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Nuclear deterrence is overrated
Time:2013-08-27 09:42         Author:Ramesh Thakur         Source:cacda

 

The real risks and costs of having these weapons, both monetary and human, far outweigh their security benefits
The Indian Navy has figured in three recent, global news items. The launch of the indigenously developed aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, expected to be operational by 2018, makes India only the fifth country after the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France to have such capability. The diesel-electric submarine INS Sindhurakshak caught fire and exploded, causing the tragic death of 18 crew. In the early hours of August 10, the reactor on the nuclear powered submarine INS Arihant(“slayer of enemies”), with underwater ballistic launch capability, went critical.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, launched the 6,000-tonneArihant in Visakhapatnam on July 26, 2009. In time, it was said, with a fleet of five nuclear-powered submarines and three to four aircraft carrier battle groups, a 35-squadron air force and land-based weapons systems, India would emerge as a major force in the Indian Ocean, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
The strategic rationale is to acquire and consolidate the three legs of land, air and sea-based nuclear weapons to underpin the policy of nuclear deterrence. Unfortunately, however, the whole concept of nuclear deterrence is deeply flawed.
Desensitised
Nuclear weapons are uniquely destructive and hence uniquely threatening to our common security. There is a compelling need to challenge and overcome the reigning complacency on the nuclear risks and dangers, to sensitise policy communities to the urgency and gravity of nuclear threats and the availability of non-nuclear alternatives as anchors of national and international security.
A nuclear catastrophe could destroy us any time. Because we have learnt to live with nuclear weapons for 68 years, we have become desensitised to the gravity and immediacy of the threat. The tyranny of complacency could yet exact a fearful price if we sleepwalk our way into a nuclear Armageddon. It really is long past time to lift the shroud of the mushroom cloud from the international body politic.
The normative taboo against this most indiscriminately inhumane weapon ever invented is so comprehensive and powerful that under no conceivable circumstances will its use against a non-nuclear state compensate for the political costs. This explains why nuclear powers have accepted defeat at the hands of non-nuclear states rather than escalate armed conflict to the nuclear level.
Nor can they be used for defence against nuclear-armed rivals. The mutual vulnerability of such rivals to second-strike retaliatory capability is so robust for the foreseeable future that any escalation through the nuclear threshold would be mutual national suicide.
Their only purpose and role, therefore, is mutual deterrence. In order to deter an attack by a more powerful nuclear adversary, a nuclear armed state must convince its stronger opponent of the ability and will to use nuclear weapons if attacked. But if the attack does occur, escalating to nuclear weapons will worsen the scale of military devastation even for the side initiating nuclear strikes. Because the stronger party believes this, the existence of nuclear weapons may add an extra element of caution, but does not guarantee immunity for the weaker party. If Mumbai or Delhi was hit by another major terrorist attack which India believed had Pakistan connections, the pressure for some form of retaliation could overwhelm any caution about Pakistan having nuclear weapons.
Limited India-Pakistan war
The putative security benefits of nuclear deterrence have to be assessed against the real risks, costs and constraints, including human and system errors. Modelling by atmospheric scientists shows that a limited, regional India-Pakistan nuclear war using 50 Hiroshima-size bombs each would, in addition to direct blast, heat and radiation deaths, severely disrupt global food production and markets and cause a nuclear war-induced famine that kills up to a billion people around the world.
The extra caution induced by the bomb means that the subcontinent’s nuclearisation raised the threshold of tolerance of Pakistan’s hostile mischief, like provocations on the Line of Control and cover for cross-border terrorism. Yet, India did not need to buy deterrence against China. The best available evidence shows that China’s nuclear weapons, doctrine, posture and deployment patterns are designed neither to coerce others nor to fight a nuclear war with the expectation of winning, but solely to counter any attempt at nuclear blackmail. (军控协会)