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A decision at last! - Hindustan Times

Sumer Kaul ()
May 19,1998

Title: A decision at last!
Author: Sumer Kaul
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: May 19,1998

The Vajpayee government's decision to exercise the nuclear option
has made every Indian feel inches taller.

And more self-assured, more secure. This is not jingoism, not
even chauvinism. It is national interest, the need to survive as
a nation, head held high. With one stroke we have told the world
that this vast landmass of a billion people will no longer allow
itself to be trifled with, pushed around, dictated to, that the
era of lap dog-tail-waggism is over.

The super bully of the world is fretting and fuming, snarling and
threatening, and so are, perfectly on cue, its international
sidekicks. Let them. Let them - as China has let them while
single-mindedly pursuing its national goals, only to have them,
45 nuclear tests and 400 nuclear weapons later, virtually eat out
of its hands. Be it human rights, democratic freedoms, Tibet or
transfer of nuclear technology and even readymade nuclear
weapons, see how zealously the American establishment avoids
saying anything that may annoy the Chinese, let alone imposing
any punitive measures against them.

This is not to say that the United States and its camp-followers
- yes, camp-followers even after the rival camp has vanished -
will not impose any sanctions against India. Some of them have
already announced certain measures. More may follow. None of
this should deter us from taking the Pokhran statement to its
logical conclusion. Pokhran 11 should not go the way of Pokhran
I.

The quarter-century of inaction, especially the political
pusillanimity of the last decade, has cost the country dearly in
terms of national interests, in terms of self-esteem, in terms of
money wasted on archaic defence purchases - and in terms of lives
lost in combating the bloody deeds and misdeeds of our
congenitally inimical neighbour supported and armed by the US and
China.

The nuclear ability we have acquired, thanks to the genius and
dedication of our scientists and engineers, must be translated
into weapons. expeditiously and without any ado. If this means
further tests, we must carry them out, sanctions or no sanctions.

The powers now threatening action did the same in 1971, the US in
particular cut off all aid and even sent a nuclear-armed ship
into the Bay of Bengal. None of that held us back from doing what
we considered necessary in our national interest. True, there was
a 'friendly Soviet Union at the time but what deterred the
Americans equally was the realisation that India was no Grenada,
that they could not subdue a vast and determined nation led by a
determined leader who knew that, as in the case of individuals,
there are times in the life of a nation when it must stand firm
and tall, ready to face the consequences.

Such a time may well be upon us again, and one must hope that the
government we have now will also stand firm and tall. Far from
succumbing to any pressures or blackmail, we must not adopt any
defensive or apologetic postures. After all, what we have done
is what any self-respecting country would do, indeed what those
who are today upset the most have done the most - protect their
national security and assert their sovereignty. The more we
stand by our entirely legitimate resolve, the more the world will
accept it, sooner or later. There is no need even to consider
signing CTBT or any other regimen that the rich and the powerful
nations may demand of us - not until they themselves see reason
and dismantle their massive arsenals.

Hypocritical and high-handed foreign powers are not the only ones
who will get after the government. It will also have to deal
with a certain well-entrenched opinion within the country, a
small but articulate air-conditioned school of part misguided,
part imported thought which is not only against nuclearisation of
our defence but against defence per se. These are the people
who, if encouraged, would want us to go back to bows and arrows!

One of these tiny think-turrets (tank is too big a word for them)
has been quoted in this paper as saying that our nuclear weapons
capability will "degrade our security equations with Pakistan and
China"! Yes, believe it or not, we have intellectuals and
analysts like these in this country! He also said that the
government lacked "a democratic mandate" to change the country's
nuclear policy. Given this Pavlovian anti-BJP reflex, it is no
use reminding this man that induction of nuclear weapons was
clearly promised in the party's manifesto and figures equally
categorically in the national agenda of the ruling coalition. We
also have what may be described as professional nit-pickers in
our political establishment. Our thoroughly disorientated
leftists have criticised the blasts because they were not
preceded by a security review! A Congress party spokesman wants
the government to explain the "timing of the action." Would next
Monday have been all right!?

While these reactions deserve not to be taken notice of at all,
the coming days are likely to see a revival of the traditional
debate. The guns vs bread argument, for instance. An implicit
acceptance of this argument over the decades has brought us to a
pass where we have neither guns nor bread. The two are not contra-
indicated; indeed they are mutually supplementary, as the stocks
of both guns and bread in the developed West show. And let us not
fool ourselves in believing that they first made bread and then
guns. The great American cowboy acquired a gun before he acquired
a ranch!

In any case it is a myth that nuclear weapons cost more than
conventional weapons. A missile costs less than a modern fighter
plane or bomber. In fact, induction of nuclear weapons will not
only provide the much-needed deterrent but will lead to drastic
cuts in a huge and flabby conventional apparatus and therefore in
overall costs. No defence expert worth his TV byte can deny this.

But won't it lead to an arms race, goes another of these
arguments which first emanated from the US of A. What race are we
talking about? The race in the region, that is, between India and
Pakistan, is as old as their independence. In fact, it was
spurred by none other than the US when it first gave massive arms
aid to Pakistan in the early fifties. The race has been on ever
since.

However, if it is the nuclear race one is talking about, in a
situation where such weapons leave no country out of their reach,
one has to take a global view of the race. And the country which
started it, the country which actually used the bomb to kill
people is none other than the United States. It might well have
repeated the action but for the fact that the Soviet Union, for
reasons similar to India's today, joined the race. The
consequent prospect of mutually assured destruction (MAD is what
prevented them from going to war, and what will prevent a nuclear
power today from launching such weapons against other nuclear
powers. In the event, not to build a matching retaliatory
capability is to opt for dangerous vulnerability.

But even if we - wrongly - confine the argument to our region,
the race teas been on for many years already - albeit a one-horse
race - with China galloping away towards the status of a nuclear
superpower. And recent years have also seen Pakistan preparing
feverishly to run on the same track, a resolve they will not give
up whether or not we go in for nuclear weapons. There is
therefore no reason to baulk at running a race that has been
forced on us. We have to deter present and potential enemies
>from carrying out any mischief against us, and this cannot be
done without a credible nuclear arsenal. It is unfortunate, but
MAD is the best bet for regional sanity.


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