'Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy'

Print edition : July 04, 1998

Gensuikin (Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) is Japan's leading anti-nuclear organisation. Founded in the 1950s after the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Bikini atoll, it opposes nuclear tests and nuclear weapons all over the world. Gensuikin's international consultant, Masa Takubo, spoke to Jean Dreze after his visit to Pokhran and Khetolai. Excerpts from the interview:

It is often argued that had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945, Hiroshima would not have happened. What is your response?

It is difficult to say what would have happened had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945. Different scenarios are possible, depending on the assumptions one makes. So there is no single answer. One plausible answer, however, is that Japan would have used its own bomb first. This would have been quite irrational, but Japan was already pursuing an irrational military strategy, for instance, allowing the destruction of Tokyo and other cities through conventional bombing even though it had clearly lost the war. If Japan had used its own nuclear bomb, a nuclear war would have followed, with even more devastating consequences than the destruction of Hiroshima.

What about the general principle of nuclear deterrence?

Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy. This is especially so in an authoritarian system, as in war-time Japan, where there was no accountability. But even in other contexts, there is absolutely no guarantee that opponents will correctly anticipate each other's moves and act rationally. The fact that war did not break out between the Soviet Union and the United States is a miracle.

If Japan is so opposed to nuclear weapons, then why does it accept the U.S. nuclear umbrella?

Let me clarify that Gensuikin is not the Government of Japan. We are an anti-nuclear organisation, which has made demands on many countries, including Japan. As far as the U.S.-Japan security treaty is concerned, we have asked the Japanese Government to request the U.S. not to include nuclear weapons among the means that might be used to defend Japan. So far, the Japanese Government has refused, arguing that it cannot tell the U.S. which weapons should or should not be used to protect Japan.

Do you support Japan's sanctions against India?

My own view is that some response is essential, although I would like to think that it need not be sanctions. I wish people here would tell us what is the best way to influence the Indian Government. Then we could work towards that. What we cannot do is ignore the tests. We support India's demand for total abolition of nuclear weapons, and we have lots of demands on the U.S. in this respect. But at the same time, we need some way of dealing with the problem of proliferation. If the Indian people show their power to oppose nuclear weapons and say, 'Leave it to us', that is fine.

In one of your talks, you described the position of the Indian Left on nuclear weapons as "peculiar". What did you mean?

The Indian Left has a sharp understanding of the military-industrial complex in the U.S., but it is slow to recognise a similar problem in India itself. Under the military-industrial complex, I include laboratories involved in military research and their scientists. The labs are a very powerful lobby in the U.S., and they are always keen to test. In India, one sees the beginning of this kind of system. So if you think this complex is important in the U.S., then you should also analyse it in India. Given the nature of this complex, we have to conclude that what has happened was bound to happen. If you advocate a policy of 'keeping the nuclear option open', you have to wonder who is going to keep that lobby in check. A Left-wing analyst should always be ready for uncomfortable results of future elections, even for the possibility of an authoritarian regime emerging at some stage. No country or political system can be trusted to ensure future restraint. To say, 'we will develop the capability but not weaponise' is a very risky option. Nuclear technology is a time bomb. It has to be fought at every stage.

What struck you most, on this visit to India?

Perhaps just the sight of daily life in the streets, simple people going around on bicycles and crowded buses, and then the thought, 'This country is developing nuclear weapons'. It seems unreal. I ask myself, 'Do these people really want to have nuclear weapons? Would they really want to throw nuclear bombs on other people?' I find this hard to believe. Also, when we visited Pokhran and Khetolai, I was impressed to see how many people turned up. Of course, it is hard for me to guess what they think. But the least I can say is that they did want to listen to what Taketa had to say. And they are not at all like the people we saw on television screens, greeting the nuclear explosions with loud cheers. This seems to contradict the claim that 90 per cent of the Indian people support the tests. We never got the feeling of a chauvinistic people telling us to go away and mind our own business. On the contrary, people always listened patiently, often for hours on end. This friendly reception is heartening, and gives me hope.

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