RIDING the Nuclear Tiger was published in May 99. Normally, this
wouldve been recent enough to remain topical. But the books been overtaken by
events the flashpoint in Kargil and the lesser incursions that continue along the
These developments confirmed that Pokhran-II, followed by the Chagai nuclear blasts in
Pakistan, have contributed nothing to Indias security. Rather, theyve created
insecurity. Fears that nuclear parity may tempt Pakistan to create sustained border
tension to keep the Kashmir issue alive have come true since its strategists are confident
that India will be deterred from hitting back. This evidence on the counter- productive
nature of nuclear weapons for India wouldve helped strengthen N. Rams
demolition of the case for such expensive weapons.
Although Kargils helped demonstrate the strategic insecurities of trying to
straddle the nuclear tiger, its political repercussions have turned out to be diff e rent
from those visualised by Ram. He paints India as isolated, and fearful of sanctions, which
it was after Pokhran- II. The picture s changed today. Never have the industrialised
nations, led by the US, supported it so openly. Even Beijing, despite the anti-China
flavour given by New Delhi to Pokhran-II, hasnt supported Pakistan. Here the nuclear
factor seems to have gone in Indias favour. The big powers seem to have been
primarily influenced by the desire to oppose any action that could lead to a nuclear
confrontation. In Kargil, Pakistan was clearly the offender.
Thus we have a strange situation, which few had anticipated. On the one hand, the
strategic justification of Pokhran-IIs been exposed as hollow. Its deterred
India more than Pakistan. On the other, the international consequences have favoured
India. The great powers have shown themselves keen to display their opposition to military
moves which could upset the status quo in the subcontinent and such moves usually emanate
from Pakistan. International interest, of course, carries the risk of intervention, which
has gone against India in the past, but may not do so now.
Rams is a black-and-white thesis. He is at his best describing the immorality of
nuclear weapons, exposing the flaws and high cost of nuclear deterrence, backed by
convincing documentation. But the thesis is marred by his desire to blame the "Hindu
Right" exclusively for last years tests. Yet Pokhran-II cannot but recall the
Pokhran-I blast in May 74. Even then, nobody was taken in by the excuse that its
purpose was peaceful. The test was part of a continuing campaign to develop the military
aspect of the nuclear energy programmes that India began in the 50s, a process
accelerated after Chinas Lop Nor tests in 64. Secret preparations in Pakistan
and possible threats from China were used to justify Pokhran-I, but the need to refurbish
Mrs Gandhis domestic image might have triggered the device.
Since then, every government of India has retained the "nuclear option". A
large number of scientists and strategists has consistently supported a military programme
, and received considerable government funds for the purpose. A fusion of the political
needs of the Vajpayee government with the latent ambitions of the military - scientific
establishment seems to have created the same critical mass that led to Pokhran-I. According to Ram, however, the Hindu Rights Pokhran-II subverted Indias
peaceful nuclear policy, but Pokhran-I didnt. The continuing eff o rt by all
governments to ensure that India remained a screwdriver turn from creating nuclear weapons
is also not seen as subversion. I share his views on the immorality and the futility of
nuclear deterrence, but its votaries are not limited to the Hindu Right. The main
proponents of this pernicious doctrine are bureaucrats, scientists and serving and retired
military officers. He should not forget to target them.
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