Pokharan II - Strategic Content

01 Jun, 1998    ·   106

P. R. Chari address the the basic question of whether India is a 'nuclear weapon capable state' at the end of its five tests.

What are the military capabilities established and the political repercussions arising from the five nuclear tests conducted by India ? They need being evaluated against the backdrop of Pakistan ’s several--number currently undetermined--nuclear tests. And the hostility against India ’s nuclear tests that has been displayed by China , apart from the adverse reactions voiced by the United States , G-8 and EU nations.



In regard to military capabilities, the five nuclear tests performed by India included a fission device (12 KT), thermonuclear device (43 KT), and three sub-kiloton devices (between 0.2 and 0.6 KT). They displayed India ’s scientific ability to derive the full range of nuclear weapons extending from the hydrogen bomb to tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons. These tests, according to the statement issued by the scientists "have provided critical data for the validation of our capability in the design of nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and different delivery systems. These tests have significantly enhanced our capability in computer simulation of new designs and taken us to the stage of sub-critical experiments in the future, if considered necessary". This careful phraseology informs that India can undertake further design work through computer simulation and laboratory tests. And that its scientists are presently unclear if they need to perform sub-critical (hydronuclear) tests.



Some doubts persist, however, whether the data obtained from these tests will permit the creation of suitable software to undertake hydronuclear tests. Nevertheless, India has announced that it will observe a voluntary moratorium and refrain from conducting underground nuclear test explosions. But, in his suo-motu statement to Parliament (May 27) the Prime Minister declared: " India is now a nuclear weapon state. This is a reality that cannot be denied. It is not a conferment that we seek; nor is it a status for others to grant". What does this mean? India cannot become a de jure nuclear weapon state, because the Nonproliferation Treaty confers that status only on states that have "manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967".



India ’s current capability does create a juridical problem, since it demands recognition as a de facto nuclear weapon state. Before these tests were conducted India was considered to be a "nuclear capable state". Is it now a " nuclear weapons capable state?" This distinction is important. India has not yet " weaponized" its nuclear option, in the sense that it has not miniaturized its warheads for being placed on its missiles. Nor has it modified and equipped its strike aircraft to carry nuclear bombs. At least, there is no public information about these necessary steps having been taken.



Assuming, however, that India now possesses the ability to miniaturize its nuclear warheads without further testing, what is the precise military capability it has established? Briefly, this would only be of relevance against Pakistan , since it could be premised on India ’s nuclear delivery capable aircraft and/or Prithvi missiles. But India would definitely have to conduct a missile test series to prove its Agni and extended-range Agni missile, at the very minimum, to establish a credible deterrent capability against China . Will India proceed further along this route to nuclear weaponization? This is wholly uncertain at the present juncture.



What are the political implications of India ’s nuclear tests? Primarily, they challenged the subsisting international nuclear regime resting on a five nuclear power structure. This had encrusted over the last three decades. It successfully overcame earlier challenges from a host of nuclear aspirant states like Sweden , South Korea , Taiwan , South Africa , North Korea , Brazil and Argentina . By cajoling Belarus , Kazakhstan and Ukraine into joining the NPT, and transferring the nuclear weapons on their soil to Russia , the regime had contained the proliferation dangers arising from the disintegration of the Soviet Union . Only three nuclear capable states— Israel , India , and Pakistan —resisted being coerced into this arrangement. Israel ’s constraint derived from its parlous security situation in the Middle East . India ’s compulsions arose from China , Pakistan and a host of world order interests. Pakistan ’s duress was more narrowly, but obsessively, focussed upon India . In this milieu, India ’s nuclear tests, followed by Pakistan ’s tests, have unfrozen the international nuclear regime and the power structure underlying the international security system. A new situation has been created.



Still, a window of opportunity exists for a dialogue between India and Pakistan, and between India and the other nuclear weapon states, expressly designed to arrest India ’s nuclear weaponization despite the current state of its advanced development. The precise agenda for this dialogue would necessarily have to be set in advance. But this dialogue would have to address the compulsions that persuaded India to doggedly keep its nuclear option open for over three decades. They included its extended security and world order interests, although the instant decision by the BJP government to conduct its five nuclear tests was obviously motivated by domestic political considerations.