An agenda for de-weaponisation

Print edition : May 08, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

"WHAT wrong did this man do? Established India's self-respect by conducting the Pokhran blasts?" Thus begins the saffron brigade's high-decibel propaganda campaign in favour of the Vajpayee regime as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies prepare for the 13th general election. What is absolutely clear a year after Pokhran-II is that attempted nuclear weaponisation - actually, pseudo-nuclear weaponisation - has turned out to be a costly misadventure. India's once-sound nuclear policy that was hijacked and twisted out of shape by the regime of the Hindu Right presents a live and present danger to peace, security and stability in India and South Asia. It is simultaneously a threat to the basic interests, well-being and future of the Indian people. (A similar observation can be made about Pakistan's nuclear policy.) The dangerous policy cannot bail itself out, or be allowed to do so, by sacrificing well-established principles and swinging to the other extreme of foreclosing India's independence in the sphere of nuclear policy.

An objective assessment of what has happened since May 11, 1998 points to what needs to be done. The principal issue before the people of India is not the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it is the political, moral, social and economic unacceptability of nuclear weaponisation - and its abhorrent accompaniment, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and in the Indian case, the tragi-comic doctrine of the "minimum credible nuclear deterrent". From the early days following Pokhran-II, when scenes of celebration on the streets of India were flashed on television screens across the world, political India has come a long way in figuring out and opposing the Hindu Right's adventure of riding the nuclear tiger. The BJP was not able to gain any electoral or political mileage from the adventure; on the contrary, the effects and implications of Pokhran-II made life much more difficult for the Vajpayee Government. This offers a good lesson for any future government in India that might be tempted to gain political mileage from such adventures.

The nuclear weaponisation attempted by the Hindu Right must be rolled back - through concerted peace-oriented and democratic political opposition, which also means determined public pressure and action. The authors and apologists of Pokhran-II claim that nuclear weaponisation is a fait accompli and that nobody, in India or abroad, will be able to reverse this. This is patently untrue. The Pokhran and Chagai nuclear explosions cannot be undone, but nuclear weaponisation in India and Pakistan can be.

Hearteningly, India has been able to develop an independent, broad-based and intellectually serious democratic campaign against nuclear weaponisation. The campaign must not allow itself to become complacent. It must not make the mistake of assuming that since the Hindu Right has done badly out of Pokhran-II, the issue has been decisively won. Even after a change of regime in New Delhi, the challenge of rolling back nuclear weaponisation that has, at least partially, been put in place will remain. So will the necessity to resist external pressures and U.S.-led attempts to put an end to the independence of India's nuclear policy.

Fortunately, giving up the path of nuclear weaponisation and deployment will be a democratically verifiable process, especially in a country like India. Whether an Indian government goes along, or turns away from, such a path is unlikely to remain a secret for a prolonged period, given the multiple actors involved, including an active political opposition and press. Nevertheless, the democratic campaign must demand in the interest of the Indian people an end to the nuclear opacity and secrecy that the atomic energy and defence research establishments, backed by the political government, might insist on maintaining.

The campaign must also meet head on the authoritarian concept of national security embraced by the Hindu Right and by all shades of nuclear hawks. As against such a concept, which projects an understanding of India's security purely in the military sense of the term, a democratic and just concept of security for the people in an all-round sense must be promoted. The defence forces have their due place in such a scheme, but security for the people must essentially be understood as securing their livelihood, their food and other basic needs, their entitlement to the fruits of their labour and development, their political and human rights in the fullest sense, and a sustainable future.

The democratic campaign must look ahead clear-sightedly and work out the principal demands, in specifics and in order of priority, that are to be pressed on Indian nuclear policy now and for the intermediate future. It must also sequence the de-weaponising steps demanded in a way that makes good sense.

We propose that five principal demands be pressed on the Government of India for now and the intermediate future. In achievable sequence and order of priority, they are:

Non-deployment and non-induction of nuclear weapons. (Deployment is fitting nuclear warheads onto delivery systems, that is, certain types of aircraft, ballistic missiles or submarines. Induction is giving nuclear weapons to the armed forces and training them in nuclear warfare.) Non-conversion of fissile material stocks, that is, plutonium or enriched uranium, into nuclear weapons. No further nuclear explosive testing. Abjuring the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, and the Indian variant of the "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", and returning to the path of active advocacy of global nuclear disarmament, in close cooperation with other developing countries. Dismantling and destroying the nuclear weapons in the small arsenal.

Dismantling or destroying the nuclear weapons in hand will be a tough demand to make on Indian nuclear policy. But it is the logical final step without which the democratic agenda of de-weaponisation will be incomplete. It must not be confused with giving up the nuclear option, which Indian policy has consistently insisted on retaining from the time it came to reject the core of the Discriminatory Global Nuclear Bargain, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But accepting the demand to dismantle and destroy the nuclear weapons in what is, at most, a small arsenal will be an act of far-sightedness and courage for any government in India. It will be opposed and criticised by chauvinists and hawks, but will win tremendous goodwill and appreciation in democratic quarters everywhere. If South Africa could dismantle and destroy its six "bombs in the basement" by mid-1993 in anticipation of the era of Nelson Mandela and with his firm support, so can India and Pakistan by the sane, sovereign and concerted choice of their peoples.

Once the dangers and unacceptable costs of deployment and weaponisation, and of a South Asian nuclear arms race, are decisively ended, other issues connected with India's international tasks and responsibilities in the field of nuclear disarmament can be examined afresh, and with an open mind. However, capitulating to the discriminatory global nuclear order through joining the CTBT and committing India to accession to a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as envisaged by the United States and the Permanent-5 (P-5) while inducting and deploying nuclear weapons would be the worst possible option. So long as there is an insistence on building security on nuclear weapons and a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent", there can be no way out of a volatile and dangerous situation.

It was clear from the start that the Government of the Hindu Right would not be able to find a way to get off the nuclear tiger. A change of political regime in New Delhi appeared to be the condition precedent for this. The democratic campaign must press its five-point agenda of de-weaponisation vigorously, with an eye to the new opportunities offered by general elections. Whatever a non-BJP successor government can or cannot do in other areas, whether it proves to be transitional or longer-lived, it will serve the people's interest decisively if it shows the political will and courage to undo nuclear weaponisation in South Asia.

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