Interview: Kanti Bajpai
The Pralay Mythology
Tracing it back to Nehru, Kanti Bajpai, while not being entirely dismissive of the arguments of the defence strategists and experts, argues that none of these stand up to close scrutiny.
KB: I had done some work at the M.A. level already on economic development, macro-models of the economy and so on. I was quite interested in the whole issue of democracy in the military --- and explored this is an article called Generals and Politics in India where I argued that there possibly could never be a coup in India.
I began to look at the Pakistan army as well. Steve had already finished his book on the Pakistan army, he was also interested in launching a research programme on arms control and disarmanent in South Asia across disciplines. He was the only South Asianist then who was interested in the Military. He however did not discourage me.
My funding in fact came from the Arms Control Office. I got drawn into issues concerning international security these were Reagan days - it was 1982 - the time when Reagan began this whole extraordinary business called Star Wars than there was this whole debate going in the US about a functional defence system and Illinois was one of the few places which brought together people from all disciplines scientists, business people, social scientists. People who were actually involved in making the bomb and I was therefore drawn into these issues.
So begun a project on South Asian Security. Out of that broadly I learnt a lot about the bomb - And Stephen's first book on the Security of South Asia dealt a fire amount with the issue in 1985. And the debate began with works of K. Subrahmanyam, T.R. Chari, R.R. Subramaniam who began to take the issue of nuclear weapons quite seriously.
We had a lot of stuff with Steve also on the whole issue of militarization. Alfred Marx's classic book on the Study of Militarism... all that ... I began to see from a more expanded field of interest than I had begun initially.
It was clear that the Indian Army had more than a role in the issue of security than I had imagined. I think my interest in democracy, the military, my readings on militarism, of John Lynn who had as interest in strategy - he always argued that strategy ended when nuclear bombs arrived.
In that first book in 1984, my friend Rashed Naim playfully began writing on a India Pakistan nuclear war and I had done a course on deterrence and worked through quite a lot of that stuff with him - building up scenarios etc.
AG: About CTBT - I had a feeling that there was absolute consensus on the issue.
KB: There was a near consensus then.
AG: What do you think was wrong with India's stand on it?
KB: The first thing about India's stand was that if felt that the treaty was discriminatory. Countries like the US principally had the liberty to carry on tests not banned by the CTBT Laboratory tests, computer simulated tests and so called hydrogen or sub-critical tests.
The argument here was that only the five could carry out the whole range of tests leading to the development of new weapons. The discriminatory aspect was that these five still retained the ability to carry on nuclear research and weapons while the only test that the others could carry out were the explosion tests which the CTBT banned.
The second argument was that the CTBT was full of holes so far as verification clauses were concerned. People could [do] things clandestinely -- what if a country, say, for example, China, simply transferred a known bomb design to a country like Pakistan, that would subvert the sprit of the CTBT.
Third, and perhaps the most important objection was that the treaty was not bound by any phase or time bound convention of disarmament.
The fourth and final objection that has come up of late is that the treaty is somehow not commensurate with India's security concerns. Even though nobody was quite clear about what this meant. I, and some people like me, virtually disagreed with all these objections and in fact argued that the treaty was commensurate with India's strategic interest.
All you had to show [was] that if the ban on testing stopped, Pakistan and China (who are supposedly our greatest strategic threats) from testing, then that itself was a security gain. Everyone knew that these countries had some sort of a nuclear programme which just required the validation of a live test - and if the Pakistanis were brought under the treaty and denied that possibility, then that was good.
We tested in 1974 and had a validated design, and they wouldn't have one - so we could have had a security advantage : China. had a lot of nuclear weapons but why not stop them in their tracks at least? If you are looking for security arguments then it seemed that the balance of arguments favoured the stopping of these two powers from testing.
As far as the other arguments are concerned, certain powers have been led into the CTBT in return for the permanent extension of the NPT. When the 1995 permanent extension took place it was on the understanding that the nuclear powers would move towards the comprehensive test ban. That was the tit for tat. So they did have [to]come to the table.
Asking for phased disarmament is all very well, but it is not practical. One had to understand that they had a strategic problem - and since the end of the cold war they were doing things which indicated that they were trying to bring numbers down, for example, START I, START II scrapping of tactical weapons, though admittedly, not as fast as we wanted them to -- but one had to understand their problem as well.
I think to that extent the CTBT was part of a process and not a isolated thing, and this was genuine disarmament for the first time. So stacked up against that, and given the fact that they were dragged into the talks, I think many of us thought that we were beginning a process.
AG: In America nobody had actually spoken about Complete nuclear disarmament.
KB: That's a goal of course - and the US and others could have gone further in making a gesture towards that goal if we had tried harder in Geneva, we could have put a statement in the treaty about the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament - but the fact is that we had no intention of going along with CTBT.
If we joined with the US and 15 to 20 others in the General Assembly and co-sponsored a resolution following the talks in Geneva but as Mani Dixit who was then Foreign Secretary told us that we wouldn't get a treaty for at least a decade. I suppose they always had it in their minds that they were proceeding towards the tests - they definitely wanted the tests only stopped short.
AG: Why ?
KB: They say that American satellites picked up preparations for the test, also the feeling that the economy in 1995 was still too weak after the crisis of 94. But rumour was rife in Delhi that it was going to happen. We had no intention of going along with the CTBT and had to find a way out of it. In fact the scientists, more than anybody else were working at it. The knew the people and how to put their ideas to work. Through people like Subramaniam, Rajamohan.
In the end the GOI was not interested in signing the test ban. In retrospect, I think, because they wanted to test.
AG: In a sense one of the criticisms of the current test was that it was hastily put together. that's only partially true then it's been part of a consistent Indian policy?
KB: Ya, I think so. In 1974 there was a test, in 1982 there is evidence of [a] test being planned at Pokhran, in 1995 there were clear signs that they wanted a test and in 1998 they went ahead. If they did a 1974 type test this time, you could have said that they had arranged it hastily but they did a range of tests this time - a thermonuclear, one of the earlier Pokhran type and two or three sub-criticals. Which means they had been preparing this for quite a long time.
AG: How long do you think?
KB: I don't know I think you'll have to ask some scientific person for that - they may have been ready in 95 and there are sections in the nuclear lobby who have been working on it for a couple of decades Since about the mid 1980s there were stories appearing which said that India was capable of carrying out thermonuclear tests.
So I think it goes as far back as 1985-86. They might have been ready for the thermonuclear, which means that this stuff had been lying round for quite some which .. just waiting for the right time
Sub-critical tests are more tricky.. Basically you have to stop a series of chain reaction short of full scale tests and that might have required a lot of work. A sub-critical test publicly came into focus with the CTBT four. Before that we knew little about sub-critical tests and their utility, but I think they may not be technically very demanding to be very honest.
What you really have to know about sub-critical tests is that do you have enough data about real tests? And then you can extrapolate from the sub-critical tests in the light of what you already know about the real . Other Governments were very well aware of these and supported these programs.
AG: What is the basic impetus behind this long-term policy? Is it a genuine security concern? What is it?
KB: I think you know I'm cynical about what the government says -- they really think they need nuclear weapons for security. Surely, there are people around who think there are other spin-offs, more parochial ones, but , but if you talk to anyone in the armed forces or the MOD to the extent that they understand anything about nuclear weapons at all, and commentators like Subramaniam, they genuinely think that nuclear weapons give us deterrence.
Deterrence against Pakistan which will get nuclear weapons whether or not India has or not and China which has nuclear weapons for the last thirty years. They believe that there is a serious existential threat. They believe that 62 could happen all over again. And looked at that way there is something to it and that one just cannot dismiss it and that therefore, I think you should play out some scenarios where the security situation in which nuclear weapons would come into play, when you get down to that you can really test their argument.
On the face of it, you have to concede to the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, so does China, there has been a record, a conflict and war, and so under these circumstance which country wouldn't?
AG: So deploy your argument then.
KB: Well, if you were to start building some stories, then you can see that the arguments are flawed.
Take the Pakistani case. Ever since '72, during the days of Bhutto which predates Pokhran I, just after the shock of Bangladesh, they were determined to go for the nuclear tests. They've never had a civilian nuclear program of any size. So here military interests were very clear.
The question is: with regard to Pakistan can we be secure without nuclear weapons? And I think, one can if one takes the military argument seriously. For with Pakistan we are better off militarily without nuclear weapons along the following logic. If we did not have nuclear weapons, if we hadn't tested in '74, I think Pakistan would have to terminate their program, partly under pressure from the international community and partly from domestic opinion.
So we would have had a situation where neither side would have had nuclear weapons and we would have had the advantage of conventional forces -- conventional force superiority.
Now, some people, as soon as you say that, in fact, argued you have pointed the very reason why Pakistan should have had nuclear weapons whether India had or not, because there's always a kind of inequality, and some Pakistanis have made those statements but I think we would have to accompany our giving up of the bomb with an offer to negotiate conventional force levels I mean we've always had to have more weapons but having more weapons does not always mean that we are at decisive strategic advantage.
You can configure your forces in such a way as not to have a decisive attacking edge, called an offensive advantage. We could have sat down with the Pakistanis and had a verifiable agreement where we could have decided on these so that they could have been assured that we did not have the capacity of surprise launcher attacksthis is called non-offensive defence or defensive defence. So if we had tried, we could had stable military relations.
So the argument with Pakistan, simply, is that there was a tricky kind of military problem but if we had been serious about it we could have overcome it.
AG: So, youre saying that this all goes back to Indira Gandhis 1974 testing ?
KB: I think so. Once we tested in 74, a program that was in its infancy in Pakistan got a certain kind of push and there was nothing much you could do about it. Unless we called it off, which we never chose to do.
AG: So we can take it back to Nehru whose initiative lay in starting a nuclear program in 54?
KB: Yes, I think that is in a sense right. As he wrote, he left open the option of using nuclear energy for military purposes. And Pakistanis knew that very well. They followed up their nuclear program soon after that.
AG: So right [from] the very start the Indian State has been committed to the development of nuclear research and weapons. Why do you think so?
KB: Well if you take the strategic argument, they have been very persuasive. Nuclear weapons for the Indian state meant a certain profile. It signified really that we were a modern nation. Nehru said that this was one technology where India always led ever since independence.
In 1945 itself, Bhabha had already started putting together the evidence of a program here which he could claim to be pretty much up to date with any body else. Bhabha had deciphered during the war already that the Americans and the Brits were building up a nuclear program. He was very well aware of the military applications and had been talking to Nehru throughout and convinced Nehru that it fitted with Nehrus "modern temples of science" vision
This was one technology that we had, it was limitless source of energy, and it gave India a kind of rank that it did not have in any other sphere. A technological scientific rank, that enabled it to converse with the best and brightest on the issue.
Here was a source of energy which only three or four powers had, there were potential spin-offs in all kinds of areas which very few countries could boast of. I mean undoubtedly that was bit of an exaggeration -- for example, there were countries like Sweden, Canada and others who could have caught up very soon.
Even as late as the year before he died, Nehru still thought that India was one of the leading nuclear powers, that it in effect was like saying we were well ahead of the Chinese, and of course this was one year before they tested at Lop Nor. So I think he bought this idea that nuclearism was some kind of a symbolism of what new India could be.
It is quite deep even now, after the blast, look at all the celebration of the scientists, I mean its 50-60 year old technology. But that mythology of it being a great scientific achievement is amazingI think our achievements in computer software technology has now taken a lead over this but the nuclear program runs a close second.
Here's this huge abstruse physics and engineering unleashing this enormous power and energy. I think it means so many things to so many people. That in a way I think you can bring an enormous coalition of people into its mythology.
AG: So it is mythology you think?
KB: Yes to an extent thats what it is. I have had some curious conversations with people which really reinforce that impression.
Coming to China for example in a debate at the National Defence College at the time of the CTBT, there was me, Subramaniam, Rajamohan and Chaired by Matin Zuberi. At some point in response to a question for the armed forces by someone from the audience, I laid out an argument as to why we didnt need a bomb vis-à-vis China.
There were three kind scenarios (some of these were drawn up by Subramaniam and I was building up on those) for example, the problem of India and China over the border, second, the internal problem of China particularly Tibet i.e. the possibility of a democratic upsurge there which could lead to instability then Chinese rulers would look for an external scapegoat and India would come in handy as a scapegoat, and you might have a confrontation and the third is that India and China are just kind of structural rivals, being the two potential biggest powers in Asia in all kinds of ways, leading to the belief that we were always pitted against each other.
Out of that competition there could be military confrontation in which case we would need nuclear weapons. Now if you take the three -- and they are really out there -- Subrahmanian just brought them together and argued for them more rigorously. If you look at these then you would see that nuclear weapons would not be an issue at all.
Take the first one, in 1962 the Chinese won the war decisively, took Aksai-Chin which was what they really wanted because it linked Xinjiang to Tibet and they said they would do some kind of a deal. Aksai-Chin in return for certain territorial claims and counterclaims, So they were the satisfied party on the border issue and so the question was under what situation and why should they attack us?
If youve got strategically what you want then what on earth would you attack India for? What is the gain of attacking a country of another billion people across enormously hostile plains and mountain passes ? And do what with a billion fractious and poor people? So as far as Aksai-Chin is concerned they are going to keep it and the only way we can solve the border question is through some hard bargaining and with the passage of time and through generating public opinion and so on and so what is the role of nuclear weapons in that situation even if we have them?
Unless we propose to take back Aksai-Chin by force -- but even then, how would nuclear weapons help us? Why on earth could we risk a nuclear war for a remote piece of territory? After all Nehru had said that what was Aksai-Chin but a glade of grass?
So I dont think how nuclear weapons could come into play with respect to borders and we can only hope to negotiate and bargain our way to a solution and almost certainly we shall have to give up or territorial claims there because they are not in any way going to give up theirs.
Second is this "internal-external scapegoat" thing. My position is that there could be such a possibility, but if you knew the Chinese, and were aware of the potential enemies in their cosmology -- the Russian bears, Japanese pretenders, the Mongolians and now of course the Americans -- you will find that India never figured anywhere in their threat cosmos and so if there was a problem in Tibet I would think that they would rain their wrath on some of these people and not Indiaunless India did something really stupid as enlist the Americans to listen on Tibetinstall devices to peek into China from Tibet as they did in the 1960s.
So I think you know you can discount that possibility. Unless of course anything is possible. But when you are talking about strategic issues you are always talking about things that are plausible.
The third scenario is the weakestthis idea about a race with China, militarily & economically in Asia and the world is ludicrous of all. There is no raceif there was, then the Chinese are way ahead and they certainly dont see India as much of a rival.
In any case what would be the nature of that rivalry over political influence over East Asia -- to compete over markets? But countries do compete over markets and access to trade and finance and all that, but they dont have to go to nuclear war! If the Americans compete they do so quite peacefully even after fighting each other most bitterly. Surely we could look for ways to compete for markets in Asia...
But how do you translate nuclear confrontation into better access to South East Asian markets. So I think one can demolish that argument as well.
My contention is not that there cant be possible confrontations on the border issue for example. Border patrols can stray but we have lived with that for 30-35 years. Incidentally, our conventional forces are quite strong and when have had problems here and there as in 67 we have given them quite a stiff rap on the knuckles and they know it. So if you had a long term concern on the border then the best thing to do is to see that our to security forces on the border are adequate...
So when I laid out this argument somebody turned to Subramaniam and said what do you say to that? Sub said, well I think he has got it more or less right. So then somebody said then why do we need nuclear weapons? Then Subramaniam said that when we bargain with China on the border, we must have nuclear weapons as a sign that it was an agreement freely arrived at between equals.. So I said, so you want nuclear weapons pointed at the Indian public then?
Which meant that you wanted to signal to the Indian public that you somehow needed nuclear weapons to come to an agreement or bargainthat was one way one idiom in which Indian Government felt it could effectively communicate with its public
AG: That sounds too horrifying
KB: Well, he meant it simply as India and China were co-equal partners without the possibility of intimidation and that would allow the Indian rulers to sell the bargain to the Indian public. I thought however it went deeper than that. It said something about a particular attitudesuggested that the Indian Government lacked a certain credence with its own population that after all the years of confrontation with China it failed to convince its people that whatever it had done was legitimate and right. It signified a long way to go so far as our policy making and participation of our people was concerned.
AG: In a sense what you are pointing to is that it is not just an Indian fear -- this nuclear technology has poisoned local imagination. Can you ever imagine an American president trying to sell total disarmament to the American public? No matter how rational that would be?
KB: Yes that would be very difficult for there is something about the whole idea of nuclear weapons that runs quite deepthe notion of exterminism.
AG: What is that ?
KB: Something that E.P Thompson was writing about, I think Thompson was trying to say that nuclear research, nuclear technology etc. are not cottage industriesthey presume bigness, compartmentalization of Scientific, technological endeavor, they presume great levels of secrecy of arcane ness, and all these put together reflects so much the spirit of the age
AG: Which is....
KB: A social order built around tropes like these, they go deepwe are fascinated by bignessso much so that even if there are alternate discourses, we are both attracted and repelled by enormity I mean who isnt fascinated by bigness, secrecy, theres a terrible fascination with those things
AG: What about deterrence ?
KB: Theres a story about deterrence, the story of a man walking down the street and waving his arms in the air, his head craned at an odd angle, and someone comes up and asks him, excuse me what are you doing? Why are you waving your arms like thiswhats wrong ?
The man said "its about the pink elephants" so the other saidWhat pink elephants? The man went on Its the pink elephants. "But I dont see any pink elephants?" came the reply. So the man turned round and said, "So you see it works!"
So thats the first problem with deterrence. It seems to work but nobody can prove that it doesyoure bristling with all those bombs saying that the other side wants to attack you when the fact of the matter is that the other side never intended to attack you in the first place -- there are no pink elephants.
It is really hard to show that deterrence kept the peace. Many in Central Europe, many would say that it was hard to show that the Soviet Union hardly ever wanted to invade the West or take over the very productive way of life there and turn it into shambles.
So what kept the peace was defensivenobody wanted to attack in the first place
So the whole issue whether deterrence works is still an open question and particularly nuclear deterrencewhether it has actually kept peace is open to debate there is a kind of inferential logical problem that everyone has pointed to
The counterpoint is that, do you mean to say that these two alliance systems powered all that money in during all those years without the assurance that this would not ensure peacethis may sound convincing but it is still the job of the historians to tell us so. And until then there is enough ground to disbelieve the issue
Even if it be granted that deterrence ensured Peace, historical records show us the many instances when it broke down and the trouble with nuclear deterrence is that it only needs to break down once, not like the breakdown of conventional deterrence, where you have a short sharp fight but also the option to go back and start rebuilding your societies all over again and where indeed you might be better -- for example, of phenomenon in Germany and Japan
But thats not the case with nuclear deterrence, where if there is a breakdown, societies might be destroyed forever and in such nuclear war will have such a collapsive effect that every society in the would will suffer some sort of setback to their lives and civilizations. If any of the countries possessing nuclear weapons in any region ... it could lead to a global catastrophe, culturally, economically in every possible way. I would count as a major cultural loss that if China, Russia or Pakistan were destroyed. And there are inevitable fears of the nuclear winter effect.
So on the deterrence issue, it must be pointed out that there have been enough cases relating to the US and the Soviet Union to show how fragile it iseven when billions and billions of dollars were spent to ensure nothing happened.
AG: But the very fact that it didnt actually breakdown, do you think makes it a success?
KB: Yes, there is a view favoured in South Asia which is precisely that there were crisis here and there -- for example, the Cuban missile crisis or in 1973 when the American President ordered a national alert during the Middle Eastern crisis -- but it didnt in fact provoke a nuclear war. There were bombs thrown here and there accidentally but the fact is that the system worked.
I suppose we are the victims of those successes really, but the point I repeat is that nuclear weapons are not forgiving. You just have to make one mistake for the entire system to blow upsomehow that message really hasnt got across to people, they are quite blithe about this 50 year nuclear history. I think the stuff thats coming out now will to some extent help to destroy that blitheness about nuclear weapons but certainly it's not coming to South Asiathat history is not getting publicity here
AG: Do you think that there is reason to suspect that India and Pakistan or India and China will be less capable of handling a deterrent situation than the USA?
KB: Well, I think lots of people are frightened of saying thats so. But I think one could generally say that I could tie the problem with the broad issue of lack of development and use it as a broad metaphor for describing the problem.
It's quite conceivable that we would have more difficulty in husbanding these weapons. After all in a very commonsensical way, if one looks around, one sees the kinds of inefficiencies in public life and therefore conclude that there might be greater risks of disaster.
So the Russian case is illustrative. For example the record will show that there have been several outright disasters of massive magnitude and it can be tied to highly centralized systems, which were not up to the task of husbanding these weapons there wasnt enough pluralism in the system to bring out the problems and therefore develop checks against them even in the US where there was such a system, they had terrible problems. And the margin for error here in our situation will be that much more costly.
The counterargument I hear is that when you are at the edge and have to cope with indignities and catastrophes everyday in social life, our capacity to bear them is so much greater. I however must admit that that is a view I do not accept even though it might be truebut as a stance in public policy it seems to me the most perverse thing
This debate in fact has come to stay. In the US, for example, theres this book which carries the debate between Kenneth Walls and a man called Scott Sagan at Stanford. Sagan argues that it doesnt really matter, in the end any organization especially these high risk industries prove to breakdown at some point. Ironically the redundancies and safety measures that you put in place or operate cause the system to breakdown. He extends that argument to say that however politically incorrect it is to say, less developed countries which have these systems, probabilistically face a more serious hazard, a risk. Even though they are going to try and build all those redundancies and safety keys, it is the nature of the system that will cause it to breakdown. Their ability to recoup or ameliorate the consequences are that much less.
AG: When we are talking about these in the US, where these things are known and there is a certain amount of alertness, there is also is the ideology of determinism of nuclearism etc. which in a sense makes it politically almost impossible for the American President persuading the American public to completely renounce nuclear weapons, but it's implicit in your argument that you would like that and expect that of India. In a sense therefore arent you setting a higher standard for India ?
KB: Thats trueI have said that in public too, in T.V debates etc. where I get the same response.
I guess I have in a sense a greater ambition for India. And if one talks about India truly being a leader, it seems to me that would be a real ambition for this country. You might say, well, how do you square that with your own remarks that in a sense around the bomb, India doesnt seen to show the capacity for any real leadership for anything very innovative.
To that, I say, well, we may not have that now, but Immanuel Kant said that you have to set a vision. if you dont have a vision, no human activity is possible. You know that youre never going to get to the vision that youve set.
And India is in a sense, over the past 40-50 years, has had people who set a vision for themselves.
AG: Who ?
KB: I think Nehru himself, even though he laid the basis for this programme, he fought to articulate a larger vision.
AG: He made a pact with the devil
KB: In that sense however we are all implicated. But I think India is the one third world country which, because it had the capacity, had to wrestle with the issue. It can go through it to the other end and set up a higher standard. In that sense I think that there is a role for Indiaas a footnote you can add that the US is not altogether an impossible case. There is a small and growing campaign against nuclear weapons although Im not trying to suggest that India is the only country which could do it.
There is a growing transnational group of people who are quite serious about launching a total disarmament campaign. Sack is the most prominent figure, though not all his statements have been particularly happy ones. There are a number of organizations. CANDRA COMISSION, THE STARSON PROJECT etc. GENERALS AGAINST NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Some of the public opinion surveyed in America by former nuclear labs show that there is a quite a section of public opinion -- about 60% -- which feels that it can be done and should be done.
AG: Even though you have basically stuck to the strategic studies language, your objection to nuclear weapons is moral?
KB: Yes, moral and political. Moral in a fairly conventional sense. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction and therefore do not discriminate. Theres no way you can use them to target combatants.
AG: But all wars are indiscriminate.
KB: Yes increasingly all conventional wars are, but these are on a scale far beyond.
Secondly, nuclear weapons are simply genocidal weapons they have no strategic kind of use that is rational. I mean, if deterrence cannot be shown to be verifiable or stable, then it will be seen as really a pact with disaster and to that extent while deterrence is no actual use, of weapons, it seems to me that deterrence by itself, is an immoral act because you know that you are buying something which could end in catastrophe. So I think thats a valid point of view i.e. of deterrence being an immoral act.
Opponents say will you object to a person carrying a gun in self-defence? after all that is all what deterrence isthe analogy is not part because a revolve in your pocket is a discriminate weapon but you cannot make such a claim on a nuclear weapons.
I am against it politically because it reflects the kind of military imagination that we have which is about violence and counter violence and in a sense it's that. It has such a thin notion of politics itself. As if politics were just a system of threats between countries thats a very thin notion of political community for me. And the fear is that if there is a feeling that nuclear weapons work as deterrence, then why bother about anything else? Look for other solutions to disputes. Why build a bridge to someone else if you can hold them at bay?
So the thing that bothers me is that it represents such a thin notion of politics, of the political.
AG: The ideology of nuclearism is there and I have people telling me that it is fundamentally about self-esteem. What is your response to that ?
KB: What I think they mean is simply the issue, where does India stand ? In a ranking of nations and Mao is probably the originator of this idea. He said years ago [that] China has risen in the ranks because of the bomb. That, I think, it really captures what people here mean at [a] level that India somehow has to be "at the table even if it means initially as a nuisance.
And there is an almost perverse sense of enjoyment at the fact that after the tests people are slapping sanctions on us. I have [often] heard that - that well now the Americans can't ignore us any longer, and that the sanctions show that. So at a negative level, it's that being "at the table" even if as international nuisance!
But more sophisticated people argue that nuclear weapons are really a touchstone of other things. Military power for one - even though they recognize that this power is not really usable. Some people feel that it's a world where nuclear weapons are a currency of power -- and in the UN it's not an accident that the five powers are nuclear weapons states. There is the belief that if everybody else's is view is such, then you have to play within that structure of cognition even though it is a false set of beliefs.
AG: But the five powers in the Security Council are five victorious power of the Second World war.
KB: That's exactly so - they are there not because they are nuclear weapon powers; they are the victors in war. There was the judgment that they had a certain responsibility for peace and security and they had the resources to put at the disposal of the international community - and that even without putting them in that responsibility they would always without doubt use veto powers outside the system, so it was better to have them included.
It is quite understandable, therefore, that there is the belief that if you had nuclear weapons you could in some sense determine the course of events in the world.
If you take the Chinese case for example, it is quite clear that the status of China has quite little to do with nuclear weapons. It relates to the massive experience of the revolution, or the sheer shrewdness and smartness of Mao and Chow En Lai, the way the picked up their society and got it up to some basic level.
At another level, just after a year after independence, the way they forced the UN forces led by US and Korea packing almost. 3m Chinese were thrown against one super-power and it took almost four years of fighting for the UN forces to get it back some position of parity. And they could do this within one year of independence with the world's largest conventional force - a force which had nuclear weapons in reserve. They also sent the Russians packing in 1958, fought them again in 1969, and in the last few decades, see their economic growth...
So to ascribe their status purely to nuclear weapons would be ludicrous
AG: So you think there is in India a profound envy of China - of having lost the race etc.
KB: Yes, if you look at the commentary in the Indian press since 92-93, when the idea that China is galloping along this 10-14% per annum growth, that really hurt. In some ways, I was joking to someone about, perhaps something that wasnt quite a joke, that these nuclear tests in the near term go back really to the end of the Cold War and the image of China just running way ahead. And I shrieked from rooftops to say that the real race with China is really civic and economic other than military and nuclear.
In a sense thats true and the only compensation we have at the moment is that we have the nuclear weapon
AG: Something that is cheap and easy
KB: Yes, theres no prospect anyone can see us catching up with China on the economic front. When one talks about the "China threat" I think this is the sense that one really gets.
AG: So what is it then ? Is that then India of a particular generation created a way grandiose notion of what India is?
KB: As someone said to me the other day, how are the Chinese better than us? They have no philosophy, they are just practical lot of people. We are the ones with a philosophyso I said look where they are so he said, yes, thats why they are there and we are where we are!
We are so ridden with philosophy that we cant see our way out of anything. But I think it's Nehru himself who had these hideous pejorative judgments about the Chinese people.
I was saying this to Subramaniam the other day, and many people who are in track with Nehru on the China issue. To say that Nehru was a lover of the Chinese people is bizarre. It is well encapsulated in his very westernized view of the Chinese as yellow hordes, all worker bees and ants etc. There are very negative views of China I think
And in fact theres a kind of split when we are talking about the bomb. Most of the time we say Pakistan is not the problem, China is, but the fact remains that far greater attention is focused on the Pakistani nuclear programme and not a whit to the Chinese.
It's a funny split when it is believed that Pakistan is the real military problem and could harm us. But the animus is against China.
AG: Once again let me revert back to the American success in the Cold War and ask that is there a similar right wing opinion in the country which believes that if the some sort of pressure could be applied to Pakistan, it would ultimately break down?
KB: Theres a feeling within the BJP and which perhaps can go far beyond -- which is that theyve gained it a little bit already. Theyve realized that this would force the Pakistanis to test, that there would be sanctions, which would fall harder on Pakistan, would deepen its economic and geopolitical problems, and that it would go bankrupt and might in effect become "a failed state."
As sensible a person as (Naipaul)? said that a Pakistan in chaos was in our interest
That image of Pakistan as a "failed state" would make good strategic sensethat would be the end of our strategic problem without firing a single shot, with no responsibility to reconstruct Pakistan. What on earth could be better than that?
People have said although that a collapse there could mean problems for us in the border areas, of refugees, but more to the point is that the extent of our ambition as neighbors. What does it say about us?
But for many I think the tests were a jolly good thing -- the only worry being how we would handle the diplomatic fall out.
The answer to that from BJP-wallahs is whats the problem? Now that we have the bomb, people will start coming to us, though they might take their time to do so. But they know that they have to deal with us. It's a kind of Lamarckian view of the worldin the end we all do the right thing because we must do the right thing that means our opponents will do well just as us.
AG: Why are the Indian people so complacent about the dangers of the nuclear bomb? is it because India hasnt really known war?
KB: Yes, I think thats a good point. And Ive said this at a conference recently that there is one thing about the security question in South Asia that the region has not known total war in its recent memory -- either internal total war or external total war and therefore we have no notion of what war could be like.
AG: We have not known war nor revolution ?
KB: Yes, any kind of total social upheaval or catastrophe, so theres kind of an attachment to war. Not as something pleasurable but as an attitude that it cannot happen hereit happens to other people. If however you talk about it, people will actually say, look at our own wars, the insurgencies in Kashmir. We lost more people there than all our wars combined, some people affirm it as a virtue of South Asiansand use that as an argument related to the bombwe are somehow experientially or spiritually superior etc.
But on the other hand it makes us, more blind in fact to war.
Even if one talks of Partition, to most Indians that sort of experience today is remotethere might be memories of violence and mass killings but not wartherefore the absence of total war in the South Asian imagination
AG: So what are the real dangers of war?
KB: Well, the one that would be top on my list is Kashmir.
It is unspeakable or unsayable because it's ... actually, people think it is a tactic in the hands of the West, that it is part of Pakistani propaganda. But I dont see why should we see it as being as impossible after all the wars of 47, 48, 65 were all over Kashmir and 71 saw operations in Kashmir.
Weve had since then the crisis of 1990 which everyone denied so vehemently at that time, but of which we are now hearing. There was a real crisis in 1990, the threat of a potential nuclear wardescribed in the Hirsh article On the Edge. Well, what happened actually was that the Pakistanis had an exercise going in Punjab and this they prolonged on the excuse that Indian forces were building up in Kashmir and Northern India and therefore they were taking precautions
Then there was the Brass Tacks crisis, also over Indian army exercise. So there was a kind of deja vu working here and so a build up of forces on either side and Robert Gates was sent by the Bush administration to see, because earlier American intelligence had seen Pakistanis F-16s taxiing out on the runways in a configuration which seemed that they might have been carrying nuclear weapons.
So there was a worry that nuclear war was around and that Gates helped defuse the crisis by some very hard talking. And it seems that the Indian Government saw enough from the American evidence or from their own readings of the situation to take up the issue and set up a high powered body under Air Marshall Mehra to see the nuclear dimension to the problem.
Im convinced that there was a crisisin fact there have been a series of crisis near-war situations in and around Kashmir and therefore it's not fantastic to think that something could [happen]. A serious insurgency, for example, which could force the Indian army to step up counter insurgency activities not just in the areas in the Kashmir valley, but as Advani once said in exasperation, well into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
There is some evidence that the Indian army already does that. It hasnt escalated beyond a certain point probably because nuclear weapons are around, but the trouble is when will a hot pursuit stop looking like a hot pursuit? When would someone at the receiving end of the hot pursuit see something beyondthat behind the guise of the hot pursuit there might be something closer to a larger strike and there may be some lopping off of territory as an indication to the other side that your patience has reached an end. And then the other side may turn to some brinkmanship as well.
Then you are in a very dangerous situation. One side will begin to fear that the other side will resort to nuclear weapons. Today we have battle size tactical weapons and very quickly well be into a war fighting scenario of the kind NATO and the Warsaw Pact had to worry about.
But the feeling is that could never happen in South Asia. We are "more responsible". But if our experience is of the kind we are having in the Punjab, Kashmir, it may make sense in contemplating a battlefield nuclear weapons. Weapons which you can use in a local area without having to engage in full-scale nuclear war.
AG: But first use almost automatically leads to.....
KB: Yes, thats right, You know the kind of second guessing and triple guessing that will go on is quite dangerous.
You may feel that the other is going to use a tactical bomb, then you may feel that you better pre-empt itthe other side may then want to preempt your pre-emption. There is a logic that goes like this, but there are counter arguments to this and the issue is not too simplebut there is evidence of things like this already happening in South Asia. We cant afford to be complacent.
AG: So thats one scenario.
KB: Yes I think there is this Kashmir scenario where people have spun many variations around it. Indias coalition party, weak government at the center, insurrection in Kashmir going out of control, Pakistan cashing out of it, miscalculating that it might be a cheap, quick victory showing in troops in disguise.
That one thinking another is perhaps via the logic of nuclear weapons themselves. At the moment there is defensive use of the weapon i.e. deterrence but what if, as with the other nuclear powers, we move towards larger nuclear forcesthere will be the fear on one side that the other will steal a fairly decisive march over it.
One can see this particularly perhaps on the Pakistani side: they are much bigger, the technological establishment is much bigger and you should be capable of grinding out these weapons in more sophisticated versions. If the asymmetry got beyond a certain point, Pakistani rulers may well begin to worry that its feasible for the Indians to go on first strike.
Those kinds of numbers they may well be able to calculate and there might develop a context where the Indians might be tempted to go. If so again a) Pakistan will try build faster and catch up and b) they might say, why not go sooner, why later? All this sounds rather fantastic, nuclear weapons being such. But thats a distinct possibility especially when one sees that the game in South Asia is triangular.
So the triangular nature of the buildup if the Chinese go ahead and if we are serious about building a credible deterrent against the Chinese, we will have to have enough forces to absorb both a Chinese and a Pakistani first strike and still have something to throw back to others because this is how deterrence works. The trouble is that if you buildup a force of that size, to the Pakistanis it will appear as a very big force is too big for comfort.
So there is something -- and I dont want to exaggerate when I say this -- a particular kind of build-up at a critical moment could lead to a crisis and perhaps war.
These are real enough possibilities which our governments should take account of.
AG: What about breakdown in command and control ?
KB: Yes, there are a whole set of problems surrounding command and controlthere are various scenarios there and the favorite you can think of are a situation where an out-of-control commander sets off a bomb to precipitate the problem. He is mentally deranged -- thats one of the favorites but historically there havent been many of these.
Far more important has been the problem of mechanical breakdowns and miscalculations. Radars that have picked up a flock of geese as incoming missiles. Something which happened during the Cuban missile crisis.
AG: I think in our circumstances we dont have command and control.
KB: We dont have at the moment but are trying to build oneThe point is that in India we have a system of enough time buffers so that we do not do anything precipitate and [also] precisely because we dont have the kind of automatized technology and so on, well have a system which is much more slow and cumbersome and since we are really not talking about war fighting scenarios but second strikes, we will split the command and control system.
There will be a civilian team which will actually control the pit of the nuclear weapon. Pits have to be fitted into warheads and warheads have to be loaded onto delivery systemsthese pits will be under the control of scientists from BARC, and aero planes, warheads and missiles will be under the control of the armed forces. These will have to be noted pits to the warheads to the delivery systems during the time of war presumably after the first strike has occurred, and so there are some signs as to how that system will work.
Basically these pits would be dispersed all over India, at the moment I believe they are all in BARC. So they are very susceptible to a first strike. But I suppose they will have to be dispersed fairly close to some airports so that they can be hastily transferred and made ready for launch.
But in any case this issue of picking up signs of a first strike, of warning and launching and therefore getting into a situation where a total disaster may occur if we mistake a first strike thats not really going to happen -- the thinking here is that we will actually absorb the first strike and then see.
Since nothing's really available on what our posture is, in fact we have not thought about it very much. But it seems to me that an adversary looking at the system or proto system we have now could make many dangerous calculations about Indian preparedness. And so if the government doesnt do something very quickly, we will be in a rather unprepared state.
In any case, it's just imagin[ation] of the logistics of the system. You have a bunch of scientists in various places all over Indiathey would have to be in some very lightly protected facility. They must, in a time of great crisis and uncertainty, assemble transport a facility to a launcher.
And if you are expecting them to do this in time, you are expecting the first strike i.e. before it has happened. If enemy intelligence picks it up. Now how do they interpret it? They interpret it strictly as a defensive preparation against them, for deterrence purposes, as a signal to them or if you make the mistake that they are not really preparing for their own first strike they see you busily setting up all these teams and starting to make these thingsthe miasma and tension surrounding the issue -- could they not in fact calculate that Indians are preparing for a first strike? In fact they are going to launch first?
The important [thing] is that at what point you are sending out these teams and how are these signals read? If you send out the teams after the first strike has occurred, then will the system work? After all even when you have absorbed ten strikes, with cities and populations destroyed...
AG: Theres only one city in India which was bombed once, that is Calcutta in 1942.
KB: So if your opponent is looking into this kind of system which is slow, cumbersome but perhaps safethat very virtue might turn out to be a vice in a crisis. It might make it, in a crisis situation, clearly vulnerable. It may set off a chain of events hard to interpret and possible for the other party to get very alarmed.
So the command and control problem is quite a serious one. What would be a safe posture? What would be a strong command system with explicit instructions, well rehearsed procedures? You need a certain kind of case with these weapons as well as procedures. You will have to devise a system which will appear to be in control of the system, practice procedures without showing vulnerability to the other side, without sending the wrong signals that the system is geared up to perform.
AG: I would have thought that one of the most scary scenarios would be that of Pakistan unwinding
KB: Well that is sort of loose nuke problem that the Americans talk aboutwhere you have nuclear weapons, the status authority collapsing, then who has control over the weapons if youre an Indian decision-maker for instance and youre not sure of the Pakistani government and army in-charge, then what do you do? Whats your insurance?
In normal times however you wouldnt expect anyone to do anything foolish and precipitate but you cant forget the loose nuke problem. Would Pakistans losing control manufacture a crisis?
AG: So the situation as you are describing, and as many hawks desire, that of Pakistan slipping into chaos and anarchy, would be the moment of the greatest possible danger to India?
KB: The hawks, I dont think, worry about this scenario too muchIm not clear why they dont. I think however they would advance four arguments.
1. This is an American fear and fantasy that what appears to them as chaos from Washington is probably the normal state of things in Pakistanthat the military is still the spine of Pakistan and whatever else happens it wont spin out of controlthat these are just scare tactics on the part of the Westthey shouldnt worry us too much and it amounts to suggesting that somehow Pakistan is irresponsible, irrational and the so-called ethno-centricism that goes with it.
Curious though, because they themselves have often suggested that Pakistan is an irresponsible actor, and cant be tested under any circumstances. So I think that contradiction is there but I dont think anyone has really seriously thought through the problem of what one would do in that situation.
I would say, dont exaggerate the problem. After all, if there is a loose nuke problem, one has to think that suppose Pakistan is collapsing, and there's this renegade, but unless the person is totally mad, which in terms of sheer statistics is always possible...
AG: No, no it's not a question of totally mad. Suppose you were a person who's spent all your life in an idealistic way dreaming of a particular state and political entity and then your lifes work collapses...
KB: This reminds me of some of the evidence that is coming out about the Cuban missile crisis. It now turns out how Castro was willing to go. Castro, at one point, was in league with, he had even persuaded the, Soviet commander in Cuba, to tell Moscow to go to hell and say, look, it was time for them to face down the American imperialists once and for all and if Cuba had to go on a final stand off with the US, Castro was willing to countenance it.
I suppose one could draw up a situation like that in Pakistan.
In deterrence literature, they often make a distinction between opportunity and need deterrence -- if can do it right can deny the other the opportunity to attack. But if you are willing to pay almost any price, then theres not much that deterrence can do for you.
And theres a worrying strategic logic as well -- that is that one can argue that someone could fairly rationally take the following riskwhat if I launch a first strike, knowing full well that your have a pretty good second strike on the logic that surely I wont take all your weapons because you have a fairly good retaliatory capacity against me, but the sheer stunning blow will disorient you, the fact that ten of your cities have disappeared from the face of the earth. You might just be psychologically stunned into submission.
Other than that, once youve absorbed a first strike, ten cities have gone, then this is really a moment -- if you are rational youll have to think: so now whats the point in sending a second strike?
So the attacker may begin to count on you thinking that way and if he has gauged you well enough, that if I hit him first, hard and fast enough, he will wake up just for a while and say we are defeated, but lets at least salvage what we are left with whats the point of striking back.
Actually the most human reason will say what is the point of striking back and counting on that there is a moment during which you can attackthis is often called the self deterrence problem you are self-deterred. This is what is being said in the Indian press recently that there has got to be a system whereby Indias second-strike is not delayed by more than 24 hours under any circumstance. There shouldnt be any time for human reason to assert itselfthats the unsaid implication.
Theres a pretty good recognition of that, so the game then is that if I can count on your being a human being in a certain sense, I might then launch a first attack and count on your being self-deterred.
AG: What about accidents
KB: One accident scenario is that in and around some missile silo, or one if those dispersed nuclear weapon sites, or even, say, a reactor, if there is an explosion, the problem there is in the moment depending on where it happens -- you might not be able to distinguish between an accident from a strike by someone else.
You might feel this to be a fanciful scenario, but again there have to [contexts] in which these things happen. May [be] at a time when there are preparations being made and in the midst of these something may go wrongyou might drop a bomb or somethinghow you read it internally might lead to certain spiraling difficulties.
This has happened and happened to the Americans. The other accident of course is related to the whole issue of missiles. In the US-Soviet case, you would have a 20-25 minute warning time. So that you didnt have to move into these automated warning postures. But in South Asia, say for example, in India and Pakistan, the warning time would be 3 or 4 minutes which means that the temptation to go into warning postures is much greater.
If thats so, meaning if something goes wrong with your warning system, there's very little time [for] self-correction. So probably the favourite accident scenario would be something in and around a missile and a launch posture is what would be the most difficult thing to take account of.
If we went to a tread, which is when you have sea launched and air-launched missiles as well, then it's conceivable, may have a problem with submarines. The reason I say that is because usually submarines are out on patrol for very long periods of time, they are deep under the sea and very hard to track by an enemy, but because they are so far away from your command authority and because communication with them might be the most difficult in a critical moment, the US and the Russians had to give them the highest degree of delegated power.
In the case of Sub-marine launched missile, then, we would have to some pre-delegated authority telling them to act when a particular message goes. Now suppose this wretched signal goes off by mistake and you have any difficulty in clarifying whether thats the real signal or not or somebody has set off a kind of trial run in Delhi, you can then see that someone with the best of intention might set the whole thing off.
So the accidental posture and its dangers is greatest with the missiles.
AG: So if a place were to be hit in Indiawhich would be the first?
KB: Probably it will be no single placea number of cities perhaps simultaneously. And it depends on who it was, whether the Chinese or Pakistanis, just to take those two. But surely Delhi, Mumbai, for Pakistan our cities on the Western border would be favorites -- industrial basis and certain conventional concentrations in and around Punjab and Rajasthan.
There are some ambiguities, though classically one problem that faces the one who launches the strike first strike is: do you want to hit the national command centers or authority centres, because unless youre looking for total annihilation, one thing you may want to press for is someone to be with, which means preserving some kind of national command structure, then youve got to think, should I want to bomb Delhi or not.
Thats sensible because if you want a nice clear victory, you can stun the other side, have someone to negotiate with. On the other hand its precisely that central command might not have the same centralized authority to launch the second strike.
Much may depend on the kind of model you have of the government and how they were to react.
I would think that anyone would invest in taking out Delhi, Bombay, Ahmedabad, Poona, Wherever there are large-scale conventional formations near the border with Pakistan.
And if you do 4-5 of these I -- mean the premium is on where the nuclear forces are -- thats what you want to take out, that would depend on where India has dispensed them. I would think probably the first strike, 3 or 4 cities perhaps, which house the command structures.
You may not want to take them out as punishments but you may want to stun them, leave them enough leadership to bargain with you and then you want to hit at the many nuclear weapon sites major air-force bases, missile sites etc.
Delhi could be hit by several bombs. One bomb might be an air-burst fairly high up the surface to send up EMPsElectro Magnetic Poncers. These shut down all your electricals basically and unless you're wired to protect yourself against Electro-magnetic Ponce, all your communications go out of gear.
So one might be an air-burst fairly well above the city which could also have fairly devastating effect on the ground. There would be enormous blast effects -- huge winds that would circulate in the epicenter in that mushroom cloud. And these come in waves -- essentially this, the primary blast effect and then, within a few seconds, theres the secondary blast, which is actually more powerful, and that will set up velocities of wind several hundred miles per hour, produced by the sucking effect of the mushroom phenomena.
And it is really the secondary blast effect which will pulverize buildings and all standing structures. So in a certain radius around the effects of the primary and secondary blasts will be massive of an air blast. And given the structures that you have below it, in Delhi these may not able to stand up to the over pressures produced. Most of the houses here are old, made of brick -- many are just shanty-type structures. Unless you have reinforced concrete of a certain kind or high-rises made to withstand fairly massive shocks, earth quakes etc. they wont be able to take these over-pressures.
While they may not altogether collapsetherell be enormous damage and glass, movable objects will be picked up and tossed around at an enormous velocity. Human beings themselves will become projectiles. If youve in and around this area and if you are not incinerated immediately, you could be thrown at velocities of 200 km yourself. You would in effect become a bullet or a cannon-shell. So in the area beneath the air blast there would be tremendous destruction.
The other main effect would obviously be the heat effects i.e. the enormous temperatures that will be generated in the epicenter -- temperatures like the sunwhen virtually any material will catch fire. Within about 20 minutes there will be a secondary heat effect where there will be a fire-storm, the kind that you had in Dresden and Hamburg, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Within 20 or 25 minutes the air almost is set on fire and virtually anything will catch fire and these will become raging fire storms. And you die not only from chemical poisoning though CO and CO2 but the sheer heat of the air. The air is almost sucked out from your system and lungs burst from the vacuum effect produced. The air is sucked out in and around you and the internal pressure of your body leads to the collapse of your lungs -- your lungs would burst. So that you wouldnt necessarily die of burns or poisoning, essentially your internal organs would rupture.
This will result from the fire storms even if you survive the initial blast and flying objects.
The third of course are the radiation effects. One shouldnt imagine that these are longer term because even if you survive the heat and blast effects the radiation could kill you within [seconds].
AG: Now we are going across the Jamuna and here are all the power installations, and there is this Badarpur thermal stationWhat would happen to that
KB: They will all comedown Im sure.
AG: From the wind of the blast?
KB: Yes, subsequently from the fire-storm, the high velocity windsthat means a large part of Delhi will be in total darkness. And it's not a matter of a local blackout. When and how will they restore power and who will do it?
You know, if it's a single bomb or a couple of them, Delhi will still have some municipality but I would think that many areas of Delhi will be without power for weeks because the priority areas will start to be restored at first. Entire sub-stations may be out of the loop which means reconstructing them. So many areas would not have lights for a very long time.
Many of our residential area need power not only for reading purposes, but power to pump up water -- [which] means that the problem will be far more serious. So the general sense of deprivation will be far larger.
Delhi is 9 million people so I am not saying that the entire city will come to a grinding halt unless it is a series of massive and multiple attacks on Delhi. The city will continue to function in some way, but certainly its municipal medical police service will be stretched. Therell be man areas where there will be total chaos. So it will take a very large effect to get this city back in shape. And if this happens to 7 or 8 other cities it will take a very long time to resurrect our normal, national life.
AG: What you said about the archives is interesting. The recorded basis of government will disappear.... how will you allocate rights.
KB: Many of these central government offices, which deal with taxation and records of land and property will all go up in flames.
AG: And those are all in that center of Delhi, arent they?
KB: The supreme Court, all the main government offices, taxation too are right here in the I.T.O area.
Islamabad on the other hand is a fairly new city and relatively small. It's like Chandigarh, and doesnt have that kind of place in Pakistans national life even now. An equivalent city in Pakistan would be Lahore and Karachi -- there BombayRawalpindi, the twin city of Islamabad, will be much more the city to be hitthe army, the cantonment areas, the commercial centers, too, are there. And it'ss a much older city with a history. The impact of hitting Delhi which is not like Islamabad will be far worse for Indian national life.
AG: And their leadership, i.e. in Pakistan, is much more dispersed in some peculiar way...
KB: I dont know about thatIslamabad, unlike Delhi, is certainly an elite city. Elite in the sense that there are just housing colonies in Islamabad. There are no slum areas or low income areasit's like a better kept, richer Chandigarh. Almost anyone who is anyone in Pakistan has some sort of property in Islamabad. In that sense it will have a certain national impact.
It's just smaller. It's however not the same as Lahore which has an old political history and probably still one of the best cities in South Asia, best kept and the pride of many Pakistanis especially Punjabis. So it would devastate a lot of the super-rich and influential, but may be the emotional casualty of it may not be as great as Delhi.
The problem of heat, winds and poisoning effects will be devastating.
In fact youll be lucky if youre just incinerated. If it's a slightly windy day, it's so much the worse because it will sweep the fires even further out. Afterwards there will be the black rain which will come down. The oily, black rain which will come from the fire-ball up there and that contains a lot of the radio active material as wellthat will stick to your clothing, your skin, seep into the soil contaminating it.
That will affect fairly large parts of the city. Even if 6-7 km out of the city, you may not experience the effects of a 20 KT blast but you will experience massive dust in the air thrown up by buildings that have been smashed. The sun would be blocked out for quite a long time and then this black sticky rain that will come down, full of contaminants which will add to the general dangers, gloom and demoralization everywhere.
So there are a number of longer term collateral effects. People whove got radiation sickness will keep coming in and coming in.
AG: And then of course epidemics will start.
KB: Because of the difficulties in disposing the dead, sewage altogether. There will be massive epidemicsthere always have been in wartime situations and particularly here where there will be no stockpiling of anti-biotics.
AG: People think that the bomb in India and Pakistan will be different...
KB: Yes, that we are more responsible we will learn from the follies of the West etc. We are almost morally better in some ways that there are some different rules of strategic engagement and for all these reasons there is a completely different way of thinking about the problem of nuclear weapons in India.
So that as soon as you begin to draw analogies from other cases, youre immediately branded as someone trying to import ideas that are inappropriate. That your employing scare tactics in the service of foreigners.
People may see merit in some of the arguments I may lay out but very few people have come out openly and said or admit that I have a point and that one can use some of the tools on deterrence theory or the uses of nuclear weapons and lessons learnt from these, nobody wants to publicity admit that because...
AG: Whats wrong with this belief that theres some different kind of technology in South Asia?
KB: Whats wrong is that in many ways this technology in a sense leads you down one sort of track of analysis. The logic of deterrence is quite simple to the extent that you buy it. Things that can go wrong with it are probably finite and given the fact that this is a kind of modern, centralized society, it wont be prone to the same kind of pathologies, difficulties and temptations and, I think, it's not just a matter of some technological imperative.
In a sense, deep down, we have learnt the same language, strategy and defence and so on and the very people who criticize deterrence thinking have still read all the classics and internalized their arguments and they are puzzled by the charge that all that work and thinking are totally useless. And it's never been shown to me very conclusively anyway.
Whats so different here? What would be so different about the nuclear game that demands a completely different logic and doesnt allow you to borrow anything from other people's experience? All situations are unique in some respect but the way human knowledge and interest operate is though some models and comparisons.
And we have been discussing certain consequences and effects which will be different but the broad logic of deterrence and nuclear weapons will certainly operate here. Therefore we have some thing to learn from the experience of others and so the reaction of people to things I say is odd.
At one level Im often fold that you have a point but nobody wants to admit the totality of it somehowthey are uncomfortable with it.
AG: What nobodythere are people who agree. But there has been a significant shift in thinking in the last few months.
KB: Yes thats truefigures show that there might be a 30% shift and some quite unexpected people have come out against the bomb like, Admiral Ram Das, at various points, the Congress party, the Left though initially stunned by the whole thing came out against it, the scientistswhich was more of surprise than anyone expected. Well, people like Kuldip Nayar are fairly predictable and some newspapers like the Hindu have aired enough of this view.
One thing that seems to be true enough is that in a way that everyone knows that Pakistan had the bomb, the tests however certainly took many people abackmay be even the Indian Scientific community because I remember P.R. Chari telling me that he had carefully looked into statements of our Atomic Energy commission and for years each head of the AEC said that they doubted very much that Pakistan had the nuclear capability, that the whole thing was a big fraud.
I think probably people in political circles, in the bureaucracy, or even the military who really doubted that they could test, still doubt that they carried out 6 tests. They certainly seemed to have carried out 2 or 3. But theres no doubt that they have something and now may be theyre got the place from the Chinese
I think that kind of faulted actually everyonePakistani capabilities were an open secret in the strategic community somehow. I feel that even people with knowledge in the strategic community were a little taken aback. And thats had an effect in India. I mean at the very moment that we were celebrating in the streets,. talking about ourselves as a great power, Pakistan had the capability in the next moment that seemed to cut the achievements and celebrations to size.
AG: What do you think about this Great Power argument? Is India going to be seen as a great power?
KB: I dont think so if you look at the ARF meeting, the ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM which brings together the South East Asian Countries and Japan and Korea and the United StatesIndia lately, I dont think the meeting that was held we got the kind of respectful hearing that a great power does.
At ASEAN there was a move to condemn us for the tests. In fact, the Pakistanis were asked to be members of the ARF and Jaswant Singh and Indian diplomats tabled a head off. It was almost a question of pleading the ASEAN states particularly the Indoneseas, Singapores and Malaysias to head off an outright condemnation of us.
I dont think that today countries really -- whether we have nuclear weapons or not -- still see us as a limbering giant. The language of economics talks in most of the areas where the Asian great powers are today. When I go to these meetings, South-East Asia and East Asia, I still hear of people saying that first of all you have to get your domestic situation or house in order before you can be considered a great power.
Until you do that, they dont even believe in our democracy as any kind of accomplishment. Even though this is one thing that we think is. After all great power status comes from the recognition of othersyou just cant go on calling yourself a great power. They dont hand out the great power cheques to youthey are mostly poking fun at you -- bewildered by you and annoyed by your posting.
About the weapons the Pakistanis chose to have it and so did a dozen others, so what's the big thing? The North Koreas have it, the South Koreans are going to have it tomorrowAustralia could have it tomorrow if it wanted to; Japan of courseJapan is a great power anywayTaiwan could.
Theres quite a lot of talk -- from people like K. SubrahmaniamI think Ive heard him say we shouldnt think of ourselves as a great power just because we have exploded a nuclear bomb. The response of the international community in days and weeks after the tests indicated to even people who were trumpeting the cause of nuclear weapons [for] great power-domthat it's not therenobody is willing to grant it
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