Nuclear Security: A challenge for Indian Diplomacy

M.L. Sondhi

The Times of India, April 1, 1998

In the five decades since Independence India has often found herself in escalating war conditions with Pakistan and China, mainly because there has been a failure on the part of foreign policy makers to position India in an optimal manner regarding her national interest vis--vis the central elements of the international political and strategic structures.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (and its earlier incarnation the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) has consistently advocated an independent and autonomous foreign policy.

The current BJP manifesto focuses on the architecture of security and seeks to evolve a system that will be stable and predictable while providing a platform for diplomatic dialogue.  By taking a pro-active position on “inducting” nuclear weapons the new government will not opt out of the process of promoting India’s participation in a cooperative system of security.  Indian national interests are not incompatible with cooperative-based security structures which can exclude arms race spirals.  While leaving the door open for negotiations, for building common security and welfare, the Vajpayee government has to overcome conditions of strategic deficiency which have become a prominent feature of the political and diplomatic landscape of India.

To respond to the challenges of the post-Cold War era, India must make a serious effort to understand Washington’s standpoint on the “adverse” effect of New Delhi’s stand on the CTBT on the existing non-proliferation regime, and to help Washington comprehend a variety of Indian nuclear postures which would facilitate political arrangements to tackle sources of conflict in the 21st century.  Unlike Iran and Iraq, India has no interest in subverting the peace process in the Middle East and is not playing a spoiler’s role against regional political arrangements on the agenda of American diplomacy.  The Vajpayee government wants to impress upon the international community that the common problems of the world’s two largest democracies can only be addressed within a framework in which each side clearly defines its defence and security requirements.  Washington’s nuclear relations with non-democratic and authoritarian societies cannot be a model for Indo-US relations.  New Delhi must stress the diplomatic, strategic and political need for a shared moral consensus between elected leaders in India and the United States and respect for their cultural-historical frameworks from which arise responsibility for defence and security.

The BJP manifesto provides a welcome balance between India’s domestic and foreign political agendas and adheres to all the imperatives of self-restraint embedded in India’s democratic constitution.  There is nothing to cast a shadow on the prospects of a genuine partnership between India and the United States, but while explaining to Washington how the new government intends to deal with the security environment, it can also make clear what American pressure can and cannot achieve in New Delhi.

India’s nuclear diplomacy has to build on long-range trends regarding Asian security.  New Delhi and Beijing are engaged in confidence building measures and Washington is keenly interested in their successful outcome.  Both Washington and New Delhi recognise the difficulties in correctly anticipating strategic and tactical developments in Chinese military modernisation given the ambiguity of intelligence material on China.

The strategic community in Washington acknowledges that India and others among China’s Asian neighbours will be open to blackmail at the hands of a future Han leadership resorting to military expansionism in the event of a slowdown in economic development.  There are different schools of thought amongst China watchers in respect of ideological, political strategic, economic and demographic trends in the mainland.  India cannot afford to be caught off guard by any of Beijing’s strategic surprises in the next decade, hence it will be the special responsibility of the new government to maintain a state of readiness for any contingencies.  There has to be a continuing dialogue with Chinese leaders, yet as the new century approaches India must sharpen its awareness of the issues involved in the Indian Ocean and in the entire Asia-Pacific belt.  Indian planners must immediately increase investment in R&D for civilian and military technologies for the coming century.

This entails the establishment of an environment of efficient organisational systems in science and technology.  Technological up-gradation must be supported by a rationale which continues to attract foreign capital without jeopardising India’s core interests.  Without challenging the basic tenets of American foreign policy, Indian diplomacy can avoid hawkish positions and initiate a political-diplomatic process for “Security and Cooperation in Asia”.

Mr. Vajpayee has to avoid the perils of ad hocism in Indo-US relations to which the Gujral government was prone. He can make an indispensable contribution in the realm of stable peace and security by using bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to clarify that India’s nuclear and missile development is not indicative of any quest for regional hegemony.

The BJP manifesto does not advocate a “balance of terror”, on the contrary it focuses on a broad range of political initiatives without ignoring nuclear interests.  Past leaders through soft-pedalling on nuclear issues failed to press home India’s advantage as a major player in global peace and security.  Mr.  Vajpayee’s task is to bridge the gap between India’s defence requirements and the evolving norms of international security.

After the first steps have been taken for developing structural and policy-oriented approaches to post-Cold War nuclear issues, the Indian Prime Minister will be in a sound position to articulate policies of cooperative security through far-reaching political settlements.
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