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Arms race myth - The Times of India

K Subrahmanyam ()
May 30, 1998

Title: Arms race myth
Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 30, 1998

The Pakistani nuclear test has brought into the open that
country's nuclear weapon which has been in existence for 11
years. Many in this country used to argue that we had lived with
the Chinese bomb for well over three decades and, therefore, why
should we not live with the Pakistani bomb too. In fact, India
has been living with the Pakistani bomb since 1987. After Rajiv
Gandhi took his painful decision to initiate the deterrent
programme, the Indian weapon too came into existence in 1990.
Therefore, China and Pakistan have been living with this
deterrent for the last eight years.

West proved Wrong

The history of the last eight years hold valuable lessons for
both India and Pakistan, and the western world. If one were to
compare the eight years of Indo-Pakistan nuclear coexistence with
the first eight years of US-USSR, US-China and Sino-USSR nuclear
relationship, the former has been much more stable. There was no
arms race between Pakistan and India though the leadership of
each knew that the other had nuclear weapons. India reduced its
defence expenditure sharply in real terms during this period.
During the same period Pakistan had been waging a continuous
covert war in Kashmir in India. That did not escalate in the last
eight years in spite of nuclear weapons on both sides. Both
countries exercised restraint in a tacit framework of low-
intensity conflict in a situation of mutual deterrence.
Developments on the ground have totally disproved western
predictions about this region being the world's nuclear
flashpoint, which it has not been and is not going to be. Most
prognostications about an India-Pakistan nuclear arms race are
purely speculative and merely a mechanical extension of the
behaviour pattern of the three nuclear weapon powers; and this
pattern ignores the history of the last eight years.

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in his speech and press
conference immediately after the test, linked Pakistani nuclear
weapons with the Kashmir issue. Early in 1980, Prof Stephen
Cohen, the US specialist on India and Pakistan, met Pakistani
army officials and discussed the rationale of the Pakistani
nuclear effort. He was told by Pakistanis that a Pakistani
nuclear capability would "neutralise an assumed Indian nuclear
force". However, others pointed out, that it would provide the
umbrella under which Pakistan could reopen the Kashmir issue; a
Pakistani nuclear capability paralyses, not only the Indian
nuclear decision but also Indian conventional forces and a brash,
bold Pakistani strike to liberate Kashmir might go unchallenged
if the Indian leadership was weak or indecisive."

Tacit US Approval

Prof Cohen's analyses of Pakistan's proclivities for risk-taking
have turned out to be prophetic. He said in the same paper
quoted above, which was presented at a meeting of the Association
for Asian Studies in, Washington in March, 1980: "Pakistan, (like
Taiwan, South Korea, Israel and South Africa) has the capacity to
fight, to go nuclear, to influence the global strategic balance
(if only by collapsing) and lastly, is in a strategic
geographical location, surrounded by the three largest states in
the world and adjacent to the mouth of the Persian Gulf'.

Former CIA director James Woolsey's disclosure to CNN, of China-
Pakistan nuclear and missile collaboration after the Pakistani
nuclear test, confirms the record that the US deliberately looked
away even as Islamabad assembled the weapons in 1987. India,
which had observed unparalleled restraint from 1974 to 1988, and
was the only country which did not build an arsenal following its
nuclear test, was compelled to develop its nuclear deterrent in
the light of Sino-Pak collaboration and US indulgence of
proliferation.

Pakistan's attempt to grab Kashmir in a brash and bold strike at
a time when they considered the Indian government weak and
indecisive - during Mr V P Singh's rule - failed. The prolonged
covert war waged in Kashmir did not give Pakistan the desired
victory. After Islamabad realised that its strategy to wrest
Kashmir had failed, and that India was exacting a higher price by
way of terrorist casualties, Mr Nawaz Sharif as opposition
leader, in his speech in Nila Bhat on August 24, 1994, warned New
Delhi that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons if India tried to
invade Pak-occupied Kashmir.

The Chinese nuclear threat to India has been there since 1964,
and it became a combined threat from Pakistan and China since
1987. It was known to the government but Indian political leaders
did not take the people into confidence. Their attitude was the
same as that of Jawaharlal Nehru who felt he could manage the
challenge of China in the 1950s without taking the Indian people
into confidence. The nuclear threat is not of bombs being dropped
on India, or of an arms race between India and Pakistan, or India
and China. The real threat is far more subtle and sophisticated,
and as Prof Cohen pointed out, designed to paralyse decision-
making by a weak Indian government by using, among other things,
the nuclear factor. Pakistan has tried it and failed. China may
attempt it whenever an opportunity arises in future. While the
Indian deterrent, in existence from 1990, was kept a secret from
the Indian people it was known to the CIA Pakistan and probably
China too.

Now that the weapons are out in the open on both sides mutual
deterrence is fully established. It is extremely unlikely that
India and Pakistan will have a high-intensity conventional war,
let alone a nuclear war.

Pakistan's Economy

There are limits to the Pakistani capability to acquire nuclear
weapons and missiles. It is totally unrealistic to talk of
Pakistan starting a nuclear arms race against India since it is
not an independent self-sufficient producer of arms. Therefore,
there is no cause for worry about an arms race being triggered by
the Pakistani nuclear test. China will come under increasing
scrutiny for its proliferation activity and while China is
interested in proliferating to Pakistan to a certain extent as a
countervailing force against India, Beijing, has no interest in
making it an open-ended game. The next few months are likely to
be extremely difficult for Pakistan, and its economy will come
under heavy strain. Hence, it would be utterly wrong to talk of
an arms race or act on that assumption. We have been building up
our deterrent capability slowly and steadily. While some
additional funds for the development of gni must be provided,
India's conversion to the status of a nuclear weapon state need
not lead to an arms race, or an extraordinary hike in defence
spending. Our watch - word should be restraint.


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