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OUR BLIND NUCLEAR PROPHETS


Hoodbhoy

Having thrown away several hundred, I still have in my possession about a

hundred newspaper articles on the nuclear issue written in Pakistan and India

over the past decade. The authors, overwhelmingly, are establishment nuclear

"experts" and "strategists". These people, actively assisted on both sides by

the state and its media, have effectively monopolized discussion on nuclear

policy. This is unfortunate because, with only rare exceptions, these "experts"

have been wholly wrong on every major prediction about nuclear matters on the

subcontinent. If they were doctors, the patient would have died long ago. It is

surely time for a second opinion.

Let

us look at specifics. For years, the rival nuclear tribes in Pakistan and India

pleaded for converting their respective country’s covert nuclear program into an

overt one. They promised a nirvana if their totem, the bomb, was brought out of

the basement, and warned of the direst consequences otherwise. But May 1998 came

and went, and we still await the experience of nuclear bliss. So let us ask

these establishment "experts" a few hard questions.

The

first question is: why did Indian and Pakistani defence budgets go up, rather

than down, after the May 1998 tests? This was not supposed to happen. The

nuclear medicine men had promised that if the bang could be shown to be big

enough, national security would be eternally guaranteed; the threat of nuclear

response would deter territorial violations by the other; and the need for

conventional arms would evaporate. Some Pakistanis cheerfully wrote that after

going nuclear, little more than salaries for soldiers would be needed. Because

national security would become solid as a rock, defence budgets could be

slashed, and (at last) funds would go into development and education. The

argument was so seductive and simple that many well-meaning people were taken

for a ride.

What

have we seen? In the aftermath of the test, acquisition of battle tanks,

artillery, aircraft, surface ships, and submarines is now claimed, by many of

the same people, to be more urgent than ever before. As is well known, in the

last year India increased its defence budget by a staggering $4 billion. This

28% increase amounts to Pakistan’s entire current defence budget. On its side,

Pakistan would have loved to match the increase. However the chaos following its

tit-for-tat tests rendered Pakistan nearly bankrupt and today it teeters on the

brink of economic collapse. Therefore Pakistan was able to squeak through a mere

11% increase in rupee terms. Because the rupee crashed in value from Rs 46 per

dollar before the May tests to about Rs 62 per dollar today, this amounted to an

effective decrease.

A

second hard question: whatever happened to "minimal deterrence"? In the good old

days, having only "just enough" was the mantra, and a mere half-dozen nukes was

all that anyone seemed to want. Our generals, at least in the early nineties,

were generous. They were satisfied with possessing the ability to nuke just

Delhi and Bombay. In those gentle times a mere half-dozen nukes was all that

they wanted. But now, if Dr. A.Q.Khan is to be believed, Pakistan has enough

bombs and missiles to take out every Indian city from Amritsar to Bombay, and

Mysore to Calcutta. You name it, we’ve got it, is his claim. Meanwhile the

centrifuges of Kahuta whir away on three 8-hour shifts every day, 7 days a week.

Elsewhere, Shaheen missiles move steadily along the factory production floor.

Movements on the other side of the border have been similarly steady. The late

General K. Sunderji used to speak and write of needing just enough fission

weapons to "take out" the major Pakistani cities. Then, in August 1999, along

came the Indian Nuclear Draft Doctrine. This evil piece of work starts with a

preamble that nuclear weapons are "the gravest threat to humanity", but

concludes that India needs "sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared

nuclear forces" together with "the will to employ nuclear forces and weapons".

It speaks of a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based

assets, and requires survivability of the forces through a combination of

multiple redundant systems, mobility, dispersion and deception.

The

times have clearly changed. In a clear departure from General Sunderji’s ideas

of a fixed number of weapons, there is no specification of what minimum

deterrence or flexible response might mean. Tactical nuclear war-fighting, once

considered escalatory, is reported to be incorporated into current Indian

military doctrine. But years ago, many hawks were wont to take personal insult

if the possibility of an arms race was ever mentioned. At one seminar the Indian

defence strategist K.Subrahmanyan, in response to a question, angrily retorted

that "arms racing is a Cold War concept invented by the western powers and

totally alien to sub-continental thinking". His Pakistani counterparts happily

agreed. Nuclear philosophies, like that of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD),

have been routinely attributed to sick western minds only. Our hawks are

mistaken in this belief, as in so much else.

The

fact is that nuclear racing and doctrines, whether on the subcontinent or

elsewhere, is always driven by the same implacable, mad, runaway logic. The urge

to accumulate is irresistible. Should there be the slightest danger of the race

slackening, a nuclear "expert" will point to the other side’s latest acquisition

and scream for help. With every passing decade, advances in technology make it

easier and cheaper to create ever more deadly nuclear weapons, buy or make

longer range and more effective missiles, and go for various hi-tech weapon

systems that could not have been imagined just a while ago. There is little

doubt that Pakistan and India are presently straining their economic and

technological capacities to the maximum in seeking to make, buy, or steal as

much nuclear and conventional materials of war as they possibly can.

The

third, and final, question to my hawkish friends is: whatever happened to claims

that a secure nuclear Pakistan would automatically improve relations with a

secure nuclear India, and vice-versa? After Kargil, and the apparently indelible

bitterness that that has created, these claims seem laughable now. However

several "experts", with characteristic pomposity, had written that nuclear

weapons make war between Pakistan and India impossible. Carried away by

Fukuyama’s "End Of History" article, they preached an equivalent "End of War"

doctrine. The Lahore Declaration was seen as a vindication of their beliefs, and

used to implicitly justify the tests of May 1998. Subsequent events proved these

claim completely nonsensical.

Kargil offers the very first example in history where nuclear weapons, by

creating a presumed shield for launching conventional covert operations, were

responsible for having initiated a war rather than deterring one. It was

precisely the unrestrained propagation of false beliefs in nuclear security that

brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-blown confrontation in 1999,

which indeed could have been the very last one. After the smoke had cleared, it

turned out that Pakistan had been severely humiliated and damaged. But, India

lost over a thousand men and suffered much trauma. Perversely, it was actually

the BJP that, by ordering Pokhran-II, actually fathered Kargil.

If

there is a lesson to be learnt here it is that Indian and Pakistani hawks have

colluded in bringing death, destruction, and the prospect of a nuclear graveyard

for their peoples. Being engaged in a tribal blood-feud, their vision and

judgement have been fatally impaired. They mistake patriotism as hatred for the

other country instead of love for their own. Unfortunately for the peoples of

the subcontinent, their monopolistic control over the media (particularly

television) ensures that other voices cannot be heard. It is common for hawks to

vilify opponents, block their access to the media, and even to physically

intimidate and assault them.

Today

an anxious world looks at nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. To calm these fears,

the establishments of the two countries every so often issue soothing

assurances, promising responsibility and statesmanship. When it cannot be done

officially, it is done unofficially. The same people gather now to talk of peace

and reducing the risks they foolishly helped create. Therefore, as part of a

grand pretence, as well as to do their bit of globe-trotting and shopping, it is

now usual for Indian and Pakistani hawks to fly together, dine and drink

together, and congregate at conferences lavishly funded by international donors.

Such meetings, as part of an implicit mutual compact, are intended to convey an

impression that Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons are well under control.

The

most recent charade was a meeting in Islamabad, bringing together the Islamabad

Policy Research Institute and the Delhi Policy group, and funded by the

Hans-Seidel Foundation. As expected, the usual panoply of retired generals,

admirals, air-marshals, and diplomats could manage little beyond tired

reiterations of official positions. Meanwhile academics wedded to their

establishments sought to achieve scholarly distinction by making profuse, but

inane and irrelevant, references to Western strategists of previous decades. The

event was finally capped by a participant in the conference, and the

anchor-woman of a subsequent Pakistan Television program, who shrilly accused

the Indian team of wanting to ferret out Pakistan’s nuclear secrets.

Having spent 3 days at this particular meeting as an observer, I was left

wondering whether such dialogues are merely unproductive or actually

counter-productive. They bring together men of two tribes who can barely conceal

their mutual animosity, but whose mind-sets and perceptions are cloned from the

other. They can generate no recommendations, no discussions of relevance and

substance, and no good will for future initiatives. Both sides offer nothing and

accept nothing, agreeing only in rejecting suggestions to reduce nuclear

arsenals and delivery systems.

It is

therefore a serious question as to whether all negotiations on nuclear risk

reduction and nuclear crisis management are destined to fail similarly. There

are no clear lessons to be learnt from history. Never before have two such poor,

suspicious and bloody-minded neighbours, holding such immense powers of

destruction, ever glared at each other so ferociously. Perhaps someday it may be

possible to have substantive discussions on nuclear de-escalation, of which risk

reduction measures could be a part. But prospects today are bleak as can be.

Xenophobic decision-makers, surrounded by screeching hawks, continue to drive a

furious and insane race. Our nuclear tribals ecstatically worship monuments like

the crater of Pokhran 98, now reduced to silently spewing radioactivity into the

desert air, and the wretched mountain of Chaghi, so brutalized and disgraced

that its face had turned ashen white. No sooner did the 648 seconds test flight

of the Agni-II end that launch preparations for the Shaheen-II were rumoured to

have begun. In such circumstances, nuclear exchange by premeditated design,

misperception and miscalculation, or by accidental and unauthorized launch, is

almost inevitable. If there is no nuclear catastrophe in the next few decades or

sooner, it shall be purely fortuitous.

The

author is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

 

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