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…and then there was fire

What Agni-V’s success means to India.

Yesterday, India conducted a successful test of the much-awaited Agni-V nuclear-capable missile off Wheeler Island, Orissa.  Agni-V incorporates advanced technologies including composite rocket motors and micro-navigation systems, and has a range of over 5,000 km. The test itself is the most significant technological demonstrator of India’s evolving nuclear capability since the Pokhran tests of 1998.

By all standards, yesterday’s test was a long time coming.  Hindered by high-technology denial regimes led primarily by the U.S., India’s strategic missiles program has experienced delays and setbacks over the course of the last 15 years.  However, the absence of criticism from the U.S. on yesterday’s test is a testament to how far the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship has come since Pokhran.  As Shashank Joshi notes, “[i]f this had happened 15 years ago, it would have been condemned by the U.S.”

However, it is important to exercise caution and not get unduly carried away with yesterday’s successful test.  Unfortunately, India’s mainstream media has displayed misguided, almost vulgar bellicosity in its reporting of the success of Agni-V.  The same mainstream media that claimed that India wasn’t even prepared for war against Pakistan just two weeks ago, was all set to launch a punitive nuclear attack against China yesterday.  Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!  This shrillness, rhetoric and lack of credible analysis does a tremendous disservice to the profession of journalism and to the people of India.

Yes, Agni-V was an important step, but India has many more significant challenges to overcome in the evolution of its nuclear capability.  The significance of Agni-V ties directly with India’s “No First Use” (NFU) nuclear doctrine, which requires a mature secondary-strike capability for any NFU position to be credible.  Effectively, a secondary-strike capability means having the ability to retaliate in an imposed nuclear war via land (typically, missiles), air (strategic bombers) and sea (submarines) — the so-called “nuclear triad.”

However, two of the three legs of India’s nuclear triad  are only just evolving.  Agni-V’s successful launch notwithstanding, it will take several years before it can be fully inducted into India’s armed forces.  Further, as India’s stature and interests on the global stage grow, there will be a need in the future to adequately consider and account for threats beyond its shores and neighborhood.  This will mean the development of missiles with ranges longer than Agni-V, which will take not only advanced technological expertise to achieve, but also considerable political will.

India’s sea-based deterrent is also lagging.  Since India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, was revealed about two years ago, its operationalization has been significantly impacted by delays in its sea trials.  It is unlikely therefore, that it can be inducted into the armed forces before 2014.  Moreover, India’s submarine-based ballistic missile program is at a nascent stage.  While the short-range SLBM Sagarika (K-15) has undergone some trials, the longer-range K-4 is still under development and is unlikely to be ready for tests in the next 4-5 years, going by previous record.  This means that India is unlikely to realistically achieve credible sea-based deterrence before 2020.

India’s avowed position of never employing a nuclear weapon first in combat means that it must develop its secondary-strike capability with purpose.  It can ill-afford to go through additional iterations of lethargy and ineffectual decision-making in operationalizing and maturing its nuclear triad.  Naturally, India’s nuclear arsenal must also quantitatively and qualitatively evolve to reflect current and emerging threats.  The value of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems lies in convincing adversaries of their credibility and ability to inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation, should the need arise. The need of the hour therefore is to focus on these aspects rather than engage in injudicious and myopic chest-thumping.

 

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Sauce for goose

The China-Pakistan nuclear deal: where have all the ayatollahs gone?

The Guardian carried a rather sensationalist piece by Chris McGreal on how Israel had, at one point, offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa.  Some in the United States are fuming at the idea that a U.S. “proxy” considered selling nuclear weapons to an “autocratic, unstable state” (South Africa was under apartheid at the time) — somehow, apparently, this undermines the U.S.’s “moral authority.”  It is another matter entirely that this report had little factual basis.

In fact, the outrage that is non-story has generated has largely obscured the very credible, and potentially significant story coming out of Beijing:

Chinese companies will build at least two 650-megawatt reactors at Chashma in Punjab, the Financial Times said.A statement posted on the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation on March 1 said the financing for two new reactors at Chashma was agreed by the two sides in February.

“Our Chinese brothers have once again lived up to our expectations,” the Financial Times quoted an unidentified Pakistani official as saying of the deal, which would help Pakistan cope with a crippling energy crisis. “They have agreed to continue cooperating with us in the nuclear energy field.” [Dawn]

Some sources indicate that the U.S. is unlikely to broach this issue with the Chinese.  In some ways, the Obama administration may feel that this alleviates its own moral burden, faced with increasing pressure from Pakistan for a civilian nuclear deal.  Of course, the administration would be missing the point — Pakistan’s desire for civilian nuclear energy is subordinate to its desire for parity with India in the eyes of the U.S. In that regard, Pakistan’s quest for a nuclear deal with the U.S. has nothing to do with its need for nuclear energy.

The implications of  specific aspects of the China-Pakistan deal will need to be further examined when more information is made available.  If their previous track records are any indication, these reactors will not be subject to IAEA safeguards or inspections.   Other questions exist — will China seek to “grandfather” the new reactors with those it built in Pakistan prior to joining the NSG?  If not, how could China possibly  ensure that an exception is made for Pakistan at the NSG in the event that the reactors are kept out of IAEA’s purview?

Purely from the perspective of strategic balance in South Asia, this deal may not alter much.  However, a couple of issues need to be considered in light of this deal. First, the impact of this deal is of greater consequence to the Middle East than it is to South Asia — particularly to Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear-capacity-by-proxy” strategy has paid rich dividends via Pakistan’s frantic acceleration of weapons production on its behalf.  Two 650 MW reactors will give this cozy arrangement fresh impetus, if any was needed.  By extension, this puts considerable strain on Iran’s own nuclear program.

Second, what does the deal say about non-proliferation ayatollahs in the Obama administration? Clearly, altered dynamics after the economic crisis, and China’s importance in negotiating through the nuclear issue with Iran leaves the U.S. with minimal leverage over China.  China, for its part, is using the opportunity to violate the spirit of those existing non-proliferation regimes on a technicality.  Of course, it has been doing this for ages, rather clandestinely.  Now, it does so brazenly.

There may be little that India can do to prevent the deal from going through.  In this context, the 2010 UN NPT RevCon directive to India (and Israel) to sign the NPT is absurd and deserving of contemptuous dismissal. A world order where global nuclear non-proliferation regimes attempt to shackle, curtail and impose significant costs on those willing to abide by established norms, but lack the capacity to punish those who willfully violate them in letter and spirit is unacceptable.   The necessity for India to be at the forefront of defining a new world order where verifiable, non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is the objective, is felt more acutely now than ever.

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Urdunama: Seymour Hersh

Almost on cue, Pakistan’s Urdu media went to work, lambasting Seymour Hersh for his article in the “New Yorker” on US-Pak back-channel talks on securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, in the event of a debilitating security situation in the country.

Hersh was dismissed as a “Jewish agent” and his credibility immediately was called into question. This was followed by some chest-thumping on the integrity of Pakistan’s armed forces and the sanctity of the country’s nuclear assets.

Nawaiwaqt’s editorial was one of first to issue forth an opinion on Hersh’s piece:

The “New Yorker” claimed that the Obama administration is in sensitive talks with Pakistan to secure the country’s nuclear assets.  Under this agreement, American special units can secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets in the event of a crisis.

However, rejecting Seymour Hersh’s report as baseless, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Abdul Basit said that no help was needed from foreign nations to secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets.Because of his affiliation with the Jewish lobby, Seymour Hersh maintains a close watch on Pakistan’s nuclear program.

A propaganda campaign is underway in America which claims that extremists could take control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets — this propaganda is a result of the presence of the Indian lobby in America.The Hindus and the Jews have to this day not accepted Pakistan’s nuclear status.

The Americans and Europeans don’t seem to have any issues with the Hindu or Jewish bomb, but will never accept a Muslim country possessing such technology.Extremism has grown in Pakistan because of America’s war in Afghanistan and if there is any threat to Pakistan’s nuclear assets, it is from India, Israel and America.

Dr. AQ Khan has been put under house arrest and Blackwater, along with various other US officials have established a presence in Islamabad and elsewhere in Pakistan.

It is therefore important to pay close attention to the contents of Seymour Hersh’s report. Let there be no doubt that Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control is better than that of any other nation’s.  In the name of securing Pakistan’s nukes, Blackwater has tried to infiltrate Quetta and other cities in Pakistan.  This is part of a larger conspiracy through which America hopes to make India its slave by alleviating its fears over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

We have developed the nuclear program through our ability, hard work and resources.  We will provide for its security ourselves and if our enemies cast their evil eyes on our nuclear program, they will be given a bloody nose in reply.

In its November 11 editorial, the Daily Ausaf observes that consensus on maintaining and enhancing Pakistan’s nuclear program transcends the country’s dysfunctional and chaotic political environment.

Attempts to malign Pakistan’s nuclear program began with the genesis of the program itself. However, Pakistan’s politicians, despite their several faults, have continued to protect our nuclear program. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is credited with having the vision to embark on the nuclear program, then the credit to not only protect, but also enhance the program needs to be given to Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Zia ul-Haq.

The US has tried to repeatedly discredit Pakistan’s nuclear program — raising fears of instability in South Asia, of an arms race between India and Pakistan — but despite the US’s best efforts, our armed forces and politicians have safeguarded our nuclear program.We have been pressured to accede to several US demands.

Despite disapproval from the people, Pakistan was enlisted as a frontline state in US’s war on terrorism. But there will be no compromise on Pakistan’s nuclear program and if the day comes when a politician takes such a step, he will have to face the repercussions of his action and the awam will itself safeguard our nuclear program.

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Indian media discourse on China's 60th

China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, 2009.  It did so with the pomp and circumstance befitting a significant milestone.  Fireworks, aerobatics,  even a  female militia in miniskirt ensemble, and of course, contingents from the world’s largest armed forces.

In India, media coverage was distressingly predictable.  Labeling the military parade China’s “massive display of strength”, the media harped on about how the People’s Republic overwhelms India in military might.  Like this wonderful piece, called China vs India: Military might put together by an “NDTV correspondent” on their website (and also broadcast as a news item on television).

The article gives you a blow-by-blow of China’s relative superiority — 6,000 more “airplanes” in the PLAF, 100,000 more troops.  Run of the mill, factually incorrect observations — like Chinese plans to build and induct an aircraft carrier by 2010.  For those with an eye for the bleeding obvious, 2010 is next year.  And lest the nuclear arena be ignored, the article points out that China’s most potent warhead tested was 4 mT, whereas apparently an Indian nuclear test yielded 50 kT.  The author should have disclosed this a few weeks ago — it would have put an end to this ruccus.

Reading this article, you get the sense that China overwhelms India militarily and that the sanest thing for the Indian army to do under the circumstances is to pack up and go home.  Except, defense and national security aren’t played out on balance sheets or through inventory counts.

Any Chinese military misadventure is contingent on a number of factors, including India’s conventional  military capability, analysis of the impact of war on China’s economy and global standing, prospects of game-altering strategic alliances should war be imposed on India, and of course, China’s definition of “acceptable damage” and its assessment of India’s ability to cross that threshold via a nuclear assault.

Of course, not once was any of this remotely brought to the fore during India’s marathon coverage of China. To do so would be to bore an already disengaged audience about the intricacies of military strategy and international relations.  Why complicate matters when you can shock and scandalize someone and quickly cut to a commercial where Yuvraj Singh tries to sell you a Fiat Grande Punto?

Georges ” le Tigre” Clemenceau once said “war is too important a business to be left to soldiers”.  Disengagement of the public from matters relating to national security has led to very low levels of accountability in the defense of India.  Of the TV news anchors and “on-site” correspondents, not many can talk intelligently on such areas and ask probing questions to defense guests.  Comically, (and speaking of “le Tigre”) this blogger remembers TV coverage of the Kargil War, where one TV-news personality made repeated references to “Tiger Hills”, like it was some dashed hill station.

Today, the only honest, probing and meaningful analysis is conducted mostly by think tanks, whose publications are, unfortunately, only read by other think tanks. The Filter Coffee has long held the position that discussion on the defense of India needs to move away from think tanks and into our living rooms.  It is only then that true accountability can be demanded, both from the system, riddled as it is with bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption, and from the media, who today get a free pass on peddling half-truths and sweeping generalizations on an unsuspecting public.

As it stands today on matters of defense and national security, the media fails the very democracy it says it is protecting.

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