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August 10, 1998


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Nuclear command to rest with political leadership: Fernandes

Defence Minister George Fernandes says India's nuclear command and control system would rest with the political leadership.

Delivering the D R Mankekar Memorial lecture on National security and media in New Delhi, Fernandes dealt at length with the post-Pokhran II security scenario. He dismissed as ''racist thought'' the insinuation by some Western nations that India and Pakistan were incapable of acting with restraint and moderation and, hence, could not be trusted with nuclear weapons.

''Each of the five original nuclear weapon states has its own distinct political system and, therefore, each has a command and control system which differs from that of others. India's command and control system will necessarily be exclusively its own,'' Fernandes stated.

''While details of such a system will take some time in getting defined, what is obvious is that such command and control will be in the hands of the political leadership,'' he said.

Fernandes specified that while the defence ministry and parliamentary committee on defence had repeatedly highlighted the nation's security concerns against the backdrop of the developments at the global, regional and subcontinental levels, the domestic situation had hardly figured as a factor in the perceptions of national security.

''We seem to overlook the fact that a large force of the Indian army is today engaged in counter-insurgency operations. The army is trained to fight a war against an enemy. Fighting against our own people, most of them misled youth, can and does have a negative psychological impact on the training and morale of our soldiers,'' he said.

Talking about the effects of insurgency on national security, Fernandes elaborated, ''A nation that is not at peace with itself will have serious problems in forging unity of purpose and action against an external enemy.''

Justifying the nuclear nuclear tests in May, he stated, ''There are enough indications that India had moved towards exercising its option to go nuclear on more occasions than one. Therefore, it is neither a hidden agenda nor anything sinister in Pokhran II. Only the paramount interests of India's national security were involved in the tests.''

The defence minister pointed out that there had been a consensus among political parties on matters related to national security. ''This gets reflected in every report the parliamentary committee on defence has submitted since its inception.''

In this context, Fernandes also referred to the annual reports of the ministry of defence, in particular that of 1995 covering the period between April 1995 to August 1996. The country saw three defence ministers in those months -- P V Narasimha Rao, Pramod Mahajan and Mulayam Singh Yadav. ''These men belong to three different political parties with different ideological tendencies. They look at most of the problems facing the nation on the basis of their ideological predilections. However, on issues of national security, they have a common perception,'' he said.

The Union minister lamented that despite the consensus, successive governments chose not to create awareness about these concerns among the people.

He also criticised the 'double standards' of the 'nuclear-haves.' ''The five member club of nuclear weapon states have one set of rules to ensure their safety, while they would have no compunction in targeting others with their nuclear arsenals,'' added Fernandes.

The expulsion of Indian scientists from the United States, the denial of critical technology to India, the black-listing of several laboratories, scientific institutions and defence production units in India is but a ''demonstration of these double standards,'' said the minister.

Fernandes also charged the media with stoking partisan fires in domestic debate over India's threat perceptions. Referring to his much talked about statement on China, he said, ''Could it be deliberate mischief that made a section of the media -- both print and electronic-- interpret the English words ''potential threat number one'' into ''enemy number one'' in the same language. He urged the regional and small newspapers to debate issues of national security.

In his remarks, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh said India's security lay either in total disarmament or equal and legitimate security for all.

He warned against future challenges to the country's security environment. ''We have to keep pace with the revolution of the digital tool in the management of security,'' said Singh, adding that there was a systemic deficiency, borne out of an absence of strategic culture in India due to a lack of military history.


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