India's defiance

by: Babar Sattar

While India announced the successful conduction of three nuclear tests in Pokhran on May 11, the nuclear issue once again sprung to the centre stage of international politics. While the detonation of the 'Smiling Buddha' in May 1974 exhibited India's nuclear weapon capability, Monday's fission, low yield and thermonuclear tests, and the other two that followed almost immediately, have gauged the yield of its nuclear contrivances. To sugarcoat the bitter pill India's Ambassador to the US dubbed the latest explosions as "technology demonstration". In terms of India's nuclear weapon capability this demonstration has added little to the world's knowledge. But as the act itself and the domestic response that it incited reflects dangerous intentions of a defacto nuclear weapon state, the entire episode carries grave consequences for regional and global political and security relations, as well as the Non-Proliferation regime.

In real terms the nuclear explosions reflect the India's prevailing mind-set in terms of nuclear policy, which finds few opponents in an otherwise disparate and conflict ridden country. India is now making no bones of its intent to move ahead from its existing ambiguous nuclear status to a state of overt nuclearisation. And in a region marred by mutual hostilities, operative mistrust, and a conventional and nuclear arms race between rival neighbours, India and Pakistan, the formers changing nuclear status is bound to provide fresh impetus to the latter's nuclear programme. Pakistan will not just view the nuclear course as a more tempting one, but probably as a strategic requirement to retain its nuclear parity with India, upon which is modelled its concept of nuclear deterrence as well as its overall security doctrine.

The customary and expected global reaction to India's tests has ranged from disappointment and dismay to shock and paranoia. The international community led by the developed west will continue to rebuke India for its defiance of the so-called international consensus against nuclear proliferation. And although India has not violated any international commitments, the western countries in all probability will impose economic and military sanctions to register their protest.

However, most Indians, or for that matter Pakistanis, do not expect these tests to consign India to a lonely limbo for long. For them the reaction that followed French and Chinese nuclear tests is a case in point. The world community has already demonstrated its ability to come to terms with the 'regrettable' steps undertaken by defiant nuclear states, after a brief period of hurling intense abuse at them. And the logic is simple: once a state ignores the horrendous consequences (sanctions) that might follow its overt nuclear moves, its better to court the new nuclear weapon state by awarding it membership of the exclusive nuclear club, rather than jeopardising world peace by letting it be at large. Instead stringent sanctions can be announced in advance to make a dreadful example of any other nuclear aspirant that might consider treading the forbidden path.

Defiance of the Non-Proliferation regime has been a consistent aspect of India's nuclear policy. It established its position vis-a-vis this regime by refusing to join the NPT in 1968. Her resolution to oppose this regime verbatim has only strengthened over time. By disputing the viability of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones as a measure enhancing peace and security, retaining its nuclear option by disapproving NPT's indefinite extension and blocking the CTBT, India had made its intentions unequivocal. While not acceding to the Non-Proliferation regime itself, India had developed a dichotomous policy of keeping its nuclear option open, while refraining from overt nuclearisation. By exercising its nuclear option India has cleared most of the ambiguity shrouding its intentions.

India has remained opposed to the discriminatory principle that legitimises the permanent division of a world of sovereign states into Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). What India demanded was not only the prevention of further proliferation but also the reversal of proliferation that had already taken place. It alleged that the principle of mutual responsibilities and obligations between the NWS and the NNWS in the NPT was particularly mutilated. The procedure of negotiating the NPT was also dictatorial as the US and the USSR drafted the treaty almost exclusively, instead of all the negotiating parties.

Following are the some prominent factors that account for India's continuing dissidence vis-a-vis the Non-Proliferation regime:

-- Historical Factors: India's avowed commitment to disarmament has been used extensively to justify India's obduracy vis-a-vis the Non-Proliferation regime. The idealistic tradition firmly inculcated in the mass Indian psyche is traced back to India's "non-violent independence movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi." Nehru pioneered proposals for comprehensive nuclear disarmament, test ban and fissile material cut off. Ever since India has led the chorus demanding worldwide nuclear disarmament.

While India joined the PTBT in 1963 it bitterly opposed the NPT of 1968, and continues to do so, due to its 'dejure discriminatory' character. The supporters of Non-proliferation regime are usually inclined towards demonizing India and dismissing its commitment to disarmament "as a cover for more sinister designs." However, Aabha Dixit dispels such suspicions and claims the "lofty principles" to have "important meaning for Indian leaders and the public." It is only after the latest explosions that one wonders why the importance of non-violence and global nonproliferation has suddenly diminished. India's defiance seems to have transformed into a rebellion inspired by the argument: if can't get them, join them (even if this requires gate-crashing).

-- National Security Concerns: India humiliating defeat in the Indo-China border war of 1962 resulted into the re-evaluation of India's security doctrine. India's security planners were still investigating different options to bolster-up India's security vis-a-vis China when the latter exploded its first nuclear device in 1964. This gave India the shudders and it became paranoid about its security. Much to India's disaffection, China was permitted entry into the exclusive nuclear club under the aegis of the NPT, which also barred further inclusion of any state. "Abolition of this division (between the nuclear 'haves' and 'have-nots') has remained the essence of India's arms control and non-proliferation diplomacy ever since."

The security threat to India, by the Chinese nuclear capability is played down in Pakistan. It is ironical that Pakistan's nuclear policy is also rationalised by a similar threat created by the ambitious Indian nuclear programme. Pakistan's nuclear programme is tailored by India's programme, which is in turn motivated by Chinese nuclear weapons. Now Pakistani programme re-emphasises the utility of the Indian nuclear option and thus the nuclear rat race goes on.

New Delhi's official policy, however, shies away from this reality and has expanded its list of potential nuclear adversaries which includes China, Pakistan, Belarus, Kazakhastan and Ukraine along with other global nuclear powers. Undermining the threat from Pakistani bomb and exaggeration of other global threats to India's national security reflects India's sagacious nuclear policy. It doesn't justify its weapons programme on the basis of a single factor, removal of which could dispute the rationale of this programme. India's nuclear programme has now attained a momentum of its own which can not just be explained in terms of national security requirements.

-- India and Big Power Status: Apart from their utility as deterrents, the political value of nuclear weapons make them very attractive for ambitious NNWSs. To them it seems "no coincidence that the five established nuclear powers in the world today are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council." Indians largely believe in the ability of nuclear weapons to confer great power status and membership of the UN Security Council upon India despite its economic destitution. Acquisition of nuclear weapons seems the easiest way up the global hierarchy of power.

The analogy of China remains the inspiration of this thesis, "which was as underdeveloped as India" when it achieved great power status due to its nuclear weapons. China possesses the economic might to threaten US commercial interests. Its superior political status in the world is fortified by its strong relationship of economic interdependence with other global powers. This, however, becomes the flip side of the argument which remains ignored in India.

-- India's Public Opinion: In India strong public sentiments have been created over time in favour of the nuclear option by means of rhetorical speeches of policy makers and propaganda by state agencies. Today there exists a strong conformist consensus in India over the nuclear issue. The successful conduction of nuclear tests has generated euphoric sentiments in India, with all quarters jubilating over the latest "national victory".

The clamouring for great power status also associates national pride with the Indian bomb. India's defiant nuclear policy is respected by the public for being symbolic of India's independent foreign and defence policy. India's nuclear weapon capability and missile systems are indigenous scientific achievements which have "become symbols of national pride."

But this consensus supporting the exercise of nuclear option also circumscribes the ability of decision-makers to change the policy on the nuclear issue. Dissenting opinions do exist which argue that if India could live in a politically, economically and militarily unequal world, it could also cope with discrimination in the nuclear realm. However, in India this opinion is not only shoved aside without giving it a second thought, but also snubbed. The threat of being labelled a pariah state (or punishment by sanctions) is not likely to budge the public support for India's bomb.

Its nuclear explosions have exposed the failure of the 'carrot and stick' policy of global big-wigs to dissuade India from taking the nuclear route. India's nuclear weapons are here to stay. Use of coercive measures against India, which is already being opposed by prominent countries among the G-8, in its present xenophobic state of mind is likely to achieve little. Knowledge once learnt can not be unlearnt. And weapons that once see the light of the day can certainly not be expected to disappear. Irrespective of whatever Pakistani leaders desire at this difficult moment, the imposition of stringent sanctions against India will prove more hurtful for Pakistan's nuclear programme than for India's.

Courtesy THE NATION (16 MAY 1998)

Military psychosis in India By Gen Khalid Mahmud Arif (retd)

WITHIN weeks of assuming his official responsibilities Mr George Fernandes, the Defence Minister of India, has made his presence felt. He may keep hitting the media headlines so long as the BJP-led coalition remains in power and he retains his present cabinet post.

The patently frank statements made by Fernandes were music to the political hawks in India. The academics, the hard-line defence analysts, the political pundits, the nuclear gurus and the North-dominated establishment in New Delhi have long indulged in orchestrated hate-Pakistan and China-bashing acts for reasons of political expediency. The China card helps India in earning the sympathy of the Western countries who, for reasons of their own national interests, wish to contain China.

Fernandes fired his first salvo against Pakistan by claiming that India was "very strong and take on Pakistan." The militant Hindus in India might have admired the valour of their Christian minister. India can be given the credit for adopting a consistent approach towards the small neighbours on its periphery in general and Pakistan in particular. While some were bullied and punished, others keep facing its perpetual ire. India is so stuck with a Kashmir bone in its political throat that it can neither swallow it down nor throw it up. His trip to the Indian-held Kashmir took Fernandes to the Siachen Glacier region where he exercised his vocal cords to blame and browbeat Pakistan in fiery language. Significantly, the frequency and the intensity of unprovoked firing from across the Line of Control have increased since the visit. This factor is worth examining by the government.

George Fernandes had accused China for building a helipad on no-man's land adjoining Arunachal Pradesh. Vajpayee refuted this allegation. Days later, the minister was abrasively vocal in his explosive comment, "China is a potential threat number one." He argued that "the potential of China is greater than that of Pakistan, and any person who is concerned about India's security must agree with that fact." The minister accused China for training Myanmar's army and "setting up a massive electronic surveillance establishment" in Myanmar's Coco Islands. He also criticized China for upgrading airfields in Tibet from where supersonic fighters could strike India's borders. "Even the United Stated now recognizes," maintained the minister that, "China's ICBMs are against the US, Russia and even India."

The former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral advised the Defence Minister to be "more cautious in his statements." Natwar Singh called it "irresponsible and unfortunate." Mr Salman Khursheed said that the "anti-Chinese" rhetoric was "terribly irresponsible." What they did not criticize had greater relevance. It is the sovereign right of independent countries to establish bilateral and multilateral relations with other states in all fields. It was arrogant on his part to impinge on the sovereignty of China and Myanmar. Besides, the US and Russia do not need outside advice while making their policy statements.

China was visibly peeved with Fernandes' offending statement as it had gone an extra mile in the recent times in improving relations with India to settle their bilateral border dispute. Expressing its "utmost regret and resentment" China stated that it "does not pose any threat to neighbouring countries." A spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the accusations as "utterly fictitious and baseless and absolutely ridiculous and not worthy of refutation." The strong language used by China was noted by the diplomatic circles globally. A spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi played down the issue and said, "our long-term relations with China are too sensitive a subject to be damaged by any knee-jerk reaction."

Fernandes defended his statements by saying that he had "put the spotlight on the contentious issues with our neighbours with the purpose of making the Indian people conscious about them." He has a point and he has his supporters. For example, one retired admiral recently said in a television interview in India that Fernandes had done a great service to India by projecting his views in public. On the other hand the minister is not without critics. Strange is the comment of India's Army Chief General V.P. Malik who said that, "Mr Fernandes' statement does not matter." For a serving service chief to brush aside a political statement made by his own immediate superior, the Defence Minister, is a revealing development in India. It is no less significant that the General's view did not draw any adverse comments. Is the military emerging as a factor in India's politics?

An intriguing statement made by Mr N.N. Jha, the foreign policy adviser to India's ruling party, has created ripples of unease in Sri Lanka. Jha supported the pro-Tamil demand for the merger of the northern and the eastern provinces in the Island country. Sri Lanka's Sinhala-dominated National Joint Committee strongly criticized the merger proposal "first imposed on this country under duress by a bullying Rajiv Gandhi." This gives an indication that New Delhi may be looking for excuses to fish again in the troubled waters in Sri Lanka. Such a doubt is generated by the statement made by the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi that the ethnic conflict was being viewed with "friendly concern" by the government of India. A similar concern had earlier resulted in the notorious Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee maintains an ambivalent stance on Pakistan. On the one hand he said in Mumbai that the long-stalled bilateral talks with Pakistan "should confine to all the issues including trade." On the other, he stated in a television interview that "Pakistan will have to forget about Kashmir." Seen in this context the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan may create a false hope unless the rough edges are carefully smoothened. Much homework is required to be done between now and July when the two prime ministers are expected to meet.

South Asia is currently witnessing the homework of a different kind. Pakistan was forced to flight-test Ghauri missile because India had piled up a variety of missile systems on its borders - some Pakistan-specific. Ghauri demonstrated the indigenous capability of Pakistan and provided psychological and military security. While our scientists deserve praise for its production, their work remains incomplete. Pakistan needs more flight-tests and more missile systems to meet the minimum needs of its national security.

The instability in South Asia further increased when India claimed to have conducted three nuclear tests on May 11 close to the borders of Pakistan, followed by another two tests on May 13. The testing of the fission, low yield and thermonuclear devices has put New Delhi on the path of building nuclear-weapons with greater surety and technological confidence. India also test-fired a short-range missile Trishul (Trident) with a stated range of 50 kilometres. Did Fernandes highlight the China factor to prepare a justification for his country to conduct the nuclear tests needs to be examined?

The first three tests and the two subsequent ones were secretly conducted in quick succession to prevent the building up of external pressures and to collect the relevant data quickly. This was a clever move. So was the press note issued in which a window of opportunity was kept open on the question of CTBT etc. The immediate US reaction was visibly mild. A senior US official almost assured India that President Clinton's visit to this country won't be cancelled. This statement was perhaps issued with a purpose. Washington may be inclined to impose lukewarm sanctions on India which may temporarily but only partially hurt New Delhi. As against this, India has improved its bargaining position on the nuclear-related issues on a durable basis.

India's nuclear explosions pose a grave threat to the regional countries in general and Pakistan in particular as they impinge on its security. It needs to respond quickly to protect its national interests. While it cannot alter the regional balance of power, it may not hesitate to do what is possible. The gravity of the situation and the urgency created by India's nuclear tests gives Pakistan a one-time chance to demonstrate its nuclear capability here and now. Many a time tomorrow becomes too late.

Courtesy DAILY DAWN - 16 MAY 1998