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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 44

Reasserting Nuclear Option

Need of the Hour

Monday 22 October 2007


In the midst of all the demonstration of mourning for Princess Diana to those for Mother Teresa, came Prime Minister Gujral’s refreshing reiteration of India’s nuclear policy. On September 8, addressing in New Delhi a high-powered seminar of nuclear scientists including the representative from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at Vienna, Gujral has categorically repeated the well-known official position of India with regard to nuclear energy, which Parliament under Indira Gandhi had asserted with the sole dissenting voice of M.R. Masani. This keeps the country’s nuclear option open while asserting that India on its own has no policy for the use of nuclear weapons.

Since then, particularly in the last few years of open-door market reforms of the economy, there was the apprehension that the firm stand on the nuclear energy question might be diluted so that some dubious routes could be found to sign the NPT particularly its more stringent version, the CTBT. When Prime Minister Gujral was found to have chosen Dr Bhabani Sengupta to join his staff, this fear was heightened as Sengupta was long known to have favoured the NPT, if not the CTBT. But the policy was not changed, though Sengupta had to quit the government. Further, it was known that this country having refused to sign the NPT, has been in effect debarred from receiving nuclear know-how from the advanced industrial countries of the West. Despite all the confusion over his coming meeting with President Clinton, the Prime Minister has reiterated India’s long-standing position on the question of nuclear weapons option. This will be reassuring to his countrymen more than anything else that he could possibly have no route open now to yield on this point to the US which has long made it the key issue for practically every US statesman and publicist descending from Washington.

Prime Minister Gujral’s statement was expected as a response to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s public disclosure the day before that Pakistan possessed the nuclear option as well—an admission which was so long officially evaded in Islamabad. In a sense, the decks are now cleared with both sides frankly stating their respective positions, and the negotiation for durable peace between the two countries could now proceed frankly and without equivocation. The candid recognition of this ’’subcontinental reality’’ will certainly help to clear the air for a realistic understanding of each other’s position and may help towards a better understanding between the two—the goal to which Prime Minister Gujral is already committed.

For long, it was widely known in this country that Pakistan was setting up its own nuclear weapons installations despite all the noise about the Pressler Amendment. It is generally believed in New Delhi that the Chinese Government has throughout been helpful to Pakistan on this score; it is even suggested that the Chinese help has been crucial for Pakistan on this issue. Obviously, the question of nuclear deterrence is now the order of the day, since both India and Pakistan have more or less conceded that they would go in for the nuclear weapons deterrance if necessary. There is nothing to hide in this stand: rather it is a clear-cut unambiguous stand which may be helpful to both sides. It is true at the beginning there would be plenty of noise over these official disclosures, but the more realistic among the diplomats of both the countries can no doubt make use of these definite positions. Whether India and Pakistan would from now on start speaking as responsible nuclear-weapons powers, it is for the seasoned diplomats on both sides to take up the quest for peace and start building an enduring edifice of good neighbourliness. But, as it is said, once the decks are cleared, talks can proceed with a touch of realism without rancour.

As for the public opinion at home, Prime Minister Gujral is well aware of the fact that an overwhelmingly large section of the public favours a foreign policy based on the nuclear strength. This was the reason why Indira Gandhi had such a large amount of support after the Pokhran explosion. Since then the constituency has grown if one were to take a look at the stand of different political parties. The US pressure on New Delhi for signing the NPT has hardly yielded any result, a point which the great-power nuclear club could never understand. In this country, the US is the most unsuited among the nuclear powers of the West to put pressure on India to desist from the nuclear bomb. The fact that the heinous crimes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were perpetrated by no other power but the US—the strange isolation in nuclear guilt—has made Washington the least suited to propagate the virtues of nuclear chastity among the countries of Asia. If one had analysed objectively the response to the Chinese and the Indian assertions in the direction of nuclear advance, it would be clear that despite the knowledge of the deadly powers of the nuclear weapon, the fact that Asian countries are not at all disarmed in this sphere has hardly produced any adverse reaction. There may be some concern in this country about the Chinese nuclear technology, but this is nothing compared to the resentment and hostility roused by the Cold War nuclear rivalry that dominated the world. Lately, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the manner in which the Western powers have treated the question of dismantling the nuclear weapons could only result in worse bitterness, although the obvious humiliation has been covered by diplomatic exchanges.

Today, there has cropped up a body of opinion in our country—and perhaps in Pakistan too—which swears by nuclear non-proliferation. Massive propaganda literature on the part of this tribe of do-gooders has flooded the country, and one hears many voices in the media which pleads for nuclear non-proliferation. However, if one takes a wider view of the situation, it will be clear that all these strenuous intellectual exercises have hardly touched the fringe of public opinion in this country. The fact that powerful nuclear giants have been trying pressurise India to submit to the NPT and now the CTBT is having its reverse effects. There can be no nuclear globalisation unless and until the big nuclear powers are forced to shed their own primary and solemnly assure the world public that they themselves would abjure formally and irrevocably their nuclear superiority over the others. This is a point which our pious crusaders against nuclearism have to bear in mind. Unless and until they join in open crusade against the US nuclear hegemony in the world, all their good work for spreading the message of de-nuclearised peace would go in vain.

One would expect Prime Minister Gujral to explain this dispassionately to President Clinton should the question be raised once again during their expected meeting.

(Mainstream, September 13, 1997)

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