Home > News > Columnists > Ramananda Sengupta
Get on with our nuclear programme
May 23, 2003
Suddenly, I am glad that India, and yes, even Pakistan, tested when they did.
Suddenly, I am glad that India is a nuclear power, capable of retaliating in kind. And I earnestly pray that India's ability to target nations across the world is achieved as soon as possible. And if it's necessary to test a few more times to fine tune our weapons, let's get on with it. After all, our moratorium is self-imposed, right?
I was not always a nuke fan.
India's massive conventional superiority over Pakistan had been reduced to zero with the tests, I had argued. Now, the two nations faced each other as equals.
The shifting of the bombs from the basement to the front yard would add a lethal force multiplier to the tensions in the subcontinent, and we could certainly do without the unpleasant world attention this entailed, I believed.
Besides, I've always believed that there are many people on both sides of the border who actually think nuclear weapons are nothing but a bigger, more powerful, conventional bomb.
The thought of some maniac accessing a nuke and saying 'let's see how loud a bang this baby makes' made me shudder.
Pakistan strongman Pervez Musharraf seemed to prove me right, rattling his nuclear sabers with almost predictable regularity.
Among other things, this forced the Indian army, which spent nearly a year without leave on full alert at the border, to return home without so much as blooding their kukris. Deterrence, anyone?
A day after the second round of Indian tests May 13, 1998, the UN Security Council (whose permanent members are all nuclear powers) passed a resolution 'strongly deploring' it.
It then sanctimoniously '…affirmed the crucial importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and appealed to India, and all other States which had not yet done so, to become parties to those instruments without delay and without conditions. India was also encouraged to participate in the proposed negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty in Geneva, with a view to reaching early agreement….'
India's riposte is a classic that ought to be included in the text books of diplomacy.
After expressing surprise 'because the Council has never thought it necessary even to take cognizance of the many hundreds of nuclear tests carried out over the last 50 years..' (and here's the crucial part I overlooked then) it affirms that 'Our security concerns, therefore, go well beyond South Asia.' (Italics mine)
Then came 9/11, and the war on Afghanistan. I watched in awe and horror as a superpower exercised its right to punish a nation for the faults of its rulers. The ruling Taliban had no intention of handing over Osama bin Laden. So the Taliban had to go. No one ever thought about what would happen if Osama escaped.
My awe changed to bewilderment when Iraq was attacked ostensibly because it was suspected of having weapons of mass destruction. While North Korea, which had publicly admitted to missile proliferation to China and clearly announced its plans to develop more weapons, was treated with kid gloves.
This bewilderment changed to anger when I read about the US Defence Bill.
Here's what the Voice of America has to say about it.
'…The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have each passed their own versions of a $400 billion defense spending bill that would develop new weapons, increase funding for homeland security and benefits for American troops. Both versions include more than $70 billion for weapons purchases and $9 billion for a missile defense system, as a well as funds for a four percent pay raise for military personnel. The bills both include $450 million to dismantle and destroy weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.'
'The Senate measure would lift a decade-old ban on research and development of a new class of low-yield nuclear weapons that the administration argues is necessary to counter new threats. The House bill would allow research on such weapons, but keep the moratorium on development.'
And the Times:
'Passage of the Bill will give the Pentagon billions of extra dollars to develop the previously outlawed nuclear bombs and to breathe new life into America's nuclear infrastructure, which President Bush views as a vital part of US strategy.
'The Bill would also require the US Energy Department to be ready to resume underground nuclear tests within 18 months. America suspended nuclear weapons-testing 11 years ago. Restarting underground tests would be in breach of the 1996 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but Mr Bush has the power to rescind the US as a signatory, without Congressional approval.
Russia, too has announced that it would test low yield weapons, more suited to today's strategic climes. And China is likely to follow suit, with or without prior warning.
So we have a situation where a nation which attacks others for supposedly possessing WMD grants itself the right to further test and develop such weapons, breaching treaties it has initiated, endorsed and ratified.
Iraq explains why If India (and Pakistan) had not tested when they did, they may never have had the chance.
It also explains why India needs to get on with its nuclear weapons programme despite all the damned naysayers. They know not what they say.