Buddha ‘Smiles Again’

02 Jun, 1998    ·   107

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) details the political, economic and security costs that India will have to pay for have tested its nuclear devices

On 11 and again on 13 May this year India conducted five and two nuclear explosions. By this India has violated no international treaty or any agreement that it has signed. It was done in the perspective of the threat that it perceived and in an environment where its neighbours had acquired nuclear weapons. Therefore, why this international opprobrium? Why these sanctions and global condemnation? Should they, or atleast the non-aligned world, not be celebrating in some measure an achievement of one of its members? 



The reality has indeed proved to be different. There had evolved in recent years a strong international norm against nuclear weapons and India has violated this norm by its tests. The Cold War showed what an enormous waste the nuclear weapons were and there were moves, halting and imperfect ofcourse, towards their elimination. By its nuclear test India has allowed this consensus to be breached and since then it is a less safe world for us all.



But, were the nuclear tests necessary? Do nuclear weapons have a role in war? The one reality that most have come to accept today is that nuclear weapons are of no utility whatever. You can neither eat it, nor throw it. But, once produced, can only hold it, and that is enormously expensive. Gorbachev and Reagan agreed in November 1985 that you could not fight wars with it. Some have felt that if you had nuclear weapons, you could deter another state that did not have any and make it do your bidding. The thesis is flawed. The reality is that every nuclear weapon power has fought a war with another non-nuclear power and has either lost the war or its nuclear weapons had no effect on the conflict.



Some have argued that if two adversaries had nuclear weapons there will be no war between them and peace and tranquillity would be the result. The thesis cannot be proven empirically. The East-West conflict in Europe did not materialise due to a host of other equally plausible reasons. The reality is that they fought each other all over the globe, either directly or through proxy and the whole world paid the price. Tensions between them remained high and costs were enormous for both. 



A nuclear weapon environment is essentially destabilizing. Notwithstanding all that is often said about it, humans, who sometime make mistakes, handle these. They are controlled by instruments that sometime fail. Their possible use is often subject to the decision of a single individual and he may not always be wise. There is no race or colour attribute to this.



Do nuclear weapons enhance our defence potential against China and Pakistan ? In recent months India has spelt out its threat perceptions unambiguously. Our new Defence Minister considers China and Pakistan to be threats number one and two. Admittedly he has not used these very words, but his clarity of expression and repeated articulation leaves nobody in any doubt. Especially not anyone in China or Pakistan . The threat had to be the big bully China . India 's nuclear explosions are firmly directed against it. To justify this a concocted theory of the China Threat had to be resurrected. India-China relations were indeed progressing satisfactorily over the last decade. This was true both in fact and in the perception each had of the other. Border was peaceful and tranquil. Both sides had reduced their forces substantially. Talks over LAC delineation were slow but satisfactory. China had modified its policies on Kashmir , which Pakistanis found unfavourable.



Pakistan has gained the most by our steps. As a weaker power it felt that its own security would be enhanced against a stronger India only through nuclear weapons. But, it could not test or weaponise if India did not do so. Now we have provided it the opportunity. It will seize it without fail in the next few days. A more effective policy would have been for it not to test and isolate India . But, Pakistani psyche will not allow it to follow a rational policy even in enlightened national interest



China and Pakistan were moving apart, as couples sometimes do in middle age. They have now been thrust into each other's arms by our policies. There will in all likelihood be greater co-operation between them now in ever widening issues of military hardware and technology.



There are many other costs for India . Politically the country will remain isolated. We will have to try very hard to convince the world that we are a responsible global player. If the permanent membership of the Security Council were to expand in the next three years, we will have no place in it. A nuclear weapon by itself does not allow you to gatecrash into international organizations. International leadership and true national strength does. Germany and Japan are not nuclear weapon powers and will surely be included. Economic costs too will be significant. Ofcourse it will not cripple us in any way. But, given the current state of the Indian economy, weakening of East Asian currencies and hence increase in their competitiveness, it will be an additional avoidable infirmity.



There are security costs as well. We will continue to have access to Russian military hardware and perhaps even French. But, they will now drive a harder bargain. The light combat aircraft, the main battle tank and other advanced military projects depending on western technology will be seriously hit. Their cost overruns will probably lead to the projects being shelved. It calls for serious introspection.



(Extracts from the article published in the Economic and Political Weekly, May 16-22)