Indian nuclear designs

Published September 22, 2013

AT international nuclear conferences, Indian representatives tout their country’s peaceful nuclear posture. Simultaneously, they lash out at Pakistan with or without naming it.

India wants to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while Pakistan is being pushed to the corner.

In historical perspective, India’s attitudes towards nuclear weaponry kept changing over the years. During the 1950s, India showed strident opposition to nuclear weapons while stressing the need for harnessing atomic energy for peaceful purposes (a moralistic brand of politics).

During the 1960s, India’s attitude subtly mutated. The uncompromising opposition to nuclear weaponry caved in to accommodate nuclear weapons as an instrument of ‘high politics’ (self-conceited concern about China’s nuclear prowess).

The real stimulus was perhaps India’s defeat in the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. This policy appears to have been influenced by strategic analyst Jasjit Singh’s research.

He surveyed scores of incidents involving threat of nuclear weapons. His inference was that ‘nuclear weapons played an important political role, rather than a military one’.

Another analyst, K. Subrahmaniam, also concluded that ‘the main purpose of a Third-World arsenal is deterrence against blackmail’, rather than blackmailing one’s neighbours (as India happened to do).

Subsequently, India’s advocacy of peaceful use of nuclear energy did not obstruct its nuclear tests in any way. While India’s nuclear posture kept shifting over a continuum of five possibilities ranging from renunciation of nuclear option to maintaining a ready nuclear arsenal and operational nuclear force.

Between these two extreme options lay the following three choices: limited nuclear arms control (regional nuclear-free zone), nuclear option (no operational nuclear force) and recessed deterrence (raising operational nuclear force in a few months). Till recently, India desisted from declaring its enthusiastic preference for a ready nuclear arsenal. The underlying objective of the dormant-nuclear policy was to maintain India’s championship of global non-proliferation order.

Another tab on India’s ready-arsenal policy was India’s desire to avoid ennui of several countries, including the US. The US could have punished India’s ready-arsenal policy by scuttling India’s access to economic resources, and technological expertise.

In short, India’s dream of participating as a leader in global economy could have been shattered by a paradigm shift to the ready-arsenal nuclear policy. A cataclysmic change has now occurred in India’s policy because of the 123 Agreement.

India has embarked on ‘ready nuclear-arsenal policy’. It is no longer committed to no-first-use nuclear doctrine (nuclear strike only in response).

Its current policy is ready-arsenal ‘deterrence by punishment’ as advocated by Bharat Karnad. By developing short-range missiles, and deploying aircraft at bases near Pakistan’s border and in far-off Tajikistan (Aeinee and Farkhor), India is trying to encircle Pakistan.

Karnad suggested that India should have a ready arsenal of 330 nuclear weapons by year 2030. However, Zia Mian and Nayyar believe that India is actually attempting to build about 400 nuclear warheads), at least four times what Pakistan currently possesses (Zia Mian, A. H. Nayyar, R. Rajaraman and M. V. Raman, ‘Fissile Materials in South Asia and the implications of the US-India nuclear deal”).

AMJED JAAVED Rawalpindi Cantt

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