The Myth of Arms Control

14 May, 1999    ·   190

Senthil Ram says in the South Asian context, particularly for India arms race with Pakistan and China is not affordable and arms control is not a panacea

 It is time that India and Pakistan realise that both are running in the first lap of an arms and missile race. One just can’t disregard the lessons Americans and Soviets learnt. It would be a blunder to conveniently choose some aspects and appease ourselves by applying it to our situation.



Some in India , believe that India and Pakistan wouldn’t follow the US-Soviet model of arms race, at the same time counting on the theory of nuclear deterrence- the only rationale for the super power’s possession of a huge nuclear arsenal. A ‘minimum nuclear deterrent’ with few nuclear weapons was suggested as an affordable strategy to deal with Pakistan and China . Obviously, no body knows how many is this few. Secondly, minimum deterrence is a relative concept - what is minimum for Pakistan may not be applied to China or for that matter to any other country. Thirdly, arms race in the subcontinent, has the potential to escalate to international level. When our missiles fly longer and longer our threat perception also would embrace many new acronyms. In that case, will arms control be an effective solution to check this arms race?



Arms control agreements are limited in scope. In the US and USSR ’s case it was used as a first step to come out of the diplomatic impasse. Thus, arms control is suggested for deadly adversaries not for a friendly neighbourhood like South Asia , where we have all sorts of contacts and communications with our neighbours. Secondly, Arms control was effective and useful to the Americans and Soviets since they had thousands of nuclear weapons down their arsenal, whereas, in the South Asia , the nuclear arsenal will be very less, hence will be less effective. Thirdly, Arms control does not stop the technological race in armaments. US and Russia are still producing advanced weapon systems. Countries have to keep their scientists and labs busy in making these deadly weapons and armed forces always find a reason to induct them. Given our present economic and social conditions whether we have the wherewithal for such an uncertain future is inconceivable. Fourthly, though we have decades of negotiating experiences in confidence building measures on a conventional level, arms control negotiations with regard to nuclear weapons are very complicated. Arms control process is always an end result of hard and tortuous negotiations between the parties over decades. Fifthly, unlike US and Russia , where important agreements were bilateral, in the subcontinent such negotiations would be effective provided it is of a multilateral lateral in nature encompassing both Pakistan and China . In light of the present political, economic and technological changes it is clear that concluding such multilateral negotiations would be even more difficult. Sixthly, the arms control approach has concentrated upon the achievements of numerical balance at a higher rather than a low level in weaponry. Whichever state is behind, is simply allowed to build up to the level already attained by the leading state. We can have numerical parity with Pakistan , but with China we need to build more weapons to talk about arms control. Further arms control takes a benign attitude towards increasing strategic weapons, since ‘surviving second strike capability’ is the key element, that the more missiles each power has, the more are likely to survive any sudden attack.



Arms control will not be an easy solution to this arms race or our security. It may aggravate the insecurity situation and may not lead to decline in the defence expenditure. Arms control is a conservative concept, where it supports military balance of power and does not challenge military power as a tool of policy. If arms control becomes the goal then we need to build more weapons, and arms race is inevitable. There is no end to this arms race unless we come out of this myth of arms control.



In the South Asian context, particularly for India arms race with Pakistan and China is not affordable and arms control is not a panacea. The present nuclear weapon status and missile capabilities, which has given us a credible nuclear deterrent with our neighbours, is eligible enough to enter the next millennium. Taking arms race and endless arms control negotiations with us will be futile for our future. The time has come to talk about disarmament, about giving up weapons. Since we are in the initial stages of the arms race, it is easy to come out or stall further developments. And we need not fight on the negotiation table for eliminating the weapon systems, as now they are very limited in numbers. A mere freeze on further production of weapons and delivery systems on the policy level would be a first step towards ending this arms race.