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POKHRAN-II & INDO-US RELATIONS

Paper No. 4

B.RAMAN

US leaders and intellectuals are better informed than their counterparts in any other country of China's nuclear capability which it has steadfastly built up since 1958 when the late Mao Zedong took the decision to go nuclear and of its clandestine assistance to Pakistan since the 1970s in acquiring a military nuclear and ballistic missile capability. It should not, therefore, be necessary for one to go into the details of these developments. However, certain facts need to be mentioned to put the matter in the proper perspective.

A 1988 study by the US Department of the Army had estimated China's nuclear arsenal as consisting of 225 to 300 weapons. The "Nuclear Weapons Data Book" of 1994 brought out by the US Natural Resources Defence Council had estimated China's nuclear arsenal at 450 warheads, of which about 300 were physically deployed.

A fall 1995 study of the US "Strategic Review" had estimated the delivery capability of China's strategic triad as consisting of four Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (DF-5A also known as CSS-4) capable of hitting Russia, the US and Europe, Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles ( an unknown quantity of DF-4 also known as CSS-3 and about 50 DF-3A also known as CSS-2) capable of hitting targets in Russia, including Moscow, and India, about 25 to 50 mobile missiles (DF-21 also known as CSS-6) with a range of 1,800 kms, an unknown quantity of tactical missiles (DF-15 also known as M-9) with a range of 600 kms, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (JL-1 also known as CSS-N-3) with a range of 1,700 kms and a limited number of aircraft capable of nuclear delivery such as the H-5 and H-6 bombers and the Q-5 attack aircraft.

In addition, according to the "Strategic Review", China was also developing DF-31 with a range of 8,000 kms, DF-41 with a range of 12,000 kms and JL-2, a submarine-launchable version of DF-31.It was also developing H-7, a twin-jet, twin-seat all-weather strike and interdiction aircraft capable of nuclear delivery.

China's clandestine assistance to Pakistan in the nuclear and missile fields and North Korea's clandestine help to Pakistan in the missile field in return for cash and foodgrains was confirmed, if further confirmation was needed , by Pakistan's test of the North Korean-supplied Ghauri missile on April 6,1998, and nuclear tests at Chagai on May 28 and 30,1998.

After its nuclear test of 1974, India exercised restraint and waited patiently for 24 years in the hope of progress towards universal nuclear disarmament, including China, which was not forthcoming. China's stand has been that it cannot participate in strategic nuclear arms limitation and reduction talks till the US and Russia reduce their arsenals to China's level.

Similarly, for four years, India waited patiently for the US Administration to stop the collusion of China and Pakistan , but this too was not forthcoming, on the ground that the evidence against them, though strong, was not clinching. India delayed the further development of its long-range missile programmes in the hope of US action against China and Pakistan. Its hopes were belied.

While not acting strongly against China, the US Administration took a number of ill-advised steps to stop the transfer of nuclear and space technologies to India even for peaceful purposes, not only from the US, but even from Russia. Thus, India, the largest democracy in the world with a Constitution and pluralistic democratic traditions which had drawn generously from the US Constitution and democratic traditions, was sought to be unfairly penalised despite its being the victim, whereas China, with no democratic traditions and with a proven track record of clandestine sales of nuclear and missile technologies, was treated leniently.

Since 1988, India's relations with China have improved considerably. The two countries have taken many confidence-building measures on the border and the border dispute is under negotiation to find a mutually satisfactory settlement. The bilateral trade has been steadily increasing and has already crossed US $ one billion per annum. India has ensured that the Dalai Lama and his followers do not indulge in any violent activities against China from Indian territory.

In contrast, Pakistan, while benefitting enormously from Chinese co-operation, has allowed its soil to be used by Islamic fundamentalist elements for violent activities in the Xinjiang province of China.

China's continuing assistance to Pakistan, despite the latter's role in Xinjiang and encouragement of the Taliban of Afghanistan which has also been training the Muslim fundamentalist groups of Xinjiang, gives rise to reasonable fears in the minds of the Indian Government and public that, despite the improvement in the relations with India, China has not yet given up its past strategy of keeping India preoccupied on its northern border with China and western border with Pakistan, in order to prevent India from emerging as an economic and military power on a par with China.

Any responsible Indian Government would have to take this into consideration while deciding what is the minimum defence capability required so that India is not taken by surprise should relations with China again deteriorate in future, as a result of either an economic and social upheaval in China or of recrudescence of unrest against Beijing in Tibet.

India's nuclear tests at Pokhran in May,1998, have to be viewed in this context. It was a responsible and carefully-considered decision meant to reassure Indian public opinion and did not presage any dilution of the importance attached by the Government and people of India to the improvement of relations with China and Pakistan.

Neither the US nor the UK nor France is in the unenviable position in which India finds itself, of facing nuclear-capable missiles deployed against it just across the border --in Tibet in China and in Punjab in Pakistan.

To understand the concern and fear caused in India by this development, one would request fair-minded Americans to go back in their mind to 1962 when nuclear-capable missiles were shipped to Cuba by the erstwhile USSR for deployment against the US. President John F.Kennedy, even at the risk of a military conflict, faced a confrontation with Moscow and forced it to withdraw them as, otherwise, their deployment in Cuba would have given the US a warning and reaction time of just two minutes to defend itself.

India is facing a similar situation with nuclear-capable missiles just two-minutes' warning and reaction time away from its territory to the north in Tibet and to the west in Pakistan. How would the American citizens have reacted to such a nightmarish scenario?

Commenting on the US Administration's repeated rejection of warnings from its intelligence community about Pakistan receiving nuclear-capable missiles from China on the ground that the evidence was not clinching enough, the "Time" magazine of June 30,1997, wrote as follows:" The proof the Administration wants may not come until it is too late--when the missiles are actually used (against India)".Comment: The words within brackets are ours.

Thus, India was faced with a cruel choice: Wait till the clinching evidence was forthcoming or take timely action to give to itself a minimum nuclear and missile capability to defend itself.

Independent-minded US intellectuals have been sympathetic to Indian concerns; Thus, Dr.Henry Kissinger wrote in the "Los Angeles Times" in the first week of June,1998, as follows:" India and Pakistan are testing because, living as they do in a tough neighbourhood, they will not risk their survival on exhortations coming from countries basing their own security on nuclear weapons."

Mr.Marshall M.Bouton, a former senior official of the Pentagon who had served in the US Embassy in India and who is presently the Executive Vice-President of the prestigious Asia Society of New York, wrote in the "Far Eastern Economic Review" of Hong Kong of June 25,1998, as follows: "India's extra-regional security concerns must be taken seriously. India made explicit repeatedly that a potential threat from China, not Pakistan, was a key motive for developing a credible nuclear deterrent. It has also laid great stress on its being an odd-nation-out in the evolving post-cold war security framework. It emphasises that India is the only emerging power with nuclear neighbours that has not had its own deterrent or an external security guarantee. Simply to dismiss these claims is to risk a new dialogue of the deaf. Yet, most of the pronouncements and proposals emerging from the West have focussed almost entirely on India-Pakistan relations or the global non-proliferation framework and not acknowledged the strategic context that has worried India."

In an editorial on May 28,1998, the "Far Eastern Economic Review", which is owned by the Dow Jones group,wrote:" We cannot completely discount as illegitimate Indian fears of their neighbour to the north, China, an ally of Pakistan."

India and the US share many values in common. They also have common concerns arising from the Pakistan-supported triumph of the Taliban in Afghanistan , the presence and activities of Osama Bin Laden in Afghan territory, the further Islamisation of Pakistani Administration initiated by Prime Minister, Mr.Nawaz Sharif, which would give more encouragement to the activities of Islamic terrorist elements from Pakistani territory , not only against India, but also against the US and Israel, and the failure of the Pakistani and Afghan Governments to crush narcotics smuggling.

The USA is the largest single investor in India since 1991 and ,outside the West, India has the largest reservoir of technological competence which could be an asset to the West as a whole. A democratic, stable, secure and prosperous India would be a pillar of strength to the democratic world. Through its prudent economic management, India has escaped the economic turmoil currently sweeping across Asia.

Any objective consideration of these factors should convince fair-minded Americans that the US policy towards India, which has contributed to a cloud after Pokhran-II, needs to be re-considered and reversed. The sooner, the better--for both the countries and for the democratic world.

10-10-98

(Former Additional Secretary,Cabinet
Secretariat and presently Director, Institute for Topical Studies)

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