COMMENTARY
 
India’s Hydrogen, Atom and ‘Toy’ Bombs
The Nation
May 17, 1998
One of the nuclear tests that India claims to have tested recently is thermonuclear, meant to manufacturer the hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen bomb is many times more destructive than even the most lethal atom bomb, for the simple reason that nuclear chain reaction that takes place once the hydrogen nuclear device is detonated as a result of the fusion of two nuclei, releases far more radiation than an atomic weapon.

If compared with a hydrogen bomb, the atom bombs that America dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki would look like a toy. Fusion releases many times more nuclear energy than an atom bomb and, to cause fusion, there has to be several rounds of fission, meaning the splitting of nucleus into two. In other words, inside a hydrogen bomb, there are already many atom bombs. In simple terms, this fact alone proves how lethal a hydrogen bomb can be.

All the five declared nuclear powers—the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China— possess hydrogen bomb. So does Israel, which, reportedly, to a large extent, has been helped by France and the United States to develop its nuclear capability. After its nuclear tests, India enters the club of countries capable of producing hydrogen bomb. For a country like India whose nuclear acquisition efforts due to international curbs depend on smuggling of nuclear technology and fissionable material or covert indigenous efforts in this regard, it must have taken decades to prepare for a successful thermonuclear test.

However, it was not until February when the Jane’s Defence Weekly disclosed India was working on the production of hydrogen bomb that the world came to know about New Delhi’s dangerous gameplan. As regards the Indian preparation for nuclear test, The Washington Times and The New York Times had revealed as back as November 1996 that India was preparing to conduct its second nuclear tests at its Pokhran site in the Rajasthan desert.

India’s three nuclear tests are an outcome of a well-coordinated plan of action. The first step towards this end was to have a credible delivery vehicle capability. The recent acquisition by India of Russia’s 40 SU-30 aircraft was a head way. The MIG fighters and bombers that India has been indigenously building for the last many decades are also effective delivery vehicles for the nuclear bombing. But planes are not the only delivery vehicles that India has.

For the past one decade, it has tried to indigenously build missiles having the capability of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. India’s intention has always been to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads, something that Murli Manohar Joshi, Indian Minister for Science and Technology, confirmed by stating this week that the country’s missiles will be nuclear-tipped.

India has already built the short-range Prithvi ballistic missile that has in its range all the cities, towns, industrial and military installations of Pakistan bordering India, including Lahore, and Sialkot. Just a week before conducting nuclear tests, Indian also revived its intermediate range ballistic missile, Agni, project. Agni will expose entire Pakistan to India’s nuclear attack. The Indians also intend to produce Suriya, an inter-continental ballistic missile, with which India will be able to blackmail not only Pakistan but also states far beyond Pakistan’s frontiers. Sagarika, the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile, is India’s latest venture.

With submarines carrying Sagarika, India will be in a position to assert its nuclear monopoly in the Indian Ocean over all of its neighbouring states, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. At any time, India will be able to take Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi, hostage. (A short-range ballistic missile has a range up to 1,000 kilometers; an intermediate range has between 1,000 kms and 5,500 kms; and inter-continental, over 5,500 kms).

If the first step for New Delhi was to be in possession of the means to deliver nuclear weapons, the second is to actually build and modernize the various categories of nuclear arms. The three nuclear tests that India has conducted establish beyond any doubt the fact that, in its nuclear weapons pursuits, India has come to a stage that is no more limited to the quantitative aspect of nuclear arms proliferation. It is the qualitative aspect of this proliferation that matters for India now.

Even though thermo-nuclear device is by all accounts the most dangerous one, India has tested two other kinds of nuclear arms, the tactical nuclear weapons through its three low-yield tests (including its two follow-up tests) and the atom bomb through its fission test. This means that once the Indians have felt confident about their ability to deliver a wide variety of nuclear arms effectively, they, without wasting any time, have now started manufacturing a wide array of nuclear arms, knowing that every category of such arms will have a different usage.

About Israel’s nuclear capability, for instance, Seymour Hersh had disclosed in his early 1990s book The Samson Optionthat it consists of not just atom bombs and hydrogen bombs, but also some 200 tactical nuclear warheads which, if delivered through ballistic missiles, can hit targets as far as Central Asia. With tactical nuclear arms, Israel will be able to hit any major city in its neighbouring Arab states including Cairo, Beirut, Damascus in such a manner that Israel itself will be spared of any radioactive fallout of its nuclear strike.

Ami Ziv, Director Operations of Israel’s Atomic Energy Agency, had confirmed this fact in an interview with me last August in Germany. “We will always find out the ways to save ourselves in case we launch a nuclear strike against any neighbouring Arab country”, said Ziv, who had also led the Israeli negotiating team during Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations in Geneva in 1996.

Like Israel, India will now be in a position to not just destroy entire Pakistan through a hydrogen bomb attack, or all of its major population centers and strategic cites one by one with atom bombs but will also be in a position to attack crucial selected targets with small, tactical nuclear warheads and bombs. In other words, the use of the last category of nuclear devices by India against Pakistan imply that India will be able to destroy a part of the city of Lahore, located just a couple of dozens of kilometers from India’s East Punjab border, without fearing any radioactive fallout impact on its own territory and population as a consequent of its tactical nuclear strike.

Also, tactical nuclear warheads can even be mounted on artillery shells for use against opposing armoured formations. Sufficiently small warheads can be mounted on 203 mm howitzers, which the Indians have in their inventory. Therefore, India’s nuclear threat to Pakistan has achieved a multi-dimensional form. For India, the use of hydrogen bomb or atom bomb against Pakistan will be an attempt of the last resort. India will be able to blackmail Pakistan with its nuclear ‘toys’ as well.