Battle for the soul of India
Mahatma Gandhi wondered what the bombing of Hiroshima would do to the soul of the U.S. India's decision half-a-century later to acquire nuclear weapons threatens to transform the soul of the Mahatma's country. A new collection of essays, edited by M.V. RAMANA and C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY, critiques what they describe as India's dangerous tryst with nuclear weapons. Exclusive extracts from the volume whose contributors include Kanti Bajpai, L. Ramdas, Amartya Sen and Amulya K.N. Reddy.
Kargil... a testing time for India.
KARGIL was the first large-scale conventional engagement between any two nuclear weapon states. For the first time since 1971, India called on its air force to launch attacks. In response, Pakistan scrambled its own fighters; air raid sirens were tested in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
Both countries conducted army exercises at various points along the borders and the navies were put on alert. Voices in both countries, especially India, called for a more aggressive war with the opening of other fronts or the bombardment of Pakistani supply routes to Kargil. More disconcerting is the fact that during this war, Indian and Pakistani officials and ministers delivered indirect and direct nuclear threats to one another about a dozen times ...
In the end, however, in 1999, U.S. intervention was necessary to get Pakistani soldiers and others to withdraw from their posts in Kargil. This is made clear in the 2002 report by Bruce Riedel, formerly the Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council. The cause for real concern is Riedel's revelation that the U.S. had detected the Pakistani army preparing its nuclear weapons for possible use, unknown to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Riedel's report also shows that India, and Prime Minister Vajpayee, did not stop the war fearing Pakistani nuclear weapons. Ultimately, it was reassurance from the U.S. that Prime Minister Sharif would order Pakistani troops back from the Line of Control that set the conditions for the cease-fire at Kargil.
This revealing account goes in the face of the often-parroted claim that nuclear weapons protected Pakistan and kept the war from escalating. Or for that matter the belief or hope that nuclear weapons act as a deterrent to war. Indeed, many have argued that the Kargil war was actually caused by nuclear weapons.
However, inasmuch as high-level Pakistani officials believe that nuclear weapons contained the Kargil crisis and prevented it from becoming a general war, they may continue to see their nuclear arsenal as providing a shield behind which they can continue to intervene militarily in Kashmir. This is a profoundly dangerous view to hold, and the danger may be exacerbated by the fact that the head of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, was the architect of the Kargil affair.
Nuclear use: scenario and consequence
Though nuclear advocates have dismissed the possibility, the deliberate use of nuclear weapons during military crisis cannot be ruled out as the nations involved move towards a full-scale war. The war could start through a series of limited initial actions, leading to responses that eventually intensify. Pakistan, being weaker in terms of conventional military strength, could be expected to use nuclear weapons first in any India-Pakistan conflict. Indeed, high-level Pakistani officials have suggested that the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons could be India attacking or conquering a large part of Pakistan, or destroying a large part of Pakistan's land or air forces, or even economic strangling.
How exactly Pakistan would use nuclear weapons is open to speculation. Broadly speaking there are two kinds of scenarios. The first postulates that when one of the many thresholds is crossed, Pakistan would use tactical nuclear weapons on some military target as a warning signal. India's response to this would probably involve the use of nuclear weapons, potentially leading to further escalation. The other scenario predicts that under the same set of circumstances, Pakistan would directly attack some Indian city with nuclear weapons. If that were to happen, there is little or no doubt that India would respond in kind. In either case, it is quite likely that the end result would be large-scale nuclear destruction.
Even the use of a single nuclear weapon in the crowded cities of South Asia would be catastrophic. Just a 15-kiloton bomb, equivalent to the weapon the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, would cause between 150,000 and 850,000 short term casualties if exploded over Mumbai. A limited nuclear exchange involving the use of five Hiroshima-sized bombs on each side could lead to about 3 million deaths and an additional 1.5 million severe injuries.
On the face of it, then, the tests of May 1998 or the proclamations that India and Pakistan were nuclear weapon states did not lead to any increased security, either when defined in a narrow military sense or within a broader, human security perspective. Neither would the deployment of nuclear weapons increase security. The increased risk of nuclear war and jingoistic rhetoric do not comprise all the negative consequences of the process of nuclearisation. Politically, the biggest fallout may well be the changed character of the Indian state itself, and the outlook of the elite. In the conclusion of his exhaustive and meticulous study of the history of the Indian nuclear programme, George Perkovich observes that the process of acquiring nuclear weapons "changes the state that undertakes it. The building of nuclear weapons and related capabilities creates new interests, bureaucratic actors, beliefs, perspectives, and expectations." Thus, one can see certain priorities being highlighted, certain sections of the state apparatus being privileged, certain departments being given increased funding. As funding pattern changes, so do the functions performed by the state. Social sectors targeted at the poor, for example, bear the brunt of the funding cuts resulting from the enormous expenses involved in building a nuclear arsenal, and in the process of military build-up that necessarily accompanies nuclearisation. Increased secrecy makes it even more difficult to assess, let alone ameliorate, the long term consequences to the environment and to public health resulting from the physical processes involved in manufacturing these weapons.
These impacts on the economy, people's health, the environment, and so on are not all. There is a change at a very basic level in the character of the people of a nuclear nation. In July 1946, following the U.S. attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi observed "the atom bomb has deadened the finest feelings which have sustained mankind for ages. It has resulted for the time being in the soul of Japan being destroyed. What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see." The battle between those espousing nuclear weapons and those who are opposing it is, therefore, a battle for the soul of India.
This collection of articles on India's nuclear weapons programme has been put together to examine these multiple fallouts. By examining critically the various claims and assumptions made by pro-nuclear advocates, and by questioning other aspects of the process of nuclearisation, they challenge the steady ongoing attempt at creating a consensus around the quest for nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan. This collection also aims to inform the reader of what the acquisition or possible use of nuclear weapons entails. The race in South Asia, to use the famous warning from H.G. Wells even prior to the splitting of the nucleus is "between education and catastrophe".
(Extracts from pp. 6-11 of "Introduction").
Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream, edited by M.V. Ramana and C. Rammanohar Reddy, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2002, p. 502, Rs. 575.
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