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M.B. Naqvi on Nuclear WMDs in South Asia

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    Nuclear WMDs in South Asia By M.B. Naqvi [28 April 2003, Karachi] There is something curious about the likely purposes of the recent visit of India s hardline
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2003
      Nuclear WMDs in South Asia

      By M.B. Naqvi

      [28 April 2003, Karachi]

      There is something curious about the likely purposes of the recent
      visit of India's hardline Defence Minister George Fernandes to
      Beijing. Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee had only recently made
      the overture for talks with Pakistan. There must then be some link
      with Pakistan too. In Beijing Fernandes firmly reiterated India's
      nuclear doctrine of 'No First Strike'. Perhaps it was appropriate
      that the Defence Minister was sent, who after the Pokhran nuclear
      tests in May 1998, had nominated China as the main security threat to
      India. But Pakistan and the nukes must have figured in talks with
      Chinese leaders. NWMDs anyway have to be discussed between India and
      Pakistan.

      So long as Indian and Pakistani governments say what they say ---
      that Indian WMDs are there to serve its core interests and concerns
      while Pakistan's basic security is predicated on its WMDs --- a modus
      operandi between them is, in this writer's view, impossible. Not many
      people fully realise the mischief these nuclear WMDs do. While India
      has those nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at Pakistan, no Pakistani
      general or civilian government can trust that those weapons would not
      be used against Pakistani targets in a grave crisis. Similarly while
      the nuclear-tipped Ghauris, Abdalis and others stand aimed at India,
      no responsible Indian can trust Pakistan's intentions. It is in the
      nature of these weapons; no adversary can be trusted with them in a
      Crisis anywhere. Mutual trust and nukes don't gel. Period.

      There is unending rhetoric from Bomb-lovers about deterrence and a
      possible détente or a Nuclear Restraint Regime, based on Confidence
      Building Measures. India and Pakistan are overt nuclear powers for
      five long years. Has deterrence worked? Did the two go beyond signing
      a Memorandum of Understanding regarding a desired détente or NRR?
      Could that understanding be ever negotiated? Why was it not discussed
      despite good drafts provided by the Americans to both sides? Indians
      loftily dismiss the reason for this failure to Gen. Musharraf's
      Kargil adventure. Have they asked the simple question: how could
      Pakistani military, in the context of India's proven nuclear
      deterrent, go ahead with cocking a snook at it?

      It is a serious question requiring serious inquiry. This involves the
      basic mischief that nuclear weapons do. The first thing that happens
      after a country crosses the nuclear threshold is a swollen head of
      its policy planners. An arrogance of power penetrates into their
      thinking processes. Remember the arrogant and bellicose statements of
      Messrs L.K. Advani and Vajpayee made soon after May 13 Pokhran tests;
      they are all on record. By unexpectedly exploding six nuclear devices
      a bare 25 days later, Pakistan government confused the Indians. True,
      the Indians twice tried to start talks in accordance with the false
      expectations raised by their nuclear gurus who had been selling the
      nukes in both countries as a means of maintaining peace through
      deterrence. The other side wasn't buying.

      While the arrogance of power in the case of Indians, thanks to their
      democratic framework, has remained confined to dreams of eventual
      grandeur based on overwhelming power being acquired and a certain
      moderate behaviour is mandated by plurality of decision makers,
      Pakistan's military rulers went overboard. Conscious of their nuclear
      capabilities, they converted Kashmiris spontaneous and nonviolent
      mass movement in 1989 into an armed insurgency and called it Jihad.
      In Afghanistan they virtually went berserk and played king-makers in
      the 1990. They began to dream of strategic depth --- against India,
      of course. They punched well above their height. Results can be seen
      today: the US is wary; India is extremely inimical; Afghans of even
      Karzai's kind dislike Pakistanis. It is totally out of tune with most
      major powers.

      The fact of the matter is that the doctrine of deterrence has not
      worked. Ideally, Pakistan should be deterred by Indian nuclear might
      and India should be duly respectful of Pakistan's capabilities. Are
      the two adequately deterred? Bold will be the man who will answer in
      the affirmative. Which general or government can miss the fact that a
      Ghauri will take two to three minutes to reach its target in India?
      Indian Prithvi too will take the same time to wreak terrible
      destruction in Pakistan. No government or an Army can take a rational
      or calculated decision or even to pick up the telephone within three
      minutes, if they do get an inkling. Today, the brutal fact is that
      both countries are on hair-trigger alert; both will launch on the
      first indication that the other is activating its missiles. A sadder
      fact is that they have to remain on this dangerous, instant alert ---
      all the time and always --- with its expected accidents and failures.

      Deterrence depends upon credibility of the nuclear weapons and
      delivery systems plus the second strike capability. The enemy will be
      deterred only if the adversary, despite being nuked first will make a
      nuclear riposte. It also involves wholly rational decision-making:
      only resorting to NWMDs when being absolutely sure that the enemy has
      broken his spoken or unspoken commitment about not mounting a wanton
      attack. This particular requirement of peace-through-deterrence
      theory is a tall order. Look at hundreds of accidents and alarms
      about enemy being attacked during east-west cold war. They had 27 to
      30 minutes to verify and be restrained. In volatile South Asia the
      available time can only be three minutes. Imagine the accidents,
      glitches, technical malfunctions and the power of rumours and or
      passions between Pakistan and India.

      Americans and their chelas in Delhi and Islamabad have talked glibly
      of a rough balance of terror between the two and then the two will
      live in peace ever thereafter. They forget the element of trust is
      the first to go in nuclearisation. CBMs are no substitute for mutual
      trust. During the last 10 or 12 years, with CBMs in place, these
      facilities were forgotten and were not used whenever a Crisis arose
      threatening a war. The two, apart from being so close to each other,
      cheek by jowl in fact, have purposes that can be achieved only at
      some cost to the other. So no experience of US-Soviet détente-making
      is actually relevant. Deterrence is anyhow a bogus concept and
      insufficient basis for peacekeeping between India and Pakistan, given
      the proneness to accidents and a culture of carelessness.

      Moreover, semantics apart, who believes in the doctrine of 'No First
      Strike'? Imagine the scenario: a war is starting or has started
      between these two neighbours. Now which commander in India will
      masochistically wait, while keeping his nukes primed, until Pakistani
      generals have pressed the red button first --- thus suffering
      absolutely unacceptable destruction of, say India's one or two
      urban-industrial centres --- as the theory is adumbrated. The world
      is told to believe that after Indian High Command has made sure that
      this has actually happened, they will then order their own riposte
      that will be so massive as may send Pakistan to the Stone Age. Is
      this military behaviour amidst the dust and din of war credible? This
      is all too fanciful and unreal.

      Just as India's No First Use is not credible, Pakistan's doctrine of
      reserving the right to use the nuke first --- in a critical situation
      where basic security of state is threatened, of course --- is also
      suspect. Its first use is predicated on a critical situation during a
      conventional war. If so, this use is even less credible because (a)
      the situation being already critical, such use will not ensure any
      relief or cessation of hostilities, much less victory; (b) it is sure
      to invite retaliation in kind which may lead to a worse defeat.
      Moreover, by the time the critical stage is reached, the capacity to
      use the option may have been compromised. A power with inferior
      conventional strength needs to avoid war altogether or start off with
      a nuclear strike. For, the use of nuclear weapons can only result in
      excessive destruction in both and old notions of victory and defeat
      do not apply.

      What the opposing generals are more likely to do is to try and
      preempt the other. Thus there may be a race between the two sides to
      be the first to strike --- and as massively as may be feasible or
      judged adequate. The two, as of now, remain engaged in hectic arms
      races of various kinds. Why else are they conducting so many missile
      tests? Whatever relevance Mr. Fernandes' No First Use doctrine may
      work with regard to China, US or others, it has little to Pakistan.

      There is no way the nuclear weapons can help win a war or maintain
      peace. All other uses of nuclear weapons in a possible war do not
      make sense. They will cause senseless destruction of vast areas. Not
      that preemptive use is sane. Thanks to dispersion of nuclear weapons
      in each country, both nations may end up with wholly unacceptable
      devastation for no rational purpose. Use of nuclear weapons on this
      Subcontinent is anyhow insane and can only result in Mutually Assured
      Defeat. Indeed, the damage to non combatants outside India and
      Pakistan can neither be avoided nor justified.

      The only sane and rational thing is for common South Asians to mount
      an effective peace movement and let both New Delhi and Islamabad be
      compelled by their respective people to do without nuclear weapons
      altogether. A wholly non-nuclear South Asia will be so many shades
      saner and safer. It won't solve all the problems, of course. But the
      nightmare of a senseless nuclear war will disappear. Let peaceniks be
      given a chance --- or rather they should assert themselves here first
      and show that Pakistan does not produce only hawks, if also mostly
      bogus.
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