Pokharan II: Now What?

21 May, 1998    ·   93

P. R. Chari says that before India proceeds ahead to weaponization, the direct and indirect costs involved need adding up.

The germane question now arises: can India ’s forward march to nuclear weaponization be reversed? Perhaps, not. Before India proceeds ahead to weaponization, however, the direct and indirect costs involved need adding up.



Naturally, the direct costs of a nuclear weaponization programme would depend on the type of nuclear force to be deployed. That would depend on the nuclear threats needing to be deterred. Pakistan ? China ? United States ? As a referral point, however, it could be mentioned that China spent between $ 2.5 and 3 billion annually on its nuclear weapons programme during the initial years of its weaponization (1964-76). India might spend less, as it has met the costs involved in the development of nuclear devices. It has tested its Prithvi missiles, and is keeping them in storage. The Agni and longer-range missiles, however, would need adequate testing. Large resources would be required, especially if they are to be deployed in a land mobile, airborne and/or submarine-based mode.



India could offset these costs by reducing the size of its armed forces, since they would shelter now under the nuclear deterrent. The bomb votaries have always stressed this argument. This could prove tricky, because the Army is extensively employed on counter-insurgency duties. And no reduction might be possible since the enmity of China has been ensured by the BJP’s anti-Chinese rhetoric. Consequently, the Sino-Indian border might get re-activated necessitating the divisions withdrawn from along the line of actual control to be re-inducted. This would add to the defence budget.



The indirect cost of the sanctions is another dimension of this problem. Japan has announced a suspension of grants and loan aid--estimated between $ 600 mn and $ 1 bn annually. The mandatory sanctions imposed by the United States under its Arms Export Control Act includes development assistance; military sales and exchanges; trade in specified dual use goods and technology; US loans, guarantees and credits; loans and credits by US banks to the Indian government; and support for India in the international financial institutions. It is unclear how much all this would add up to.



But the BJP establishment has taken heart from the discordant voices emerging from the developed countries, especially after the recent G-8 meeting in Birmingham . The hope is strong that the impact of the sanctions imposed would be cosmetic and short-lived. Simultaneously, calls have been issued by several BJP spokesmen that no price is too high to pay when national security is threatened. Dire threats of counter-actions have also been held out. These include, ceasing to repay loans, curtailing flights by foreign airlines into India , and exporting sensitive technologies to generate resources. The national budget, to be presented shortly, will indicate the BJP’s government’s overall thinking on these issues.



At this stage we have an unfolding situation. It is difficult to estimate the total impact of sanctions and their hidden costs. Like the increase in risk premia that foreign banks might charge on loans for operating in India . Or curbs that might be placed on India ’s trade relations. Or transfer of technology. The counter-actions threatened could worsen the situation. Could a trade-off between sanctions and counter-sanctions be effected at some minimal levels to the satisfaction of all concerned?



For its part, the United States might appreciate that isolating India at this juncture will not serve its larger interests. It has somewhat belatedly appreciated India ’s weight in the emerging regional and international milieu after the Cold War. It had also appreciated India ’s nuclear restraint over all these years, despite grave provocations from Pakistan and China , and the glacial pace of nuclear disarmament. Despite conducting these nuclear tests India remains one (small?) step away from deploying nuclear weapons. This distinction is important since it uncovers the space that still obtains for an Indo-US dialogue. This suggestion derives from the recommendations of the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States seek a "closer strategic relationship with India ", and "adopt a declaratory policy that acknowledges India ’s growing power and importance…" It had also designated Pakistan as a "failed state". This fact also needs mention because US policies towards India and Pakistan have traditionally been fashioned in terms of a zero-sum game. Clearly the disappearance of India ’s chief Cold War strategic ally-- Soviet Union --and the latter’s withdrawal from Afghanistan provides new opportunities for the United States to evolve a more viable policy towards South Asia , in general, and India in particular.



This exercise must configure China into the equation. India must assume that Sino-Pak linkages will strengthen. The Kashmir situation could deteriorate. Will the United States join them to oppose India ? Ostensibly to shore up the non-proliferation regime? The United States has premised its relations with China within a larger schema of forging a strategic engagement with that country. That includes elements of competition and collaboration in their bilateral relations. Could a similar Indo-US strategic engagement be pursued appreciating the changing structures and alignments in the post-Cold War world?