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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yet another nuclear controversy

Earlier in end May at the end of a book release function, India’s Army chief, when quizzed on developments in Pakistan’s nuclear capability recounted in the US Congressional Research Service report, remarked, "They require a certain minimum amount (nuclear capability), but ... Pakistan's attempts to increase the number of its nuclear weapons is a matter of serious concern." Yet again when accosted by the press, this time during his visit to the army's Artificial Limb Centre in Pune, for his opinion on the Federation of Atomic Scientists reporting on Pakistan increasing its warhead haul to 70-90, he said, "There is a difference between having a degree deterrence, which is required for protection, and going beyond that. If the news reports of (Pakistan) having 70 to 90 atomic bombs are correct, then I think they are going well beyond the requirement of deterrence."

A report comments that ‘Kapoor's implied suggestion that India could have to revisit its no-first use policy’. Quoting the hyper-realist duo of the think tank, Center for Policy Research, it gives out Brahma Chellaney’s take that there is need to review India’s “deterrence posture”; while the other analyst, Bharat Karnad, is reported as saying ‘no-first-use is not a substantive declaration’.
The report revisits the recent controversy over the thermonuclear test in the Shakti series having turned out a ‘fizzle’ maintaining ‘that the Indian nuclear arsenal needs refurbishing, if not the need to carry out more tests, to maintain its nuclear programme’s cutting edge.’ Thus we can see that favourite hobby horses of players in the nuclear field have been hitched to the Chief’s remarks, though the Chief himself has not implied anything of the sort.

Since this time round he was speaking in his new capacity as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, his remarks acquire a greater degree of significance. The Chairman in the Indian system oversees its Strategic Forces Command, responsible for the nuclear arsenal. Understanding the General is necessary in order to dispel the spin self-interested forces with a nuclear agenda are using the media for.

On both occasions, the Chief was engaged in a function unrelated to the nuclear issue. The earlier remark can be taken as his preliminary observation. Charged with safe-custody of India’s national security, he cannot be expected to say that nuclear developments in India’s neighbourhood are not of concern! However, the second time round, he would be voicing India’s considered take.

Firstly, India cannot second guess Pakistan. Since the numbers India possesses is not known, Pakistan would require making an educated guess and reacting accordingly. Therefore, its figure need not necessarily coincide with India’s expectation. Both countries consider the ‘minimum’ of their ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to be a dynamic, security situation related, number. Secondly, this perhaps brings out India’s purpose. The Chief had earlier said, "I think the world community should put the kind of pressure which is required on Pakistan to cap the enhancement of their nuclear capability.” The context this time is that Pakistan has in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, that is considering introducing the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, stalled talks by citing national security. Which means there is an incipient arms race on in the region.

This can be attributed to India pegging its numbers by clubbing Pakistan and China together as a twin front problem. The resulting numbers can be perceived by Pakistan as conferring on India an ability for a disarming first strike. Thus the movement upwards in Pakistan’s stocks has rightly been taken as an attempt to gain a stabilising second strike capability. Given that India is buttressing its second strike capability by the recent launch of the INS Arihant, there could be no objections to Pakistan doing likewise, particularly since on both occasions the higher end was pegged at 90 warhead. Doing so, as the Chief has done, only serves to hyphenate India to Pakistan yet again, and secondly allows the forces wishing India to proceed down the arms race route to take advantage of his voiced concern.

The suggestion that increase in Pakistan’s arsenal requires reconsideration of India’s NFU pledge is untenable. Since by reaching 90 warheads or thereabouts, Pakistan still does not gain first strike capability, there is no cause to revisit the pledge. Rescinding it carries the danger of what Schelling called ‘the reciprocal fear of a surprise attack’ or an avoidable tendency toward pre-emption. This is not a theoretical possibility in the India-Pakistan dyad given the mutual vulnerabilities and fears they harbour. While India wishes to use the conventional plane to react to Pakistan’s proxy war, even if in a limited way, Pakistan, feels a need to use the nuclear card to stall the same. This reliance on the nuclear capability is heightened in the situation as obtains at present in which its Army is contending with the Taliban, if reluctantly, even while the threat exists of India reacting conventionally in face of another 26/11.

The timing of the other controversy over whether India needs to test again is suggestive. India had earlier been prepared to accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In the event the treaty had been stalled by the US Senate not ratifying it. With the possibility of the US championing it once again after a decade long hiatus, forces in India preferring that India maintain its option to test are exerting themselves. Their scientific position is that India does not have the requisite computing power to go ahead with arsenal development without testing. Even if this is true with respect to the hydrogen bomb, deterrence is not necessarily a function of a thermonuclear capability when merely a fission or boosted fission based arsenal can serve the same purpose adequately. H Bombs on the other hand lend themselves to city-busting, a prospect best avoided if deterrence were ever to break down. Thermonuclear weapons have other advantages, such as ‘more bang for the buck’ and being lighter payloads easier to deliver. This technological advance led to the doctrines that eventuated in the MAD arsenals of the superpowers. There is no call to replicate the cold war experience in Southern Asia.

Thus, while every development in the nuclear plane is indeed a cause for concern, the manner such concerns are appropriated by interested constituencies and the way these manipulate the media, has been starkly witnessed in the latest nuclear episode. Their inner motives require to be revealed so that public opinion exercises a check over politicians, who neither know nor care enough to ward off such pressures.

Words - 1081

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