IDSA and Rationalising the Indian Bomb

K Subrahmanyam, the former director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), recently lamented in a Times of India article that media management of the US government was far superior to that of the India’s. The US Government, he comments, have a host of institutions and academies who legitimise US Government’s positions on security and other matters and this is what shapes the media perception of events. Subrahmanyam’s view on US government’s media management is of course not original. Noam Chomski and Edward Herman gave us the classic on US media in Manufactured Consent which details how the US government manipulates the media or more correctly how the US media and the government act in concert in order to create support for a corporate America. What is new in Subrahmanyam’s argument is the plea that the US model of media management is the one that should be followed in India too. In other, words manufacturing consent behind the government’s policy should be the task of  institutions of civil society, and presumably experts like him.

Nuclear India (Nuclear India, Ed. Jasjit Singh, Knowledge World and IDSA Publication, 1998) is a book which has been brought out by IDSA in the aftermath of the BJP Government’s Pokhran Tests. Subrahmanyam, of course, occupies the pride of place in this volume, while all other contributors are serving in IDSA. IDSA has been a part of this Defence establishment and its main task has been to support whatever policy that the government of the day followed. Thus, in the days that nuclear weapons were not manufactured but nuclear capability established, the IDSA  group, headed by Subrahmanyam waxed eloquent on India’s creative evolution of a new nuclear doctrine — nuclear ambiguity. In this doctrine, we were told that nuclear capability was enough to provide the necessary deterrence and there was no need to weaponise. Immediately after the decision of the BJP government to weaponise, Subrahmanyam and company are arguing that India had no option but to weaponise. Obviously, IDSA is one of those organisations that Subrahmanyam approves of in this task of manufacturing consent for the Indian bomb.

The key argument advanced for such a volte face is that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would have foreclosed India’s nuclear option by 1999. However, Subrahmanyam fails to explain why the possibility of sanctions, the maximum that could have happened after 1999, would have foreclosed India’s nuclear option then when the certainty of sanctions after conducting tests in 1998 did not prevent the Indian government from going ahead. That CTBT would have led to sanctions after 1999 has been the myth created by the IDSA lobby. The CTBT only talks of further discussions in case any of the 44 nuclear capable countries do not sign the CTBT. India had enough diplomatic clout and the advantage of nuclear restraint on its side to make it extremely difficult for US and others to impose sanctions.

Nuclear India gives a detailed account of the nuclear and the missile programs of Pakistan, China and a host of other countries. What it does not do, is give any account of the Indian nuclear and missile programs. Presumably, we are expected to get this information from Pakistan or Chinese (or that ubiquitous  agency: the Central Intelligence Agency) sources. This significant omission itself makes clear the purpose of Nuclear India: it’s purpose is media management. Not once does the book address the question of Pakistan’s threat perception of a nuclear India. After all, if we claim — as Nuclear India repeatedly does — that we are threatened by China’s and America’s nuclear capabilities, certainly Pakistan can make similar claims regarding India. For an allegedly scholarly account of the nuclear discourse, such omissions betray the prime purpose of the book.

Simply put, the argument of Nuclear India are the following:

 India was threatened by China and America’s nuclear weapons

 Pakistan after 1972 has embarked on a clandestine  nuclear weapons program with Chinese help and American connivance

 The nuclear weapon states refusal to disarm meant that nuclear weapons were a currency of global power and India had to have the bomb for its security

  The CTBT’s 1999 deadline meant that India had to either exercise the nuclear option or lose it for ever.

All this, according to IDSA, prompted India to abandon nuclear restraint that it had practised earlier and join the nuclear weapon states.

It must be noted that the above arguments are not new and have been advanced in the past by a number of strategic experts. These arguments are certainly a little more sophisticated than the BJP’s belief that the bomb would immediately enhance India’s prestige and self respect, and win it America’s approval as a counter to China. In effect, it has led to global isolation, and US making China the international overseer on behalf of the nuclear weapons states over South Asia. No wonder, Vajpayee quickly abandoned the nuclear bomb for self-respect plank and started talking about the “bomb for global disarmament”.

What essentially IDSA is arguing is that while it is all right for India to feel threatened by China and US and therefore build missiles and nuclear weapons, this is not all right for Pakistan. In other words, nuclear security with nuclear bombs and missiles is all right for the Indian gander but not all right for the Pakistani goose. Honesty demands at least an admission that if India feels threatened by China, then Pakistan could have similar fears visa-vis India. After all, as the IDSA authors themselves point out, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, the last of which, in Pakistan’s perception, led to the dismemberment of their country. Here, the question is not who was right or wrong in these wars. The issue simply is if only nuclear bombs guarantee national security as argued by IDSA for India, surely Pakistan could view nuclear security in also similar terms?

If we read in between the lines of Nuclear India, the formal decision by India to make the bomb was as early as 1964 under Lal Bahadur Shastri. This pre-dates the Pakistani decision for the bomb in 1972 by a good eight years. It also makes it much more likely that Pakistan decided to make the bomb after the 1971 War and because of its perception that India already had the bomb and was overwhelmingly superior in conventional terms. This is quite different from the IDSA argument that the Indian bomb in 1974 was a response to Pakistan’s decision in 1972 to build the bomb.

The next argument that the IDSA “analysts” bring out is the clandestine  nature of the Pakistan nuclear program. Here a vital distinction between the Indian nuclear and missile program must be made with Pakistan’s. India, very early on, realised that the nuclear program was a dual use one. Thus a civilian program for nuclear power would lay the foundation for the nuclear bomb as well. Homi Bhabha was clear about the dual nature of the Atomic Energy program and had embedded the nuclear weapons capability as a part of the nuclear power program. Shortly before his death, he had also identified the space program as the basis of a delivery system for the bomb. Thus both the nuclear and the space programs in India, right from their inception, had the military program as a component. However, as the nuclear power and the satellite launch programs were also important in their own right, this led to a growing technical base for developing capability in these two areas, a capability supported by a huge pool of scientific and technical man power and a large economy.

Pakistan had to start with a much narrower technical and economic support base. Lacking India’s size of the economy and its capability, it went in for a purely military program. There was nothing illegal about either the Indian or the Pakistani programs, as neither India nor Pakistan were signatories to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). What both were violating, more so Pakistan, was the structure of non-proliferation that US had put together to deny technology to non NPT signatories. While we can understand that violation of such a regime could be condemned in the US, it is difficult to understand why IDSA should consider it condemnable, particularly as it considers the entire NPT regime as discriminatory and illegitimate. If Pakistan thought that nuclear weapons are legitimate for its security, a perception that IDSA should support as it coincides with IDSA’s own view of nuclear weapons, merely not playing by the NPT rules can not be condemned. If India is justified by breaking the NPT and CTBT through tests, why is Pakistan’s case different?

Similarly, the Indian missile capabilities are obviously much greater and pre-dates the Pakistani missile advances. While IDSA gives details of the sources of missile technology and missiles Pakistan has bought from other countries, it fails to bring out any details of the Indian missile program. Also, the condemnation of Pakistan for violating the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is hypocritical as IDSA argues for the illegitimacy of MTCR itself.

The other part of the argument is that Pakistan was actively helped by China. What IDSA fails to establish is the distinction of Pakistan operating in the grey market for securing nuclear and missile technology and open official help from China. As is well known, the Pakistani route to the bomb was using uranium enrichment through centrifuging. This was done by A.Q.Khan bringing over from Holland a complete design of the centrifuge and subsequently importing various components from the international  grey market. American sources claim that certain portion of the plant (ring magnets) have come from China, but hardly anybody has denied that the design of the plant and the major components have largely come from commercial sources in the West and in violation of the NPT regime that exists in these countries. Thus what emerges is a story more of Pakistan getting around the NPT regime and “buying” technology rather than one of China supplying nuclear technology to Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan has shopped far and wide for missile technology, paying huge sums for the same. Recently it has been shown that Iraq had also developed an uranium enrichment plant and was just a  hair breadth from the bomb. In the current world market, all these technologies are for sale, provided the buyer is prepared to pay the price.

We have already disposed off the argument regarding the window of opportunity for exercising the nuclear option was there only till 1999. The CTBT signatories — including US — would have found it very difficult to impose sanctions against India for not signing CTBT while at the same they themselves were not willing to enter into any binding time table for dismantling their nuclear arsenals. At that time, India could have pushed for nuclear disarmament as a pre-condition for signing CTBT, a position that would have put the nuclear weapons powers on the defensive. In any case, to invite certain sanctions now for the fear of possible sanctions sometimes in the future is a specious argument. More so, as the US ratification of CTBT itself is quite doubtful with Jesse Helms and his ilk vowing to defeat CTBT.

The IDSA analysts are trapped by their own logic. While they argue that nuclear weapons are illegitimate, they however go to great pains to argue ragarding the threat of nuclear weapons to India’s security, and therefore legitimate for India. No evidence is put forward regarding this threat perception except the existence of nuclear weapons in the world. Nor is it possible to understand why, if nuclear weapons are legitimate for India, it is illegitimate for Pakistan? And if both are justified in making the bomb, we then must also support the cause of every country that turns nuclear. This is the inexorable logic of the bomb, where does one draw the line? A world in which every country is armed with nuclear weapons and has targeted others with missiles may make IDSA experts more secure, but leaves the world that much closer to a disaster.

Instead, the only sane position is that nuclear weapons are illegitimate and must be banished from the arsenals of every country. No country and no set of leaders can be trusted with weapons that can destroy all human beings. India’s attempt to join this illegitimate nuclear club neither helps in the goal for a world free of nuclear weapons nor does it increase its own security. Every new escalation of tension now with Pakistan (or China) will now carry a nuclear edge. That IDSA analysts end with “building the bomb for nuclear disarmament” theory is not because they do not understand this but because of their own agenda. Their agenda is justifying a nuclear India, therefore a Nuclear India.