BOOK REVIEW

Strategic triangle

E.R.Gopinath

Strategic triangle

NUCLEAR DETERRENCE IN SOUTHERN ASIA — China, India & Pakistan: Arpit Rajain; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B-42, Panchsheel Enclave, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 480.

On May 5, 2005, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched yet another Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) into orbit from Sriharikota on the Andhra coast to put two satellites into orbit. President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was on hand to cheer the scientists on their achievement. Meanwhile, foreign ministers from around the world attempted on May 2 to revive efforts for breathing life into the 35-year-old Nuclear Disarmament Treaty which has failed repeated efforts by countries to reach understanding to eliminate the nuclear threat.

These two developments highlight the effort of humanity to confine the nuclear monster of war and to ensure that human knowledge of the atom is put to use for the benefit of man and not for destruction. It was the U.S. that first used the atom for warlike purposes at Hiroshima and to this day it is the U.S. and developed Western nations that are effectively blocking efforts to stop further research into and production of nuclear weapons.

Arpit Rajain has produced an excellent study of the nuclear menace particularly in Southern Asia. He has over three years amassed considerable information on the status of nuclear development in China, India and Pakistan.

The study shows that China, which has been perforce admitted into the select band of nations led by the U.S. and Russia possessing a nuclear arsenal, along with India and Pakistan, which have gatecrashed into that band, are three nations which have actually fought wars. The Ussuri River issue, which saw the erstwhile Soviet Union engaged in aggression against China, the India-China war and the Kargil crisis between India and Pakistan brought nations close to using nuclear weapons.

This region is almost a laboratory experiment to expose the dangers of nuclear war to humanity. Nuclear weapons were rattled as deterrence. But "nuclear weapons were not created to deter. It was deterrence that was conceived in regard to nuclear weapons." So far talk of deterrence has been largely theoretical and talk of minimum and maximum deterrence are yet to be tried out.

The author goes into the prospects of use of nuclear weapons by the three countries. China, by its very age-old ethos, culture and traditions is unlikely to use nuclear weapons, which it produced mainly on its own even as a deterrent against foreign threats. India from its traditional and historic culture has formally come out against "first use" of nuclear weapons. When countries, which had developed nuclear arsenals like the U.S. tried to prevent Indian studies of the nucleus even for peaceful purposes, India achieved nuclear weapon capability on its own.

Pakistan has nuclear capability and a rudimentary nuclear arsenal. But all the three countries, with China at the top of the pyramid in terms of nuclear weapon capability are potential users of the nuclear weapon as a "deterrent" when faced with foreign threats. All of them have also the capacity to load and deliver nuclear weapons against an adversary. The PSLV launch by India is an indicator.

None of the three countries of the region are likely to give up their right to use nuclear weapons at least as a deterrent. Both China and India are unlikely to be the first to use these weapons. The same does not hold true for Pakistan.

Apart from the three countries dealt with in this book, others are also unlikely to accept the U.S. diktats and give up efforts to enter the restricted nuclear weapons club even if in the scenario where the U.S. has emerged as the only superpower. Iran, Korea and others are bent on achieving nuclear capability one way or the other. The world threat is further complicated by the growing band of non-state players like the Al-Qaeda, which could pose threats to various areas of the globe chasing their convoluted goals.

So far as India is concerned, the author says that after a long spell of confusion and lack of clarity, India has over the past half a decade, begun thinking seriously of a nuclear policy. He feels that in this region China is the long-term threat. "China's primary national goal is to become a strong, modernised, unified and wealthy nation." He feels that "there is no need for South Asian states to weaponise without affirming the Clauswitzian distinction between war and diplomacy. It is imperative, meanwhile, that Pakistan, China and India determine whether nuclear weapons are military or diplomatic weapons."

He quotes one writer on the subject: "If the U.S., the mightiest country militarily, declares that it needs nuclear weapons for its security, how can one deny such security to States that have real cause to feel insecure." And with threats all round, with the U.S. pushing for nuclear disarmament by countries other than itself, with Iraq still fresh in memory, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a far cry.

Simultaneously as the dreaded nuclear weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of more and more nations and terrorists, their use is ever more frightening. Very recently nuclear weapons were rattled in the engagement between India and Pakistan over Kargil. Can we always avoid their actual use?

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