I suspect that whenever former civil service types, ex-diplomats, and growingly even retired militarymen feel the inner tug to be in the public eye, they pronounce on things manifestly beyond their ken and areas of expertise, revealing their quite appalling ignorance on strategic, especially nuclear, matters in the process. They should mightily resist it. Striving to be K. Subrahmanyams is one thing, but the original put in a lot of effort! Subbu (ex-IAS) to his acolytes, KS to this analyst, had years of reading and learning from the great masters of N-deterrence theory of the 1950s and Sixties behind him, and even then got things wrong in the last phase of his life when he compromised his message to ensure his influence on policy (to wit, the India-US nuclear deal). Less gifted civil servants,foreign service retirees, ex-Generals and that lot, who are habituated to at most reading and drafting two-page policy briefs — and can never be accused of cluttering up their minds by delving too deeply on any particular topic, leave alone reading the vast literature on N-deterrence before expounding on the subject are, understandably, all at sea. (On the reading habits of Foreign Service officers, for instance, Natwar Singh, former MEA Minister and IFS-man, candidly informed me that 80 percent of Indian diplomats do not read books once they enter service!) The latest to go public with the usual misinformed, uneducated, confused and confusing take on nuclear weapons, deterrence, and national security is Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, a onetime Indian Perm Rep at the UN in NY.
His piece “Nuclear weapons, costs and myths” — a more bureaucratic-sounding title is hard to conjure up, is dismissible as so much claptrap. Plainly, one wishes he’d stick to safe material — Arab Spring, stuff like that, as he has been doing — than venture into a combustible area, where there’s the danger — albeit slight — of his being taken seriously. The trouble is his kind of nonsense is heard in certain sections of the Establishment, and in some ways is a more extreme expression of Shyam Saran’s expostulation, and needs to be shown up for what it is — an attempt at intellectual over-reach! (Refer my ‘India’s nuclear amateurism’, June 28, 2013).
The main point of Gharekhan’s appears to be that becoz India is “miles behind” China in the nuclear weapons department, there’s no possibility of N-conflict with that country and therefore one needn’t strive to neutralize it. On the other hand, ‘coz India is supposedly on on the same level as Pakistan, that New Delhi should try and reach a nuclear arms limitation agreement with Islamabad. More fatalistic and defeatist thinking is hard to imagine because, at a minimum, it consigns India to the also-ran category of great powers; worse, it lends credence to Islamabad’s longtime policy thrust that the world and New Delhi acknowledge Pakistan’s “strategic parity” with India (hence, an N-deal like the one India secured, etc). It means — in the context of his making much of the geographic proximity aspect — that if tomorrow Mexico acquires nuclear weapons, that it ought immediately to think of itself on the same strategic plane with the US. (Ridiculous analogy? Consider that India’s GDP — even in its present straitened circumstances, is 8 to 10 times that of Pakistan, its territory and population five time as large, etc.; Mexico’s GDP is some $2 trillion compared to US’s $14 trillion — only seven times as large! And so on…)
The rest of his stuff are tid-bits he has picked up here and there, presumably from newspaper op/eds, and deserve no attention, including a half-baked understanding of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (But a bit of education is nevertheless in order! No, Mr Gharekhan, Kennedy did NOT push the Soviets, rather he was extra careful to not offer conspicuous provocation, rejecting General Le May’s preferred option of a surgical air strike on the Russian missile batteries on the Caribbean island, but imposing a naval blockade giving the two sides time to drawback from the brink, etc. and, as part of a grand bargain, agreeing to withdraw the American Jupiter missiles from Turkey in the wake of the Russians taking out their N-warheaded MRBMS from Cuba.)
Gharekhan’s more egregiously silly belief, which has infected large parts of the Indian intelligentsia, is that nuclear weapons are a panacea for all ills and ought to deter conventional conflicts, border skirmishes, terrorism, and everything in between. Next he and people like him will blame nuclear weapons for their toilet flush not working properly! Again, a basic LESSON that Gharekhan and his ilk better ingest fast: Nuclear weapons only deter other nuclear weapons and, in military terms, deter little else. Right or wrong, they are also — along with factors such as geography, population, and economic size and strategic location, an attribute of great power. So a nuclear weapons-armed Pakistan, for instance, is and will always remain in a world of very big countries, as I have said in my writings, only “a mouse that roared” (after that devastating Peter Sellers comedy from the Fifties where a European Duchy threatens to wage an atomic war on the United States in the hope that, like Japan and Germany devastated by war in which they lost, it will benefit — as a defeated power — economically from American largesse!)
Pakistan needs to be ignored; if it wants to nuclear arms race, well, it can choose to do so and bankrupt itself. There’s no danger of that were India to build up a consequential thermonuclear force, which will require resumption of nuclear testing, to prevent China from getting too far ahead. Strategically, Mr Gharekhan et al, India should key on the prime adversary, China, and leave Pakistan to key on us, if it wants to to while compounding its internal peril. And keep China on the leash by doing to it what Beijing has done to us — covertly or overtly nuclear missile arm Vietnam and states of Southeast Asia who seek protection against the dragon to the north. Hey, India cannot lose. But not if you listen to the likes of Garekhan!