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Tag Archives | k subrahmanyam

India debates the nuclear bomb (1991)

A discussion with K Subrahmanyam, Gen. Sundarji, Jaswant Singh, Praful Bidwai, and others.

Rummaging through Indian Express’ archives has unearthed an interesting discussion in India in January 1991, on the merits and demerits of going nuclear and costs associated with such a decision.  Interestingly, the discourse in India at the time was motivated by accounts of Pakistan already possessing a nuclear stockpile;  not the other way around, as some commentators would like the world to believe.  Clearly, AQ Khan’s admission to Kuldip Nayar in at the height of the Brasstacks crisis played a critical role in shaping Indian perceptions of the regional security environment, post 1987.

The seminar, entitled “Nuclear Pakistan and Indian Response,” was sponsored by IDSA and included commentary from K Subrahmanyam, Gen. Sundarji, Jaswant Singh, Gen. Vohra and Praful Bidwai.  Excerpts from Manvendra Singh’s op-ed follow:

Mr. Praful Bidwai expressed doubts as to whether Pakistan was in fact capable of producing nuclear weapons.  He called it a bogey used by many in Delhi, for the sole purpose of justifying India going nuclear.  David Albright’s article in the June (1987) issue of “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” was heavily quoted by him for the technical aspects of his arguments.

Albright’s article was full of uncertainties, as Mr. RR Subramaniam pointed out in his vociferous rebuttals of Mr. Bidwai, whose claim that Pakistan’s nuclear policy was a response to the 1974 Pokhran test was historically incorrect.  And in fact none of the other participants pointed out to him that ZA Bhutto’s famous (we will eat grass but make a bomb) speech was made in January, 1972 in Multan.

Gen. Sundarji, with his quick-draw tongue, was at his articulately hawkish best.  A specialist in “Deterrence theories,” Gen. Sundarji made a very pertinent point when he stated that simple deterrence, without political engagement leads to overkill, as it did for the Soviet Union.  This was in response to the argument that desire for nuclear weapons in the belief of acting as deterrents can never be satiated, as stockpiles go on rising.  While unequivocally calling for India to go nuclear, he was of the view that diplomatic dialogue has to be encouraged if an overkill situation is to be avoided.

Mr. K Subrahmanyam, the doyen amongst defense specialists, was characteristically blunt and sharp in his analysis. Debunking the argument put forward that an active nuclear policy is grossly expensive, Mr. Subrahmanyam convincingly backed his  thesis that in terms of the value of returns for investments, a nuclear weapons programme is the most effective.  The total amount, he clarified, spent on our nuclear weapons programme is minuscule compared to the overall defence outlay.  Lamenting on the absence of direction and purpose in our nuclear policy, he grimly reminded the participants about the period post-1962, when India went, prostrate before Britain and the United States, desperate for a nuclear umbrella vis-a-vis China, backing Gen. Sundarji’s statement that “weakness is not a virtue.”

Mr. Jaswant Singh, the only active participant from the ranks of politicians (Mr. IK Gujral was largely an observer), created a bit of a ripple amongst the participants when he declared that India had lost the strategic initiative to Pakistan.  He declined to elaborate, saying that it was vital for all to ponder over it.  In all probability, his thesis revolved around the fact that primarily out of our inaction, the internal and external range of India’s maneuverability has shrunk to levels incompatible to India’s status and role in the world.  This is the sum total loss arising out of an absence of clear long-term policy formulation and implementation.

And taking this setback into account, he said, makes it all the more necessary to have permanent bodies like the National Security Council Secretariat.  Active during the period of the National Front government in the formation of the NSC, Mr. Singh stated convincingly that it was imperative for India to have such a specialized decision-making body, given the circumstances that it finds itself in. The shortage of active politicians participating in seminars of such importance is a phenomenon for all Indians to seriously think about.

The decision to go nuclear, or not, rests entirely on the political leadership of India, and which is to a large extent, totally unacquainted with this and related subjects.  In Pakistan,however, it is the military brass that is in control of defence policy-making.  A military in power, directly or indirectly, will always enlarge its arsenal to keep the internal balance of power, psychologically or otherwise, in its favour.  It is therefore natural, no matter how much static exists between Washington and Islamabad, that Gen. [Aslam] Baig will go ahead with increasing and improving Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

In the unlikely event of Pakistani civil leadership initiating moves towards a nuclear treaty with India, Gen. Baig could very easily torpedo the whole process with some populist gimmickry.  A nuclear capability will be an enormous psychological boost for Pakistan’s aims in Afghanistan, Punjab and Kashmir. [Indian Express]

 

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A doyen passes

RIP, K Subrahmanyam.

Independent India’s greatest strategic thinker, K Subrahmanyam, passed away on 2nd February.  Mr. Subrahmanyam was India’s most influential strategic voice, having made critical contributions to the formulation of India’s nuclear doctrine, championing the cause for intervention to end the East Pakistan genocide in 1971, and chairing the Kargil Review Committee.

In a memorable interview with Rediff in August, 2000, Mr. Subrahmanyam offered these words about the state of India’s security apparatus:

We have progressed in the sense that we have improved our equipment. We have improved our surveillance capability. We have perhaps improved our monitoring capabilities. We have plugged all the gaps with a very heavy cost. By pushing the troops into the gaps. Even though that’s not the best way of handling the problem, there is no other short term alternative. All that has been done.

But what worries me is that at the time of the Kargil war when our troops had to be fully supported everybody wanted to engage in the fingerprinting and blaming game here. Now after the war, when you have the entire report available with every scrap of intelligence information that is available to the government printed in it, all those people do not talk about it.

This highlights the fact that people in this country are not interested in national security. They are interested in the politics of national security. That is a very, very sad thing. [Rediff]

True words then as they are today, as the KRC report gathers dust and Kargil and Mumbai are unfailingly remembered by the powers-that-be in New Delhi, once a year each.

Recommended: Nitin Pai’s tribute on The Acorn and interview with Mr. Subrahmanyam in 2008 (podcast),  and a felicitation in 2004 by his KRC colleague , BG Verghese.

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Atomic outsourcing

More on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The inimitable K. Subrahmanyam is on target in this Indian Express piece on the motives and implications of the China-Pakistan nuclear deal which envisages China building two 650-MW reactors in Punjab province:

The real issue is the following. According to US nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman who wrote The Nuclear Express, Deng Xiaoping took a decision to proliferate to selected Marxist and Islamic countries in the early ‘80s including Pakistan, North Korea and Iran…[I]t stands to reason that the Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and proliferation by both countries to Iran were deliberate state-led acts. All subsequent Pakistani proliferation attempts to Iran and Libya were state-sanctioned, and Khan was acting with full approval of successive governments and army chiefs in Pakistan.

China managed to insert a clause aimed at India into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty draft, totally in violation of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, that the treaty would enter into force only when India which was totally opposed to the treaty, signed and ratified it. This was a challenge to India’s sovereignty.

The real issue they overlook is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal’s destabilizing effect on West Asia and the strategic gain for China from that phenomenon. On June 7 this year, The Washington Post disclosed that a former CIA officer who managed intelligence reports on Saudi Arabia has sent an uncleared manuscript to Congressional offices claiming that China supplied nuclear missiles to the kingdom early in the George W. Bush administration.

Shia Iran finds itself confronted on two sides by Sunni nuclear-armed powers. Iran has an experience of weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapon) by its Sunni leadership (Saddam Hussein). They face millennium-old Sunni hostility, al-Qaeda and its associates patronized by the Pakistan army regularly target Shias even while praying in mosques. Western analysts are right to worry about an arms race in West Asia. But the origins lie not in Iranian proliferation, but in Chinese-Pakistani proliferation. Iran is only trying to protect itself. The arms race is already on. [Indian Express]

A couple of points to further accentuate these arguments. First, the real issue here is how nuclear non-proliferation regimes have been singularly incapable of both holding China accountable to its non-proliferation commitments and dealing with nuclear proliferation perpetrated by a larger power like China.  While the West fumes and frets over a nuclear Iran or Myanmar’s so-called “nuclear brigade,” the 800-pound giant panda in the room is a China that has been entirely unapologetic about its intent to proliferate.

But then, this has been the defining characteristic of global non-proliferation regimes — they are discriminatory by design.  Recent news reports bring up China’s NSG commitments because of the impending NSG meet in New Zealand.  But there are several non-proliferation treaties that China has violated since 1990 in its decision to supply Islamabad and Pyongyang with nuclear know-how.

Second, China has, from the outset, sought to ensure India’s containment in the subcontinent.  It has pursued this by utilizing Pakistan as a tool — equipping Pakistan with nuclear weapons is just one aspect of this.  Given China’s intentions, India taking up its concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan to Beijing assumes that China can be turned around and that it can play the role of an honest broker in the subcontinent.  However, there is no precedent in the last 60 years to support this well intentioned, but misplaced leap of faith.  China can’t be an “honest-broker” when it is part of the problem.

Finally, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out, the impact of China’s actions will be felt most in West  Asia. Pakistan’s deterrence vis-a-vis India has, arguably, been in place since about 2000-2001.  Yet, Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons at a frantic pace.  The answer to this apparent disconnect lies in Pakistan’s nuclear commitments to Saudi Arabia.  Iran’s misplaced bravado and miscalculations have largely led to its nuclear isolation; however, the Sunni world is disquieted by Tehran aspirations and has sought refuge under a nuclear umbrella, provided by China, by way of Pakistan.

China’s reckless actions, which have already destabilized the subcontinent, now further complicate matters in an already volatile West Asia.   In addition, its defiance of non-proliferation efforts further accentuates systemic flaws in the global non-proliferation order.  These issues are of consequence to India and the rest of the world.  Myopic editorials on the matter hurt efforts in confronting the reckless behavior of a serial proliferator.

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