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India-US Nuke Deal:PLAN HARD SECOND STRIKE PROWESS, by B.K. Mathur,6 March 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 6 March 2006

India-US Nuke Deal


By B.K. Mathur

If President Bush succeeds in getting the nuclear deal he signed in New Delhi last week approved by the US Congress and the 38-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, India would be viewed with the same prism as the nuclear weapon states which include, besides America, Russia, France, England and China. Militarily speaking, the agreement has provided India a win-win situation, as it allows New Delhi to have as many as eight of the 22 reactors out of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection.  All eight are fast-breeder reactors (FBR).  Even those FBRs which would be set up before 2014 would be kept out of the IAEA purview.

What is more, the deal works out to India’s military advantage as it allows New Delhi to continue producing vast quantities of fissile material, something the five major nuclear powers have voluntarily stopped. Additionally, India would continue opening its research reactor CIRUS for the next five years.  It was supplied to India by Canada in 1954, with the Americans chipping in later by supplying heavy water to it. Significantly it would remain out of the IAEA safeguards because these measures did not exist when the reactor was supplied.  It is widely known that most of the plutonium stockpile and plutonium for India’s 1974 nuclear explosion came from CIRUS.

With the American assurance, Indian military reactors should be able to produce atleast 50 nuclear weapons every year. The deal also contains distinctive features such as an assurance from a consortium consisting of countries like Britain, France and Russia, besides the U.S.  This would ensure continuity of fuel supplies. This is proposed to be incorporated in another document.  New Delhi pressed for such a provision against the backdrop of its bitter experience India was denied fuel for the Tarapur reactor after the 1974 nuclear tests.  Even as the Bush Administration has accepted all the major conditions the Indian side, doubts still persist about the mighty and doughty Americans honouring their promises. They are not dependable, especially in military matters.

Despite doubts about Washington’s seriousness about conceding some concessions to India, President Bush’s statement in Islamabad is significant.  He stated in no uncertain manner that India and Pakistan are two different countries with “different needs and history”.  He made this observation while rejecting Islamabad’s request for extending the nuclear deal with Pakistan. What Bush obviously meant was that India has firmly promised not to make first use of nuclear weapons, while Musharraf has threatened time and again that he will use nuclear weapons if and when required. India’s nuclear weapons are only intended to be deterrent in view of the fact that its neighbours on two sides, Pakistan and China, are nuclear weapon states.

Undoubtedly, India has repeatedly stressed that its declared policy is no first use of nuclear weapons. But the country’s second strike capability should not only be well protected but also “overwhelmingly devastating as the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash had observed not long ago at a seminar at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). This was considered necessary by him since India’s potential rival has in the past threatened first use of nuclear weapons. India’s deterrence must lie in adversary’s mind.  The enemy needs to understand that the consequences of using nuclear weapons will be horrible and devastating.

Moreover, there is need to understand the perception of a nuclear war. The use of an atom bomb or even small weapons with nuclear warheads would invariably be an action by a losing force towards the end of a conventional battle between the three elements of the armed forces, the Army, Navy and the Air Force.  Obviously, therefore, the preparedness of India’s land force is of paramount importance in a conventional battle, even if Islamabad threatens first use of nuclear weapons. But even with the threat of first use, Pakistan, or for that matter any nuclear power, would use nuclear weapons at the end of the defeat of its land forces.

Strategically, the role of the Indians Army is crucial in a conventional war where the enemy is likely to use nuclear weapons.  Therefore, India’s land force must have an inventory of a large number of small nuclear-head weapons for use in the event of the enemy making the first use of its N-arsenal. It is now for the defence planners to decide how best the Army needs to be equipped with nuclear warheads, organized and trained for a possible war.  In this context, the Army Headquarters’ recent decision to raise a new regional Command is welcome. It stretches from southern Punjab to mid-Rajasthan.

Importantly, the Army and its command and control requires to be so organized as to be prepared to take on the enemy’s nuclear arsenal before it is finally used, despite India’s no-first-use policy.  The field force is to be reorganized with emphasis on mechanized formations, with the infantry possessing for its forward movement small weapons with nuclear warheads.  In other words, the deployment of armour, followed by mechanized infantry with the support of artillery from behind or sideways and the air force from above, all having nuclear-head weaponry, would require courage for the enemy to make first use of a nuclear bomb.

The reorganization of the armed forces in preparation for a hard second strike capability in the event of a nuclear war should not be taken as India’s efforts to get into an arms race.  Soon after the signing of the India-US nuclear agreement, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee was quick to clarify that India has no intention of joining an arms race but procure arms according to the country’s needs. Reacting to a question if the India-US nuke deal would trigger an arms race in the sub-Continent, Mukherjee said: “We have no territorial ambitions….”  Agreed, and the world knows about India’s policy.  But the country has per force to plan a massive modernization of its military hardware. 

In this context, the defence planners have to be careful in buying military machines, forgetting the history of American dealings.  Within hours of signing the India-US nuclear deal, America has offered explicit guarantees of reliable future military supplies in a clear indication. But the nuclear agreement between the two countries has something more than the offer of energy security and fair trade.  Washington knows that India is emerging as a big arms market. It is making promises galore.  It has already offered F-16 and F-16 multi-role combat aircraft.  There is need to consider all aspects of the offer and not get tempted by sweet talks and commitments.  There are other options for fighter aircraft.---INFA.

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







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