A negative balance sheetby Praful Bidwai
(The Times of India, 14 May 2008
years ago this week, India blasted its way into the global nuclear club
by conducting five explosions at Pokhran. By declaring itself a nuclear
weapons state (NWS), it joined what it had long described as the
'Atomic Apartheid' system — not to reform it, but as one of its
In another policy rupture, India also embraced the
doctrine of nuclear deterrence, which it had for 50 years deplored as
'morally repugnant' and strategically irrational.
decision to cross the nuclear threshold was taken in secrecy, without
discussion in the cabinet security affairs committee and without even
the pretence of a strategic review promised in the BJP manifesto.
the defence establishment was in the dark about it until May 9. But
according to the present RSS chief, K S Sudarshan, the sangh parivar
was privy to it and mandated it.
Former National Security
Adviser Brajesh Mishra has since confirmed that the decision was taken
on April 7 and 8 by just four men, only one of whom — Prime Minister
Vajpayee — was an elected leader.
The others, besides Mishra,
were the atomic energy and Defence R&D Organisation heads who had a
partisan stake in India going nuclear.
Such opacity in respect
of a momentous policy change is itself reason enough to question its
false prestige-driven rationale. But 10 years after the tests, even
stronger arguments suggest themselves persuasively.
has created greater volatility in South Asia, making both India and
Pakistan more insecure. Today, millions of their citizens have become
vulnerable to attacks by nuclear-tipped missiles, which cannot be
intercepted or recalled.
Missile flight-time between cities in these countries is as short as three to eight minutes.
the past decade, India has been drawn into not one, but two, nuclear
and missile arms races — with Pakistan, and more ominously, with China.
The three countries' military spending is rising at rates that are
among the world's highest.
Since 1998, India's defence spend has
nearly tripled to $30 billion. This makes the always-gross
disproportion between India's military and social-sector budgets even
This can only aggravate social insecurity, in
addition to strategic instability. As India long argued, the logic of
arms races is cruel: you don't quite decide how much more you spend on
arms, your adversary does.
India is erasing its own memory.
Nuclear weapons have encouraged adventurist and reckless behaviour in
our region. Neither Pakistan's Kargil incursion nor Pervez Musharraf's
1999 coup, which decisively set democracy back, can be understood
outside the nuclear context and the dangerously false confidence the
bomb generated among Pakistan's men in uniform.
In South Asia,
even the comfortable assumption of the nuclear-deterrence theory — that
nuclear weapons states don't go to war with each other — stood
demolished a year after Pokhran-II. Kargil was a serious conflict,
involving 40,000 troops and top-of-the-line weaponry.
disclosures that Pakistan came close to readying its nuclear missiles
in 1999, and that India and Pakistan were twice at the brink of a
nuclear confrontation in the 10-month eyeball-to-eyeball stand-off
after the December 2001 Parliament attack should warn and worry all
sensible citizens not devoted to the bomb. We may not be so lucky the
next time around.
The heaviest component of the costs of going
nuclear has been moral-political. India, the land of the Buddha and
Gandhi, lost a good deal of its global moral stature as a force of
peace and moderation.
This, not raw power, was long the source
of the prestige we enjoyed. The second setback is India's retreat from
the global disarmament agenda.
After Pokhran, India turned
against its own demand for a special disarmament UN session, like the
1988 session where Rajiv Gandhi presented his thoughtful plan for
global nuclear elimination.
The UPA's promise of reviving that
plan sounds hollow. It will acquire credibility only if India seizes
the initiative by announcing unilateral nuclear-restraint measures and
making concrete proposals for complete nuclear disarmament.
(The writer is an anti-nuclear weapons activist.)