Subcontinent’s Nuclear Peril


Pakistan too announced that it would keep a minimal nuclear deterrent and will upgrade its systems as India builds its weapons arsenal.

Earlier, arch-rival India had unveiled its draft “nuclear blueprint” envisaging a weapons program that would produce a land, air and sea-based nuclear deterrent. The international community and Pakistan had sounded alarm bells over India’s draft nuclear doctrine.

Pakistan followed India in May 1998 with a series of tit-for-tat nuclear tests, which heightened the risk of war on the subcontinent, particularly because of the fifty-three years old unresolved Kashmir dispute.

“Minimum nuclear deterrence will remain the guiding principle of our nuclear strategy,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar told a news conference in Islamabad. “The Indian build-up will necessitate review and reassessment. In order to ensure the survivability and credibility of the deterrent Pakistan will have to maintain, preserve and upgrade its capability.”

He further warned that if New Delhi conducts any new nuclear test, Islamabad would go ahead with its own. However, he clarified that Pakistan shall not engage in any nuclear competition or arms race. “Pakistan entertains no ambition to great power status or regional domination.”

Analysts say that there are increasing signs of a shift in the balance of power in South Asia. In addition, the Defense News weekly reported that India is expected to launch a 5,000-km range missile, Surya in the middle of 2001.

India has already spent US$50 million on the development of this long-range missile, which would be powered by a Russian made cryogenic engine that uses liquid fuel cooled to a very low temperature, the weekly said, quoting the Washington-based Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) scientists. India is also building its own cryogenic engine, however, it would not be ready for operation by 2001.

The weekly further said that India had a deal with Russia for cryogenic engines through 2002. The first engine was received in December 1998 for a large satellite booster. One of the next cryogenic engine deliveries would be for the Surya.

India’s deployment of nuclear weapons would cost at least US$16 billion over the next three decades, a senior official elaborated. Bharat Karnad, a member of the National Security Advisory Board, who was involved in preparing the draft nuclear blueprint, said the cost “is eminently reasonable and affordable.”

It may not be easy to calculate the costs or benefits of the New Delhi-Islamabad nuclear programs. Citing the need for secrecy, the two rivals refuse to reveal what they spend on their nuclear weapons delivery systems. However, according to estimation of experts both India and Pakistan have allocated more than $1 billion to design and manufacture a small numbers of nuclear-capable missiles.

Each side is likely to have spent five times that figure for the production of fissile materials and manufacture of a few nuclear weapons. These are only some of the costs involved in their emerging nuclear and missile programs. “Of greater concern is the price New Delhi and Islamabad must pay to establish credible and secure nuclear deterrent forces in the future,” remarked Peter R. Lavoy, Director of Counter Proliferation Policy in the office of the US Secretary of Defense.

New Delhi and Islamabad maintain that no expense should be spared to achieve national security. Both governments have claimed that development of nuclear weapons and missiles are required to deter foreign hostility and coercion. Experts argue that this claim could be well placed – nuclear deterrence might foster peace and security in South Asia. However, it could also fail because of the Kashmir conflict, which could drag India and Pakistan into a fourth conventional war and one that could go nuclear.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its report on human development in the South Asian region said that South Asia has become one of the most militarized and poorest regions in the world, a situation that is aggravated by the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. A seven-nations region comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is home to 500-milion people living in poverty, i.e., under one dollar a day according to the World Bank.

The Report calls it the Neglected Dimension: “The close link between human development and human security has been underlined by the UNDP ‘s series of Human Development Reports. As Mahbub ul Haq noted, ‘Human security is not concerned with weapons. It concerns human dignity.’

In his analysis Mr. Haq underscored: “‘It is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not erupt, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed.’ Human security means protection from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression. It also means protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in the daily patterns of life. Human security broadens the concept of security by placing more emphasis on people’s safety than that of territorial borders.

“South Asia is one of the most militarized regions of the world. Despite great poverty and deprivation, governments in the region continue to direct scarce resources toward building new weapons of mass destruction. While the region contains nearly 40 per cent of the world’s poor, but it spends around $14 billion a year on its military. In 1997 the expenditure on defense as a percentage of their respective gross domestic products (GDPs) were 5.3 per cent in Pakistan, 5.1 per cent in Sri Lanka, 3.1 per cent in India, and 1.8 per cent in Bangladesh. In 1997, defense spending exceeded spending on education and health in Pakistan by fifty percent; in India, defense spending equaled 62 per cent of spending on education and health. This is in spite of the fact that both countries have very low human development indicators, with HDI rankings of 138 (Pakistan) and 139 (India), respectively, out of 174 countries.

“An alarming development in South Asia is the open nuclearization of an already vulnerable and volatile region. India’s nuclear tests last May and Pakistan’s counter-blasts started a new era of nuclear politics in South Asia, sharpening tensions between the two rivals. Military expenditure, already high in the region, is projected to increase considerably with the advent of full-scale nuclear programs. In their respective budgets, India increased its defense allocation by more than 12 per cent and Pakistan by nearly 11 per cent; for both countries, those increases came after sharp rises in defense spending the previous year. The implications of this situation for human development and human security are grave. The nuclear race between India and Pakistan threatens key ingredients of human security, with the potential of reducing the respective governments ‘ concern for income and job security, the environment, crime, and the safety of both individuals and communities. National territorial security is, of course, of paramount concern to every citizen of a country, but its attainment must be linked to human security as well. Otherwise, people will starve as arms accumulate.

“South Asia is facing a crisis of governance that, if left unchecked, could halt the region’s democratic progress and economic and social well-being of its teeming millions. The signs of crisis are everywhere: In nuclear tests that threaten the stability of the region and contribute to spiraling and unsustainable military costs.

“Peace between India and Pakistan is a pre-requisite to economic and social progress in the subcontinent. For peace to succeed, the concept of security must be linked increasingly with the enrichment of human lives, not with the acquisition of modern weapons.”

The Hindustan Times quoted former chief of the Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) A. Gopalakrishnan’s warning that India is likely to face a serious nuclear accident in the not too distant future. “Mr. Gopalakrishnan said that a report prepared by the AERB in 1995, which listed 130 defects in various nuclear installations, ‘did include some identified problems related to reprocessing plants. I am not permitted to discuss the specifics openly, but suffice to say that the degree of automation and cross-checks on safety in our older plants are very minimal and one cannot assert at all that an accident like the one which occurred in Japan [September 30th, 1999] will not happen in India,’ he said.

“Mr. Gopalakrishnan said that excessive secrecy in DAE [Department of Atomic Energy] and inability of AERB to function independently took care of the safety of nuclear installations in India. ‘With a captive AERB from which the DAE can in effect withhold information as they wish, coupled with shelter the DAE enjoys through invoking the national security bogey and the Official Secrets Act, we are likely to face a serious nuclear accident in the not too distant future,’ he said.

“‘But, with the prevailing cover of secrecy and lack of public awareness none of us may ever come to know that such an accident has happened, unless the roof of a plant blows out or a visible fire rages there,’ he said. According to Mr. Gopalakrishnan, the AERB report, among other things, had urgently called for modification of emergency core cooling systems (ECCS). Emergency cooling is vital to prevent melting of the reactor core in the event of breakdown in the circulation of primary coolant.”

The nuclear accident in Japan at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura exposed nearly 70 people to radiation on Thursday September 30th, 1999. It was the biggest nuclear power accident in Japanese history and the world’s worst since the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine (former Soviet Union).

Japan has been plagued by nuclear-power accidents over the years. The lack of training and safety precautions that led to the accident disturbed international experts and observers.

More tests to come, wrote George Perkovich for The Washington Post: “India will probably conduct more nuclear weapons tests. India’s nuclear scientists and hawkish strategists want a sophisticated arsenal, ranging from small tactical weapons to huge hydrogen bombs. They also wish to overcome doubts about the technical performance of the weapons tested in May 1998. More tests would satisfy them and their potential military ‘customer’ that they can mimic the great powers.

“Pakistan would match India’s test for test. This would lead to the kind of arms race that Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton have sought to block in the subcontinent. Lest an arms race seem inconsequential, it should be recalled that India and Pakistan just battled in Kashmir. The fighting came closer to erupting into an all-out war and possible nuclear escalation than was reported. If more testing occurs and hawks in both countries are unleashed, defense spending will increase.”

The Kashmir dispute is the nuclear flashpoint of South Asia, warned an influential US defense think-tank, the National Defense University in its “1999’s Strategic Assessment,” that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is “explosive” and one of the global “flashpoints.” It further forewarned that the military balance between India and Pakistan has steadily deteriorated, leaving Islamabad increasingly dependent on nuclear weapons and missiles.

“Kashmir, which had been the cause of past conventional wars between India and Pakistan, remained a frightening flashpoint,” Peter Hain, the [British] Foreign Office Minister said. “We know the two countries came very close to a nuclear exchange over it,” he said in an interview to BBC.

The subcontinent has assumed the status of a flashpoint in the global political arena over the issue of Kashmir, without the international community getting seriously involved in finding a negotiated solution to the crisis. Allowing the status quo to continue will intensify hostility between the arch-rivals, which would frustrate efforts of the international community to bring about stability in South Asia.

The Kashmir conflict has been at the heart of India-Pakistan relations. In fact, this issue is at the center of their foreign policy. Three wars have been fought over this issue during the past fifty-two years. Moreover, since October 1989 there has been an intensification of war hysteria in India and Pakistan and the unprecedented human catastrophe in Indian-occupied Kashmir to suppress Kashmiris’ demand for implementation of the UN resolutions promising them their right of self-determination.

The long-standing political conflict now has the potential of nuclear weapons on either side. During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union faced each other with nuclear weapons, but there were thousands of miles of ocean between the two. In this context, India and Pakistan are cheek by jowl. The unresolved Kashmir issue is a dangerous situation for the global community, which cannot afford the luxury of being a mere spectator. The “ticking time bomb” could have a global impact and requires collective action for a peaceful solution. !

Mr. Mushtaq A. Jeelani is Executive Director of the Kashmiri-Canada Council, a non-profit, Toronto-based, non-governmental organization.