On 1 May 2001, President George W. Bush announced a strategic initiative that sought to effect a radical break with the past by supplementing offensive capability with missile defense as the centerpiece of American national security strategy. The Government of India reacted with remarkable alacrity in shedding its earlier doubts and expressing its warm appreciation of the Presidentâ€™s speech. The response surprised almost everyone, partly because it was a significant departure from the Governmentâ€™s misgivings about American proposals for a national missile defense (NMD), and partly because of the rapidity with which it came. The public debate that followed was conducted with the vigor displayed earlier over important national security decisions on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and over the nuclear tests of May 1998. In fact, the debate was a little late in coming. NMD had entered the US strategic agenda much earlier during the Clinton Administration, but Indians gave it little attention at the time. Besides, Indiaâ€™s own interest in missile defense goes back several years. While much (though not all) of the current global attention has focused on US NMD, Indian interest has for several years revolved around developments relating to missile defense in its own strategic context. Both kinds of missile defense are relevant to Indiaâ€™s national security, but in different ways. US NMD has an indirect bearing on Indian security, while a more limited missile defense has a direct one. In this essay, I attempt to gauge the appropriate posture that India should take with respect to both kinds of missile defense. The issue is an evolving and open-ended one. Will the US NMD be â€œrobustâ€ or limited? How will the United States attempt to shape Russian and Chinese reactions, and how will they actually react? What they, and China in particular, will do may have a bearing on the strategic posture of India and, in turn, Pakistan, though here again there is no certainty as to how either will respond. Equally, how will the United States deploy Theater Missile Defense (TMD)? Will Taiwan be a recipient and, if so, how will China respond? Will India incorporate some form of missile defense into its defense apparatus, and, if it does, what will Pakistan do about it? I raise these questions because I find the participants in the discourse tend to display little nuance and often speak with a certainty that does not rest on a careful consideration of the range of possibilities. In particular, there is scarcely any thoroughgoing argument for or against missile defense based on an adequate discussion of its relation to the fundamentals of deterrence. To start with, the concept of missile defense needs some clarification. In the American strategic lexicon, NMD is generally understood as a response to the threat posed to the US homeland by long-range missiles, while TMD is aimed at countering theater missile threats to US interests overseas. The definition needs flexibility. For instance, if the continental United States were to be attacked by a shipborne short-range missile, the appropriate defense would be from a so-called TMD system. In short, a TMD system may well play a role in NMD. This is particularly true of India, which faces threats to its homeland from short-range and intermediate-range missiles. Thus, the Indian interest in anti-missile defensive systems is aimed at a limited national defense even though the specific systems may be designated as TMD systems in the United States and elsewhere. The distinction is further blurred by the fact that military and civilian targets overlap extensively: most cantonments and nuclear facilities are adjacent to urban centers. To avoid confusion, I will simply use the term â€œmissile defenseâ€ in the Indian context. Below, I first examine the official Indian response to the Bush initiative and explain the reasons for Indiaâ€™s shift from doubtful distancing to politically astute applause. I next analyze in some detail the response of the Indian strategic community to the Government of Indiaâ€™s position. Thereafter, I present a case for supporting NMD on basic doctrinal grounds. I then extend the line of reasoning and argue in favor of a limited Indian missile defense for the purpose of protecting Indian assets. INDIAâ€™S OFFICIAL RESPONSE TO MISSILE DEFENSE Much has been made of the remarkable shift in Indiaâ€™s attitude toward the Bush initiative of May 2001. In fact, earlier criticism of the American interest in NMD had been perfunctory and, considering Indiaâ€™s own interest in TMD, contradictory as well. In early July 2000, Defense Minister George Fernandes, when questioned about NMD, said that â€œthe US should give up this whole exercise as it will lead to far too many problems than [sic] we can visualize now.â€2 Less than a week later, Fernandes was ambivalent. While expressing some concern that American NMD might alter the global nuclear balance and start a new arms race, he also noted that it would dismantle â€œmutual assured destructionâ€ (MAD) and, more importantly, would not affect Indiaâ€™s nuclear program.3 Similarly, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh observed that India was against the militarization of outer space, but expressed his satisfaction with the talks he had held with his counterpart, Madeleine Albright, and her deputy, Strobe Talbott.4 The cursory interest displayed by senior members of the Indian cabinet may have been due to Indiaâ€™s â€œreluctance to contradict its number one trading partner, its number one source of direct investment and technology, and its number one potential ally in its rivalry with China and Pakistan.â€5 But it certainly was not the result of a lack of interest in missile defense as an issue. As will be shown below, Indian interest in missile defense dated back several years, though the main focus wasâ€”and still isâ€”on TMD. Hence, it is hardly surprising that, while expressing some reservations, India never took a strongly critical position on NMD.