August 06, 2020
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Beyond Missile Machismo

India must now break free from the competition in missile range, payload and numbers, and must integrate globally

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Beyond Missile Machismo

MISSILES have a macho symbolism. They convey meanings more multi-dimensional than any bomb can. Recall what a cruise missile on Osama bin Laden's camp could do. It didn't get him, but the message was clear, even if some of those cruises—temperamental even in the computer age—bewildered the Pakistanis by landing in their territory. A couple of North Korean missiles over Japanese skies did more for missile defences in the region than all the American attempts at persuasion. Missiles convey power, resolve, pride and are a wonderful tonic for flagging public opinion. Russian President Yeltsin ordered missiles on readiness when there was not much else left to do about NATO attacks on Serbia. The Chinese deployed some hundreds of them against Taiwan to show their displeasure about missile defe-nces being put into place there. A leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami pleaded with Pakistani authorities for an immediate response to Agni-II to help public morale. Pakistan authorities, from their army chief to the ministers, responded with Ghauri-II. This despite the fact that Pakistan's existing missiles are capable of reaching most parts of India.

There is an inexorable logic of nuclear weapons. It propels those who possess them towards goals, which are predictable in terms of hardware but uncertain in the consequences of a nuclear weapons-based security policy. India has declared itself a nuclear weapons state with a no-first-use pledge, a moratorium on further tests, promises of not transferring weapons technology, of reconsidering its position on CTBT, FMCT etc. It wants a minimum credible nuclear deterrent against nuclear adversaries in the neighbourhood. The nuclear deterrent can hardly be credible without a missile delivery system that can reach deep into enemy territory. Agni-II fills that need even if its range is just 2,000 km. India may well work on an ICBM system for future needs. Its PSLV and GSLV platforms are proof that it can achieve that milestone. The fact, however, remains that all this is hardware. A deterrent is more than mere hardware. It is a combination of statesmanship, political stability, hardware, and above all else of economic strength. Deterrence credibility depends on the trust between the political and military hierarchies. It is also contingent on a coherent doctrine. Deterrence is demonstrated not through tests of bombs and missiles but by having, on ground, the infrastructure to manage it.

It is a matter of unfailing wonder that the brilliant work of our scientists and dedication of the defence services are so inadequately complemented by those responsible for providing them with strategic guidelines. The defence minister pronounced, after one test of Agni-II, that it is now operational. A nuclear deterrent or Agni-II can only be operational after missiles are in serial production, warheads are in stockpile, a controlling mechanism is in place, and an operational doctrine has been evolved. There is no sign yet of the command, control, communication and intelligence infrastructure to work the nuclear deterrent. The government has only declared that something adequate is in place. How would a nuclear deterrent, its analysis, decision processes and strategic fundamentals be handled in the coalition governance, of the kind witnessed in the last few months, is unclear. The strategic defence review which this government had promised seems to have got lost in the tumult of political survival. A nuclear doctrine is yet to see the light of the day. It appears as if testing the bombs in May '98 and firing the Agni-II in '99 are the summum bonum of a nuclear strategy.

There are many failures which can be laid at this government's door in matters of nuclear policy and governance. It has, however, controlled, albeit falteringly, the fall-out from the tests of 1998. It has engaged the US in a dialogue on strategic issues.

The muted response to the Agni-II tests from other states is a measure of Indian resolve conveyed on nuclear matters. The perception that India is a responsible and mature nuclear weapons state needs now to be built upon. India needs to rejoin the global geo-political mainstream if it is to build on its nuclear weapons status. It needs to place a higher value on the real components of security in the new world which is emerging at the turn of the century.

THERE is little purpose to be gained by India remaining outside the nuclear regimes which have been accepted by the international polity. India should now announce its willingness to sign the CTBT and do so in the near future. It should also join the FMCT negotiations. It should negotiate and finalise a nuclear risk reduction arrangement with Pakistan. It should state what criteria would define the size and scope of its minimum nuclear deterrent. The shape and size India places on this would be an as-of-now assessment. This would not affect its freedom to change these calculations, if the situation so demands in the future. All these issues can be based on a national consensus between the major political parties. National security—a sadly ill-used phrase in recent months—should be raised above politicking, even if political wannabes use this to score points off one another.

The inescapable primacy of economic growth and political stability in the security calculus of a nation needs to be brought up front. No security is possible with military hardware alone. The reach of one superpower through its economic strength, and the palpable loss of it by a former superpower despite massive arsenals of rusting hardware, provide stark examples to India. India can and must break free from the competition in missile range, payload and numbers of warheads. It should engage internationally and integrate globally. The nuclear deterrent can't be allowed to become a millstone in its search for greatness.

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