India’s nuclear deterrence: myth and reality
by Saurav Basu on 22 Oct 2009 1 Comment

The nuclear deal was heralded as a great leap for India, and an end to India’s nuclear apartheid, and the perfect answer to India’s growing energy needs. Yet,  one year later, in a sobering article, Brahma Chellaney, noted security analyst, considers the deal to have “divided the country like no other strategic issue since Indian independence, with the deteriorating national discourse reaching a new low,” He also laments the subversion of the Indian parliament which was reduced to a “mere spectator.”

More disturbing is what he perceives as “the creeping politicisation of top scientists…The top atomic leadership made scripted political statements in support of deal-related moves, only to be rewarded with special post-superannuation extensions beyond established norms” (Counting the costs of vaunted deal, The Hindu, 9.10.2009) The national awards bestowed on these pro-establishment scientists coinciding with the clinching of the deal raised a few eyebrows.

Yet most ignore the ultimate cost incurred in the deal which might pose an existential threat in the not so distant future. K Santhanam, the man who played a pivotal role in making India nuclear, recently publicly contended that the tests were not entirely successful. A jittery government and a nervous opposition along with the pro-establishment scientists rejected Santhanam’s allegations. Many editorials surprisingly questioned the timing of his revelations.

Santhanam’s answer to his critics was that, “There is a change in the administration in the United States of America. They are bound to further pressurise India to sign the CTBT. In such an event it was necessary to make such a statement or speak the truth on the issue so that India does not rush into signing the CTBT.” This is a justifiable position especially considering that legally India in the eyes of the international community remains a non-weapons state.

Yet the objections by Santhanam could have come even earlier, especially a year ago. That is when India subjected itself to the controversial 123 Act which explicitly denies India the right to conduct future tests, the defiance of which ‘shall cause not only all nuclear commerce to be halted but US shall have the right to demand the return of ‘any nuclear materials and equipment transferred pursuant’ to the agreement for cooperation as well as any ‘special nuclear material produced through the use thereof.’

The UPA government continues to maintain that India requires no further tests and computer simulations could substitute for future tests if required. How does that explain China conducting its 45th nuclear test as late as 1996!  There is no substantive body of evidence available which affirms possibility for substitution of critical nuclear tests by computer simulations.

Santhanam’s claims have to be examined in the wider context of India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, the accompanying 50 year long events have been brilliantly recorded by George Perkovich in his book, “India’s nuclear bomb”, now a standard work on the subject. Perkovich who is a non-proliferationist, believes in all fairness that of all Indian parties, the BJP was the only one capable of igniting the bomb for it was ideologically bound to the belief that a nuclear arsenal “would provide strength against Pakistan and China”, but more importantly, “deliver to Hindu India the status it deserved as a great civilization and nation” (India’s nuclear bomb, p. 377) 

Similarly, Jeffrey T Richelson informs us that “India’s success in preventing US spy satellites from seeing signs of the planned tests days to weeks in advance was matched by its success in preventing acquisition of other types of intelligence. India’s Intelligence Bureau ran an aggressive counter-intelligence program, and the CIA, despite a large station in New Delhi, was unable to recruit a single Indian with information about the Vajpayee government’s nuclear plans. Instead, the deputy chief of the CIA station in New Delhi was expelled after a botched try at recruiting the chief of Indian counter-intelligence operations.”
(Spying on the bomb, Jeffrey T Richelson. Review by A G Noorani

All this evidence points out the misleading claims of writers like Ramachandra Guha that the 1998 nuclear tests were a reaction to Pakistan test firing the Ghauri missile. Instead, the meticulous nature of the planning is largely at variance with the unprofessional attempts of previous Congress governments which were caught red handed by CIA agents.

However, were the tests entirely successful? Indian scientists had claimed a yield of around 60 kt in the 1998 tests. International experts remained largely skeptical. Douglas and Marshall (1998) considered the assumptions of the Indian scientists while calculating the yield ‘to appear unjustified.’ Terry Wallace of the University of Arizona put the yield at 20 kt. It seems, the key datum to the seismographic interpretation of the 1998 tests is the yield of the 1974 test, which provides the benchmark for the geological character of the test site.

The Indian estimates for the 1998 tests are entirely dependent on the result of the 1974 yield which BARC claimed to be 13 kt. While Western scientists are unanimous that such a claim is exaggerated, Perkovich also cites his personal communication with PK Iyengar, a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission who put the yield at a lowly 8 kt. If the 1974 yield is lowered, the foundation of BARC team’s claims on the 1998 tests are badly undermined (Perkovich, p.427) Perkovich from the data collected is of the view that India’s thermonuclear weapon (H-bomb) experiment did not succeed. (p.433)

If the H-bomb apparently failed, why did the Vajpayee government declare a voluntary moratorium on further testing? Did it lose its nerve amidst raging international criticism? The scientists’ insistence that the H-bomb succeeded at that time spared the Vajpayee government criticism from its Hindutva supporters, but Santhanam’s revelations prove that political considerations significantly influenced the scientific verdict.

Leftist critics contend that the H-Bomb is not an instrument of war, so why do we need it anyway. Praful Bidwai questions, “It is impossible to make a case for a hydrogen bomb arsenal. A minimum deterrent is logically understood as a few dozen fission bombs. One must pause and ask how many bombs it would take to destroy five Chinese and five Pakistani cities.” [H-Bomb or a fizzle, Praful Bidwai] Curiously, he is amongst the same coterie which vehemently protested India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

Flashback to 14.5.1998 when the TOI editorial believed the ‘nuclear tests to have restored the parity with Pakistan, in an equation which was earlier very unequal…at a time when India had attained solid conventional military footing against China.’ The imbecile arguments decried the forced exposition of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons which it received from China. Moreover in case of China, it is nuclear deterrence which bridges conventional divides, and not the other way round.

Both China and Pakistan have waged ideological wars against India. The latter has served as a global house of jihad. If Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fall into the hands of jihadis, India’s current fissile technology will prove inadequate. For jihadis are born to die for the cause of Islam, they would rather go down bursting the Big bomb. Only the H-bomb, which Pakistan doesn’t have, could counter them in case of a nuclear confrontation, for the Jihadis would be totally oblivious to the destruction of a couple of Pakistani cities in retaliatory Indian action.

Similarly, the Chinese are not going to be thwarted by threats of fissile weapons. In the absence of long range transcontinental ballistic missiles, India’s nuclear deterrence against China remains incomplete. Moreover, the Communists who could sacrifice thirty million Chinese people for the Great Leap Forward are unlikely to have any moral dilemmas in sacrificing the lives of a couple of million others when facing nuclear conflict. It is only the threat of a civilization annihilating H-bomb from across the border which can check them in their tracks, should the situation arise. In the H bomb’s absence, India is vastly outnumbered in men, material, conventional weapons; it would be a sitting duck against the Chinese enemy.

All in all, India needs the H bomb to preserve its civilization and counter the existential threats it faces, not maudlin moral values.

The writer is an independent researcher


User Comments Post a Comment
Comments are free. However, comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate material will be removed from the site. Readers may report abuse at
Post a Comment

Back to Top