25 Jul , 2014
Indian nuclear decision making was always in the global political context. These were almost exclusively political decisions with the armed forces not in the loop. The 1974 Pokhran I tests were in response to the emergent Sino-US quasi alliance of 1972 (Shanghai declaration by Nixon and Chou En Lai) that threatened the withdrawal of the implicit American nuclear ‘umbrella’. The 1998 tests were in the context of CTBT that was to be universally applicable which would have left India permanently as a Tier II power. The other context was emerging multi-polar world.
A rising China which has adopted revanchist policies in its neighbourhood was a also a major factor in that decision, as has become clear now. In both the cases the emphasis was exclusively on preserving the ‘political independence of decision making’ and had very little if any, security linkages. Neither in 1974 nor in 1998 was there any immediate security threat to the country, nuclear or otherwise.
Many Indians nostalgically point out at the proactive Israeli strategy against terror attacks but fail to appreciate that India does not enjoy that kind of superiority over Pak.
Given this context it is futile to rue the fact that the military was never a part of the decision making since the decisions were guided by political and long term considerations. Both the actions had the Sino-US combine as their intended targets.
Close to six years after India’s Pokhran I test of 1974, India’s nuclear strategy remained a political strategy with global aims. This ought to have changed when under the Reagan administration (the US and its then ally China) brought about/facilitated Pakistani nuclear capability to ‘balance’ the then Soviet ally, India. The US and China have thus done permanent damage to the sub-continent by creating a regional nuclear flashpoint. Unlike India, Pakistan is not a ‘natural state’ with constant questions by its own citizens about its existence. It is at the same time a revisionist state that wants a part of India (J&K) and wants to forever redress the adverse balance of power in the sub-continent.
Thus in the 1980s, India’s nuclear strategy acquired a clear security linkage, yet the political and military elite continued with the earlier thinking and promoted concepts like ‘nuclear ambiguity’ and ‘recessed deterrence’ to name a few. In the context of nuclear weapons, the first is positively dangerous as ‘ambiguity’ can lead to miscalculation and detracts from the concept of ‘deterrence’ that is central to the nuclear zero sum game with armed peace as a saddle point. The less said about ‘recessed or hidden deterrence’ the better.