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Why India's bomb is justified - Asiaweek

J. N. Dixit ()
May 29, 1998

Title: Why India's bomb is justified
Author: J. N. Dixit
Publication: Asiaweek
Date: May 29, 1998

Francis Bacon wrote in 1625: "A just fear Of an imminent danger,
though there be no blow given, is a lawful cause." This is
sufficient answer in itself to those questioning India's five
nuclear tests on May 11 and 13 and declaring itself a nuclear
weapons state. It is an irony of geopolitics and strategic
developments that these events took place in India, which has
been a convinced and articulate advocate of eliminating weapons
of mass destruction and votary of Complete disarmament. Yet in
becoming an overt nuclear weapons state, India is creating a new
platform to argue the cause of disarmament.

>From 1947 to 1996, India was an active architect of the partial
Test Ban Treaty. And over five decades, it argued consistently to
eliminate weapons of mass destruction. But the nuclear powers
continued to modernize their arsenals, focusing on arms control
rather than disarmament. They compounded the process negatively
by introducing international regimes which distinguish between
recognized nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear states, with
provisions aimed at limiting the technological potential of the
latter. This was reflected in the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) and in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

India refused a suggestion from the U.S. in 1963 that it produce
an atom bomb as a counter to China, which was expected to become
a nuclear power. It was only after Pakistan commenced its
clandestine nuclear weapons program in 1972 that India took the
unavoidable counter-measure of conducting the bomb test at
Pokhran, in 1974. Pakistan's rationale was that after being
defeated by India in 1971, the country should have that
capability to prevent it ever again losing a conventional
conflict with its neighbor.

After the 1974 test, India acted with the utmost self-restraint
till this month. India has never exported nuclear weapons
technology. Its nuclear program has been under civilian control
and is subject to scrutiny by Parliament. Despite this, India was
the focus of restrictive, discriminatory pressures from nuclear
powers aimed at limiting its technological potential and thereby
undermining its security. There has been a growing consensus in
India that the country should transcend this pressure and take
initiatives to meet its own interests.

The discussions leading up to the CTBT were perceived in India as
final proof that the nuclear powers wanted to relegate India and
other technologically advanced developing countries to a second-
class status. This was a sharp and precise perception because
India had assurances from the U.S. and other advanced countries
that the CTBT would not be discriminatory: it would not
distinguish between states with nuclear weapons and those
without. But as it evolved, the treaty's terms clearly indicated
that those assurances had not been carried through.

This was the background to the latest tests. There were more
immediate reasons. Pakistan has not only acquired nuclear weapon
and missile capability, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has
threatened their use against India. Pakistan has acquired M-11
missiles from China and Rodong II missiles from North Korea which
could deliver nuclear warheads to India. And it has set up a
plant at Fatehganj, 50 km from Islamabad, to produce various
categories of missiles. In April Pakistan test-fired the Ghauri
missile, and it has announced that it will test-fire the longer-
range Ghaznavi and Babri missiles that would make most of India a

In an are stretching. from the Gulf down to Diego Garcia and
across to the South China Sea, the U.S. and China have a military
nuclear presence - land-based, airborne and seaborne. This apart,
China is pursuing a defense modernization program with military
and technology imports worth nearly $20 billion over the last
five years. China's nuclear and missile capability are a factor
in India's security evaluations. And, however they seek to
justify it, China and Pakistan's technological defense
cooperation affects India's threat perceptions. It is not a
question of whether China has aggressive intentions toward India.
This may not be so. But the evolving weapons environment
required an adequate response.

India also felt that if it did not conduct the tests now, it
would not be able to break out of the straitjacket of the CTBT
stipulations which will come into force within a year. In sum,
India's bomb is justified, first, for the country's national
security requirements in the regional context; second, as a
continuing basis for technological self-reliance for defense;
third, to structure a strategic balance in India's neighborhood
given superpower deployments; and fourth, to avoid being
subjected to restrictive and punitive international regimes by
being categorized as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Furthermore, India's objective is to change the discriminatory
terms governing negotiations on non-proliferation, arms control
and disarmament. This is why India may not be inclined to sign
the CTBT as is, much less the NPT. Finally, and most important,
India's nuclear weaponization is motivated more by political and
strategic purposes than operational military intentions. India
will only opt for the latter under compelling and unavoidable

(J. N. Dixit was Foreign Secretary of India 1991-1994. He has
been ambassador to Pakistan and led breakthrough talks with China
in 1988.)

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