Three Misrepresentations

Economic and Political Weekly

September 6, 1997


By Achin Vanaik

India's nuclear elite and the members of its so-called strategic community carry on with the pretentious posturing that their negative and obstructive stand against such restraint measures as the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty are really sincere, courageous contributions to the struggle for greater nuclear sanity and against hegemony.

THREE important developments took place recently. The Indian government became the first anywhere to reject the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) even before the negotiations have begun. To be precise, New Delhi has said it will not be a party to a FMCT unless it is part of a time-bound schedule for global disarmament. Secondly, the US decision to go in for subcritical tests was seized upon (as was to be expected) by the nuclear elite in India as a vindication of India's stand on the CTBT, which, of course, it is not. Third, recent reports of Chinese updating of its medium range missiles and of its nuclear-related collaboration with Pakistan were again made an excuse for nuclear tub-thumping by our hawks.

On the FMCT, India's position was anticipated. But by announcing it even before negotiations have started, the Indian government also indicated its contempt for those negotiations, and indeed for the concerns and efforts of a whole host of nonnuclear weapons states (NNWSs) which do take the FMCT seriously. New Delhi's call for a time-bound schedule for global disarmament is simply to provide (as in the case of the CTBT) an excuse and a justification in advance to cover up its real reasons for not acceding to the FMCT. It is because it fears that abiding by this would greatly devalue its nuclear option by preventing it from accumulating over the coming years an adequate stockpile of weapons-grade fuel.

The difference between the CTBT and the FMCT is a real and significant one. The former is a powerful restraint measure on the nuclear weapons states (NWSs) including the US and involves a genuine sacrifice on their part. But merely cutting off future production of fissile materials does not entail a sacrifice by NWSs, especially the US and Russia. They have huge stockpiles already and there is also the additional weaponsgrade fuel available from dismantling some of their warheads as they are now having to do under existing START II agreements, with the possibility of more disarming to come. That is why a meaningful FMCT must not simply address the issue of cutting off production but aim at systematically and progressively reducing existing stockpiles by, say, an agreed percentage yearly. This is exactly what most NNWSs especially outside Europe (including Pakistan) want, and rightly so. Incidentally, one of the countries adamantly opposed to stockpile reduction being brought within the aegis of the FMCT is - guess which? India.

Since the NWSs are strongly opposed to stockpiles being brought in, and since merely cutting off production, while necessary, does not impose a sacrifice on the NWSs, it is vital that the FMCT issue be linked to other concerns. Not in the way India wants, but a linkage nonetheless. What ki nd of linkage? India's call for a time-bound schedule for global disarmament is really putting the cart before the horse. Before you can hope to even put effective pressure for achieving such a measure, you first have to institutionalize some multilateral body empowered to negotiate and carry out global nuclear disarmament. The body must be multilateral and not just confined to the nuclear weapons states or nuclear capable states. All states must be party to the process of such disarmament because this is a genuinely global issue on which the voices of non-nuclear states must be heard and must carry weight.

There are two realistic candidates for such a body - setting up a nuclear abolition convention, or the setting up of an ad hoc committee to discuss and negotiate global disarmament. Both avenues can be pursued simultaneously but the chance of having the first is much slimmer than of getting the second. Indeed, NNWSs have pushed for setting up just such a committee in the CTBT negotiations, and if India had been interested in playing a leading role among the NNWSs, it could have pressed for such a body during those negotiations as the price to be paid for its accession. Of course, it was never interested in making such an effort and didn't. But with regard to the FMCT, many NNWSs are insisting on linkage between such a treaty and the setting up of such a committee, and rightly so. While some NNWSs would settle, as a first step, for an ad hoc Committee with simply a discussion (but not a negotiating) mandate because they want above all, to get such a body into existence for the first time ever (itself a major advance), other NNWSs are pressing for a committee with a negotiating mandate. The NWSs are more amenable to the first which could come about if enough pressure is brought upon them through hard bargaining. Again, India could have played a leading role in pushing for this but is not interested in making any genuine efforts in this regard. At the same time, India's nuclear elite and the members of its so-called strategic community carry on with the pretentious posturing that their negative and obstructive stand against such restraint measures as the CTBT and FMCT are really sincere and courageous contributions to the struggle for greater nuclear sanity and against nuclear hegemony.


With regard to the issue of subcritical testing, the claim by the Indian government and by the country's nuclear elite that India's stand on the CTBT was vindicated is simply fraudulent. Do these tests violate the letter and text of the CTBT? No they don't. Do these tests violate or go against the larger spirit and wider intention of the CTBT? They certainly do. Does the carrying out of these subcritical tests render the CTBT worthless and pointless? Of course, they do not. There have been any number of antinuclear activists and groups in the US, Europe and Japan that have publicly protested these subcritical tests, but which have supported (and continue to do so) the CTBT. By contrast, the general reaction of the Indian nuclear elite was of the "I told you so" type - a response which is both narrow and dishonest.

Much has been made by our hawks of how subcritical testing, inertial confinement fusion, computer simulation make the need for explosive testing in which a nuclear chain reaction takes place (which is banned by the CTBT) redundant. France's Laser Megajoule Project (LMJ) and the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) Project (both under planned construction) are seen as the institutional embodiments guaranteeing this redundancy. They are mistaken. There are three aspects when it comes to producing and deploying nuclear weapons, even assuming that the issue of having a carrier for the weapon in question is resolved. These three aspects are cenification, weaponisation and development. A bomb may be developed but neither weaponised nor certified. Or it can be both developed and weaponised but not certified which makes its deployment highly unlikely but not impossible. What then does the CTBT do and not do?

It rules out all possibility of certification. It does not rule out the production of new weapons within the existing generation of nuclear weapons although it makes it difficult to make more than marginal improvements in the existing level of technology. So the US has produced a new B-61 earth-penetrating bomb to attack facilities deep underground. But the CTBT does rule out not only the certification and weaponisation but even the development of new third generation warheads.

The US and Russia today operate with second generation nuclear weapons. But even here, within the range of second generation weapons, the CTBT prevents weaponisation of low-yield warheads by the US. In the case of Russia, the CTBT prevents both the development as well as the weaponisation of second generation low yield warheads. Neither the Laser Megajoule nor the NIF can alter the basic restraint on developing third generation nuclear weapons imposed by the CTBT.

So what do these facilities do? They can play a key role in the designing of new types of weapons since such designing advances are not prevented by the CTBT. But for third generation weapons there is an impassable barrier between laboratory designing and engineering accuracy which can only be resolved through a series of actual tests which provide the actual data on which crucial corrections can then be made. No amount of simulated or subcritical testing can replace the need for actual testing of such weapons. Amidst all the 'technical' waffle which the Indian hawks throw at the Indian public, this is the hard-core scientific and technical reality. So the LMJ and NIF can help the nuclear elites of France and the US position themselves much better in the future to make the final leap to producing third generation weapons provided the CTBT is at some point repealed or flagrantly violated. The weapons labs and the hawks in the US recognised fully the restraining impact of a CTBT and that is why they opposed it. They were partially appeased by the promise of these facilities which even others who support a CTBT can also want because it makes a future 'break-out' from the CTBT to a qualitatively higher level of weapons development and deployment that much easier. But a 'break-out' there has to be. What this shows is not the irrelevance or redundancy of the CTBT but its enduring relevance and importance and the necessity that it always remain in place.

Too many of our hawks are not people who are genuinely committed to the integrity of argument but to salesmanship. They make their case for India going nuclear or for not signing the CTBT not only on the basis of arguments which they believe to be better and stronger than those of their opponents but also in a much more cavalier way. They will use whatever arguments they feel can help 'sell' their case and accuracy or integrity of argument be damned. Anti-nuclearists should not mimic this style but argue with complete honesty. That is why, while antinuclearists oppose the arguments of those who say India in its 'national interest' should not sign the CTBT because of China or prestige or whatever, and would say these arguments are wrong, they would nonetheless not say that such arguments are disgraceful or dishonest. But what has been thoroughly dishonest is the way the genuine restraining effects of the CTBT were denied by the Indian nuclear elite.

This genuine restraining effect has already been pointed out in the case of third generation weapons. Indian hawks, however, are shamefully cavalier not only in regard to their claims about what subcritical testing, laboratory simulation and the LMJ and NIF can do in regard to third generation weapons, they are also so in the claims they make for how these activities and facilities can be relied upon to produce fourth generation weapons. The real truth is that the distance in basic physics between third and fourth generation weapons is much greater than that between even first and third generation weapons technologies. It is a leap into the unknown and nobody knows what is required for their development, weaponisation and certification. Therefore, no one can say what the precise relationship of the CTBT to such fourth generation weapons is because no one can say with confidence today and for a long time to come what the problems and difficulties will actually be, presuming the effort to produce them carries on. It is not impossible that these might be produced without explosive testing of the kind prevented by the CTBT. But there is no warrant for saying either that these can be produced or will be produced or that the CTBTcannot prevent this. Indeed, the most intelligent and sober technical evaluation is that having a CTBT may or may not make it impossible to develop such weapons but in any case will certainly make their emergence very difficult, which is a good enough reason for having it. In any case the emergence of fourth generation weapons is an issue of great uncertainty and the effort is fraught with immense obstacles because of the paucity of existing knowledge.


Recent reports in the US press about Chinese deployments of new medium range missiles were picked up by their Indian counterpart and used by hawks to promote their standard "see what China is doing to us" syndrome. China is alleged to have replaced its CSS-2s by an upgraded CSS-5 version and this was made out to be a matter of great concern to India. China is engaged in modernising its nuclear forces. This means replacing liquid fuel missiles with solid fuel ones which makes such missiles more mobile because of various technical restraints concerning transport and fuelling of liquid-based missiles. Specifically, missiles cannot be placed horizontally for transporting purposes if full of liquid fuel because of fears that this will rupture the missile owing to the weight and the instability of such fuel. So missiles have to be transported empty, then placed in a vertical and completely still position before liquid fuel can be injected. This takes time, involves a cumbersome set of back-up facilities for fuelling to accompany launchi ng procedures. Thus preparing for launching in case of enemy attack is a 'dangerously' time consuming affair. Solid fuel eliminates these difficulties. But the more mobile and solid fuel CSS-5s that are replacing the older CSS-2s also have a range which is shorter by a third, which makes them less useful than ever for targeting major Indian cities and not just the more easily reached but outlying parts of India which are nearer the bases from which such CSS-5s can be launched. Thus these new deployments, ironically, show less preoccupation with, or 'hostile' capacities and intentions towards, India, than before.

One member of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, Swaran Singh, in a Times of India article ('US Cries Wolf to Scare India', July 26, 1997) did in fact make this point in an indirect way. He correctly pointed out that China considers India irrelevant to its nuclear planning and does not make preparations or deployment with India in mind. What neither he nor anyone else has pointed out is that the US reports of what the Chinese are doing are not the only ones that emerged in recent times. A few months ago, a small paragraph appeared even in Indian national (English language) newspapers reporting that the Chinese are alleged to have abandoned production of those missiles most dangerous to India because of their range. But this brief news item was buried in the inside pages. It was not highlighted in articles, editorials or even picked up for critical dissection by the members of our 'strategic community'. It was as if, giving any kind of credence to such a report would highlight the possible lack of Chinese nuclear danger to India, which in turn would undermine the whole elaborate edifice of arguments justifying the keeping or exercising of the Indian option on the grounds of the "Chinese threat"; which of course it does.

Eric Arnett of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in an article 'What Threat' in the March/April 1997 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that the Chinese have cancelled production of the Dong Feng 25, a missile with a 1,700 km range (which had been intended to replace its outdated Dong Feng 3A, the first of its missiles deployed in 1972), capable of striking India but which were actually targeted on US bases in the Philippines. This cancellation, he argued, once again revealed how irrelevant India was to China's nuclear preparations. Moreover, if the report is correct, then it means China has no missiles capable of reaching important targets in India. How does this square with the reports emanating from the US press? Are they compatible? Are the US press reports more motivated and therefore likely to be inaccurate in part or whole?

In any case, both reports, as they stand and when properly evaluated, do not indicate hostile intentions or preparations by China towards India. Incidentally, has any Indian hawk emphasised publicly that China has deactivated its nuclear bomber force since 1984? It has finally closed down its Xian Aircraft Corporation, the production centre for such bombers. It no longer has any bombers capable of reaching India. By way of contrast, India's Soviet-supplied Tupolev bombers are capable of flying anywhere in China and dropping its currently available crude bombs. This doesn't indicate Indian intentions, and the Tupolevs are assigned to fly patrols over the Indian Ocean. But it does indicate Indian capacities. Should the Chinese counter-prepare according to these capacities as sensible military thinking would presumably tell them to do, or are they wiser not to?

Since neither Chinese nuclear preparations today within its territory nor its past history of nuclear behaviour indicate hostility of a nuclear kind to India, a much greater burden of argument is then imposed on the Chinese nuclear collaboration with Pakistan to provide proof of China's hostile intentions or 'calculated' planning to potentially or actually undermine Indian nuclear security. None of our Indian ambiguists or hawks are prepared to point out that if it is this Chinese-Pakistani nuclear-related relationship that most worries India, then the best way to eliminate this potential or actual danger is to go along with a South Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone since that takes care of all dangers of a nuclear threat from Pakistan 'aided or abetted' by China. No, such a course, we are repeatedly told, is disastrous because of the potential Chinese threat from within its own territory, although evidence of such a threat can only be based on an assertion of China's capacities in the abstract, and on nothing else.

But let us put this Chinese collaboration with Pakistan on nuclear-related matters (i e, with regard to missiles, and with regard to civilian nuclear facilities which can also produce weapons grade fuel as a by-product of its civilian power production) into proper perspective. This, of course, our hawks will mostly not do because of their vested interest in crying wolf in order to push India into exercising its option, or failing that, to further develop the quantitative and qualitative level of its bomb option. There have historically been three kinds of nuclear relationships between countries.

First, there are those relationships which come closest to being characterized as 'nuclear alliance' relationships. The two historical examples of this type have been the US-Britain relationship and the China-Soviet nuclear relationship of the 1950s. In both cases, the senior partner has been adamant in not sharing its most important nuclear secrets and technologies. Britain has been kept as a lapdog, dependent on latest US weapons, e g, today on the Trident. The former USSR refused to help China produce the bomb, which became a major factor in promoting the subsequent Sino-Soviet split.

The second type of relationship has been a nuclear patron-client relationship. The closest approximation to this is the US-lsrael nuclear relationship. Neither the China-Pakistan nor the US-Pakistan nuclear-related relationship has been of this kind. It is truly amazing how so many ex-diplomats, ex-soldiers and ex-bureaucrats who should know the importance of language and nuance have not had the slightest hesitation in trying to make out that the China-Pakistan relationship has been of an alliance or near-alliance type. Even the general political relationship between these two countries has changed greatly after the end of the cold war and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. It made sense for China to pursue a closer relationship with Pakistan when the USSR was seeking a closer relationship with India as a counterweight to China. That era is gone and no such political weight of the older level can now be put on the current China-Pakistan connection.

The third and most common type of nuclear-related association is one simply of nuclear co-operation and mutual trade and technology benefits, with at most, minor political spin-offs. It is of a kind that many countries engage in, be it Germany and Argentina, India and Russia, China and Russia, etc. Should Russian-lndian collaboration to set up nuclear reactors and to have the latest Sukhoi-30s be seen by Islamabad as evidence of a near-nuclear alliance between the two countries directed against Pakistan? Does the fact that the Russians are today supplying SS-18 ballistic missiles and Cruise missiles to China indicate a near-alliance relationship? The simple reality is that China has long been prepared to sell its nuclear related expertise (for setting up nuclear power generation or for supplying parts) and its missiles and general armaments to any number of countries that are willing to buy them. It has sold missiles to Saudi Arabia and Iran. It has nuclearly co-operated with not only Pakistan but Algeria and other countries keen on expanding nuclear energy production.

One extraordinary argument put forward by a well known Indian hawk, who best exemplifies the point about the concern for salesmanship repeatedly overcoming the scruples for sound and sober argument, is the claim that China is engaged along with Pakistan in an effort to improve its political strategic connection with key west Asian countries and that this has a political-strategic consequence for India. Unfortunately for such irresponsible speculation (and conventional realist thinking or so-called strategic thinking is invariably of a highly speculative and superficial type), the country with which the Chinese have the strongest military relationship of buying and selling arms is Israel. One might as well equally irresponsibly speculate that China is pursuing a political-strategic relationship with Israel implicitly aimed at other Islamic west Asian states.

The basic point is that far too much of what passes for sensible strategic evaluation of Chinese nuclear behaviour with India's neighbours is nothing of the kind. It is neither objective nor balanced evaluation but is unbalanced and irresponsible speculation of a strongly motivated kind; motivated by the need to paint a picture of "strategic threats" so as to justify a more hawkish stand on India's part in regard to the nuclear issue.

Economic and Political Weekly September 6, 1997

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