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New Dangers of Nuclear War on
Indian Sub-Continent



VIENNA, Austria--On the last day of last month India used its own domestically produced rocket to hurl into orbit a large satellite. Within days the newspapers were full of new Indian-Pakistani gun duels over the bitterly disputed territory of Kashmir. It was all coincidence, but a telling one.

No place on earth is more likely to spark a nuclear war than Kashmir. And the rapid progress being made by both Pakistan and India on rocket development brings that final day of sub-continental Armagaddon dangerously closer.

Until recently it could be argued that the relatively primitive state of the nuclear-bomb art in both Pakistan and India meant they have engaged in a form of deterrence that the local experts call "recessed." In other words, their limited nuclear capabilities are not destabilizing-- there is no pressing need, now that both have low-level nuclear armories, to join an arms race of nuclear testing, pre-emption strategies and nuclear targetting.

Moreover, the nuclear proponents maintain, although the two countries may bluster, in practice their conflicts are almost ritualized. In the fifty years since they gained their independence they have fought three wars. The last two in 1965 and 1971 were concluded within two weeks and both civilian and battlefield casualties were light. Anyway, say the Indian strategists in a final point, the real enemy we confront with nuclear weapons is China.

But what kind of game are these nuclear thinkers playing? To take just the last argument: India is deceiving itself if it believes it can deter China this way. While China could wipe out practically every Indian city, India could only pinprick China in retaliation. The Indian nuclear bomb is no deterrent against china and vis a vis Pakistan is only a provocation that adds to Pakistani fears--fears that are touched with an edge of paranoia--that they are compelled always to play David to India's Goliath.

Pakistan's strategists have always worried about Indian armored columns punching it across the plains. The Pakistani nuclear bomb on which work started a good two years before India's first nuclear test in 1974, according to a new study by Neil Joeck, recently published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is meant more to remedy a perceived situation of inferiority than to be a building block in a sophisticated game, a la superpowers, of stable nuclear deterrence.

Indeed, this is the central issue--having developed a small nuclear arsenal, how do the two countries stabilize the situation? The superpower theorists have long argued that stability is not possible unless there is an assured second-strike capability. In other words, if you attack me my retaliatory arsenal is so secure that I will be able to take revenge, however much damage you inflict upon me in your first strike.

Neither India and Pakistan have the wherewithall, as the superpowers did, to develop and build such second-strike capability. Therefore, the temptation in a period of rising tension "to use them or lose them" becomes very attractive, for it would undoubtedly bring capitulation by the other side.

Thus, the Indo-Pakistani nuclear stand-off has always been perceived by outsiders as inherently unstable. Now, to add to this instability, is the slow but steady introduction of ballistic missiles. They may not yet be configured for nuclear weapons, but it is only a matter of time before both sides do so. The short flight time of rockets, the inability to recall them once launched and the need to delegate command will put both sides on a hair-trigger.

The danger then is that Kashmiri insurgents and unofficial government representatives, who are apt at winding up a state of high tension in the region, in effect have their hand on this trigger. Together with such shortcomings as limited intelligence and the over-concentration of decision-making in a small circle, that is a recipe for nuclear war. Both countries have together created a situation where they can no longer be certain where their security lies.

The remedy must be with the stronger party. Only if India starts the ball rolling on nuclear disarmament would Pakistan even consider the issue. Unilateral nuclear disarmament has happened before. Belarus, Kazakstan, South Africa and the Ukraine have eliminated their nuclear stockpiles. Argentina and Brazil have reversed their bomb-building programmes.

India should be encouraged to take the first step. The bait should be the offer of an Indian place on the UN Security Council and a seat at the table with the G7, the grouping of the world's most industrially advanced nations. The bait for Pakistan would be India's agreement to the plebicite on the ownership of Kashmir demanded by the UN in the 1950s.



October 29, 1997, VIENNA

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

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