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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 53, December 2000 - January 2001

Disturbing Nuclear Portents in South Asia

The period under review saw a number of grim indications both of the commitment to intensified nuclearisation in South Asia, and to the potential for a nuclear exchange in the region. Most alarmingly, retired Admiral L Ramdas, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy, told the South Asian Peoples' Summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on December 8: "You may not believe this: over a dozen people on both sides advised the use of nuclear weapons during the [1999] Kargil war... Momentary insanity could set the bombs off..."

On November 25, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh gave a bleak assessment of the prospects of India signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the foreseeable future. Singh was also careful to distinguish between his government's current moratorium and a commitment never to test again: "The aspect of further nuclear tests is an inherent right and it is not foreclosed or foregone... [W]e have to keep in mind that the enforcement of [the] CTBT will not be possible if the weapons of mass destruction are present all over the world... [India] cannot disregard the security scenario [it faces]..."

In an interview published in the December 9-22 edition of Frontline magazine, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Chair of India's Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, gave an illuminating account of the country's nuclear weapon programme:

"Question: 'Are any sub-critical tests planned?'

Kakodkar: 'That really depends on the government's decision. As far as R&D work is concerned, it is an ongoing process.' ...

Question: '[Can you comment on] the capability of building a neutron bomb in our country?'

Kakodkar: 'That capability exists. At this moment we are talking about this credible deterrent that can be established based on the five tests done. If you are talking about a credible deterrent, I think that whatever has been done is sufficient.'

Question: 'Are you convinced that we need not explode more nuclear devices, thermonuclear bombs with bigger yields?'

Kakodkar: 'I will not put it in the way you are putting it. The 45-kiloton thermonuclear test that we did was in a configuration which allows us to easily go up to 200 kilotons. So as far as thermonuclear technology is concerned, there is no doubt that we have the full capability.' ...

Question: 'Can we do computer simulation?'"

Kakodkar: 'We certainly have some capability. We are continuously improving on it.'"

On January 2, Defense Week quoted an Indian defence official as acknowledged that active consideration was being given to the creation of a Nuclear Air Command backed by a "first-strike capability". A Foreign Ministry official, quoted in the same report, commented: "'No-first strike' policy does not mean India will not have a first-strike capability. The foundations of the policy of deterrence, of which the Nuclear Air Command will be the key component, is based on having overwhelming superiority over the enemy to launch nuclear strikes. I would say we are working towards having a first-strike capability, but how to exercise this option within the 'no-first strike' policy will be the subject of political decision-making."

On January 10, a senior Pakistan Navy officer told reporters in Islamabad that plans were underway to provide the armed service with nuclear weapons. The unnamed Admiral told reporters: "In order to counter the Indian naval might, Pakistan has been working on a plan to give nuclear teeth to the Pakistan Navy... The Pakistan navy has a variety of platforms, including various type[s] of ships, submarines and aircraft... [F]or our countrymen, it should be enough to know that the country's defence is impregnable and in secured hands."

In a more encouraging move, informal discussions on the theme of 'nuclear risk and restraint' were held in mid-January, hosted by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, between retired senior diplomats, politicians and military officials, including former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit, and former Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar. On January 15, retired Indian Air Chief Marshall S. K. Mehra told reporters: "Any discussion with each other has an advantage. We are not decision-makers but we are trying to see the common ground..." The same day, former Pakistan diplomat Najumuddin Sjeikh referred to such "track II" diplomacy as "a useful way of seeking a meeting of minds on a subject of considerable importance to security in South Asia."

Notes: on January 17, Indian announced it had successfully test-fired its Agni II medium-range ballistic missile, reportedly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Pakistan and China. See next issue for details and reaction.

On January 1 India and Pakistan exchanged, for the tenth successive year, lists of nuclear installations and facilities, as mandated under the 'Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between India and Pakistan'. The agreement was signed on December 31, 1988, entering into force on January 27, 1991.

On January 14, US Ambassador Richard Celeste told an audience of scientists at the Bose Institute in Calcutta, that Washington had been wrong to suspend all scientific cooperation with India in the wake of the country's May 1998 tests: "I know this is not how you expect a US Ambassador to speak, but it was wrong. It was a mistake on our part... The sanctions were an emotional decision as we felt aggrieved, deceived, and spurned by a friend..."

Reports: Right to conduct more N-tests not closed, Time of India, November 25; N-strike advised during Kargil war - Ramdas, Hindustan Times, December 9; Neutron bomb capability exists, Frontline Magazine, Issue 25, December 9-22; India Foreign Ministry Statement, January 1; Indian Air Force chief advocates first strike capability, Defense Week, January 2; Pakistan nuclearising its Navy, Time of India, January 10; South Asian rivals in nuclear talks, BBC News Online, January 13; Indian science sanctions regretted, Associated Press, January 14; Indian, Pakistani experts call for nuclear risk reduction, Agence France Presse, January 15.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.