IDR Blog

India must show its a different kind of a Nuclear-Weapon Power
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Cmde C Uday Bhaskar (Retd.)
is Director of the Society for Policy Studies. 

August 6 is etched  in an apocalyptic manner on the global consciousness given the nuclear enormity that engulfed  the unsuspecting residents of Japan’s Hiroshima on that day in 1945.  Three days later Nagasaki met the same fate, though tragically August 9 receives even lesser attention from a jaded world whose attention span often  oscillates from one tweet to another. 

The ‘national  herd’ in every major demographic cluster is episodically led from one sensational but banal event to another and the collective danger that the nuclear weapon poses to humanity is glossed over,  with a fleeting reference on  Hiroshima Day when platitudes are dutifully mouthed by the political leadership across the world. 

2018 is a bit different, but in an alarming way. Prickly nuclear nationalism now rules the roost  and the charge has been led by the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy. On July 23 US President Donald Trump tweeted – as is his wont – and this one was in all caps: 


To be fair to Mr. Trump, this tweet  was  in response to what the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had said the previous day (July 22) when he warned  Washington that provoking  Tehran over the nuclear deal could lead to the “mother of all wars.” The Iranian reference was in no doubt – it was invoking the spectre of WMD – long-range missiles fitted with a nuclear warhead. 

Over the last year, the global nuclear arsenal has increased in numbers  among the  nine nations in the world that  are nuclear- weapon capable.  This apocalyptic club that holds the world to ransom  includes the original five – USA, Russia, UK, France and China.  Post 1964, the other four who have joined this ‘club’ are Israel, India, Pakistan  and now North Korea. Today the most serious national security threat to the USA is deemed to be a mix of the nuclear weapon and terrorism as posed by non-state entities – often with state support. 

Paradoxically, over the last year, Pakistan often referred to as the cradle and nursery of  global terrorism has the distinction of possessing  the world’s fastest-growing nuclear weapon arsenal. Much of this capability has been enabled by a deep and opaque partnership with China and North Korea. 

Furthermore, Pakistan is the only nation among the nuclear nine wherein the command and control of the nuclear button rests with the Pakistan  military and the civilian leadership is only notionally in the loop. Whether the soon to be sworn in  Prime Minister, Imran Khan, will  be able to asset civilian control remains moot.  There are many voices even within Pakistan that believe a mercurial Khan may not be the most prudent  choice,  when it comes to nuclear weapons. 

However,  on the other  hand,  such prudence at the very top of national political leadership , while desirable, went out of the window with the election of Trump as the US President, a leader who recently boasted  about the size of his ‘button’ apropos his North Korean counterpart.   

The deeper concern in 2018 is that the nuclear weapon is being brandished in a  far more  visible manner and the leaders of  the USA, Russia, Iran and North  Korea  are case in point.  Each of them  has justified this posture as a case of safeguarding their national security, sovereignty and integrity.  The consequences that will follow  by way of an apocalyptic regional nuclear fallout with MILLIONS killed receive  little or no  attention. 

The greater anguish is that the global political leadership remains indifferent to such nuclear sabre-rattling  and have done an ostrich act by treating these  statements as political rhetoric (bluff and bluster?)  and devoid of substance. And civil society which in the 1960s and 70s  was alert to the gravity of the nuclear threat is now cynical. The nuclear threat joins the cluster of   many lost causes  – global warming, ocean pollution, the plastic  peril  and shrinking bee population among other amber lights that are flashing. 

One slender sliver that followed the focus former US President Barack Obama on the nuclear threat is the effort by the ICAN  – the  International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons –  that was launched in 2007. This global NGO  comprising  almost 500 partners  from 100 countries has pushed for an international  treaty on the  prohibition of nuclear weapons. Elimination of the global nuclear arsenal is the Holy Grail  and in 2017  ICAN successfully negotiated and concluded  this treaty at the UN. 

ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace prize for its effort but the major powers, including India,  have distanced themselves from this advocacy. Thus the ICAN initiative, while laudable, remains ineffective. 

Ironically, India which has legitimately claimed a distinctive nuclear status in the global order  has ceded the disarmament space it once led from 1960 to 2010. India is  a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and demonstrated its nuclear-weapon capability in May 1998.  Pakistan followed and  South Asia exudes a nuclear prickliness that is disquieting.  

Based on its nuclear profile that combines nuclear restraint and responsibility, India was  admitted to the global nuclear order in late 2008, thanks in large measure to the political resolve of then US President George Bush . 

While New Delhi remains  committed to “universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament”, it has made no significant effort in the last few years to demonstrate its status as a ‘different’ kind of nuclear-weapon power. ICAN is case in point.  

Prime Minister  Narendra Modi has brought  commendable  traction  to the challenge   of  global terrorism since assuming office in  May 2014   but has remained relatively reticent on the nuclear issue.  One hopes that the Indian leadership  will address the nuclear issue at the global level with the urgency it warrants, so that Hiroshima-Nagasaki remain the tragic exception.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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