Thursday, Sep 04, 2003
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THE FIRST MEETING of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) has decided to develop India's weapons programme further. This will take the country another step down the dangerous path of acquiring and assembling weapons of mass destruction that will bring greater insecurity, not peace, to South Asia. There are many disquieting features of this week's meeting of the NCA, which was set up in January 2003 as the supreme decision-making body for the development, management and authorised use of nuclear weapons. First, the formulation of clear principles and rules for the management of a nuclear arms programme is necessary to contain the likelihood of unauthorised use of these weapons. The creation of a body like the NCA, which is to lay down such rules, does not guarantee that fail-safe procedures will be in place; but the absence of such procedures certainly increases the risk of nuclear brinkmanship going out of control. Yet it took the Government almost five years after the Pokhran-II tests in May 1998 to establish the NCA and it has taken another eight months for the NCA to hold its first meeting. Such a casual attitude towards the establishment and working of the NCA does not provide public comfort that there are adequate safeguards in place for the management of India's nuclear arms.
Secondly, the NCA meeting has revealed that there continue to be many major gaps in the systems for control of India's nuclear weapons. An appropriate "command-and-control" system that specifies the rules for operation and has the necessary technology for management of these weapons is an essential element of a nuclear weapons programme. An "indication-and-warning" system is also necessary to provide correct intelligence and information during a period of military tension. Neither system is in place in India. This raises the possibility of a breakdown during a crisis in the lines of management of the arsenal, with unimaginable consequences for the country. Thirdly, the NCA has decided to expand India's delivery system for carrying nuclear bombs. If reports in a section of the media are correct, the Government has decided to induct a leased nuclear-powered submarine, is considering acquisition of new long-range bombers, and is accelerating development of the Agni medium-range missiles. All of them will be part of India's nuclear triad force. The direction that the delivery system programme is taking is not surprising; the composition of the triad was suggested in the draft nuclear doctrine formulated in 1999. But the confirmation of the shape of the nuclear triad opens the door to an extremely expensive and possibly open-ended weapons programme that the country can ill afford to carry out.
In the more than five years since India and then Pakistan, in that order, declared themselves nuclear weapon states, there has been no evidence that the acquisition of nuclear arms has strengthened security in South Asia. On the contrary, in the nuclear weapons era the two countries have fought one undeclared war (Kargil in 1999) and have come close to war on two subsequent occasions, in December 2001 (following the terrorist attack on Parilament) and in May 2002 (after the killings in an army camp near Jammu). On each occasion, there was a heated exchange of words on the use of nuclear weapons. This game of brinkmanship could have spiralled into a nuclear holocaust in South Asia. India and Pakistan have provided proof, if it were needed, that the so-called theory of nuclear deterrence does not contribute to peace between countries. Yet there is no sign that either country is willing to reconsider its decision to become a nuclear weapon state.
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