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Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuclear Weapons & Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, By Bharat Karnad, Macmillan, Rs 795

In this massive volume, Bharat Karnad attempts to probe whether India really needs to be a nuclear power. He takes to task nuclear strategists like the late General K. Sundarji, Air Commodore Jasjit Singh (retd) and Rear Admiral Raja Menon (retd), who favour a small nuclear arsenal with limited reach.

States pursue power in the chaotic and dangerous arena of international relations, and nuclear weapons are currencies of power in this arena. For Karnad, the “realist” philosophy of statecraft is not an innovation of the West. Analyzing the content of ancient Hindu texts, he asserts that the polities of Vedic India had a clear concept of “power game”.

Kautilya’s rajamandala theory, in which a state creates trouble among its neighbours in order to survive and to prevent the emergence of a hostile alliance against it, is proof that ancient Hindu political thought was both aggressive and dynamic.

Karnad feels that the case for nuclear abstinence, pushed by the disarmament lobby within India, is a sham. The spokesmen for nuclear abstinence point to the high moral principles of Nehru, who preached national and international disarmament. The abhorrence for nuclear bombs and war, evident in Nehru’s public speeches, is put forward by them as proof of his anti-nuclear agenda, which was laced with morality.

Karnad states that Nehru, far from being an “idealist”, was a cold-blooded “realist”. In a pathbreaking research, Karnad pieces together archival data from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the United States National Archives and the official archives of the United Kingdom, and shows that Nehru followed a consistent policy of building up nuclear power. This is also proved by Nehru’s secret correspondence with Homi Bhabha.

Karnad writes that in the mid-Sixties, the Atomic Energy Commission had the capability to manufacture atom bombs which could be dropped by the Indian air force’s Canberra bombers. But, the American threat of severing economic aid prevented Nehru from crossing the Rubicon. Similarly, Washington’s warning that it would stop its economic aid programme forced Indira Gandhi to decelerate the nuclear bomb programme after 1974. India’s over-dependence on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after the globalization programme was initiated forced P.V. Narasimha Rao to eschew the Pokhran test.

Karnad criticizes the atomic establishment as well as the nuclear strategists of India for toeing the Vajpayee government’s line that no more nuclear tests are required for the development of the warheads. Computer simulations are no substitute for real testing, which is needed to assess the viability of nuclear weapons as well as to dispel doubts expressed by national and international figures about the success and import of the Pokhran II tests. India has to project her nuclear power capabilities if it is to deter potential aggressors.

India’s ruling class and nuclear strategists, according to Karnad, always concentrate on the Pakistani threat. They forget that the real threat to India, in the long run, comes from China and the United States of America. To deter these, India needs nearly 400 city-busting megaton warheads, fitted on inter-continental ballistic missiles. And this demands further tests.

Political scientists and nuclear strategists hardly pay any attention to the historical roots of the problem they are studying or to archival research. Karnad is different — he successfully combines solid research while chalking out future threat scenarios. His book deserves praise from the academic community.

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