the movement of about 50 different strategic materials, including manganese, cobalt, titanium, chromium, platinum, tin, nickel, tungsten, iron, lead and copper.Though a zone of peace is closely linked to one of the most sensitive issues in the Western world, a possible curb on the naval arms race, the situation remains the same until this day. However, the United States, Britain and France - the three veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, had already killed the long-standing proposal on the Indian Ocean. Therefore the arms race is on, with Israel as the latest entrant to the club.According to the Sunday Times of London, Israel secretly test-fired cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons off the coast of Sri Lanka, in May 2000. The paper reported that tests were conducted from two German-built Dolphin-class submarines and involved Israeli-made missiles, equipped with conventional war heads, hitting targets at sea at a range of about 1,500 kilometres. Nevertheless, reports of the Dolphin's cruise-missile capability continue to surface in the foreign press, Israel has never admitted that it has any cruise missiles. Israel said that it has sought Tomahawks from US, which has so far rejected the request.According to reports, three 1,925-ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines have been built in German shipyards for Israel Navy. Modern submarines with the most advanced sailing and combat system in the world, they continue extensive sophistication with very easy operation. The purpose of this submarine is to enable the Israel Navy to meet all the tasks faced in the Mediterranean Sea in the 21st century. The submarines cost US$ 320 million each, and are twice as big as ageing Gal-class submarines that the Israeli navy has relied on to date.It is generally agreed that these submarines are outfitted with six 533-millimetre torpedo tubes suitable for the 21-inch torpedoes that are normally used on most submarines, including those of the United States. According to another report, that these submarines have a total of ten torpedo tubes - six 533-millimetre and four 650-millimetre. The four larger 25.5 inch diameter torpedo tubes could be used to launch a long-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLMC). According to further reports that the three submarines acquired by Israel are capable of carrying nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles, with a goal of deterring an enemy from trying to take outs it nuclear weapons with surprise attack.The crew for the submarines started training in 1994, and participated in the building process, as well as in the acceptance procedures for weapon systems. Germany donated two of these submarines to Israel, which were delivered in 1997. Israel bought the third Dolphin submarine from Germany. The project to build the Israeli Navy's third submarine named "Tekumah" was launched in Germany on July 9, 1998, with the participation of Israel's Defence Ministry Director General, Ilan Biran and other naval officers. Tekumah (T'kuma) is the Hebrew word for "revival". The third submarine arrived in Israel in the middle of 1999.Earlier, Israel embarked on its own spy satellite program over two decades ago, when US turned down request for intelligence. For many years Israel's Defence ministry and the intelligence units have sought to acquire an orbital capability to monitor activities in Iran and Iraq.Subsequently, Israel launched Ofek 1, spy satellite as an experiment in September 1988, and Ofek 2 in April 1990, both reentered the Earth's atmosphere within six months. Ofek 3, also referred to as EROS (Earth Resources Observation System) was designed and launched in April 1995, to last for two years in orbit, but was in operation nine months longer than expected. Again in January 22, 1998, it launched Ofek 4, but it was reported that it failed to reach its proper orbit and it was expected to burn up reentering Earth's atmosphere.Israel, which has developed highly technical defence projects has already developed the Shavit, which is a small satellite launching vehicle, which lifts satellites to low Earth's orbit. The three-stage Shavit booster rocket appeared to work as planned for any future spy satellite installations.In April this year, Israel conducted the test-launching of a Jericho ballistic missile off its coast without advance warning to Pentagon. When the test was conducted, an American warship in the vicinity momentarily thought it was under attack. Pentagon official later said that the missile landed about 40 miles from the warship. "That's pretty close for a missile that's not the most accurate," said one official, adding that this was the third time in the last two years that Israel had conducted non-notice missile tests near an American warship.Planning for a submarine-launched nuclear deterrent was accelerated after reports in the early 1990s by Mosad, the Israeli intelligence service, that Iran would be capable of staging a nuclear missile against Israel by 2000. The latest Israeli estimate has put that threat back by two years, but uncertainty over Iran's level of nuclear capability has not slowed Israel's drive to bolster its defences.As Israel remains concerned about its vulnerability to attack, particularly from Iran, which led Israel to begin sub-launched cruise missile tests. Accordingly, in the recently launched test -firing of the cruise missiles, two German built Dolphin class submarines were involved in the secret operation. According to reports, the Israeli-made missiles, which were equipped with conventional warheads, hit targets at sea at a range of about 930 miles. It is believed that, Israel have so far produced between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Sources said that, these includes several 200 kg warheads - each containing 6 kg plutonium, that could be mounted on a cruise missile. Israel already have land and air-based nuclear weapons. Now Israel is the third country- after America and Russia, to be able to fire nuclear cruise missiles from submarines.Whilst Israel was busy preparing for the submarine launched cruise missiles, a coincident which could not be simply ignored needs to be taken into consideration seriously. During the same period, it was reported that, India was preparing to launch from a submarine the Indian missile Sagarika. US State department officials commenting on the report, in The New York Times said, "We know India is working on a missile called Sagarika and we understand this is a long term project, which is still in its early stages of development. We also understand that the project is being developed in conjunction with efforts to build and design in India a nuclear-powered ballistic submarine."The New York Times claimed that India's Defence Research Development Organisation has been working on the Sagarika for much of the 1990s. Although its range of nearly 200 miles would classify it as short-range missile, it is a solid-fuelled missile, making it an advance over India's liquid-fuelled missile, the Prithivi.Several Defence analysts have come forward to attribute that Indian scientists and Israelis are working together on several nuclear projects. Several analysts from Arab countries have confirmed this lingering doubts.Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was in Israel this Saturday. Indian embassy official said Singh's four-day visit was primarily designed to improve bilateral ties with Israel, but stressed that it would "not focus on defence relations". He further added that India and Israel have "an active" defence relationship, without providing details. Analysts said there is growing defence collaboration between the two countries. New Delhi said in April that, it planned to acquire Israeli aerial surveillance drones to bolster its defences along a military control line with arch foe Pakistan in the bitterly disputed territory of Kashmir. Indo-Israel political relations deteriorated in the early seventies with the worsening of the Arab-Israeli dispute after the 1967 Middle East war. During the time of Indra Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, India maintained a pro-Arab stand. But since of late, once the coalition lead by Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) took up the administration of India, it is alleged that, it has forged a common understanding with Israel in so many areas and one of them was the joint nuclear ventures.Trade between India and Israel increased by a record 46 per cent in 1999 over 1998 to reach $994.4 million.It is further said that, BJP is generally considered an anti-Muslim and this posturing made the Indian Government led by Attal Bihari Vajpayee could have been an another factor to establish confidential ties with Israel. The Sri Lankan English language daily, The Island in its June 24 issue reported that, senior Sri Lankan officials yesterday said that Israeli did not conduct any missile tests within the Sri Lankan territorial waters."They must have conducted test beyond Lanka's territorial waters." One official said adding that Israel vessel did not enter Sri Lankan waters last month, even to deliver armaments ordered by the Lankan armed forces.Another cruel coincidence was that Sri Lanka suddenly re-established diplomatic relationship in the first week of May 2000. This sudden announcement was made after months of secret negotiations with Israel on Defence and armed cooperation.Sri Lankan officials whilst denying that Israel did not conduct the test-firing of the cruise missile within its territorial waters, but have failed to deny that they were not in the know of such a test off its coast. Again, Ravaya- a Sinhalese language journal from Sri Lanka, in its June 23 issue came out with an article, "Israel tests nuclear weapons in Sri Lankan waters: Security forces in Muslim countries upset."Subsequently, Daily News, English daily, also the Sri Lankan government's mouthpiece carried the government's statement in its 27 June issue "Foreign ministry refutes Ravaya report."Foreign Ministry in its statement said that no such testing took place within the Sri Lankan territorial waters. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to categorically state that the Defence Ministry has confirmed that no such testing took place within Sri Lanka's territorial waters or exclusive economic zone."It is also noteworthy that, while the London Sunday Times article of June 18, on which Ravaya's article is based, makes no mention of testing of nuclear weapons and refers to testing of cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads,' the Ravaya in its headline makes reference to the testing of nuclear weapons, " said the Foreign ministry statement.However, The Island in its June 24 issue reported, "Diplomatic sources said that India too was aware of the tests. There were reports of increased military to military co-operation between India and Israel armed forces and also high level contacts between the two governments. The Israel President recently (January 1997) visited New Delhi, while the Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani visited Tel Aviv (Two weeks ago). These tests could not have taken place without the Indians and other regional powers knowing,' another source pointing out that movement of German built Israeli submarines and other surface ships could not have escaped detection by the US and other key players in the region."It was mysterious to note that Israel test firing in the Indian Ocean region escaped the notice of the US spy satellites positioned to spy on such activities in the Indian region. America has positioned Mercury Sigint placed over Africa targeting Middle east, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regions. Also, on May 15, 1988 US launched another spy satellite to spy on India, Pakistan and other areas in the Indian Ocean region. The six-ton satellite, code-named Orion was launched from cape Canaveral.Earlier, on May 11, 1998 India conducted three underground nuclear tests from Pokhran range. Those tests were conducted with three different devices - a fission device, a low-yield sub-kiloton device and a thermonuclear device. Again on May 13, 1988 two days after, India conducted two further tests, which were also low-yield devices in the sub kiloton range.To respond in kind to India's nuclear testing, Pakistan went for a similar nuclear tests 17 days later, when on May 28, 1998 six nuclear devices were detonated from Changhi, Baluchistan. According to defence experts, Pakistan today has a battery of indigenous missiles for its security: Surface-to-surface Ghauri-II with an announced maximum range of 2,300 km if the payload is reduced from 1,000 to around 700 kilograms; Ghauri-I (surface-to-surface) with a range of 1,500 km and payload of 700 kilograms; Shaheen-II (surface-to-surface) with a planned range of 2,300 kilometres and payload of 1,000 kilograms, Shaheen-I (surface-to-surface) with a range of 750 km; and Anza-I and Anza-II (surface-to-air) missiles.It is alleged that China is exporting technicians and technical know-how of nuclear and missile manufacture to Pakistan. According to various sources it is believed that Chinese nuclear scientists are in Pakistan working closely with Pakistani's in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.In recent times, South Asian region echoed with tit-for-tat destructive weapon acquisition, following Pakistan's purchase of 350 Soviet-designed T-84 main battle tanks from Ukraine. Indian Defence sources reported that T-90 tank deal with Russia would be finalised this week and the decision on acquiring Kiev-class aircraft carrier for Indian Navy would be taken soon.Under the US $400-million deal, India is to buy 100 T-90s main battle tanks and get license for producing another 200 tanks at Avadi heavy vehicles factory, to restore the balance of forces in the subcontinent.Furthermore, it is learnt that in St. Petersburg, the Indo-Russian sub-group on naval shipbuilding would negotiate Admiral Gorshkov' deal and review progress on the construction of Krivak'-class modern frigates and naval submarines for the Indian Navy.It is unfortunate that even in the post-cold war era the nuclear race is on in the subcontinent. We as human beings had done the greatest disservice to humanity by proliferating destructive weapons with nuclear warheads. People are aghast at the bleak future prospect of their right of survival and existence in this region.

 


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