Six months after Pokhran-II: Where do we go from here?

07 Jan, 1999    ·   165

Report of the ninth IPCS Seminar on the Implications of Nuclear Testing in South Asia

The following is a report of the seminar organized by the IPCS on 18 December 1988. The speakers were P.R. Chari and Dr. Kanti Bajpai.



Chari brought out the difference and comparison of options before India after Pokhran I and Pokhran II. He noted that Pokhran I was called a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion, but Pokhran II was clearly designed for military purposes. He dwelt on the structure of the international system and noted that economics have become more important. He also observed that the cost, in economics terms, of not cooperating with the international regime is greater now than what it was in 1974. He particularly highlighted international trade, foreign direct investment, and access to dual use technologies.



He outlined three choices before India viz. rollback, cap or weaponise & deploy the nuclear option. He ruled out rollback as an option for domestic political reasons.  The capping option questioned the logic of the tests. Weaponisation and deployment would be a difficult choice as there would be heavy direct and indirect costs and India would remain a victim of current technology control regimes.



He wondered if India 's nuclear restraint policy could be used to leverage technology. There were voices in the US that India could be offered 'incentives'  alongside 'disincentives' to ensure that it does not proceed further on the nuclear path. The feeling in the US was that India was willing to accept the status-quo in lieu of access to dual use technology. Such a posture might be unacceptable to India because of domestic reasons, with the feeling developing that it was being bought off. What would be more saleable would be to use India 's current nuclear situation to effect nuclear disarmament. It could also engage the nuclear weapon states, especially the US , in a dialogue to discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons. In this framework, the proposal for nuclear 'de-alerting' tabled by India in the UN General Assembly was an adroit step. If the nuclear weapon states were unwilling to even discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons then it could be argued that any rollback by India would be as difficult as it is was for the nuclear weapon states to proceed towards nuclear disarmament.



Dr. Bajpai highlighted various positions in the nuclear debate. He talked of a maximalist, pragmatist and rejectionist positions in the nuclear debate, and suggested that the maximalists would put pressure on the pragmatists  to move towards a more extensive and classical deterrence posture. The maximalists would like to go beyond 100-120 Hiroshima-type devices, a de-mated nuclear force, and “deterrence  by uncertainty”.



On military issues he argued that India needed to be more forthright about what was required for deterrence. If India was determined to go nuclear, then he was in favour of a long range Agni since mid air refuelling facilities were unavailable and India did not have a nuclear submarine. He also examined India 's capability vis-à-vis China and suggested India had a long way to go before it had a survivable second strike. .



On doctrinal issues, he was in favour of a global no-first-use initiative. He also highlighted the fact that India shares borders with two nuclear capable states, and in a crisis situation, wondered how much would be enough and what kind of doctrine would be enunciated for a two front situation. He welcomed the recent Indian initiative in the United Nations on de-alerting nuclear weapons. He also asked what minimum deterrence meant and whether it included thermo-nuclear weapons and tactical weapons? And, also if a de-mated posture would be credible.



On foreign policy issues, he was in favour of signing the CTBT and engaging in FMCT negotiations. With China , Dr. Bajpai was in favour of “untying the knot” without giving the impression that India was apologising. He was in favour of regular discussions with Pakistan by “dedicated” teams. He also discussed co-operation with the middle powers and the need to engage NAM . He added that India should back a global campaign for eliminating tactical nuclear weapons. He highlighted the need for building a consensus within the country and the Parliament on key nuclear policy issues.



In the discussions that followed a retired military official raised the important question of national consensus on nuclear issues. He also said that the government  should spell out its posture clearly; for instance, no-first-use posture was not acceptable to any nuclear weapons or threshold ,state except for China . Another participant raised the question whether India had the capability to carry out sub critical tests. A retired Air Force official noted that 1998 was militarily different from 1974. He said that nuclear capability and deterrence  needs to be clarified. He argued that a retaliatory capability is different from a second strike capability.



Another participant argued that there is no possibility of the CTBT going through in 1999. He also observed that the definition of minimum deterrence needs to be discussed with Pakistan and China . Another participant questioned why did India stop testing after 5 tests? Some scientists have argued that this was enough, but these claims have been challenged by others. He also said that, in a India-China conflict scenario, Pakistan would be drawn in. He also asked if India was willing to use nuclear weapons in a first or second strike mode, since there is a moral dilemma here. Another participant said that there was no study on minimum deterrence, how much was essential, and at what cost.