INDIA’S EMERGING NUCLEAR POSTURE: BETWEEN RECESSED DETERRENT AND REaDY ARSENAL By Ashley J. Tellis, Oxford, Rs 895
May 11, 1998 was a turning point for both India and the world. Pokhran transformed India from a nuclear capable power to a nuclear weapons power. New Delhi has also recently shown the world that it could also equip its weapons with nuclear warheads. Ashley J. Tellis, an American strategist specializing on south Asia, analyses India’s nuclear policy.
Tellis writes that despite the confident assertion of Indian scientists and the BJP’s rhetoric, India, unlike Western countries, lacks an alternate scientific body which could evaluate the success of the tests conducted by the department of atomic energy. The seismic tremors caused by Pokhran, and picked up by instruments in the West, reflects India’s failure to successfully ignite a thermonuclear device. Thus, despite the DAE’s tall claims, India unlike China is not in a position to make a hydrogen bomb.
Tellis claims that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is in no way inferior to that of India. In fact, Pakistan’s nuclear command system is much better than India’s. Tellis argues that India has to go a long way in creating a viable command set up. The principal obstruction to this is the Indian bureaucracy which is not willing to share power with the uniformed men. The babus do not want the military to have any say regarding the custody of the nukes and targeting of warheads. Thus, in case of a nuclear war, prompt response on the part of India would be impossible. That is probably why India’s declared policy is “no first use and delayed retaliation”. But Tellis warns that too much delay might encourage the opponent to go for a first strike against India.
New Delhi’s arsenal is apparently pathetic compared to China’s. India’s missiles at best could reach China’s southern periphery, while Chinese missiles can reach every important city in the Gangetic heartland. To top it all, even in the coming decades India’s missiles and planes will not be able to extend Delhi’s strategic reach substantially.
Tellis concludes by saying that India’s nuclear store is modest. This will remain so in the near future as its capacity for producing fissile materials remains limited and its nuclear command system remains ad hoc at best. Its ruling elite is not willing to set up a sophisticated command infrastructure because of the cost and its reluctance to integrate the army at the highest level of decision-making.
Tellis does not despise India’s attempts at going nuclear and evaluates its nuclear programme in the context of its neighbours. His claims are not grounded on obtuse theory but on solid research.