By Rameez Raja
India’s ambition to become a powerful state is as old as its nuclear programme. Since 1947, India adopted a peaceful nuclear policy and Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1948. The United States and Canada helped India in nuclear power reactors for peaceful purposes in 1950s. However, the peaceful nuclear policy changed into military in 1970s when India conducted its first nuclear test code named “Smiling Buddha” in May 1974. The test was declared a peaceful nuclear device but was military in character. The nuclear test was the result of the Indo-China border war of 1962 and China’s nuclear tests in 1964. However, BJP was committed to make nuclear weapons in early 1960s for power and status factor. This can be better understood when Bal Thackeray famously declared that the bombs had proved that ‘we are not eunuchs anymore’ after the summer 1998 nuclear tests by India.
Nuclear weapons are often believed or worshipped to be desirable objects for power, status and security. India too established nuclear programme for power and status factor in order to get permanent seat of the UN Security Council (UNSC). However, after the five nuclear tests in May 1998, India did not win hearts of the majority people and was isolated from the world community. India did not even stand on its words that China was the reason for its nuclear tests. After the nuclear tests, Vajpayee sent a letter to Bill Clinton that China provoked India for nuclear tests in order to safeguard its national security. However, when China reacted back, India changed its stand within short span of time and stated that China’s assistance to Pakistan was the main reason.
India went too far, L. K Advani who was in charge of Kashmir declared that Pakistan should come to terms with the new geopolitical reality and cease its militancy in Kashmir. As expected, Pakistan responded with six nuclear tests on 28 and 30 May 1998. India’s nuclear test was a direct initiative of the BJP which argued that previous governments like Congress demonstrably lacked courage to conduct nuclear tests. However, Narasimha Rao decided to go for nuclear tests in December 1995 if not detected by the US satellite.
Coming to main point, India’s nuclear tests were not enough to get UNSC permanent seat. The belief that nuclear tests are the prerequisite for UNSC permanent seat was a wrong decision from the Indian side. India’s nuclear tests provoked Pakistan to follow the suit and channelized the natural resources in the wrong directions for building nuclear arsenals. Moreover, nuclear weapons failed to stop Pakistan for proxy war and both states indulged in the never ending arms race. India’s mistakes provided an opportunity to Pakistan to internationalize Kashmir issue and Pakistan did its best to keep Kashmir on the world’s front page.
There is no doubt that Pakistan has become a nuclear state with a begging bowl (foreign assistance) but it succeeded in its mission to internationalize the Kashmir issue and Kargil War of 1999 was fundamentally about Kashmir to internationalize it. India also lost its conventional opportunity to wage a war over Pakistan and is spending billions of dollars in defence annually. Germany and Japan are the typical examples for India to renounce its nuclear policy which achieved power and status by utilizing resources in the right directions even though they have a capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
It is wrong to assume that India-Pakistan relation is just like US-USSR Cold War relations. One can easily differentiate between the two, the entire Kashmir region is in dispute; the US-USSR had no direct territorial dispute. Wars have been fought between India and Pakistan; US-USSR fought none. China is also involved in the border dispute with India and this is totally different from Cold War which was two way conflict, but in South Asia, the three way territorial conflict is a dangerous alarm. The arms race will hit badly the economy of both India and Pakistan where majority of people happen to live below poverty line and these two states cannot compare with the US which spent more money on command and control system, storing, radioactive wastes, cleaning of the environment and less on nuclearization.
The state like India is trapped to find respect inside where majority of people have insufficient information about India’s nuclear arsenals and poor people are daily battling for life and other basic necessity of life. The respect to India for its nuclear tests from the international community is too far and permanent seat for UNSC seems impossible for India. The Human Rights Violations in Kashmir and North Eastern States and discrimination against Dalits and Muslims are the other factors that thwarted India’s respect at the international level. Recently, the attack on African people at Noida is a big blow to India’s status at the international level. Many Indian newspapers were seen wondering if India falls in the category of racist states after the attack.
Ramesh Thakur argued that “India in the world was neither rich enough to bribe, powerful enough to bully, nor principled enough to inspire”. India should join both NPT and CTBT that will help India to achieve nuclear power status as it has now acquired nuclear weapons capability. Moreover, joining NPT will help India to get fuel for its nuclear power reactors from the NSG waiver that is challenged by several countries mostly China and Pakistan because it is outside the NPT. Subsequently, India’s signing of non-proliferation treaties will compel Pakistan to follow the suit and will be a priceless initiative for arms reduction.
India’s decision to change commitment of No-First-Use to First-Use with Pakistan is a sign of failure of nukes for conflict transformation and failure to terminate the unresolved disputes particularly Kashmir. The revision of nuclear doctrines cannot change the structure of disputes rather it will create more problems to handle more deadly weapons without proper command and control system in South Asia. The nukes will be shifted from de-alert to alert position and deployment of nukes will be more problematic and dangerous because in response Pakistan will accelerate its nuclear weapons strength and nukes will be always kept at ready-mode. India’s two contradictory commitments of its nuclear use that is First-Use with Pakistan and No-First-Use with China will be problematic and hard to handle.
The nukes which were built for power and status may become the reason for destruction. Already international community has claimed that South Asia is a most dangerous area and can become a victim of nuclear flash point. India so far has focused on national security and Strategic Studies are welcomed to shape and guide the security policy that is why nukes and arms are the main elements of defence. However, Peace Research which focuses on individual security and peace has more succeed in terminating the conflicts. For instance, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa have eliminated their nuclear warheads and avoided arms race due to peace processes.
The nuclear war is an evil and the commitment to use nukes with first strike or second strike or threatening or preparing for such a war is also theoretically and morally wrong. It is not arms that compel states to arms race. It is actually the fear and trust deficit that results into arms race. Therefore, efforts should be made to build trust and avoid the fear by moving towards trade and commerce, sports, and peaceful settlement of disputes.
India’s serious security threats are rooted in internal social and economic problems. India has to shift from Strategic Studies to Peace Research because nukes are not helping India to achieve the status of powerful state and its desire to become UNSC permanent member. The resistance movements in Kashmir and North Eastern States and of course poverty are a big challenge to India. The poor people did not need nukes for security rather than meals for a day.
Rameez Raja is a Ph. D Scholar at Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi