After the Nuclear Tests

01 Jun, 1998    ·   104

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) analyses the implications of a possible nuclear arms race in the subcontinent is analysed.

The silly season may perhaps be over. The May madness has hopefully come to an end. What next? There will continue to be many discussions regarding the nature of the tests. Were they five or six or seven? How many were indeed duds, as some may well have been in both sides. Were they indeed warheads ready to be fitted to delivery means? Even as these momentous issues continue to engage the minds of respective strategic and intelligence experts on both sides of the plains of the Indian sub-continent and across the Himalayan mountains, the reality of recent happenings need to be grasped more clearly by their citizens.



Both India and Pakistan will take the tests to their logical conclusion. There is an inevitability to this process of weaponisation, which cannot be avoided. There is no possibility of giving up this option. The Indian Defence Minister and the Pakistani Foreign Minister have indeed both confirmed such a process. No international pressure can realistically expect to prevent this from taking place. It is possible that Pakistan may well have an edge over India in weaponisation. Quite likely the design of China 's fourth test explosion delivered by a missile, was actually provided to Pakistan . Its bombs may then be more easily fitted to the North Korean No Dong missiles named Ghauri in its new incarnation.



Whatever be the actual reality, the process of an arms race, and that too a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent, has truly begun. Some have doubted this, saying there is no reason why this should be so. They either underestimate, or try and fudge the issue. The very mindset that necessitated Pakistan to test in a competitive manner to "score" six goals, to India 's five, will provide the logic to this race. Ofcourse it depends on what is termed as an arms race. If it is meant to mean the obscene defence spending of the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, that is hardly likely to be possible in South Asia. Not only because they were an utter madness, but simply because those sums are just not available. But, if by an arms race we understand competitive military spending to acquire an advantage over an adversary, surely such a process has already begun. However the expenditures are actually hidden, the need to have matching capabilities cannot be avoided. This money will have priority and will be found by respective governments no matter which sector of the economy is deprived.



A nuclear arms race has a particularly vicious connotation, mainly because the uncertainties are so many and the consequences of misjudgment potentially so costly. This is complicated by the complex set of options that are required for an effective deterrence. First, there have to be a sufficient number of warheads, enough for all contingencies including survival after an opponent's first strike. Then their dispersal in different deployment modes and safe storage. Next are delivery systems for different and varying options. From strategic strike aircraft, missiles and if affordable perhaps even submarines. While one may well say that X number of bombs may be adequate as a deterrent, the need for dispersal, separate bombs for different delivery means, reserve for contingencies and others, push up the numbers enormously. Each factor is not merely added to another but multiplied, to derive the final numbers. Costs thus mount enormously. As the other side has or deemed to have additional capabilities, there is then a need for more variety and assurance to counter it. With each technological change there appear additional choices and need to both counter and develop matching options. The object is to deny the other side a window of opportunity, which he might then be tempted to exploit. Inevitably more and more means are required to ensure that the window remains shut. This is the reality and the logic of an arms race and we are truly entering a dangerous phase.



The idea that a nuclear deterrent allows a reduction of conventional capabilities is a myth. All countries that had nuclear weapons also maintained large armies. China reduced its vast Army for the first time, twenty-one years after its first nuclear explosion. The Soviet armies evaporated only as the State disappeared. It was no different with western armies. For, the role of conventional forces have not and cannot be replaced by nuclear weapons. It is even more pertinent in Southern Asia where militaries have numerous other legitimate roles.



There is an even greater debility for Indian security today. Having clearly delineated our enemies number one and two, we have created for ourselves a strategic nightmare. It is a condition of a multi-front threat. A situation that all strategists dread and which all diplomats have tried to avoid throughout history. To meet the need of this sudden reversal will require an immediate accretion of adequate defence capability. With reduced numbers in recent years this will have to be achieved in double quick time.



With reference to China , there is a major difficulty. Having identified it as a major threat and having "nuclearised", we cannot now suffer an asymmetry in this environment for any length of time. The development of a strategic deterrence for this contingency then has to be speeded up greatly.



A government that prides itself on national security can now ill afford to neglect defence preparedness at this crucial juncture. The question then is where will the money come from?