‘N-sanity’ requires a mix of power and responsibility
The Tribune, November 22, 1998

Dr. Martin Sherman, Professor at Tel Aviv University, is a leading Israeli political scientist. His latest publication, Despots, Democrats and the Determinants of International Conflict has been widely hailed. Sherman is of the view that since India is a democracy; her demonstration of nuclear capability is a stabilizing factor in the world. Thus, western countries should rethink their India policy and give up their demand for New Delhi’s signature to the NPT and CTBT. He discusses his views with M.L. Sondhi, former MP and Professor, International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Excerpts:

M.L. Sondhi: The impact of India’s nuclear tests in 1998 is comparable to the manner in which the international environment was significantly influenced by the advent of independent India in 1947. We are now compelled to see our foreign policy and strategic problems in startling new terms. There is a need for politically correct rhetoric. The Indian nuclear policy should be relevant to the globalised world. India should progress towards an understanding of the new nuclear regime formation internationally.

Martin Sherman: One should look at the nuclear tests in the context of the problems India is facing, problems which are in some ways, akin to those of Israel in the Middle East. Both are democracies, have on their borders non-democratic and hostile adversaries, sustained in a way by religious fundamentalism. India’s acquiring nuclear weapons is a stabilizing development, because democracies are status quoist powers. Unlike centralized and dictatorial countries, democracies do not go to war to change the status quo. Fascist Germany invaded the then Czechoslovakia and Poland; the Argentinean military junta ordered the invasion of the Falklands and dictatorial Iraq invaded Kuwait. Democracies go to war defensively to maintain the status quo. Hence it is important to introduce an element of regime-type differentiation into the analysis of issues raised by security dilemmas.

M.L.Sondhi: It will be necessary to maintain the focus on the nuclear thinking of countries like France to resist the dominance of conventional nuclear discourse, which has lost its relevance. Analysis of defensive capabilities of India in the SAARC region should be used to counter the apprehension that the introduction of nuclear weapons would, inevitably, lead to nuclear doomsday. Indian priorities and the framework of a stable, libertarian democracy should be adapted to counter-balance an increasingly potent China which is on its way to challenging the USA’s status as the leading world power.

Martin Sherman: Lack of competitive pluralism and accountability in dictatorial regimes will make them relatively risk-acceptant, as compared to accountable democracies. Secondly, dictatorial regimes will have a higher propensity to violate the prevailing status quo by force, while democracies will have a relatively higher propensity to defend it. Thirdly, a more robust posture of deterrence is required to contend with a risk-acceptant dictatorial adversary than with a risk-averse democratic one. Due to the dictatorial regime’s propensity to take a higher risk, a deterrent stance, based principally on the two essentially defensive elements of success and punishment will not dissuade it from the temptation of surprise attacks. Such attacks may prove very costly for risk-recipient countries. For the risk-acceptance actor, the poor ratio of potential gains (relative to potential costs) may well constitute significant inducement for launching a surprise offensive in order to change a prevailing status quo.

M.L. Sondhi: To turn to the USA, India’s relations have not been that of an adversary who would warrant even thinking of aiming ICBMs at their shores. As a nuclear power, it is necessary for Indian policy-makers to investigate causal relations between regional and international factors, and have the awareness of issues which can produce a new strategic bargain. India’s long-term goals and their compatibility with America’s long-term interest must be taken into account. India’s geopolitical importance and her rootedness as a democracy in the moral-political sphere must be recognized.

As a major player, India along with China, Japan, Russia and the USA should start with an initiative for ‘transparency, predictability and limitation’ of armed forces applicable to Asia. With India’s emergence as an overt nuclear power, USA’s efforts to cultivate China’s regional hegemony have been negated. The existing non-proliferation regime, quite ineffective as an instrument of peace-keeping, has been exposed along with its weaknesses.

Martin Sherman: American policy is difficult to understand. A new approach towards nuclear non-proliferation should be formulated. Now that India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear tests, the USA should forego its policy of trying to push the genie back into the bottle through harping on strict compliance with the NPT and CTBT. To aim at nuclear disarmament is a futile exercise. It would be better to make nuclear weapons obsolete. There are two ways. One is for the democratic states to develop and master “Boost Phase interceptive” (BPI) technologies. These can neutralize weapons, conventional or non-conventional, before the enemy can launch them from his territory. If successful, the BPI will make the use of deadly weapons more dangerous for the launching powers than for whom they are intended. Secondly, in order to ensure massive retaliation in the form of unacceptable damage against the aggressor, democracies should perfect their second-strike capability which needs to be sea-borne or submarine-borne. If the dictatorial aggressor is made to realize that the possession of non-conventional weapons will not do it any good, then it is hardly likely to want to acquire them. Nor would it have the temptation to change the status quo. Then there will be no need for the democracies that have similar weapons purely for defensive purposes to use them.

Effective deterrence against the aggressor must incorporate not only the capacity to inflict extensive dissuasive punishment on forces committed to any offensive, but also unacceptable damage on targets in enemy territory which cannot be concealed from the people. For causing such damage, the conventional capabilities of democracies may not be enough. The only manner in which democracies can dissuade their adversaries from aggressive initiatives is to develop non-conventional retaliation or preemption, including nuclear weapons. The need is all the more for countries like India whose adversaries are in possession of non-conventional weapons.

M.L. Sondhi: It is necessary to state in a precise manner that India’s nuclear posture can only be an openly weaponised one. This way India can at last negotiate nuclear and related security concerns through a more systematic analysis of contextual factors. This is also important to enable a choice between conflicting visions of India’s future. In the final analysis, India has to leave behind the ambiguity and imprecision of nonalignment and address itself to challenges and choices for the 21st century. ‘Nuclear sanity’ requires a combination of power and responsibility. We neither want accidental or deliberate nuclear exchanges with Pakistan nor Bangladesh to go nuclear (which it could with Pakistani assistance). We cannot be a major power vis--vis China, if we remain tied down by conflicting situations in the subcontinent. We need the cooperation of SAARC countries to maintain Indian political values in the changing international framework.

Martin Sherman: For a country to be regarded as democratic it has to score on five parameters. These are: the existence of an effective, legitimate opposition; an effective distribution of power among the legislative, executive and judicial wings of the state; the presence of independent media; periodic and free elections, allowing the opposition an opportunity to come to power, and limitation of the uses of the state’s resources for the purposes of the regime. If one applies these yardsticks to Pakistan, one will understand its ground level realities.

M.L. Sondhi: We have to engage China, the US and Japan in a Helsinki-type process in Asia. It makes no sense for Indian politicians to any longer ignore Asian realities if India is to be taken seriously a world power.

In fact India as a nuclear weapons’ power is now deep into a process which goes beyond the narrow confines of South Asia. India would have to think of deepening and widening its relations with the Middle East where Iran, Iraq and Israel are likely to be important factors for shaping international patterns.

Martin Sherman: In terms of power, China is a far more dominant factor. But in terms of intense hostility, Pakistan is more flammable. One can even imagine that India and China will eventually cooperate against the religious fundamentalism spreading in Asia. The present trend of economic liberalization in China might forge a better understanding between the two countries.

M.L. Sondhi: After India has acted as a catalyst on “real world” issues arising out of the evolving nuclear situation, we need to show that we can act sensibly. Academics and policy-makers from India and Israel need to discuss new ideas and development.

Martin Sherman: There is indeed an immense potential for cooperation, between India and Israel in agriculture, science and technology, defence and security. I am aware that Israel’s growing ties with China may be an impediment in developing this relationship just as India’s close links with Arab regimes might impede development ties with Israel. These can be negotiated, since India is not anti-China and Israel is not anti-Muslim.
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