India's Nuclear Muscle Flexing despite a 'No First Use' Policy, a New Weapons Program Is One More Step

Article excerpt

India this week sought to assure the international community that it will pursue a responsible nuclear policy of "no first use" of atomic weapons - even as it continues to build a much larger military capability, including a new defense strategy to deliver nuclear weapons by missile, plane, ship, and submarine.

India's first nuclear doctrine, announced Tuesday, indicates a further break from the moral policy of pacifism dating to founder Jawaharlal Nehru and long professed by India. It reflects a new and emerging Indian realpolitik in which status as a great economic and political power is seen as dependent on modern military capacity.

Moreover, the announcement comes at a time when the overall climate in South Asia is under increased scrutiny, following nearly three months of fighting in late spring between India and Pakistan in the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir. Only last week, India downed a Pakistani military plane it claims crossed a disputed border along the Arabian Sea, and relations between the neighbors are at a low ebb.

India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons 15 months ago, marking them as the first new members of the nuclear "club" in decades. Western nations uniformly condemned the tests, arguing they would increase the possibility of other states breaking the existing nonproliferation regime. But Clinton administration efforts to talk the two sides out of nuclear weapons development have so far failed - a point made resoundingly clear by New Delhi's Tuesday press conference.

Until this week India had not made clear its nuclear doctrine, which also states that the prime minister alone may pull the nuclear trigger, and lays out what supporters term a "muscular" strategy of land, sea, and air delivery systems. Pakistan has not yet renounced the "first use" of nuclear weapons.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Tuesday that the policy "does not enhance" the security of the region. Western observers in Delhi stated it was "difficult to tell" from the language of the doctrine whether "this means we are in for an arms race in South Asia or not." However, military analysts here seized on India's new intention to develop ship and submarine delivery systems as the most significant part of the announcement. India's submarine capability is still years off, but ships could be more quickly fitted to deploy India's smaller "Prithvi" missile in a manner hard to detect.

"If I am a strategic planner in Jakarta, or Tehran, or Saudi Arabia, or Australia - suddenly India's nuclear program has a lot more meaning than before," says a Western analyst.

Along with pointing to a potential threat from Pakistan, which tested only after India in 1998, Indian officials say nuclear weapons are a deterrent against China - a greater long-term threat, say some experts here.

Old antimuclear policy

For years, India, as a member of the "nonaligned nations," touted a Gandhian antinuclear doctrine and eschewed the development of catastrophic weapons as immoral, illegal, and irrational. Indian opponents of the new doctrine described it as a betrayal of Indian values. …