Mutual Death Wish
By Praful Bidwai, Delhi-based political analyst, peace activist, columnist and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament, 2000.
Have India and Pakistan moved closer to fulfilling their mutual nuclear death wish, which they so stridently expressed through the May 1998 blasts? Four developments suggest they might have done so - as one million of their soldiers confront each other at the border.
The first and most significant event was the January 25, 2002, test of India's new short-range (700 km.) Agni ballistic missile. The second was India's rejection, that same day, of an offer from General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to work towards de-nuclearising South Asia.
The third was the reported authorisation granted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet to the Indian armed forces to use the shorter-range (150-250 km.) Prithvi missile in the battlefield - bang in the middle of the present crisis. Finally, India is proceeding to acquire, from Russia, at least two nuclear-powered submarines and two long-range nuclear-capable bombers for its navy.
Each of these moves, and the likely tit-for-tat response from Pakistan, will narrow the gap that has existed between the manufacture of nuclear weapons, on one hand, and their induction into the armed forces, and deployment, on the other. Once nuclear weapons are deployed, it will become that much more difficult to move towards nuclear arms reduction and elimination. In the short run too, India's moves will prove reckless, provocative and adventurist.
Musharraf's offer to de-nuclear-ise South Asia and sign a no-war pact with India came two days before the Agni test-flight. New Delhi rebuffed what it saw as his peace-and-reconciliation "offensive," which has unfolded especially after January 12, 2002.
India summarily rejected both proposals with characteristic sanctimoniousness. It reiterated its stand that "nuclear weapons should be banished from the entire globe. De-nuclear-isation of India and Pakistan will have no meaning." It also said there is "nothing new" in Musharraf's no-war proposal. This is the second time Mush-arraf has offered to rid South Asia of nuclear weapons. The first was his September 2000 address to the UN General Assembly, proposing a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia.
As in the 1970s and 1990s, India is taking the pro-active first steps in further nuclearising this region. Within this pattern, Pakistan reacts, and faithfully replicates Indian moves.
A new CIA report submitted to the U.S. Congress concludes that Pakistan and India "continue to acquire nuclear technology." It says Pakistan has been procuring dual-use (civil and military) equipment from various sources - principally in Western Europe. According to the report: "With Chinese assistance, Pakistan is moving toward serial production of (short-range missiles).... [which] will require continued Chinese assistance."
This action-reaction spiral spells both a nuclear and a missile arms race in South Asia.
India's authorisation for the nuclear-capable Prithvi missile's use signifies devolution of a critical decision-making power to the armed services, as distinct from the political leadership. The authorisation says it must only be used as the "last resort" and with "utmost restraint."
Although the authorisation is (presumably) limited to its use with conventional warheads, that can easily change. In practice, adversaries have no sure way of telling if an incoming missile carries nuclear or conventional explosives. In extreme circumstances, they are liable to retaliate - with nuclear weapons, if they believe they are under nuclear attack. Missile flight-time between some Indian and Pakistan cities is as short as three minutes - too meagre to determine whether an incoming warhead is nuclear or conventional. Yet, New Delhi is taking such extremely high-risk decisions without a clear evaluation of its security environment, and without adequate safeguards. It has considerably hardened its nuclear posture in recent months as it determinedly proceeds towards full nuclear deployment.
A major step in the process will be the leasing of two Russian nuclear-propelled submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles. Nuclear-powered submarines can stay under water for up to a year and hence carry a huge element of surprise.
These developments further heighten South Asia's unique nuclear danger. As I argued in 2001, with co-author Achin Vanaik, in South Asia on a Short Fuse, India and Pakistan have at best "ramshackle deterrence," a terrible safety culture and an ignominious record of mishaps in their military systems. They are disastrously and dangerously wrong to ape the P-5 [Permanent Members of the UN Security Council] by seeking security through nuclear weapons.
Nuclear danger will increase with actual deployment. That is why the peace movement and concerned citizens must maintain the firebreak between the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons.
Post-deployment, both states, in particular India, are liable to make rollback conditional upon other moves, e.g. nuclear-arms reductions by the P-5. This can only make a South Asian nuclear war likelier. We must pull the "world's most dangerous place" back from the brink.
Source: The News International, Pakistan, February 7, 2002. Online at http://jang-group.com/thenews/feb2002-daily/07-02-2002/oped/o5.htm
For more information about the author, and selected writings, see http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?handle=bidwai_praful