17th May 1998
By Ameen Izzadeen
Indians woke up on Tuesday proud and there is near unanimous approval for what India demonstrated on Monday night — three nuclear tests at Thar desert in Rajasthan. There was determination in them to weather any international pressure or sanctions.
On Wednesday, amidst the international outcry, a defiant India announced successful completion of two more tests, including a computer simulated one.
The explosions sent shockwaves across the world's political capitals and provoked international condemnation from friends and foes alike.
There was pressure from within the country to flex its nuclear muscle, too, but Pakistan has so far restrained itself as outside forces, especially the United States, have issued warnings to it against a counter-test. On Thursday morning in the BBC's Asia Today programme, a former Pakistani High Commissioner in London was interviewed. He was asked wouldn't Pakistan be in a morally superior position if it did not respond to the Indian tests in kind. The answer was international morality was full of double standards.
Sitting on the mountain of nuclear stockpiles, what right has the United States to condemn India, asked Indian policy makers. India asked a similar question from the nuclear haves — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was being hammered out in Geneva in July 1996. India's disarmament envoy in Geneva Arundhati Ghose said: "We would not accept any language in the treaty text which would affect our sovereign right to decide in the light of our supreme national interest, whether we should or should not accede to such a treaty."
Accusing the nuclear haves of attempting to set up what is called atomic colonialism, India challenged them to eliminate all their nuclear weapons if they were really concerned about world peace.
The question that then arises is, if the big powers could possess nuclear weapons, why not others. Is it to say that the leaders of these five states are more rational than those of the rest of the world. But history's first nuclear bomb was dropped by the US. Was Harry S. Truman, the US President at that time a mad man? What guarantee do we have that a mad leader would not arise from the Western world to control its nuclear arsenal?
Therefore, the nuclear debate lacks consistency and fairplay. One rule for India and Pakistan and another for the West and Israel, a country which is said to be possessing hundreds of nuclear weapons. Experts from both India and Pakistan agree that more than South Asia, it was voices outside the region that call for non-proliferation in South Asia. Ever since India tested its first nuclear device in 1974 in the Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, the west, especially the US, has increased it pressure in calling for non-proliferation in South Asia.
Stephen Cohen, a US scholar who has done extensive research on the subject, has identified areas of US concerns in the South Asian nuclear issue. They include:
1. Slowing down or controlling regional military nuclear programmes by stemming or stopping the flow of nuclear material and technology to India and Pakistan.
2. Ensuring that India and Pakistan do not help other states with their nuclear military programmes.
3. Seeing to it that the South Asian example of creeping proliferation is not emulated or admired elsewhere.
4. Promoting and protecting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (and the CTBT.)
This analysis only proves India's claims of Western atomic colonialism.
This week's tests by India show the US and the west have failed to stem the flow of nuclear material and technology.
Prof. Brahma Chellany of New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research says: "the underlying assumption that proliferation could effectively be contained through denial of sensitive technology has been shattered by the rapid technological advances by India and Pakistan."
He asks whether indigenous forces of technology in the third world could be contained. For example, he argues that India produces hundreds of trained nuclear engineers, scientists and technicians every year and it may appear almost inevitable that this burgeoning nuclear manpower pool would accelerate the country's nuclear development and expand its weapons-related capabilities.
Given this scenario, the bottomline of US concerns is that it did not want any more states into the prestigious nuclear club — India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea or any other state cannot and should not possess nuclear weapons.
The Iraqi plant was bombed by Israel in 1982 while North Korea was cajoled by the US to give up its nuclear ambitions in favour of a series of concessions, including financial reward. The US, which does not have diplomatic links with Iran, tries its best through every means possible, to block Tehran's nuclear project.
But pressure and sanctions are absent when it comes to Israel. Is Israel considered a civilised nation while others, including India — with a civilisation dating back to thousands of years when most Westerners were still on trees — are barbaric? The whole approach stinks of racial smears.
At independence, both India and Pakistan inherited a conventional army. Leaders of both countries at independence had heard of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Nehru, especially, was a genuine supporter of nuclear disarmament. In 1954, he commissioned a study by Indian scientists on the effects of nuclear weapons to create an awareness of the dangers of a nuclear war.
Though Nehru promoted nuclear disarmament, the irony is Nehru had approved an experimental plutonium reprocessing facility and it was from this plant that the Indians obtained the plutonium for their first nuclear test in 1974.
Then how did India come into the nuclear picture? In a world of rival states, the testing of nuclear devices had a domino effect.
First the United States demonstrated its nuclear strength in 1946. The Soviet Union, to counter the US nuclear threat, exploded its device in 1954. The Chinese who had diplomatic problems with Moscow in the late 50s and early 60s thought it fit to acquire nuclear capabilities and tested their weapons in 1964 at Lop Nor. It was this Lop Nor test that triggered the Indian nuclear debate in the1964-65 period. Pakistan followed suit with its programme. India had fought a war with China and suffered a humiliating defeat. Nehru had just died. So the Indian strategic community entered into a complex of sophisticated dialogue on the wisdom of becoming a nuclear state.
India also wanted to demonstrate to both the US and the USSR that it was a power to be reckoned with.
The South Asian nuclear debate is inconclusive if China is ignored. Prof. Chellany says India has retained its nuclear option primarily to counter the Chinese threat.
With its superior conventional strength at the time, India did not need nuclear weapons to counter a non-nuclear Pakistan.
Prof. Chellany, quoting Dalai Lama and western intelligence reports claims that most of China's missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads are deployed in Xinjian, in Tibet —bordering India — and this has caused a major security concern to India.
India's Defence Minister George Fernandes, setting the stage for this week's tests, also described China as India's greatest security concern. Thus the South Asian nuclear issue is a triangular contest. China cannot be divorced from this affair. Prof. Chellany says this triangular equation has been strengthened by close Sino-Paksitani strategic ties since the 1980s and by increasing evidence of Chinese nuclear and missile technology assistance to Islamabad.
The assistance has included transfer of weapon designs to Islamabad and according to some accounts, even testing a Pakistani device at Lop Nor. Moreover China signed a bilateral nuclear co operation agreement with Pakistan in September 1986 and Chinese scientists have been visiting Kahuta, Pakistan. Thus China cannot be kept out of the South Asian debate.
India has Agni and Prithvi which could reach any part of Pakistan while Pakistan with the latest missile test a couple of months ago, has claimed it too has the capability to reach any part of India. Concern has been growing in the region and the rest of the world over the South Asian nuclear arms race.
Sri Lanka's efforts to declare Indian Ocean a peace zone should be viewed in this light. The nuclear big powers did not show much enthusiasm towards this move in the cold war context.
Sri Lanka allowed it to die a natural death as perhaps it would have felt that such a move would only make it impossible to check India's power ambitions in a region where other big powers' role would be limited. Now that India has flexed its nuclear muscle, let's hope there won't be any Chernobyls or Hiroshimas in the region.
In the words of one analyst, India and Pakistan driven by racial and religious hatred are locked into a deadly arms race that could in a dooms day scenario lead to a regional and/or global nuclear war, or on a lesser scale produce a nuclear accident.
Special to The Sunday Times
By Our Special Correspondent
The week that has just passed, was momen tous for India, Asia and indeed, the entire world. India made a stark and startling bid to storm into the exclusive nuclear club with its five quick nuclear explosions, including a thermonuclear one.
The United States, the chief policeman of the world and the guardian of the exclusive nuclear club, reacted very sharply with stringent sanctions, expecting the rest of the developed world to follow suit and bring India to its knees.
The challenge and the response have put the region and the world on an edge, this being a clash between Titans. The US is a technological, military and economic power, the world's only super power, and India is numero uno in and the pivot of, the South Asian region. Democratic India is also the only credible regional counterpoise to the gigantic and authoritarian China, a country the US would have to be wary about in the long run, if not in the short run.
With its 900 million people, and a sustainable and indigenously driven economy, India is also a potentially powerful global economic player. Therefore, India being branded and isolated as a rogue state, impoverished and made to crawl, could lead to disastrous consequences for this huge land mass, the region and the world.
Realising its responsibilities both to the world and its own people, India has issued a statement, which clearly indicates that it is not brinkmanship. In a letter to the US President, Bill Clinton, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has said that India would continue to work with the US in a multilateral or bilateral framework, to promote nuclear disarmament. India, he said was ready to participate in nondiscrimination and verifiable global disarmament measures, and pointed out as proof of its commitment to peace, its adherence to the conventions on biological and chemical weapons.
Mr. Vajpayee explained to Mr. Clinton the factors which led India to conduct the tests. Without naming China or Pakistan, he said: "We have an overt nuclear weapons state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists, mainly due to the unresolved border problem."
In an obvious reference to Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, Mr. Vajpayee said: "To add to the distrust that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state."
He then dwelt on the threat from Pakistan saying: "At the hands of this bitter neighbour, we have suffered three aggressions in the last 50 years, and for the last ten years, we have been the victim of unremitting terrorism and militancy sponsored by it in several parts of our country, especially in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir".
Mr. Vajpayee told Mr. Clinton about the "deteriorating security environment, specially the nuclear environment faced by India for some years past," but then went on to assure that the nuclear tests in question were limited in number and posed no danger to any country which had no inimical intentions towards India. Mr. Vajpayee urged president Clinton to show an understanding of India's security concerns.
Though the Indian Prime Minister had not stated this in his letter, India is hoping that the US would consider adopting a soft line towards it going by realpolitik as it did in the case of China. China's nuclear weaponisation was not opposed tooth and nail by the US, because of the new found need to make friends with it. China today is an honourable member of the exclusive nuclear club. India too would like to be treated in a similar way as a responsible nuclear weapons state and admitted to the club, and not dubbed a rogue which by itself, would create and accentuate animosities in the South Asian region and globally too.
Diplomatic sources say that the US should be concerned about Chinese incursions into Burma, and Beijing's thinly veiled help for Pakistan's nuclear and ICBM programmes. Tibet too could be a potential irritant, given America's much touted commitment to human rights. Some years ago, there was a talk of the Islamic bomb, with Pakistan as the pivot of the project.
Given America's threat perception vis-a-vis global Islamic military, the US should sit up and take note of Pakistan's bid to build a nuclear arsenal and a deliver system to match, with China's help. Therefore it would not be in US interest to antagonise India beyond a certain point, it is argued.
But US sensibilities would not be easily assuaged as it is deeply disturbed by the fact that its huge and expensive intelligence apparatus could not smell the rat in India.
India would, therefore, have to be punished in some way for some time and in this some high pitched propaganda and sanctions might help. The sanctions mean a loss of the following $142 m of aid this year, loans and other forms of government to government financial assistance totalling $14 bn, loans from US banks to the Indian government totalling $2 bn export of certain items of strategic value valued at $500 m, and credit from the Export and Import Bank.
Indian experts say (see boxes) that India would be able to withstand the economic and military onslaught given the fact that its economy is indigenously driven and also because much of the foreign funding is outside the ambit of sanctions.
Many key European countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Russia, are against sanctions.
The difficulties in imposing meaningful sanctions, the strong domestic support the Vajpayee government enjoys on this issue, and India's economic resilience could make the US Administration rethink, International disarmament organisations like IAEA and Greenpeace have already urged credible moves towards disarmament pointing an accusing finger at the nuclear power of dragging their feet, and precipitating the Indian action. That India is keen on nondiscriminatory disarmament is noted.
As the world braces itself to witness a war of nerves there is already some sign of the US rethinking on the issue. Speaking to reporters on Mr. Clinton's visit to India, National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger had said: "I think we need to let some time go by and see how this plays out before we make any decision."
Former Chief of the IPKF and current Chairman of the International Committee for Conflict Resolution, Gen. A.S. Kalkat, felt that the Indian nuclear explosions, instead of exacerbating tensions, would actually prepare the ground for a durable peace in the Indian sub-continent and its neighbourhood, especially between India and China. Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What was the main purpose in conducting these tests?
A: What strikes me as being particularly significant is their effort on India-China relations. These will be put on an even footing, thereby fostering a more durable friendship. The tests are really an attempt to correct the current military and technological imbalance vis-a-vis China, which is already in the threshold of being a world super power.
Q: But many think that the tests were prompted by Pakistan's threatening to become a nuclear weapons state. And among the neighbouring countries, it is Pakistan which has reacted most sharply.
A: Pakistan might think that the exercise is directed against it, but really, Pakistan is only in the periphery of India's calculations. India's interests and outlook are far reaching. Any country's strategic perceptions or calculations would have to take into account as wide a scenario as possible. They have to take into account future scenarios.
Q: You said that the explosions would take India and China to a level playing field. What is the need for a level playing field?
A: Relations between any two countries, to be really friendly and lasting, should be based on equality. Countries tend to respect equals and nuclear parity does help provide the level playing field needed to build such an equalitarian relationship. China has been a nuclear power for long, but India was not till it showed its capability this week.
Q: The US has said that it would stop military co-operation and a joint exercise scheduled for this October now stands cancelled. Do you think such a break with the Americans would harm the Indian armed forces?
A: I don't think so. India does not depend on the US for military hardware. Our tanks and aircraft are of Russian design. The Bofors gun is Swedish. Much of the hardware is actually indigenous. As for the joint exercise, the US could be an equal loser for these exercises are meant for mutual benefit. They have expertise in some areas and we in others. For example, we have expertise in fighting under Third World conditions. We have expertise in mountain warfare, which we could impart to them.
Commodore C. Udaya Bhaskar, Director, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi, feels that even demonstrations of minimal nuclear capability, as India did, can be a powerful military deterrent.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: How serious is the US about the sanctions?
A: The legislation is stringent. But how effective it will be depends on how the provisions are interpreted. In political science and international relations, law follows politics and not vice versa. The nations imposing sanctions, would therefore weigh and consider the political options. This was amply evident in the way the US acted vis-a-vis China. The US will have to consider the impact of sanctions on the strategic environment in the region as a whole, with India, Pakistan and China in it and also how they affect US interests.
Q: Why did India have to explode these bombs? What were the compulsions after a 24-year gap?
A: It is the degradation or the deterioration in the regional security environment which prompted it. The acquisition of nuclear material by Pakistan in the context of its increasing support for terrorism in India, made a crucial difference to the environment.
India has had two contradictory objectives in the nuclear field, one was global nuclear disarmament and the other was ensuring its own security in a rapidly degrading adversarial environment.
Q: Has India opted for nuclear weaponisation?
A: In line with accepted theory, India does believe that a minimal nuclear capability would be an effective deterrent. But, at the same time as the Indian government's statement shows India is committed to global disarmament and would consider adhering to some of the provisions of the CTBT. This could not, however, take place in a vacuum. It would have to be an evolutionary process and would depend on a number of reciprocal activities. By exploding the bombs, India had pushed the world towards disarmament.
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