North Korea in stronger position than India vis a vis nuclear weapons


[Kim Jong-un and Trump at Punmunjom on the DMZ, Korea]

“I never expected to meet you at this place,” a smiling North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un said to the US President, after he had induced the latter with the hinted promise of a quick deal to cross the line on the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) and step into North Korea. “Big moment,” Mr Trump replied, a little lamely, “tremendous progress.”

There’s tremendous progress alright but mostly by Kim to compel Trump to back down, two steps at a time, from the forward position staked by his NSA, John Bolton, the main architect of a policy to denuclearize North Korea by force or through talks. Except, Washington discovered that talk of force merely prompted Kim to up the ante and promise nuclear reprisals if the US acted tough. It was a response that had sufficient credibility for Trump to sue for peace on North Korean terms. This much is evident from reports after the Trump-Kim meeting at Punmunjom in the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) yesterday (June 30) that referred to the US being reconciled to letting Pyongyang keep its existing nuclear arsenal if the North Korean dictator agreed, in principle, to have his main nuclear complex and associated facilities periodically inspected by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA).

Kim agreed to these terms after verifying the hydrogen bomb designs gifted by China through repeated testing of thermonuclear weapons. The fifth and sixth tests were of hydrogen bombs, with the last such underground explosion on 3rd September 2017 clocking in at as much as 270-370 kiloton yield — a genuine thermonuclear blast. So, before Kim agreed to safeguards on anything, he had ensured that his thermonuclear weapons inventory was physically proven and in fine fettle.

Contrast this with India’s negotiating strategy executed by the then MEA Joint Secretary S. Jaishankar, and now foreign minister, that secured for India an outcome that guarantees the country will remain a pretend thermonuclear power. This because the pre-conditions built into the 2008 civil nuclear cooperation deal are such they are actually an economic deterrent against Delhi resuming testing, thus reducing that option to a theoretical one which, Washington is certain, will never be exercised.

A major economic deterrent, for instance, is the supply of low enriched uranium fuel for the imported American Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors and the French Areva 1000 reactors costing tens of billions of dollars being instantly terminated if India tests again, resulting in electricity going off the grid and these reactors slowly grinding to a halt and becoming dead investments. One can see just how fearful any Indian government would be of violating the no-testing terms. This then is the strategic corner Jaishankar, with supposedly finely honed negotiating skills, pushed India into because he ignored the history of big powers intent on imposing their will being repeatedly frustrated by states, such as North Korea and to an extent even Pakistan, with the overarching will to forcefully advance their national interest and prepared to be seriously disruptive if they don’t get their way. With PMs and the governments since 2004 led successively by Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi being content with Western flattery and with having their egos skillfully massaged, what is consolidated is India’s status as a large but hollow power that can be any super power’s handmaiden.

If North Korea proceeds down the road Kim has picked for his country, it is near definite that it will, by itself, have de-fanged the United States and so conspicuously that America’s residual will to assert itself in Asia for any reason will be zeroed out. Will India, with its billowing reputation for following the US, pack the same political punch as an otherwise lowly North Korea? No, and for the good reason that Pyongyang has the most destructive thermonuclear weapons and the ultimate adjudicator of interstate relations, at hand, even as India will be left brandishing its piddling fission bombs that scare nobody.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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14 Responses to North Korea in stronger position than India vis a vis nuclear weapons

  1. AD says:

    The biggest difference between India and most other Asian countries (including Pakistan) is that the former has always been headed and run by people who see themselves as third-class whites aka brown sahibs eager to suck up to any white person in an expensive suit. They literally cannot imagine a universe where people who look like them are as competent as whites. Combine that with perpetuating an administrative system which was designed to exploit, abuse and stifle their fellow countrymen and one can see how things got where they are today.

    There is a reason why countries such as China were able to build proper and highly functional institutions even though they started from about the same place at the same time. DPRK took lessons from the Korean war and how China built itself after 1949 to heart and was successful (albeit to the extent its limited physical resources would allow). Unlike their Indian counterparts, the rulers and administrators of DPRK understood that any real peace with USA could only be made from a position of real military strength.

    It also helped that they never saw themselves as third-class whites who were willing to settle for a few table scraps. Unless Indians sort their schizophrenic attitude towards the west, they will always play second fiddle or less. And it doesn’t have to be this way.. East-Asian countries have been able to modernize, in some cases even more so that the ‘west’, without becoming like them. However, as things stand today, I do not see any major political party in India capable of understanding this fact, let alone implementing it.

  2. Rupam says:

    Going full indigenous with the expertise that our scientists bring in the Nuclear energy field being second to none in the world and with indigenous designs would prevent that as well. But then again when have the Indian govt. and diplomats and bureaucracy ever know to do the thing best in India’s national interest. They do what is best for the other country’s national interest.

  3. devraj says:

    Sir.north korean public is suffering from starvation .2-3 decades this nation cease to exist.nukes are white survive and grow in present world .we need to follow usa on their terms.chinese are prohibited from western technology and their militry and civilian products are inferior to west despite of next 50 years this way will give us technology and money of west while these dictator nations will cease to live usa led world we have to follow them.thank god both india and usa are liberal an democratic allowing india to have freedom of decision

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:


      I Salute you man.

      You have voiced the true need of every single deshbhakt and every single hindutvavaadi on his masculine side. Just the way, that girl sunita singh gaur has fearlessly owned up to the truth on their feminine side.

      You could have hid under pragmatic national interest, defence forces, apad-dharm, ruhul ka corruption, ujwala yojana and gadkari ki road and a heck lot more, but you did not.

      Thanks for not abusing our intellect and An honest salute to your honesty.

  4. devraj says:

    We know russia is india fast friend and usa is strategic partner .co operation with usa strengthen indian economy and strong indian economy will strongly support russia by investing in weapon purchase .nuclear fields.etc.usa thinks every thing has a price.indo usa relations are for detering china and indo russia relations are not for detering anybody.thus indo russian friendship aurvive in long run

  5. Vaibhav’s says:

    Bharat Ji please take note!
    What according to you are the deployed yield of the Agni missile warheads? If possible, do comment on the following points too-

    1)Adm. Arun Prakash, at the peak of the controversy generated by K. Santhanam’s statements, said:
    “In the midst of the current brouhaha, we need to retain clarity on one issue; given that deuterium tritium boosted-fission weapons can generate yields of 200-500 kt, the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent is not in the slightest doubt.”

    2)Sanjay Badri-Maharaj, PhD Indian nuke programme, says that the Agni 4 warhead is a 150-500 kt boosted fission one, which he says is the “standard high yield warhead” in service with the SFC.

    3)DRDO chief Avinash Chander says: “Now we talk of [accuracy of] a few hundred metres. That allows a smaller warhead, perhaps 150-250 kilotons, to cause substantial damage.”

    4)Adm. Arun Prakash has also mentioned a “brand new” warhead “designed to withstand the rigours of an underwater launch”.(source: Livefist, Arihant in perspective)

    The above statements almost sum-up the public statements by high officials and commentators about the yield of Indian nukes.
    (I don’t want to mention A. Kakodkar. Although he claims India has deployed multiple thermonukes, he has lost my trust. BARC guys are already quite untrustworthy, when it is about nukes)

    Finally, it doesn’t make sense to put a 20 kt fission nuke on top of the K4 SLBM. That’s just too small for China’s big Industrial nerve-centers.

    • Here will only contest something implicit in Admiral Prakash’s view that upto 500KT yield “boosted fission” warheads are credible. Not so. Indeed, grave and persisting doubts (absent resumption of physical testing) about the S-1 test on May 11, 1998 revolve around precisely the fact that as a 2-stage thermonuclear the test was a dud and that it failed even as a “boosted fission” device. So not sure what credibility the Admiral was talking about then. Would be interesting to know if the former CNS would stand by that assessment now, 20 years later.

      • Vaibhav's says:

        So Bharat Ji,
        1)North Korea will, AT BEST, only give up it’s ICBMs, that is, it’s ability to target the USA. This is good for India because-
        2)As a result, Japan and South Korea will explore the option of developing it’s own nukes.

        I remember a top US official telling China that Japan can “virtually assemble a bomb overnight”. I am too lazy to find the exact article, but given Japan’s advanced technologies, most will agree.

        3)US might even support a nuclear Japan sans ICBMs, much in the same way China supports a Pakistan sans the capability to target east China.
        This is also true for Taiwan, which will eventually have nukes given how China bullies it.

        4)So, let’s come to the main point.

      • That’s the joke! That India will or should wait around for some other, more gutsy, country to test for resuming its own tests.

      • Rupam says:

        Bharat Karnad ji if we were to compare in pure numbers and weapons platforms destructive ability wise. What would be the Ratio between India’s military power vis a vis China, US and Russia. By Military I mean all forms of weapons usable be it Nuclear or conventional.

      • vivek says:

        any idea for progress on agni 6 mirv?

  6. Ketul Patel says:

    Respected Bharat ji,
    Is there a possibility that Modi government might do another Pokhran not caring about the consequences that will follow, mostly economic, in nature because of the disastrous nuclear deal that was signed just before the next elections in 2024 when government would be left with no choice to get votes if it would have failed on every economic count &amp. Modi would be desperate to win the 2024 elections and like, the ASAT test just weeks before first phase of voting in 2019, he could do another Pokhran, even though it’d is a much bigger deal than the ASAT test and generate far graver pressure from the West.

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH if u can please have any suggestions on this thinking Sir.


    • Not sure what “nuclear deal” you expect Modi to sign before the next general elections. But, yea, he could resume testing if his electoral prospects look bleak. But this is what, in my writings, I advised Manmohan Singh to do in 2009 to win the elections and Modi to do earlier in the year to firm up his re-election.

      • Ketul Patel says:

        I didn’t mean any new nuclear deal to be signed before 2024 elections but I was referring to the nuclear deal signed by the then UPA sorry it was a typing error and ya hope Modi government buckles under the pressure & resumes thermonuclear testing.

        Again thank you for your view.

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