by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - India's detonation of five nuclear devices last week provoked worldwide outrage, caused strategic tensions in Asia to surge, and gave Washington an extremely nasty surprise.
CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency were apparently caught with their pants down. None had predicted or detected preparations for India's dramatic underground nuclear blasts. America's US$26 billion a year intelligence system was too busy obsessing over non-threat Iraq to pay attention to big-threat India. Washington and North America's media ignored India.
Readers of this column were not taken by surprise. Three weeks ago, I predicted India's new government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), would bring India's secret nuclear arsenal into the open. And I warned that RSS, the secretive Hindu fascist group that dominates BJP leadership, would push India into aggressive nuclear bullying.
For the past eight years, this column has detailed India's secret, steadily-growing nuclear program, based on technology from Canada, France, Israel and the US:
India is also a major producer of precursors for chemical weapons, notably phosphorus pentasulphide, which it supplied Israel, in exchange for thorium, a key nuclear explosive enhancer, and warhead technology.
- India's constellation of unsafeguarded reactors, and heavy water plants.
- A stockpile of 40-80 nuclear weapons and enough plutonium to make 100 more.
- 650 kgs stored weapons-grade uranium-233.
- Annual plutonium production of 700 kgs, enough to fabricate 70 nuclear devices each year.
This week's nuclear detonations on Pakistan's border were designed to:
In short, India is gearing up to be able to fight both a tactical and strategic nuclear conflict.
- validate India's city-busting hydrogen bomb and warheads for the 1,500 km-range `Agni' missile;
- test a new submarine-launched warhead for use against China and the United States;
- test low-yield tactical nuclear warheads for Swedish-supplied 155-mm artillery, missiles, and bombs for use against Chinese and Pakistani air bases, depots, and armored formations.
Why would India, one of the world's poorer nations, expend tens of billions on nuclear weapons, and risk outraging the world by testing them? Two reasons: national ego and domestic politics. The blasts produced euphoria and nationalist frenzy across India. One Indian newspaper aptly termed the tests, `an explosion of self-esteem.' India has just forced its way into the exclusive club of nuclear powers: the US, Russia, China, France, Britain (with Israel and Pakistan as undeclared members).
The world has not taken Indians as seriously as they believed they should be. Indians hope their nukes will both blow away any doubts about India's role as a great power, and end its long, painful inferiority complex towards sneering westerners, and rampant Muslims. Hindus will finally get respect. BJP leaders figured nationalists passions ignited by the blast would cement their hold on power for years to come.
Unfortunately, India's nuclear tests underline concerns that PM Atal Vajpayee and the BJP leadership are in thrall to Hindu extremists, and seriously deluded about the outside world. Their reckless, irresponsible actions pose a serious danger to the entire region.
Instead of respect, India got fury and dismay from around the globe, severe cuts in foreign aid from the US, Japan and Europe, and threats of embargo. The BJP spit in China's face of China, which has labored hard to improve Sino-Indian relations , and backed Pakistan into a corner. Pakistan's PM, Nawaz Sharif, who repeatedly offered to junk his nukes if India would, is now under intense pressure by his frightened people to stage a nuclear counter-test. But Pakistan has only 10-12 weapons, and shouldn't waste one on a test - though it may by the time this column appears.
Indians call their critics hypocrites. Delhi says it will disarm when other nations do. How dare the US tell India, a great nation of 970 million, to give up nuclear arms when the Americans sit on a mountain of nukes. China has nukes; why not India? Why does Washington turn a blind eye to Israel's offensively configured nuclear arsenal of 200-400 weapons?
Indians are, of course, right - but only to a point. Since the end of the Cold War, the numbers and power of nuclear warheads worldwide have been reduced by 50%. More major cuts planned. Delhi's foolish actions this week not fly in the face of this positive trend, they will ignite a nuclear arms race in Asia.
India can make a case for having a few nuclear weapons to counter China, a potential enemy in the disputed Himalayas. But India is clearly building a very large, offensive nuclear arsenal and delivery systems designed for warfighting and nuclear intimidation, not simple deterrence.
In addition, Delhi seems to be trying to bankrupt bitter enemy Pakistan by a ruinous arms race, just as the US did the Soviets in the 1980's. Delhi is set on a dangerous, unpredictable course. Rand Corp estimates an Indo- Pak nuclear war would kill 2 million immediately, and 100 million within weeks.
India will certainly create fear by building hydrogen bombs. But India will never earn the respect it craves so long as 40% of its people subsist in abject poverty. Indians need clean water and indoor toilettes, not nuclear weapons.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved