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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stopping Nuclear War

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The direction of likely nuclear developments has been summarised in a top article in a leading daily recently ( The occasion was launch of the nuclear submarine, INS Arihant. The laundry list includes at least two more nuclear submarines, though the eventual figure is ten. Three air craft carriers including the Gorshkov yet to fetch up from its Black Sea port. Nuclear tipped submarine lauched missiles of a greater range than the present 700 km of the K 15 experimental missile. Missiles of the IRBM class, Agni III and Agni V and ICBM Surya, to target the eastern seaboard of China and beyond have been recommended. The missiles are to be MIRV’d, that is fitted with multiple independently targeted warheads. To enable targeting spy satellites for all weather 24x7 cover. Missile defences are to be built up, in collaboration with the US and Israel. With three decades of missile and two decades of nuclear development, accuracy of missile delivery and variegated warheads are surely already a reality. To protect these developments, the article recommends staying out of the CTBT, that is in the news once again, and participation in the FMCT negotiations, since the interim decade before their culmination would gain India adequate fissile material to join in. In all it devotes one and a half lines to the disarmament question, indicating the writer’s inclination. That there has been no follow up top article on the contrary, tragically implies this is an unchallenged position.

The whole gamut is likely to be in place in a decade, though each of these pieces is in place to a limited degree now. Navigating the interim is as fraught as the possible situation tens years on. Though exaggerated, reports are of a threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The threat of a future 26/11 continues to loom, witness the controversy over security surrounding the international badminton championship in Hyderabad. The rhetoric in respect of China had a spike to coincide with the thirteenth meeting between the two special interlocutors in Delhi in early August. While an Indian hyper-realist predicted Chinese invasion in 2012, a Chinese website countered with its take on a Chinese assisted disintegration of India. If this is bad enough, consider what India’s nuclear preparation that peak in about a decade imply. It is apparent that a pessimist view is taken of the long term, for which presumably the nuclear trajectory is to prepare us to meet.

Advances in the missile and nuclear fields are played up in the media and have votaries in the strategic community. The argument is that this helps deter adversaries keeping a close watch as also reassure all that India’s defences are on course. This has political dividend and keeps the technological momentum going. It builds a constituency behind the developments, enabling their continued funding and legitimacy over time. They would then become irreversible, for it would take a lot of explaining and political capital to slow or turn these round. The expectation is that these developments would make for deterrence not only of nuclear weapons use against India, but also war itself. They would enable India to match up to China, helping in negotiations from a position of equality. This would help resolve the border dispute. It would place India in the big league, enabling it to fulfil its ‘responsibilities’ as a great power with a reach from Aden to the Malaccas. Pakistan is ignored in this discourse, so much so that in a farewell address in Delhi the outgoing Chairman of India’s Chief’s of Staff Committee failed to mention Pakistan at all in his prepared speech.

It should not take a nuclear war for these developments to be challenged. Even if the technological momentum is not reversible, the technology need not be operationalised. A critique would help lend balance to the debate in the public domain. The usual arguments against such a course can first be dispensed with, since the developments are evidence of their failure already. That it is economically prohibitive enterprise is countered by the argument that an India, growing at nine per cent can afford it. That deterrence can fail is undercut by the logic that this is not reason enough not to try. That it results in militarization of India and its otherwise resolvable disputes is met with the argument that passivism of Mother India is what led to her subjugation for the past millennium. That India’s priorities should be internal security and development is countered by saying that defence and development are complementary. That India’s militarised approach would result in a security dilemma for its neighbours is demolished by maintaining that India is the one that is reactive to a security dilemma imposed on it by its implacable neighbours. The vision of mushroom clouds over the country does not hold attention since it is taken as fiction. Arguing that India cannot cope best indicated by incompetent municipal response to monsoon showers is negated by pointing to the National Disaster Management Authority and the battalions under it. Thus, there is no way nay-sayers can get an argument in, even edgeways.

But arguing against the nuclear enclave and its retainers amounts to a national service. Lets take a scenario ten years on. China has built up infrastructure in Tibet to an extent that it could transport troops onto the plateau in short order. Newspaper reports already have it of an exercise underway in China to test precisely this ability. This has led to India’s recent emphasis on border infrastructure. Over the next half decade or so, India would be at a disadvantage. However, the scenario is situated a further half decade down. By then the two regional adversaries are expected to face off over strategic space and leadership in Asia. India’s economy, population numbers and its relationship with the US would be the drivers of its challenge of China. That the border is to be unresolved till India gets round to gaining parity with China, enables it to serve as a flashpoint. Consider the case in which despite equal military capabilities, due to some or other operational level move, one of the two states is losing. In case of India, this would have a direct impact on the North East, as indeed it did in 1962. In case of China, the impact would be on its hold over Tibet, that is already increasingly tenuous. Though both states subscribe to the No First Use, its not impossible that the loser could countenance using nuclear weapons to get out of a tight spot. This may be in the tactical mode in the battlefield or at a higher level in greater depth to stem reinforcements routes into the theatre. The consequences for escalation are stark. Neither state, contending then for super power status, would back down. A nuclear war would jeopardise effort of the preceding four decades of growth. The only gainer it appears would be the US, with both its challengers in self destruct mode.

A study in the context of an India-Pakistan conflict by the National Resources Defence Council in the US has it that sixty million casualties could result in a nuclear war in case fifteen cities are targeted. This would be equally true in an India-China context too. The nuclear trajectory of India closely parallels that of the states in the Cold War. There is no guarantee that the next Cold War, one between India and China, would remain cold. Good sense would be in not acquiring a capability for national suicide. Even as the nuclear enclave has acquired a power difficult to dislodge, building up a peace movement of equal weight is the only way ahead.

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