The question of nuclear disarmament has always given rise to diverse, if not opposite reactions. Commentators have described the positions of different nations (and sometimes within the same nation, as it is the case for India) as oscillating between two extreme: Vision and Realism. The work of the diplomats dealing with the subject in the UN and elsewhere is to build a bridge between the two. Not an easy task!
Take India. Former President KR Narayanan quoted in his memoirs a statement made in 1946 by Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of the Interim Government. Nehru said: “As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest scientific devices for its protection. I hope Indian scientists will use atomic power for constructive purposes. But if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal”.
“As long as others have the means to destroy her, [France] will need to have the means to defend itself.” “”Charles de Gaulle
At the same time, the new Indian government, which had championed the principle of non-violence against the British, was keen to show to the world that conflicts could be solved without recourse to force.
The above quoted statement notwithstanding, most of the first leaders of Independent India had, like Nehru, a strong ideological slant towards non-violence.
The following story, reported by General AA Rudra in his memoirs1 gives an insight on the way the Indian Prime Minister considered India’s defence shortly after Independence. General Sir Robert Lokhart, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army had drafted a first paper on the threats to India’s security. The paper contained recommendations for dealing with the newly independent nation’s security and defence policy. When General Lokhart took this paper to Nehru he was told: “Rubbish. Total Rubbish. We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.2”
According to General Rudra, the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir saved the Indian Army: Nehru was forced to change his mind when Pakistani raiders entered the Valley and started looting and pillaging. Nehru realized that the Prime Minister’s duty was to defend India’s territory and the nation’s borders3.
This dichotomy remained vis-à-vis the nuclear weapon and it was only 14 years after the ‘China’s War’ that a first test was finally conducted in Pokhran (Rajasthan). During the following years, the Indian government continued to walk the thin path between non-violence (and global disarmament) and regional compulsions4; in other words, between Vision and Realism.
The First Steps in India
The history of nuclear research and development is indeed full of contradicting (and often opposing) actions. In India, the first steps had been taken by Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a closed friend of Nehru in 1944, when he proposed to the Sir Dorab Tata Trust5 to create a nuclear research institute.
“¦the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir saved the Indian Army: Nehru was forced to change his mind when Pakistani raiders entered the Valley and started looting and pillaging.
The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was created in December 1945 with Bhabha as its first Director. An Atomic Energy Act was passed on 15 April 1948, opening the way to the establishment the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).
The attitude of Jawaharlal Nehru was unambiguous, all options should be kept open: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war — indeed I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes …Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way.6”
BM Udgaonkar of the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in a paper entitled India’s nuclear capability, her security concerns and the recent tests explained: “This note of ambivalence in Nehru’s speech foreshadowed his policies on nuclear research for the next decade. Nehru took a prominent role in international politics, founding the Non-Aligned Movement, and advocating nuclear disarmament. However, he refused to foreclose India’s nuclear option while other nations maintained nuclear arsenals and supported programs designed to bolster India’s weapons potential.7”
Very early, Nehru knew of the work of the French scientists. Being “anxious to help in every way in developing atomic energy in India”, he decided to send Dr Bhabha unofficially to Paris to enquire about the possibility of collaboration for the peaceful use of atomic energy: “In view of the fact that India possesses very large resources of minerals suitable for the generation of atomic power, India is destined to play an important part in research on atomic energy in cooperation with other countries. We would like to welcome this cooperation, more specially in Great Britain, Canada and France.”
Being “anxious to help in every way in developing atomic energy in India”, he decided to send Dr Bhabha unofficially to Paris”¦
Homi Bhabha had extremely cordial contacts with Frédéric Joliot-Curie and Raoul Dautry, the first heads of the French Atomic Energy Commission8, founded in 1945. At that time, Joliot-Curie was working on two materials: beryllium and thorium. Interestingly, Nehru who advocated the program ‘Atoms for Peace’, saw the nuclear collaboration as discriminatory: “Why should countries with colonial territories use raw material looted in these colonies for their research”, he thought?
In the decades to come, ‘discrimination’ remained the core of the Indian position when the question of disarmament (or signing the NTP) came up in world bodies. It remains a major issue in the nuclear negotiations between the West and Delhi today.
‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ was the brilliant slogan coined during the French Revolution. Ever since, in the mind of every French person, from successive Presidents to ‘common men’, the triple-mantra has always had a deep resonance.
In France, the first part of the revolutionary slogan, ‘Liberty’ often translated into a fiercely independent foreign policy, whether it was under the Fourth9 or Fifth Republic10.
In 1954, the Indian nuclear program began to move in a direction that would eventually lead to the establishment of nuclear weapons capability.
As early as 1952, some senior French Army officers thought of the atomic bomb as the best tool to win a war or at least to deter opponents to attack France. However, it is only in 1954 that French politicians realized the extent of US control over the NATO Alliance and the consequence for France if it wanted to pursue an independent foreign policy.
An example: in the first months of 1954, while Paris was still attached to its colonies, Washington advocated self-determination for all Asian and African nations. For Paris, this was a real problem. The only issue on which France and the US could see eye-to-eye seemed to be the menace coming from the Soviet Union.