NO country needs nuclear weapons—not any of the nuclear weapons states and not India or Pakistan (or Israel for that matter). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a historic mistake in committing itself to exercising the nuclear option. The party's manifesto and, more recently, its national agenda state that a BJP government will "induct" nuclear weapons into India's defence. To the extent that this is a serious objective, it is profoundly mistaken. It is a mistake for a number of economic, diplomatic, political and moral reasons. But most of all it is a mistake for strategic reasons.
Nuclear weapons, it is usually argued, are necessary for deterrence or a balance of power against nuclear weapons powers. In India's case, nuclear weapons would be aimed principally at Pakistan and China. Neither deployment is warranted.
Those who advocate an Indian bomb as a way of deterring Pakistan's bomb invert history. India exploded a bomb in 1974. That Pakistan was moving towards a nuclear weapons capability before 1974 is reasonably clear, but if India had unambiguously closed off the nuclear option in the 1950s and 1960s the pressure on Islamabad to develop a nuclear capability would have been largely absent: this is a "what if" of history but not a risible or trivial one.
To declare that India needs the bomb to deter Pakistan's bomb is, therefore, rather perverse. Islamabad has repeatedly stated that it will accept any de-nuclearising agreement or nuclear arms control measure that New Delhi is prepared to accept. One could see this as mere tactical manoeuvre, but if New Delhi did indeed give up the nuclear option, Pakistan's "bluff" would be called. It is difficult to see how, in the court of world opinion as well as influential sectors of its own domestic opinion,...