Source: Focus-on-Security, Volume 1, No.10, June 27, 1998, Part 3 of 3
Focus on the Global South (FOCUS)
c/o CUSRI, Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok 10330 THAILAND
FOR A CITIZEN'S MOVEMENT
by Praful Bidwai *
The principled, non-jingoistic response of a cross-section of society to India's nuclear tests indicates the beginnings of a powerful nuclear disarmament movement by citizens, which is long overdue.
THE tide has turned. The manufactured "consensus" over the Bharatiya
Janata Party-led Government's decision to cross the nuclear threshold
now stands exposed for what it was: flimsy, uninformed, reluctant
acceptance of the fait accompli that a particular political party with
a unique nuclear obsession had inflicted upon us all without the fig
leaf of a security rationale or a strategic review. Today, there is
sharp political polarisation on this issue. The Left has taken a
principled stand opposing nuclearisation. Large chunks of the
political centre have demarcated themselves from the BJP. At least
three former Prime Ministers have questioned the decision, or
expressed reservations about it.
Even the seemingly mandatory salutation to our scientists'
"achievement" has given way to a sharply critical debate on the ethics
of developing weapons of mass destruction. Over 300 scientists have
questioned this "achievement". The disclosure that the defence and
nuclear scientific lobby had repeatedly demanded the tests (see former
Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda's press statement) has drawn strong
condemnation from ethically-minded scientists.
The signs on the street are encouraging. There have been over 30
demonstrations and meetings in at least eight Indian cities, involving
diverse groups of people such as scholars, scientists, social
activists, human rights campaigners, feminists, trade unionists and
environmentalists, besides political activists. Highly regarded former
generals and admirals have joined this growing mobilisation. Those who
have taken a clear stand include former Chief of the Naval Staff
Admiral, N. Ramdas, Lt. Gen. Gurbir Mansingh, Air Marshal J. Zaheer
and Lt. Gen. V. R. Raghavan. Among nuclearisation's critics are former
Atomic Energy Commission Chairman M. R. Srinivasan, former Supreme
Court Judge V. R. Krishna Iyer, Gandhians such as Y. P. Anand (former
Chairman of the Railway Board) and Sidharaj Dhaddha, besides artists
and writers. No one dare accuse this movement as that of some kind of
a lunatic fringe of peaceniks unconcerned about India's security.
A movement devoted primarily to disarmament and peace has a number of
invaluable functions: conducting public education on the evil of
nuclear weapons, working as a clearing house of information and ideas,
cross-sectoral mobilisation of protest, organising public agitations,
providing a clear focus for unorganised groups and citizens, and
advocacy and lobbying. Such a movement must be broad-based and
inclusive; yet it must be lucidly clear about 'its 'goals lest it
strays from its main functions. It must recognise that people will
come to the disarmament platform out of a range of considerations and
motives, and from different social and ideological backgrounds. But at
the same time, it must carefully articulate principles -and doctrines
in such a way as to retain its identity, integrity and effectiveness.
At least nine such premises and principles are essential.
The first premise is that nuclear weapons are uniquely evil
instruments of mass destruction, with the potential to exterminate all
life from this planet. They are incomparably more destructive than any
other weapons. Their use or threat of use violates all criteria of
jus in bello (justice in the conduct of war) because they kill
massively, indiscriminately, without distinguishing between combatants
and civilians, and in barbaric ways. They are simply incompatible with
the notion of proportionate and legitimate use of force.
As the Government of India itself has argued for 50 years, until May
11, not only the use of nuclear weapons, but even the threat of use,
must be declared unacceptable and illegal. In its submission before
the International Court of Justice in 1995, the Government pleaded:
"Use of nuclear weapons in any armed conflict... even by way of
reprisal or retaliation... is unlawful." More, even their manufacture
and possession "cannot under any circumstances be considered as
permitted." India's classical position was that such manufacture and
possession be declared a "crime against humanity." The BJP has
committed just that crime.
The second premise is that nuclear weapons, no matter who possesses
them, do not provide security. Indeed, as the Government itself
consistently argued, nuclear weapons degrade security both for nations
and internationally. Such weapons are strategically irrational. The
celebrated December 1996 statement of 60 former generals and admirals,
including Commanders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the
Warsaw Pact, says: "We, military professionals, who have devoted our
lives to the national security of our countries and our peoples, are
convinced that the continuing existence of nuclear weapons in the
armories of nuclear powers, and the ever present threat of acquisition
of these weapons by others, constitute a peril to global peace and
security and to the safety and survival of the people we are dedicated
to protect... Long term international nuclear policy must be based on
the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable
elimination of nuclear weapons."
The third premise is that the concept of nuclear deterrence must be
categorically rejected on moral, political, legal and strategic
grounds. This has a powerful resonance in India's own past policy,
which continued to oppose nuclear deterrence as an "abhorrent" and
"repugnant" doctrine. Deterrence theory is a mere article of faith, an
unfalsifiable, unverifiable dogma. It contradictorily assumes that
states will act both rationally (by making hard nosed calculations)
and out of fear simultaneously. It also assumes that those making
decisions on nuclear weapons are accountable and hence act
responsibly. This is demonstrably false in situations of conflict.
The "theory" also assumes that non-nuclear weapon states will be
deterred from militarily engaging nuclear weapon-states (NWSs) and
that NWSs will not fight conventional wars with one another. This had
been repeatedly disproved: during the Korean and Vietnam wars, the
Falklands war, in conflicts over the Ussuri between China and the
former Soviet Union, the war between China and Vietnam in 1979, in
Afghanistan in the 1980s... Deterrence is unstable and quickly
degenerates into an arms race, which has a profoundly irrational
character. That alone explains why the five permanent members of the
Security Council (P-5) amassed an overkill-level arsenal of 69,000
weapons during the Cold War enough to destroy the world 50 times
There is no such thing as "minimal deterrence." One man=92s "minimum" is
another's "maximum". Both could be ruinous. There is no significant
period in the past 50 years when an NWS did not stockpile weapons when
others were also doing so. What was a "minimum deterrent" for China in
1965 became unacceptable in less than seven years.
Equally important, deterrence is prone to breakdown. There were over
100 cases of false alerts, weapons activation and near-hits between
NATO and Warsaw Pact members despite elaborate risk-reduction
measures, PALs (permissive action links or codes for authorising use
of weapons), hot lines and early warning systems. A Brookings
Institution study says it was sheer luck, not deterrence, that
prevented a nuclear conflict between the two blocs during the Cold
War. The world came far, far closer to it during the 1962 Cuban
missile crisis than imagined, indeed even known, by the two sides.
Nuclear deterrence does not, cannot work reliably. It legitimises the
possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons. It must be rejected.
The fourth premise is universal nuclear disarmament. True security
lies only in a nuclear weapon-free world. The P-5 countries have
resisted serious nuclear restraint, and failed to fulfil their
obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
They have also tried to impose unequal treaties upon others. This
wont do. The Nuclear Club is a group of hypocrites. India has now put
in its application for joining this club, albeit as a junior member.
The fifth premise is that the present Government's policy represents a
radical, dangerous and unacceptable break with all the sane and
sensible components of India's past nuclear doctrines, including
opposition to deterrence. India opposed the premise that nuclear
weapons provide security. Thus, even during the peak of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) debate, Foreign Secretary Salman
Haidar told the Conference on Disarmament: "We do not believe that the
acquisition of nuclear weapons is essential for national security, and
we have followed a conscious decision in this regard. We are also
convinced that the existence of nuclear weapons diminishes
international security. We, therefore, seek their complete
The sixth premise is that the BJP's nuclear policy is inseparably
linked to a toxic, belligerent, male-supremacist, hate-driven
beggar-thy-neighbour nationalism and a notion of nationhood that is
anti-pluralist, communal and militaristic. Underlying it is opposition
to disarmament and peace. The Sangh ideology castigated Gandhi's
secularism and ahimsa for "emasculating" Hindu "manliness". That is
why Gandhi had to be eliminated.
Nuclearisation promotes secrecy and the militarisation of everyday
life. National nuclear arming creates a false sense of pride and
imposes continuing and rising economic, social and political costs.
The social and economic costs of nuclearisation can be crippling.
Nuclear weapons are incompatible with rational development goals.
The seventh premise is that the Indian bomb is neither
"anti-imperialist" nor meant to promote disarmament. As Prime Minister
A. B. Vajpayee told U.S. President Bill Clinton in his May 11 letter,
India's intention is not to challenge the unequal global nuclear order
but to join it, on the side of the biggest discriminator, the U.S.
This Government craves that India be recognised as an NWS. Achieving
that, not promoting nuclear disarmament, is its goal. It's actions
with Pakistan reacting quickly with its own tests have set back the
global disarmament agenda. You cannot blow a hole into the disarmament
agenda and then say you only wanted peace. As Gandhi said: "The moral
to be drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not
be destroyed by counter-bombs..." It is futile to cite "sovereignty"
here. This Government talks of sovereignty only in respect of the
"right" (which no one has) to make weapons of mass destruction, while
violating sovereignty in remedying the unequal international economic
order in the interest of the people.
The eighth premise is that nuclearisation has created an unacceptably
dangerous situation in South Asia. The chances of a nuclear attack/
conflict breaking out in this region are far higher than they were at
any point of time during the Cold War except perhaps during the Cuban
missile crisis. This is so not because South Asian leaders and
generals are more irresponsible, but because South Asia is the only
part of the world to have had a relentless hot-cold war for 50 years.
It bristles with mutual hatred, suspicion and hostility on many
counts, Any of them could turn into a flashpoint Kashmir, the
eastern border, military exercises getting out offhand, as in 1987.
The two states continue to sacrifice hundreds of men in fighting an
insane war at Siachen the world's highest-altitude conflict, where
it costs Rs, 1.5 lakh to reach one chapati. Today, their politicians
are actually talking about using nuclear weapons witness Jammu and
Kashmir Chief Minister Faroq Abdullah's June 8 statement and
Pakistan Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan's on June 10. Equally
worrisome, both are working on battlefield-level tactful nuclear
weapons (hence the sub-kiloton tests), which considerably lower the
At the height of the Cold War, the lag time for missiles between NATO
and the Warsaw Pact group was never less than 30 minutes. In the case
of India and Pakistan, the flight-time would be just two to three
minutes =96 inadequate for war prevention. Given that virtually no
interception of missiles is possible, a nuclear warhead could almost
certainly be delivered across the border with devastating results.
This devolves a particularly onerous responsibility upon those living
in South Asia.
The ninth and final premise is that India must never test or make or
deploy nuclear weapons again. It should declare it will never use
nuclear weapons under any circumstances, regardless of the status of
the adversary or nature of the threat. It must also seek similar
assurances from others. This alone can redeem the horrible wrong India
committed against its stated policy and its own people. It alone can
help us return to the global disarmament agenda with a modicum of
credibility. Or else, no one will take India's protestations of peace
seriously. Once you deceive the world and yourself so massively, you
have to do more than just offer vague promises of "responsible"
conduct as an NWS.
More, the Government must clearly reiterate its sensible past
doctrines opposing nuclear deterrence and revive the Rajiv Gandhi plan
for step-by-step disarmament. This can help it reshape the disarmament
agenda with support from South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, New
Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan and Sweden and, perhaps, Pakistan.
Beyond these premises, a disarmament movement may have legitimate
internal differences, For instance, on the relationship between
nuclear power and nuclear weapons, on the policy transition from
Jawaharlal Nehru to Lal Bahadur Shastri to Indira Gandhi and beyond,
and on the CTBT. For instance, some members may believe that the only
guarantee of a real freeze on weaponsiation is a freeze on nuclear
power. Some others might not. But they should still be able to work
together. Again, some may have misgivings about the CTBT in keeping
with the official posture of 1996. Others may believe that it is,
unlike the NPT, non-discriminatory and imposes equal and fairly
effective obligations on all states; under the circumstances, India
should sign it while fighting for total disarmament. But it should
still be possible to debate the issue dispassionately and in an
Historically, such differences have never prevented disarmament
campaigns from becoming effective. What has crippled them is lack of
clarity on the point that nuclear weapons are wholly evil,
unacceptable and indefensible, that is, the failure to mobilise enough
moral force internally. Moral force is all-important when you are
rolling back an epochal injustice. Without it, India could not have
achieved independence, nor South Africa liberation from apartheid. On
such morality, there can be no compromise.
* [Praful Bidwai is a prominent columnist active on nuclear issues in India. This piece was previously published in Frontline, a national Indian magazine.]
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