India’s myopic foreign policy

India can’t handle nuclear weapons

In a joint statement, the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (the P5) said a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and vowed to prevent the spread of atomic weapons.

Welcoming this statement, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that “as a responsible nuclear weapon state, India has a doctrine of maintaining a credible minimum deterrence based on a ‘no first use’ posture and non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.

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“Credible minimum deterrence” and “no first-use” are hackneyed phrases in India’s statements of its nuclear policy. The truth is that India’s nuclear policy has been in a state of flux. In historical perspective, India’s attitudes towards nuclear weapons kept changing over the years. During the 1950s, India stridently opposed nuclear weapons while stressing the need for harnessing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

During the 1960s, India’s attitude subtly mutated. The uncompromising opposition to nuclear weaponry caved in to accommodate nuclear weapons as an instrument of ‘high politics’.

The real stimulus was perhaps India’s defeat in the Sino-Indian border war of 1962. This policy appears to have been influenced by strategic analyst Jasjit Singh’s research.

He surveyed scores of incidents involving the threat of nuclear weapons. His inference was that ‘nuclear weapons played an important political role, rather than a military one’.

Another analyst, K. Subrahmaniam, also concluded that ‘the main purpose of a Third-World arsenal is deterrence against blackmail’, rather than to blackmail neighbours (as India happened to do).

Subsequently, India’s advocacy of peaceful use of nuclear energy did not obstruct its nuclear tests, while India’s nuclear posture kept shifting over a continuum of five possibilities ranging from renunciation of nuclear option to maintaining a ready nuclear arsenal and operational nuclear force.

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Between these two extreme options lay: limited nuclear arms control (regional nuclear-free zone), nuclear option (no operational nuclear force) and recessed deterrence (raising operational nuclear force in a few months). Till recently, India desisted from declaring its enthusiastic preference for a ready nuclear arsenal. The underlying objective of the dormant-nuclear policy was to maintain India’s championship of the global non-proliferation order.

India’s bellicose foreign policy is based on deceit and deception. This policy is contrary to advice by India’s own foreign secretaries. India unilaterally included the disputed Kashmir state and Nepalese and Chinese territory in Indian maps. No talks, no third-party mediation, is an open invitation to war, perhaps a nuclear Armageddon. Even if India wins a nuclear war, the victory would be pyrrhic. Peace not war with neighbours is the way out.

Another restraint on India’s ready-arsenal policy was India’s desire to avoid ennui of several countries, including the USA. The USA could have punished India’s ready-arsenal policy by scuttling India’s access to economic resources, and technological expertise.

In short, India’s dream of participating as a leader in the global economy could have been shattered by a paradigm shift to the ready-arsenal nuclear policy. A cataclysmic change has now occurred in India’s policy because of the 123 Agreement and membership of the NSG.

India has embarked on ‘ready nuclear-arsenal policy’. It is no longer committed to no-first-use nuclear doctrine (nuclear strike only in response).

Its current policy is ready-arsenal ‘deterrence by punishment’ as advocated by Bharat Karnad.

By developing short-range missiles, and deploying aircraft at bases near Pakistan’s border and in far-off Tajikistan (Aeinee and Farkhor), India is trying to encircle Pakistan.

Karnad suggested that India should have a ready arsenal of 330 nuclear weapons by 2030. However, Zia Mian and Nayyar believe that India is actually attempting to build about 400 nuclear warheads), at least four times what Pakistan currently possesses.

Kashmir remains the nuclear tinderbox. It was this dispute that triggered the past wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, besides a quasi-war or military standoff in 2001-2002.

India wants the issue to remain on back-burner, but Pakistan wants early resolution. John Thomson, in his article ‘Kashmir the most dangerous place in the world’ has analysed whether it is a myth or reality to perceive Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world.

He has given cogent arguments to prove that the Kashmir issue could once again spark another Indo-Pak military confrontation with concomitant risks of nuclear war.

Most western analysts, also, do not rule out the possibility of a nuclear war because of the Kashmir dispute. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has pointed out that ‘avoiding nuclear war in South Asia will require political breakthroughs in India-Pakistan’.

Aware that Kashmir was a ticking bomb which could mushroom into another war with India, Pakistan’s President Musharraf made some out-of-box personal proposals to resolve the dispute.

Instead of taking the proposal in its true spirit, India portrayed them as capitulation on demand for a plebiscite. However, Musharraf had to clarify that India should not misconstrue his flexibility.

In his interview with Reuters, he said, “India has to be flexible also. I’ll be bold in moving forward, but if somebody thinks, I’ll be bold to give up, I’m not giving up at all”.

Musharraf’s proposals are, if anything, a regurgitation of former Indian foreign secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s proposals. Yet, India did not find them palatable enough to be digested.

The lingering Kashmir issue, the casus belli between the two next door nuclear-capable neighbours, at daggers drawn, remains a flashpoint.

US ex-President Bill Clinton called Kashmir a nuclear flashpoint. Several writers including Mushtaqur Rehman have elaborated why Kashmir is the most dangerous place in the world (Divided Kashmir: Old Problems, New Opportunities for India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri People, London, Lynne Reinner Publishers, London, 1996, pp. 162-163).

No talks, no mediation. India’s message is loud and clear: ‘snatch away Kashmir from us, if you can’. That is an open invitation to war, perhaps nuclear war.

India is reluctant to talk to Pakistan eyeball-to-eyeball. Nor is it amenable to third-party mediation. What do India’s own foreign secretaries call for?

Jagat S. Mehta: Mehta understood India’s abhorrence of the word ‘plebiscite’. So he presented some proposals to serve as requirements for evolving a solution after a period of ten years.  His proposals are contained in his article “Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s” Some points of his quasi-solution are: (a) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached. (b) Conversion of the LOC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…” (c) Its immediate demilitarization to a depth of five to ten miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a “cold freeze”) for an agreed period.

Shyam Saran: In his book How India Sees the World, he makes startling revelations. He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot-dragging. Similarly, demarcation of Sir Creek maritime boundary was unnecessarily delayed.

Foreign Secretary and national-security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon ruled out ‘a military solution’ as an option to settle India-Pakistan disputes.  Menon said so while participating in a panel discussion alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and academic Steve Coll and US journalist and author Peter Bergen.

As quoted in Victoria Schofield’s book Kashmir in the Crossfire, ex-foreign secretary JN Dixit says ‘it is no use splitting legal hair. Everybody who has a sense of history knows that legality only has relevance up to the threshold of transcending political realities. And especially in inter-state relations… So to quibble about points of law and hope that by proving a legal point you can reverse the process of history is living in a somewhat contrived utopia. It won’t work.’

In a 2010 newspaper article, ex-foreign secretary: Krishnan Srinivasan asks India to learn from the Indo-Russian dispute on the Kurile Islands.  Srinivasan points out ‘Russia has for long been Japan’s hypothetical enemy’.  But, the two countries are no longer at daggers drawn over the Kurile Islands dispute.

Several times in history, India had to shun inflexibility and beg for mediation. India herself rushed to the United Nations for help against `raiders’. In 1962, battered by Chinese troops in the North Eastern Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh), New Delhi rushed to US President John F. Kennedy for “two squadrons of B-47 bombers” and “12 squadrons of supersonic fighters manned by American crew”.

Unable to remove Pakistani fighters from Kargil heights, including Tiger Hill, India again approached the USAfor help during the Kargil crisis:

Journalist Barkha Dutt, in her book, This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Line says: “The former Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Misra during an interview to NDTV revealed that a letter given to President Clinton by PM Vajpayee [in Kargil quandary] had hinted that India was contemplating crossing the Line of Control as well as using nuclear weapons if Pakistan did not pull out the fighters from Kargil.”

India’s bellicose foreign policy is based on deceit and deception. This policy is contrary to advice by India’s own foreign secretaries.  India unilaterally included the disputed Kashmir state and Nepalese and Chinese territory in Indian maps.  No talks, no third-party mediation, is an open invitation to war, perhaps a nuclear Armageddon. Even if India wins a nuclear war, the victory would be pyrrhic. Peace not war with neighbours is the way out.

Amjed Jaaved
The writer is a freelance journalist, has served in the Pakistan government for 39 years and holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law. He can be reached at [email protected]


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