A nuclear family

The BJP´s nuclear misad venture is proving in comparably costlier than earlier imagined. After the worst-ever buffeting at the Conference on Disarmament, P-5 meeting and Security Council, New Delhi has been delivered another wallop by the G-8, with Southern states joining them. This under scores our unprec edented global isoation: barring Iraq, Nuclear India has no allies. It just won´t do to pretend that India is the Boy on the Burning Deck single-handedly battling the unequal global nclear order. India has not challenged that discriminatory order; it merely wants to join it – on the discriminators´ side. But the P-5 have created yet another category for India and Pakistan – nuclear-possessor, as distinct from nuclear-weapons, states (nwss).

Deterring deterrence
Three reasons explain why India has won no sympathy even from those who have no interest in perpetuating the global nuclear order, viz. the bulk of the world´s 185 states. First, India knew better. It was neither innocent of power realities nor so cynical as to embrace nuclear deterrence. Ever since Gandhitaught us that "the moral… from the supreme tragedy of the Bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bombs…", we consistently argued that nuclear deterrence is profoundly immoral, illegal and strategically irrational. Besides being "abhorrent", it is fraught with instability, ratcheting up of threats and counter-threats and hence an arms race. When Foreign Secretary Salman Haidar told the Conference on Disarmament in 1996 that "we do not believe that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is essential for national security and… the existence of nuclear weapons diminishes international security", he was distilling the essence of a long-standing doctrine – "fundamental precepts". The same goes for India´s 1995 World Court plea that use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, and their manufacture and possession should be declared illegal.

Second, what India has offered post-Pokharan-II by way of restraint is wholly incommensurate with the gravity of its nuclearisation. A moratorium on testing means very little. There have been many in the past: in 1958-1961 between Washington and Moscow, and in the 1980s and 1990s in each of the P-5. These can be lifted at will and have no legal value. New Delhi is confused and vacillating about no-first-use. The belated show by India and Pakistan of willingness to talk sense after fire-and-brim-stone exchanges and threats of using nuclear weapns and "winning a nuclear war against India in 90 minutes flat" is unconvincing. It is a deflect-the-G-8-pressure reaction unconnected with the inner logic of nuclearisation deriving from great-power ambitions; exclusivist nationalism; and a Hobbesian assumption about the world where life must be nasty, brutish and short. Sobriety, restraint and conciliation sit ill with nuclearism.

Third, the South Asian strategic reality is truly alarming. This Subcontinent is far likelier to witness a nuclear attack/exchange than the NATO-Warsaw Pact ever did, barring perhaps the Cuban missile crisis. This is not because our political-military leaders are more irresponsible than America´s or Russia´s, but because this is the world´s only region which has had a continuous hot-cold war for 50 years. There are too many flashpoints, mutual hatreds, suspicions, fears. What else can explain the sacrifice of hundreds of men to frostbite at Siachen, the world´s most insane – and highest-altitude – war?

Nuclearisation has aggravated matters. Both states are now capable of delivering nuclear warheads to big cities – with the remotest chances of missile interception. (Indeed, as Purulia showed, even slow aircraft have low chances; and there exist no real missile defences anywhere). Missiles will cut flight-time to just three minutes – too short for preventive action, and bound, according to former Naval chief N. Ramdas, to trigger instant retaliation with devastating consequences. At no point in the Cold War was lagtime less than 30 minutes. There were, besides, scores of early-warning systems, hot lines, permissive active links and crisis defusing devices. There are none between India and Pakistan. An MIT physicist has rigorously analysed a bomb scenario for Bombay. Early deaths: 800,000. This is 10 times worse than Hiroshima.

This is too frightening to contemplate. Yet living under the shadow of a Pakistani/Indian Bomb, with a multitude of possible triggers, could soon become a scary reality for more than a billion people. This must not happen. Crossing the firebreak between nuclear tests and production/deployment of weapons means surrendering ourselves to the merchants of megadeath.

India and Pakistan must not get sucked into deterrence and then try inadequately to secure themselves by dangerous technical means. To keep out of that trap, they must reject woolly notions of "minimal deterrence" and negotiate a no-use agreement, while agreeing never to test or make nuclear weapons. However, given past hostility as well as intense domestic instability, this will not be enough. Treaty obligations are required. We would do well to examine the Comprehensive Test Ban dispassionately. It has been wrongly – and in the ultra-nationalist heat of the CTBT debate – castigated as discriminatory and equated with the NPT. This is unfair. The CTBT is non-discriminatory: unlike the NPT, it imposes equal obligations on all and makes no distinction between NWSs and others. True, it does not ban all tests, only test explosions. But, this is adequate to prevent further weapons refinement.

If the CTBT were not an effective restraint measure, US weapons labs and the Republicans would not have opposed it tooth and nail. Nor would Moscow and Beijing (which lack computer simulation expertise) have made its entry-into-force conditional upon 44 states´ signature. The CTBT is not a full-scale disarmament mea sure. Nothing short of a nuclear elimination treaty can be. But unless we insist – which we nor others ever did – on Big-Bang disarmament, all partial measures are worthy if they promote step-by-step disarmament. The CTBT has been criticised on grounds of intrusive verification. But this is essential to plug loopholes. Besides, the treaty only allows for geographical and time-barred on-site inspections in keeping with international law and national sovereignty, unlike in Iraq.

There is a self-serving argument, which holds that the true nature is irrelevant. Because India has mastered sub-critical testing, it should sign it. This won´t do. We should sign the CTBT not because that is expedient, but because it conforms to universal, equal criteria. That means rejecting sanctimonious humbug and admitting we were devious. The loss of face in changing a stand on one treaty would be minuscule compared to self-injury from violating sensible doctrines of 50 years´ standing.

Violence disrupts peace

Scene from Islamabad´s Holiday Inn where a press conference held on 3 June was disrupted by the Shabab-i-Milli, the youth wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami. The meeting, called by the Pakistan-India People´s Forum for Peace and Democracy, to protest the nuclear tests by both countries had hardly begun when the panelists were heckled with shouts such as "traitors to Pakistan", "get out of here" and so on. And when the Shabab-i-Milli activists entered the hall, the violence began and could be slopped only when the hotel staff intervened.

A fortnight earlier on 20 May, in Bangalore, the Centre for Education and Documentation had called a meeting to protest the tests. At least 100 scientists and academicians had gathered at the venue. Midway, a group of about 20 activists ´saffron goons´ stormed in, shouting slogans against the participants, effectively ending the meeting. They said the participants were all "anti-nationals" and "Pakistani spies".

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