18 years after Pokharan, security eludes India and dangers have become more serious
- 18 years ago, India conducted its first nuclear test
- The test was conducted at a time when India\'s relations with Pakistan and China were getting better
- The programme was meant to make India security reliant and help elevate India\'s global status
- Today India is the world\'s largest importer of weapons,
- The security situation in the sub-continent has worsened
- Instead of helping leverage global influence, nuclear weapons have cost India multiple international humiliations
11 May and 13 May mark the anniversaries of nuclear tests that India conducted in 1998. The tests at Pokharan were conducted by the first time elected nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The nuclear tests were followed by jubilation, particularly by the urban middle class. The weapons were not just supposed to provide the country not just ultimate security, but also elevate India's status in the international arena.
But 18 years after India's nuclear programme took off, where do we stand today?
Deeper into morass
The security and the self-reliance that atomic weapons were supposed to bestow on us is conspicuously missing and South Asia is becoming more dangerous with each passing day.
India has become the world's largest arms importer, with a share of 14% in the entire world's weapons' trade. India's weapons imports have grown by 90%, between 2006-10 and 2011-15. In the same period, India's imports were three times greater than those of either of its regional rivals: China and Pakistan, according to 'Trends in International Arms Transfer 2015' published earlier this year by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute(SIPRI).
In terms of military budget, India is now the world's sixth largest spender on weapons. We spent $ 51.3 billion in 2015. The country's defence expenditure has escalated sharply and between 2006 and 2015, its share in the world's military expenditure rose from 2.5%-3%. This amounts to 2.3% of India's total GDP.
The obscenity of this massive militarism becomes apparent when compared with the widening wealth gap, and the steep decline in government expenditure in crucial sectors such as health and education. More than 230 million Indians go hungry daily and 37% of deaths in India are still caused by "poor country" diseases such as TB and malaria.
Burgeoning arms race
Evidently, the claims of nuclear weapons supporters that these weapons would bring security and stability to the region have proven to be untrue. Not just weapons, but both India and Pakistan are investing heavily in delivery vehicles. In particular, India's obsession with nuclear triad-land, sea and air-based missiles-is fueling a regional arms race. And to counterbalance India's superiority in conventional warfare, Pakistan has resorted to the so-called battlefield nuclear weapons or tactical nukes.
It is time we realise that nuclear weapons do not provide us security. They just push the world into a spiral of insecurity and arms race. As documents from recently declassified Cold War era have shown, nuclear deterrence is a dangerous myth and the non-use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima has been more of sheer luck.
Nuclear tests at Pokhran were carried out, without provocation, at a time when India's relations with Pakistan and China were getting better. The intent was to consolidate the Hindu-majoritarian jingoism of the BJP and RSS. But the rise of religious fundamentalism in both India and Pakistan has made the region more dangerous and there is a real possibility of a limited war leading to nuclear exchange. In today's world, only South Asia is a region which has two nuclear-armed neighbours with a prolonged history of tension and rising religious fundamentalism.
Foreign policy dividends?
While pro-nuclear lobby call nuclear weapons a currency for foreign policy, none of India's foreign policy objectives-gaining a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, settling border disputes with neighbours, curbing infiltration, better leverage in global negotiations on issues such as trade or climate change-have received any reinforcement from its nuclear weapons status.
On the contrary, to gain legitimacy for its nuclear weapons and to get entry into the nuclear-club, the country had to accept humiliating conditions under the Indo-US nuclear deal-unsafe and extremely expensive nuclear reactor deals that it cannot renegotiate even as the world takes a turn away from nuclear after Fukushima.
Nearly two decades after the tests, it is the dispossessed and the marginalised in India who are paying the price for misplaced Pokhran pride. A destructive French-imported nuclear plant is being forced on the people of Jaitapur despite a huge corruption case unearthed in France against the company for supplying sub-standard equipments. The local community in Pokharan and the adivasis in Jadugoda, where the uranium for the nation's bomb is mined, continue to suffer from radiation-borne diseases away from the glitz of nationalist pride.
The Indian government's lack of professionalism in foreign policy and the ideological penchant for jingoism, to divert public criticism from domestic issues, has only worsened the situation. The BJP's goof-ups in Nepal, whose Ambassador in Delhi was recalled this week, to the clueless Pakistan policy, have deflated the diplomatic weight of this nuclear-armed country.
The increasing privatisation of defence sector in India under Narendra Modi government is also creating entrenched lobbies that have an inherent interest in deepening insecurities. Modi's manifesto in the last General Election vowed to alter India's nuclear restraint-the twin policies of no-first-use and minimum credible deterrence. There are apprehensions that the BJP might push the country to war hysteria as we reach closer to the next elections.
At this juncture, we need an urgent moratorium on nuclear use in the region along with confidence building measures pertaining to the use of nuclear weapons in south Asia. India and Pakistan must pursue a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the region. In the seventieth year of the bombing of Hiroshima, the survivors have demanded a global ban on nuclear weapons. It's time we realise that both India's security and its international prestige is fulfilled in a better way if we put our weight behind this call which is prudent, pragmatic and humanitarian.
(The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.)
Edited by Cyril Sam
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