India's abject surrender

Published : May 12, 2001 00:00 IST

IF New Delhi wanted to join Washington in driving a stake through what remains of the post-Cold War momentum in favour of nuclear restraint and disarmament, it could not have done so more effectively than by enthusiastically welcoming George W. Bush's reckless plan to develop "multi-layered" missile "defences", to be based in space, land, air and sea.

The Foreign Office statement, which describes that proposal as "a significant and far-reaching" effort at enhancing global security, represents abject surrender on New Delhi's part to militarism and hegemonism. Indeed, under A.B. Vajpayee, India has out-Blaired even Tony Blair in uncritically supporting the U.S.' 'Son of Star Wars' plans. It is the only nation in the world to have endorsed their content without qualification. India's abnegation of its own autonomy and its sovereign space for security decision-making could not have been more humiliating and disgraceful.

Bush's missile 'defence'-based strategic proposals are less about making unilateral - and long-overdue - cuts in America's already bloated nuclear arsenal, or more generally, about reducing dependence on nuclear weapons, than about increasing that dependence by supplementing it through a new, as-yet-unproven, highly aggressive technology, wrongly called missile 'defence'.

Put simply, missile 'defence' involves tracking down a suspected 'hostile' missile launch in seconds through high-technology satellites and other early warning systems, and shooting down the 'enemy' missile either in its early boost stage or in its final trajectory with yet another missile ('interceptor' or 'killer'). The technology involves accurately, reliably hitting an ultra high-velocity bullet with another high-velocity bullet. It has proved extremely difficult to implement in practice and is still in its infancy. (Two of the three American tests last year failed completely and the results of a third one were 'cooked').

The technology makes missile 'defence' undependable. What makes it positively dangerous is the likely response of the adversary: to make and shoot more and more missiles so that at least some will penetrate the 'shield' (which is also vulnerable to deception by decoys). What is demanded of missile 'defence' is perfect 360-degree 24-hour protection - from a leaky umbrella. The adversary can, and will try, to find a hole in the umbrella.

Thus, missile 'defences' would, logically, inevitably, provoke a runaway arms race. That is precisely why the U.S. and the former USSR, exhausted by the consequences of a hundred-fold increase in their nuclear weapons in barely a decade, agreed not to embark on that course and instead signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.

America's nuclear war-mongers, never happy with the grotesque 'parity' imposed by mutually assured destruction, desperately sought a technological edge and hence an amendment/abrogation of the ABM Treaty. Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' concentrated such frightening hegemonistic thinking and the search for decisive American superiority. Bush has resumed that very thread from Reagan - one decade after the end of the Cold War and after the rationale for nuclear weapons has vanished.

If New Delhi sees in Bush's resumption of a historic blunder a move away from 'the hair-trigger alerts associated with prevailing nuclear orthodoxies', it is only deluding itself. In fact, Bush is not discarding orthodoxies, but promoting dangerous and perverse ones. He is not questioning nuclear deterrence, but only taking it to a higher and more dangerous level. Even the preparation for missile 'defences' will destabilise global security balances, trigger dangerous regional confrontations and strengthen extreme and rabid orthodoxies.

America's search for 'absolute' and 'total' security through an 'invincible' missile shield will lead to a breakdown of already fragile strategic balances and stability, and create nuclear anarchy and greater proliferation risks. It will impel other major states, especially potential adversaries, to build more and more offensive forces so as to retain a vestige of their capability to inflict 'unacceptable' damage upon competitors and achieve 'security'.

Russia and China may also respond to missile 'defence' in kind. They have both threatened to open up all existing arms control agreements. The 'rogue states' - such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea, which are cited as the rationale for missile 'defence' - would also feel encouraged to develop new weapons, including missiles. India will get drawn into a disastrous nuclear arms race.

It is a crying shame that India, once an apostle of peace, and a nuclear abolition advocate, should have become sordidly complicit in Bush's historic nuclear misadventure. This degeneration in India's posture became obvious most dramatically three years ago with the embrace of nuclear deterrence which it had rightly called 'abhorrent' for 50 years. It has got further consolidated with India's growing 'strategic partnership' with Washington and its increasing acceptance of America's agenda in security, economy, trade, and the environment.

Blinded by its own pitiable obsession with seeking legitimacy for its nuclear weapons, New Delhi is now prepared to go any lengths, including becoming America's vassal in Asia. At the root of this is a new, extraordinary, coarseness in India's strategic thinking. Today, under the NDA regime, this is strongly influenced by a communal anti-Pakistan prejudice. It can easily compromise with extreme rightwing, Republican-style, Sinophobia and demonisation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as 'rogue states' which 'threaten' the U.S. - and thus necessitate missile 'defence'.

In reality, India has normal diplomatic relations with all these countries. It has just upgraded its ties with Iran. In reality, diplomacy and dialogue have proved far more effective than military confrontation in dealing with such governments, as the North Korean case shows. In reality, these states are far away from developing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.

However, New Delhi seems to have been seized by a bout of irrationality, even dementia, in welcoming what have been called 'madcap missiles'. Or else, it would not have adopted a stand that so self-evidently and gravely undermines global security, regional strategic balances and its own interests. This must not pass. The government has no democratic mandate to effect such a draconian, even suicidal, change of policy. It is the duty of India's political class and the thinking citizenry to oppose this abject capitulation to the Star Wars mindset and to fight for global nuclear weapons elimination.

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