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Rethinking Nuclear Weapons

An Interview with Arpit Rajain

Arpit Rajain, a Research Officer at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies since 1997, focuses on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) issues. He is currently working on a monograph "Deterring Nuclear Conflict in Southern Asia". He has presented papers in various forums including Cambridge University, Harvard University, APCSS and Wilton Park on South Asian Security and WMD issues. He has actively participated in Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs' Working Groups on WMD. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis "Negotiating the Biological Weapons Convention" at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. His research interests include WMD proliferation and terrorism, Indian foreign policy and disarmament issues.

What is the general perception of nuclear weapons in India?

I think although a large part of the population is not aware of the effect and impact of a nuclear bomb, there is broad understanding in the metros and larger cities that these weapons are here to stay-India being a democratic country can never do a rollback. How best we can use these weapons-as political instruments is up to the policy makers---there certainly is a understanding in a larger population in the cities of what these bombs can do. In a recent confrontation with Pakistan (that was after the Indian Parliament was attacked by a suicide squad) a couple of national news magazines did bring out cover stories on what if a bomb is dropped on Delhi. At the same time there is a larger peace community also.

Are students aware of the history and/or perceptions of nuclear weapons in other regions of Asia?

[It] depends on where students are from--most of the elite schools in small towns (say for example where Kalpana Chawla came from - in Karnal) and bigger metros Bombay/Delhi students would be aware, but I think in smaller villages (more than 60% of India's population) they would not be aware of what this bomb can do--let alone in other parts of Asia.

What programs are available to the public to promote awareness of nuclear weapons issues, specifically to the youth?

Well I think the best is news magazines, TV and newspapers--public lectures are far and few between. A couple of years ago they were having Campaign for nuclear disarmament where more than a couple of thousand people attended and more than 50 organizations took part, but events like these are far and few between. In a democracy there will always be other opinions and dissent and fortunately they can live together but definitely there seems to be no going back. No political party including the Congress (that had Mahatma Gandhi/Nehru and other stalwarts who campaigned for decades for nuclear disarmament), I think, can politically survive if they ever do a rollback.

Who do you believe is responsible for the education about nuclear weapons in South Asian countries?

Newspapers, TV, news magazines and some street marches' skits, but that is a very slow process--all have their limitations. Moreover, if the government does not support it nothing comes out of these things still I think whatever little education has happened so far has been due to these elements.

Are there any unique cultural myths about nuclear weapons in India?

I guess most people still don't think about the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons--they don't think that whole cities at one go and generations thereafter will be affected by the destruction caused by a nuclear bomb. The ruling party often has these fringe elements who keep harping on the potential of the big bomb and keep threatening the adversary (in our case Pakistan) that we have the bomb. Things like "we will be hurt, but Pakistan will be annihilated" is heard at least once in a week from someone responsible in power. I think the biggest myth in India is the fact people fail to recognize the destructive potential of the nuclear bomb. But things like it being a Hindu bomb are now no longer heard (they were for a few weeks in May 1998).

What is India's government's stance on nuclear weapons? Does the government deem nuclear weapons a required component of national security?

There is absolutely no questions about it-the government not only thinks that they are essential for India's security but has worked overtime to build the related paraphernalia around it-command and control, delivery systems, special structures, forces etc--and this slow process of weaponization and deployment will continue--there is no stopping it now.

Are there any regional collaborative efforts regarding the proliferation/non-proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Actually there are less multilateral initiatives like NPT/CTBT/FMCT.

NPT: India is not a member— will never be. NPT is a victim of its own success and can never make India a member, but it makes no difference to India as long as it does not proliferate to other countries.

CTBT: India did some flip flops on this initially said it was for CTBT (regular idealism), but later when the treaty was up for signing India said there was no linkage to universal nuclear disarmament and so withdrew. Later after the tests in May 1998, there was talk of cutting some deal with the US which did not work out. After the US rejected it, the treaty died a natural death.

FMCT: India is willing to negotiate on it but its not a hot topic for the international community.

Regional: No efforts. Actually, the ill fated Lahore Declaration between India and Pakistan signed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (India) and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan) in February 1999 carried a lot of elements of 'stabilizing' the situation by informing each other of missile tests , etc. Unfortunately, in May-July 1999, Pakistan sent 4,000 plus armed mercenaries talon with army regulars in Kargil and a war erupted. Domestically in Pakistan there was a blame game between the Army and Nawaz Sharif for which there was coupons (who headed that Kargil ops) came to power and Nawaz is now in exile in Saudi Arabia. That strand of reducing risk was left buried in the snows of Kargil. India does not trust Musharraf. Moreover, there are terrorist training camps in Pakistan where these terrorists are trained and sent to India. Musharraf has promised to Richard Armitage and Colin Powell that those will be disbanded, but India does not trust Musharraf and, as of now, has no diplomatic, political, road, air or rail links with Pakistan. The acts of terror keep happening innocent people are being killed bomb blasts are happening. There is a larger mix up of domestic issues with the nuclear issue.

What role do you think the United Nations should play in the regulation of nuclear weapons in South Asia? around the world?

I think the best forum to discuss anything multilaterally is the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva states can get their acts together. Apart from this, the UN can't really make a difference on such security issues the International Court of Justice could at best only give a advisory opinion. As far as the problem of security, states will find some excuse or the other to have the broomball at North Korea. Moreover India and Pakistan actually broke no international law in testing nuclear devices; and apart from rhetorical statements that are heard off and on on core technical issues like command and control and safe custody, they are doing pretty well.

What do you think the role of developed/industrialized nations should be in regulating nuclear weapons in South Asia?

I seriously think there is no role for any developed country in regulating anything here except investing money in the market. I think all countries have come to realize that weapons are here to stay and will remain in the security fabric of India and Pakistan. Any role will only be seen as interference in local affairs which is unacceptable domestically. Moreover, there isn't much role beyond sharing some sensitive technologies (say for monitoring or safe custody) that can be thought FAA even that may be unacceptable. Post coup in Pakistan, there were some such fears safe custody of nukes in Pakistan, also during the Afghan campaign, but I don't think Pakistan wanted any country to interfere in domestic matters. There can be no role.

I think all of us would like to see a world free of nuclear weapons, but here in South Asia there are far too many issues that make it a dynamic and complex interplay of forces and issues. China is a constant factor in the Indian security calculus Aida lost a lot of territory in a war with China in 1962. The three states that are working within economical, political and technological limitations have to come to terms on important elements of a trilateral relationship. There remains a history of bilateral warfare that can be contextualized within rhetorical hostility. Since the tests cannot be undone it now rests on these countries to decide what strategic paths would best serve their interests.

China, India and Pakistan having different political systems, varying approaches to arms control regimes, and variable foreign policy preferences, are now laboring with hitherto un-tackled issues of nuclear weaponization and deployment, command and control, and military strategy. The strategic asymmetry between these countries continues to be the single most significant obstacle to the establishment of a reliable risk reduction arrangement. It is not difficult to conjure up many scenarios that have seeds of escalation from a low-level conflict to a cross-border war and from a cross-border war to crossing the nuclear threshold. The three states offer differing polities to authoritarian. These polities also differ in terms of checks and balances and in terms of the character of the political executive. While India has a democracy where the political executive is responsible to the legislature, both China and Pakistan are authoritarian regimes. While in India the military has more or less been kept out of the decision-making loop on nuclear matters-right from the assembly stage resulting in civilian control; in Pakistan, on the other hand, the Army always has been in the forefront of any decision taken towards the bomb; while in China it is believed that the ultimate authority to use nuclear weapons rests with the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, after top leaders have reached a consensus.

Arpit Rajain
Research Officer
Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
246, Vasant Enclave
New Delhi 110057

Tel. +91-11-2615-2743, Fax +91-11-2615-2009