India's Nuclear Policy – An IIC Debate

08 Jun, 1998    ·   113

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) reports on the seminar on India' s nuclear policy.

A Seminar on India 's Nuclear Policy was held at the IIC on 6 June 98. Prof MGK Menon was in the Chair. Principal speaker was Shri K Subrahmanayam, Senior Defence Analyst and presently Editorial Adviser Times of India. Other speakers were; Shri Shekhar Gupta, Editor, Indian Express Group of papers and Shri MD Nalapat, Editor, Times of India. This article attempts to capture some elements of the proceedings, and principally Shri K Subrahmanyam's views.



K Subrahmanyam



He said that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sanctioned the nuclear weapons programme in 1988. This was two years after Pakistan ’s programme had started. Pakistan completed its nuclearisation by 1987 and India by 1990. Therefore, since 1990 both India and Pakistan were de facto nuclear weapon powers. There is then no material change in the strategic environment today. There was thus no possibility of an arms race now. India 's defence expenditure actually was falling steadily in the 1990's after nuclearisation. China was already a nuclear weapon power and it was steadily improving its capability. Therefore, there was no possibility of an arms race in the sub-continent. There was also no likelihood of an unlimited nuclear proliferation in the world. All but four countries had signed the NPT. Therefore, there will be no horizontal proliferation.



There will be no addition in defence expenditure as well. India ’s defence budget was only 14 per cent higher than last year. This was merely 7 per cent more than inflation and was a minimal increase. There was no impending arms race. Our weapons programme was from civil nuclear programme with only marginal additions. Infrastructure for weaponisation existed since 1990. Only minimum accretions were needed now. Expenditure on command and control for minimum deterrence will also not be much, if it is only for a retaliatory strike. Our nuclearisation will then not lead to war or tension with our neighbours.



Behind Pakistan 's nuclear weapons was China . It was Beijing 's strategic decision to lock up India through Pakistan 's countervailing capability. Therefore, it helped Pakistan to develop this capability. But China did not allow Pakistan an entirely autonomous capability. Pakistani nuclear weapons, therefore, were strictly not military weapons capable of being used against India .



There was no need to weaponise the Indian armed forces. If we did not develop a war fighting capability and we stuck to "no first use"; there was no need for these to be held by the armed forces.



The only nation where the armed forces controlled nuclear weapons was Pakistan . But, that need not be a cause for concern. The Armed Forces in Pakistan were responsible and will not use these in a war-fighting role. Perhaps they were more responsible than their politicians.



What should then be our overall strategy? There was no need to spell it out, but we needed to think about it.



There will be measures needed in other areas in India . There has to be a new geo-political thinking. There was need for a command and control infrastructure. A clear channel of succession at the highest level so that there was a guarantee that clear authority will be available to ensure a second strike.



Finally, he said that there was no surprise in our deciding to weaponise. The moment we embarked on the Agni programme everyone should have known that a missile at that range has no use except with nuclear weapons.



Shekhar Gupta



India 's senior politicians considered nuclear weapons as toys. They behaved like boys who having newly acquired a motor cycle then removed the silencers and revved around so that the whole neighbourhood would know. They did much the same with nuclear weapons.



The Government then executed a series of stunning self-goals. One, on the Kashmir situation. Next, by generating domestic public opinion that the whole world was ranged against India and thereby created a persecution complex among the people of India against the world.



Steps that India needed to take were; rebuild domestic public opinion, work out a non-emotive strategy to react to external pressures and resist Pakistan 's provocation.



Questions and Answers



An hour was devoted to questions and comments. About a hundred participants were present. There was criticism of Government's policies, but overall the response was supportive.