India's Nuclear Pursuit
The Nation
November 23 , 1997
Praful Bidwai is a young Indian journalist, and one of the few exceptions—to some extent, Khushwant Singh is another—who have the courage to speak the truth about Indian foreign policy undertakings. A recent write-up by Bidwai in The Tribune, titled “Going Down Nuclear Abyss”, exposes double standards in the Indian nuclear outlook, which are worth consideration. He writes: “Until last year, nuclear deterrence was a strict no-no, a total taboo, for India. We told the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva in 1996 that nuclear arms were never ‘essential to security’. Our plea during the World Court hearing on the legality of nuclear weapons was to have them declared illegal. Tragically, just when the court upheld the core of India’s plea, New Delhi’s position started shifting. By June last year, it opposed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, citing ‘national security’, thus suggesting that nuclear weapons are in a way essential to it. Today there are pleas for expanding the nuclear option. Indeed there is an attempt to break the half-century old necessary taboo against deterrence.”

Praful then cities a hawkish statement by Inder Kumar Gujral—the prime minister of India, who is generally known in the world for having pacifist leanings—in which he said, “deterrence has become more relevant. If somebody knows that I have a weapon which can be used….Then the other side is more cautious.” Praful says this dangerous drift (on the part of India) involves double standards.

"India, on the one hand, rejects all partial nuclear restrain proposals because they fall short of full disarmament; and, on the other, she is embracing the very doctrines that urgently necessitate disarmament. New Delhi now wants to stay out of step-by-step disarmament process and to translate this into a doctrine. This doctrinal retrogression attaches prestige to weapons of mass destruction, and invests them with what they can never provide—security.”

Praful is right. In the first place, why should a nation having massive poverty, disease and hunger opt for nuclear weapons? Unfortunately, it did, soon after gaining independence from the British. Bhabha, the father of India’s nuclear programme, went to Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first prime minister of India with a proposal that India should start its nuclear programme. His logic in favour of nuclear weapons at that time was that India faced serious shortage of energy resources and, therefore, nuclear energy in the shape of electricity would be the best choice. Bhabha’s real motive was different.

Having seen the disaster caused by the two nuclear devices in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and knowing that the elite of the country he belongs to longs for Indian hegemony in the region and greatness in the world, Bhabha’s desire was that India should also have a nuclear weapons capability. Had the case been otherwise —in accordance with what Bhabha had proposed to Nehru—by now, the Indians would have been generating most of their energy through nuclear chain reactions. The fact is that India’s current generation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as producing electricity is limited to a couple of hundreds of kilowatts.

On the other hand, Pakistan has never had the intention of going nuclear. Even its meager efforts for generating nuclear energy for peaceful purposes go back to the late sixties or the early seventies. Who can deny that it was the 1974 nuclear explosion by India, which forced Pakistan to opt for the nuclear course? Interestingly, even after opting for this course, Pakistan, throughout the eighties and in the proceeding years and months of the nineties, has tried its best to solve the nuclear proliferation problem in the region.

For this purpose, it has proposed several steps in the last less than a decade—which include prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s 1992 proposal for a five-nation conference on the issue as well as some eight proposals on nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia, in particular, that of declaring the region as a Nuclear Free Zone.

Pakistan would always have preferred not to go nuclear and, instead, achieve national security through non-military means. Thus, the bids it has so far made in the nuclear sphere are not of its own making; rather, Pakistan’s sufferings resulting from its nuclear quest result directly from India’s mad nuclear ambition.

This is the basic ground reality of this region, which the international community must acknowledge as well. Unfortunately, Pakistan will continue to suffer as long as some sense prevails upon the Indians who think that their national security can be served only by achieving nuclear capability. How can this happen, while hawks continue to rule over India’s foreign policy establishment—hawks of the ilk of Jasjit Singh, the chief of New Delhi-based Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, which earlier this month stated in its report that by the beginning of the next century India would be in possession of nearly a hundred nuclear devices.

Certainly, the interest of the nations of the world is in the total elimination of nuclear weapons. That this interest is not being served is partly due to India’s nuclear obduracy: it neither signs any international treaties, including the CTBT and Non-Proliferation Treaty—nor does it intend to give preference to economic, social and political instruments of national power over that of military or nuclear. As Praful also mentions, “Power is more than military might. Real power consists of much different strength, which often come from non-state actors, ordinary people and their convictions. Security comes less through military acquisitions than through the political, diplomatic and economic weight of a state, which in turn is a function of how internally secure its people feel, and how much stake they have in the social-political order. If each of the world’s 180 states sought security though military means, they would starve their people to death and thereby create violence and insecurity.”

He adds, “The greatest threat to the world today comes from nuclear weapons. As India’s classical stand holds, these weapons create insecurity, not security. Their use or threat of use violates doctrines of military necessity and proportionate use of force, which are at the core of the notion of a just war. There must be both justice in war (in the conduct of war) and justice of (or through) war. Nuclear weapons fail by this criterion. India’s best interests lie not in perpetuating, legitimizing or justifying nuclear weapons, but in contributing to the post-Cold War momentum for their abolition.”