In Search of a Credible Threat


May 04, 1991|By SEEMA SIROHI

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- As arms manufacturers churn out new war scenarios to justify post-Cold War weapons programs, some of them are arousing alarm in diplomatic circles.

General Dynamics, one of the largest U.S. arms makers, offers a case in point. It caused a major diplomatic flap between Washington and New Delhi after company analysts -- in a briefing for key think tanks here -- singled out India as one of the targets for the ''next-generation cruise missile.''

General Dynamics is clearly looking to make up for a dip in sales to the Pentagon last year from $7 billion to $6.3 billion. The U.S. Navy canceled its contract for the A-12 jet and the company's production lines for the M1-A1 tank may have to close down unless foreign buyers come along.

General Dynamics' inclusion of India along with traditional enemies such as Libya and Iran surprised many South Asia experts; U.S.-Indian relations have been improving steadily for the past eight years. In a 52-page briefing paper the company outlined a scenario for the year 2000 in which India and Pakistan are spoiling for war over Kashmir. The United States would intervene to prevent an Indian nuclear strike against Pakistan and use 307 cruise missiles to neutralize targets in India. No action would be taken against Pakistan.

Details of the briefing sent shock waves through the Indian embassy here. ''It is irresponsible to treat India as the enemy,'' a senior Indian official complained. ''Scenario-building is a dangerous game and we can become victims of it.'' Despite assurances by the State Department and the Pentagon that General Dynamics was simply free-floating, officials in New Delhi are perturbed by the attempt to demonize India -- even hypothetically.

Eric H. Arnett, program associate with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, warns that the inclusion of friendly countries in war scenarios can contribute to the ''Pentagon feedback'' phenomenon where defense contractors present a line of thought that the Defense Department wants to hear.

''The Pentagon is a sort of closed intellectual community. People who say things they don't want to hear can become persona-non-grata,'' he points out. The Pentagon has denied that its officers were present at the General Dynamics briefings.

Selig Harrison, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the inclusion of India was a ''significant barometer of anxiety in foreign-policy circles with the spread of missile technology. There is an atmosphere in the Congress and in public opinion in which proliferation of missile technology can lead to ambivalent attitudes toward friendly countries.'' India developed and tested its first medium-range ballistic missile, ''Agni,'' in 1989, sparking strong criticism in Washington. It also has modern, well-trained defense forces.

Michael Klare, professor of peace and security studies at Hampshire College, says arms makers are ''looking for a new Iraq'' as targets for their computer-guided smart weapons. Only a handful of countries offer legitimate threats -- North Korea, India, Brazil, Taiwan, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa, Syria and Iran, says Mr. Klare. ''India got picked because it has capabilities akin to those of Iraq. It is alleged to have nuclear weapons and it has tested ballistic missiles,'' he adds.

The other four scenarios laid out by General Dynamics are: Indonesia seeking U.S. help to curb rebels trying to close the strategic Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java; U.S. forces deciding to attack Libya's chemical plants; the U.S. attacking Iran after Tehran closes the Persian Gulf to oil shipments, and the United States threatening attack as the Soviet Union escalates its conflict with Japan over the disputed Northern Islands.

In the absence of a single credible enemy for the U.S., defense companies are clearly fumbling around in a minefield of complex regional conflicts, setting off politically sensitive booby traps in the process. The new scenarios ''no longer depict a 'Star Wars' battle between good and evil, but an 'Indiana Jones' type situation where all kinds of crazies and nuts are encountered. It's now a battle against chaos,'' says Mr. Arnett.

In Third World capitals, alarm is growing that in the new unipolar world, such scenarios by arms manufacturers will only further aggravate regional conflicts that are already ominous enough.

Seema Sirohi is the Washington correspondent for The Telegraph in Calcutta. She wrote this commentary for the Pacific News Service.

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