Chapter seven - Regional and global security
‘A balance of terror’
‘Nine Minutes to midnight’
The Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists has moved the minute hand of the ‘Doomsday Clock’ its symbol of
nuclear peril, five minutes closer to midnight.
Yesterday it stood at 14 minutes to midnight. Today, it stands
at nine. 
The Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests sparked
fears of a nuclear arms race in South Asia, of nuclear proliferation beyond
South Asia, and of an increased possibility of nuclear weapons or technology
falling into the hands of extremist groups. The tests heightened tensions in
South Asia and raised questions about the future of the nuclear
Implications for India and Pakistan
India’s ‘peaceful nuclear test’ in 1974
signalled India’s development of a nuclear weapon capability. It was also
known over the last decade that Pakistan too had developed a nuclear weapon
capability. By conducting the recent nuclear tests, both states declared their
previously clandestine nuclear weapon programs. In one sense, the tests
confirmed that which was already widely known.
Nevertheless, it was disturbing that India
decided to conduct the tests at that time for largely domestic political
reasons. By declaring its hand, even if the cards were known, it upped the
stakes. The Indian Government’s nationalist Hindu rhetoric won overwhelming
public support but also increased tensions not only within a multicultural
India but also in relations with largely Muslim Pakistan.
Although the Pakistani Government did not
immediately retaliate, it finally relented to domestic pressure to conduct its
own series of tests despite international pleading and incentives to disregard
The fervour generated by the tests in both countries
has created an atmosphere of legitimacy and support for their nuclear weapon
programs, which has undoubtedly made it more difficult for either government to
eliminate its program, unless the security concerns underpinning it are
addressed to satisfaction.
Arms race in South Asia
The size of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear
arsenals is unknown. Various estimates have been proffered, suggesting that
India has the ability to assemble between 60 and 70 nuclear weapons and
Pakistan about 15.
Dr Devin Hagerty, drawing on the work of the
Federation of American Scientists wrote:
At a minimum each side must assume that the other has sufficient
fissile material to deploy a small number of atomic bombs on aircraft capable
of delivering them: the Mirage 2000, MiG-27, MiG-29, Su-30 and Jaguar for
India, and the A-5, F16 and Mirage 3 for Pakistan. It is uncertain whether
India and Pakistan have deployed nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
India's most capable operational ballistic missile is the Prithvi-150,
which can carry a 1000-kg payload to a range of 150km Pakistan's most capable
operational ballistic missile is the Half-2, which can carry a 500-kg
payload to a range of 280 km. Both countries have test-launched ballistic
missiles with longer ranges, including the Indian Agni (2500 km) and the
Pakistan Ghauri (1500 km). Prudent leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi must
assume that, sometime in the very near future, military forces across the
border can be equipped with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles capable of
reaching virtually any important target on the subcontinent.
According to Professor Desmond Ball, Australian
National University, India and Pakistan have ‘fairly substantial arsenals’. He
maintained that India has produced enough fissile material for at least 250
bombs and has a stockpile of between 120 and 126 weapons. He conceded that his
estimate of the number of weapons is twice as high as most public estimates. In
considering Pakistan, he suggested it had 30 weapons before the detonations in
May. Professor Ball argued that
India and Pakistan have, over recent years, steadily increased their number of
nuclear weapons, with India producing about ten a year since 1990 and Pakistan
increasing production from just over one a year in 1990 to about three a year
A number of witnesses and strategic analysts
expressed grave fears for the stability and security of the South Asian region.
DFAT and the Department of Defence submitted jointly that the situation with
India and Pakistan represented perhaps the most serious risk of nuclear
exchange ever known.
Dr William Maley submitted that there is a far greater danger of a build-up
towards a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan than between any other
two declared or undeclared nuclear states.
Professor Paul Dibb and Mr Peter Prince in their submission to the Committee
took a similar position.
Professor Desmond Ball spelt out his concerns
about regional security since the nuclear tests. He stated:
They have raised the prospect of uncontrolled nuclear
proliferation. They have increased the potential for crisis instability on the
subcontinent, raising fears of nuclear pre-emption and nuclear war. They have
raised the likelihood of a nuclear arms race between India and China. They have
destabilised the security of the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.
Dr Richard W. Hu, University of Hong Kong,
shared Professor Ball’s apprehension for the South Asia region. He believed
that there is a strong likelihood that the arms race would accelerate in South
The nuclear tests have increased the level of
uncertainty and tension in South Asia and apprehension within the region and
globally. As a very minimum effect, their detonation in an atmosphere of
nationalistic jingoism could have had no other result. Other than heightened
tension, the question is whether there is other evidence of an arms race?
As already stated, the number of nuclear devices
each country has is a matter of conjecture. There are no authoritative public
data available. It is also unknown whether nuclear devices have been
weaponised or deployed. Both sides have aircraft that can carry nuclear bombs
and missiles with the payload and range suitable for nuclear warheads. Missile
tests in recent years, including early 1999, have served both to develop a
strategic capability and maintain tension between the two sides. However, as
Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan - acknowledged father of Pakistan’s bomb - has pointed
The numbers are less important than their effectiveness and
sophistication. If there is a war, you need only a few. Deterrence is the main
advantage. Now they know we also have nuclear weapons, they will think ten
times before invading us.
Undoubtedly, India and Pakistan are refining
their nuclear capabilities using the data gained from their tests. Similarly,
both countries are developing missiles capable of being armed with nuclear
warheads. To what extent the tit-for-tat missile tests signify major
developments in missile capability or whether they are mainly public relations
exercises for domestic consumption is open to debate. Nevertheless, scientists
derive data from such tests to upgrade missile capability irrespective of the
main reason for conducting them.
There is a significant difference in the size of
the Indian nuclear weapon and missile arsenal, both in terms of number and
sophistication, compared with that of China. India has never indicated that it
is trying to achieve nuclear parity with China. By having a nuclear weapon
capability, it considers that it has a deterrent to Chinese nuclear blackmail
or invasion. Similarly, Pakistan seems to have adopted a deterrent posture with
its nuclear weapon capability and has not sought to achieve nuclear parity with
India. Although both India and Pakistan are developing their nuclear weapon and
missile capabilities, there is no evidence of an ‘arms race’ between the two.
Deterrence is an old idea and an even older
practice in statecraft.
Those who adhere to the theory of nuclear deterrence believe that nuclear weapon
capability inhibits any risk-taking that could possibly escalate into a nuclear
exchange. They believe that only nuclear weapons can deter the use of nuclear
weapons: that nuclear weapons are for deterrence and not for use. Deterrence works when adversaries
perceive that they both have a credible attack capability which, because of the
fear of serious reprisal, will prevent either from taking any action likely to
provoke such a reprisal.
That capability also depends on a state having a second strike capacity, which
means that after having sustained a nuclear attack, it still has enough nuclear
capability to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on its enemy.
Dr Brahma Chellaney wrote recently that India
has not yet developed a nuclear doctrine and has yet to integrate its nuclear
capability into its force structure:
Many months after conducting multiple nuclear tests, India has
still to bring the military into the nuclear picture. This despite the fact
that it has declared itself a NWS. The paradox of a country proclaiming it has
a nuclear deterrent without the necessary military underpinnings has created an
inherently dangerous situation, in which a potential adversary could be tempted
to try and call India’s bluff. It also highlights the marginalisation of one
of the world’s largest militaries.
Sooner rather than later, however, India will have to bring its
military into nuclear planning. Without a military’s involvement, it will not
be possible for India to devise and put into operation a nuclear deterrent,
which would involve targeting and deployment practices.
The failure to involve the military in nuclear planning has
resulted in India still being vague about its nuclear doctrine. The only
elements of the doctrine made public are that India will practice, in
French-style terminology, ‘credible minimum deterrence’, and not be the first
to use nuclear weapons. While those objectives are commendable, they only seek
to make a virtue out of necessity: India does not have the plutonium or financial
resources to exercise more than the barest of minimum deterrence, and is far
from having the capacity to carry out a disabling first strike against an
opponent. India’s minimum deterrence is likely to look in the initial years as
no more than counter-city deterrence. While India is going to have a
diversified nuclear dyad made up of ballistic missiles and bomber aircraft, it
is still distant from an invulnerable second-strike capability with
Similarly, the only discernible aspect of India’s command and
control system is that it will be firmly controlled by civilians, with the
Prime Minister as the ultimate decision-maker at the head of a yet-to-be
established Strategic Nuclear Command. An effective command-and-control system,
of course, can only emerge over a period of time. After all, it took the
traditional nuclear powers many years (in the case of the US, more than 15
years) to develop a command-and-control system that provided a degree of
While Dr Chellaney alluded to the development of
a second strike capability, in an opening statement on behalf of DFAT, Ms
Stokes said that ‘Halting further weaponisation will be difficult, we assess,
given that India and Pakistan are likely to try to develop credible second-strike
In a subsequent written statement, in relation to this assessment, DFAT advised
The statement is a commonplace analysis of the security and
strategic situation in South Asia now that India and Pakistan have demonstrated
nuclear weapons capability. The Indian government has declared that a key
element of its nuclear doctrine is ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons, which
presupposes a second strike capability, that is, the capability to absorb an
initial nuclear attack and still respond in kind.
The cornerstone of any nuclear deterrence policy is the ability
to deter deliberate nuclear attack by maintaining an ability to inflict
unacceptable damage on the aggressor - even after absorbing a surprise nuclear
attack. A second-strike capability, therefore, is the capability to
absorb a first-strike and survive with sufficient power to inflict
unacceptable damage on the aggressor - to the point that a disarming
first-strike becomes unattainable.
Although the timing of the Indian nuclear tests
was determined by domestic political circumstances, Indian nuclear scientists
had been waiting a long time for government approval to conduct the tests. The
data derived from the tests would no doubt have been used in the further
development of Indian nuclear technology. It appears that India has also been
working towards nuclear warheads for Prithvi and Agni missiles and that
development will continue to take place. The Committee also presumes that
Pakistan is continuing the development of its nuclear capability along similar
Several witnesses asserted that India and
Pakistan lacked command, control and intelligence systems and fail-safe
mechanisms for their nuclear weapons that were comparable in sophistication to
counterparts among the nuclear weapon states.
DFAT pointed to the increased risk of miscalculation particularly given the
lack of established nuclear weapons doctrines and command and control systems,
the paucity of direct communication and the short flight times.
Dr Devin Hagerty wrote that:
Over time, Washington and Moscow developed sophisticated
command-and-control arrangements that buffered their gigantic nuclear
infrastructures against the accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.
In contrast, very little is known about Indian and Pakistani
command-and-control systems, which are assumed to be rudimentary. If missile
flight times of 20–30 minutes provoked enormous anxiety in the US-Soviet case,
flight times of 5–10 minutes on the subcontinent are doubly worrisome. In
combination, these factors cause many analysts to fear that so-called
‘hair-trigger’ pressures may eventuate in an Indo - Pakistani nuclear war,
whether intended or not. As one influential US report sums up this
...the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests have made South Asia
and the world a more dangerous place. The presence of nuclear forces in the
arsenals of two adjacent and often quarrelling countries increases the
likelihood that nuclear weapons could be used in a conflict - and dramatically
raises the human and financial costs of any armed confrontation should
deterrence fail... No one should be sanguine about the prospects for regional
stability. (Brookings Institution/Council on Foreign Relations 1998:2-3).
Few strategic analysts would disagree with this characterisation
of the South Asian nuclear arms competition.
There is no evidence to suggest that the command
and control systems of India and Pakistan have reached beyond a rudimentary
stage of development, if in fact they have got that far. Unfortunately, there
is no independent authoritative assessment available. It should not be
forgotten, however, that both sides have had nuclear weapons for perhaps ten
years and, despite high tensions between them at times, which almost resulted
in serious armed conflict, they have weathered these problems. Nevertheless,
if nuclear weapons are deployed and targeted, the lack of sophisticated command
and control systems could, in a crisis, lead to unfortunate consequences.
Professor Saikal thought that the present
situation had the potential to lead India and Pakistan towards some sort of
rapprochement and was likely to stabilise rather than destabilise their
relationship. He accepted that a nuclear clash is always a possibility but the
fact that both countries have a nuclear capability ‘may serve as a restraining
measure from allowing their conventional clashes to develop into a full-scale
military confrontation and therefore a possible nuclear clash’.
Dr Hu argued:
The India-Pakistan nuclear arms race will create a very fragile
‘balance of terror’ in South Asia. Some people argue that mutual fear of a
nuclear exchange will make conflict unlikely, and thus that possessing the bomb
can prevent crises from escalating into war. But, the ‘balance of terror’
between India and Pakistan is not comparable to the mutual deterrence in effect
between the superpowers during the Cold War. Unlike the Cold War situation,
neither antagonists has a survivable or credible second-strike capability, nor
assured destructive power against all high-value targets. More importantly,
neither side has experience of mutual deterrence. It is true that the explicit
nuclear capability now demonstrated will make the leaders of India and Pakistan
more prudent in their calculations over any potential conflict. But their
nuclear stand-off is not likely to reproduce the kind of crisis stability that
existed over an extended period between the major nuclear powers.
Dr Yasmeen argued that the Pakistani tests have
given stability to the region in the short term; that in conducting its own
tests Pakistan has restored the defence/offence strategic balance between the
two countries which has eased the immediate tension. She argued that had
Pakistan not followed suit, a sense of crisis would have prevailed in the
In the long term, however, she pointed out that
the tests have added a major element of regional and international instability.
She thought that if both adversaries have nuclear weapons and if there is a
possibility of weaponisation then ‘something could happen’. Dr Yasmeen could
see that having broken the barrier of undeclared nuclear weapons by becoming
declared nuclear weapons there existed the possibility of their going a step
Given India and Pakistan’s geographical proximity, short
aircraft or missile flight times (2–5 minutes) leave little time to analyse and
verify false alarms from the other side in a crisis situation. Also given the
history of animosity between them, it is possible that in a tense crisis
situation signals from the other side can be misinterpreted and lead to a
decision to start conflict. Even if the crises do not turn into conflicts, the
use of nuclear weapons as a part of the crisis management language would be destabilising.
Agreeing with Dr Yasmeen, Dr Hanson accepted
that the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests would stabilise rather than
destabilise relations between the two countries, and that, indeed, in having
revealed their nuclear capability India and Pakistan have provided a degree of
deterrence. Nonetheless, she asserted:
This does not lessen the fact, however, that the volatile
internal politics of both countries render any such stability highly fragile.
Nuclear elimination analysts argue that the risks of retaining nuclear
arsenals, even in relatively stable regions, far outweigh any possible benefit
imputed to their ability to deter acts of aggression. But in any case, the
wider strategic issues, especially the fact that these tests may prompt other states
to violate the non-proliferation norm, point to them being a significant
setback for international security.
Professor Dibb and Mr Prince also pointed out
that the risk is made all the greater because the leaders of India and Pakistan
seem to have abandoned a cautious approach, and now wield their nuclear weapons
capability as ‘a proclamation of national power’. They concluded:
The combination of aggressive ‘nuclear nationalism’ and newly
developed missile attack systems makes the situation on the Indian
sub-continent extremely volatile.
The weight of evidence is the existence of a
qualified stability in South Asia as a result of the tests but not without some
risks. Some evidence suggests a level of deterrence exists, even though it is
not necessarily deterrence in traditional terms; that is, that each side has a
second strike capability. The lack of reliable information about weaponisation
of Indian and Pakistani nuclear capabilities and their locations might,
however, signal the need for caution to a potential aggressor.
The general state of relations between India and
Pakistan gives cause for concern. Despite a well-publicised meeting between
Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Shariff in early 1999, relations between
the two countries have been poor for a long time. Continuing armed conflict on
the Siachen Glacier, tit-for-tat missile launches, an escalation of fighting in
Kashmir in late May/June 1999 and a caretaker government in India do not herald
an early rapprochement between the two sides. As the timing of the nuclear
tests was largely determined by the domestic political situation at the time,
one cannot rule out the use of Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric
during the long election period for domestic political purposes. If this
happened, it would only serve to heighten tension once again in South Asia and
the wider region.
Concerns were expressed during the inquiry about
the possible transfer of nuclear weapons and technology into the hands of third
parties, especially extremist groups.
Professor Copland thought there was a
possibility, albeit a slim one, of Indian or Pakistani nuclear weapons or
related technology passing into the hands of ‘local extremist groups - Islamic
fundamentalists in Karachi with links to Libya and the Palestine Hezebollah -
and ethnic insurgents such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who
are said to have Pakistani connections’.
Dr Malik was less confident about India’s and
Pakistan’s ability to contain the spread or leakage of nuclear weapons or
technology. He told the Committee that the possibility of nuclear weapons
falling into the hands of extremists, for example the Kashmiri separatists or
religious fanatics, could not be ruled out. He added: ‘Anybody who is familiar
with the region knows how lax security controls are in that part of the world’.
Professor Dibb accepted that the risk of nuclear
technology coming into the hands of extremist groups had been present since
nuclear programs were first developed on the subcontinent. Nonetheless, he
surmised that were:
“Pakistan to share its nuclear weapons know-how with its
Islamic colleagues in the Middle East - a prospect arguably more likely now -
the risk of terrorist access would greatly increase. This is not least the case
because of the direct links between some Middle East terrorist organisations
and governments in the region.”
It should be noted that both India and Pakistan
have held up their record as responsible international citizens to dismiss
claims about the possibility of their nuclear weapons or technology passing on
to third parties. On 11 May 1998, the Indian Government announced in a press
statement that it would like to reaffirm categorically that it would ‘continue
to exercise the most stringent control on the export of sensitive technologies,
equipment and commodities especially those related to weapons of mass
destruction’. It emphasised that its ‘track record has been impeccable in this
The Pakistani Prime Minister clearly acknowledged that his country had an
obligation to handle its nuclear weapons system responsibly and pledged that it
would ‘not transfer sensitive technologies to other states or entities.’
Of the two countries, witnesses held greater
concern over Pakistan’s ability to manage and maintain control over its nuclear
weapons system. Dr Yasmeen pointed out that anyone arguing that nuclear weapons
could fall into the hands of fundamentalist groups is probably not aware of the
‘secrecy and control’ that has marked the development of Pakistan’s nuclear
weapons program. She maintained that Pakistan’s nuclear program had moved ahead
and, despite the last 10 or 12 years of extreme instability in that country,
any idea that nuclear weapons or technology would come into the hands of other
groups has not happened.
The Committee does not believe that the risk of
extremist groups obtaining Indian or Pakistani nuclear devices or technology is
significant or is higher now than it was before the tests. Pakistan’s record
in maintaining the security of its nuclear programs is unblemished. In fact,
the security of Russia’s nuclear weapons – fissile material and nuclear
technology – is of much greater concern than nuclear security in South Asia.
Nevertheless, there is always a risk of a security breach with any nuclear
program. The more programs in existence, the higher is the risk of theft from
Dr Yasmeen admitted that she would find it
difficult to imagine Pakistan allowing its nuclear technology to come into the
hands of third parties. Even so, she was concerned about the parlous state of
the Pakistani economy and the damage that the imposition of sanctions could
have on it. She was concerned that the economy could deteriorate to such an
extent that the present government could be overthrown and replaced by an
unstable government. She told the Committee, ‘that is being really talked about
in Pakistan; the possibility of an Islamic fundamentalist government’.
Professor McPherson was similarly concerned
about Pakistan’s weak economic situation and its implications for security. He
described Pakistan’s economy as being ‘in a state of near collapse, internal
law and order remains a chronic problem and democratic institutions are far
more fragile than in India.’
He suggested that an immediate danger could be an act of military desperation
by Pakistan ‘cornered by foreign censure and surrounded by neighbours perceived
to be hostile’.
Put simply, he explained:
In a breakdown of law and order and a breakdown of the state
there is a possibility for maverick elements to take control of these systems
and that worries me.
DFAT, Dr Saikal and Dr Maley all drew the
Committee’s attention to Pakistan’s difficult economic circumstances and the
dangers this held for the stability of the political system and, ultimately,
the control of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, in the twelve months since the
tests, there is nothing to suggest a deterioration in the situation in
Pakistan. The Pakistani economy has not collapsed as the more pessimistic
commentators thought might happen. Even so, the economy is by no means robust
and there is still cause for concern although an economic crisis does not
appear to be imminent.
Some commentators have seen Pakistan’s nuclear
weapon development as the rise of an ‘Islamic bomb’. In other words, it was
suggested that Pakistan, as the first Muslim nation to acquire nuclear weapons,
would help other Muslim nations to develop such weapons. Several Muslim
nations, including Iraq and Iran, are known to have aspirations of becoming a
possessor of nuclear weapons. The concept of an ‘Islamic bomb’ was, however,
given no credence in the inquiry. Dr Yasmeen told the Committee that ‘the
Pakistan government is very clear about not sharing its nuclear technology with
anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, to identify it as an Islamic bomb is really a
As mentioned above, the Pakistan Government has stated unequivocally that it
will not transfer nuclear technologies to other states.
Professor Robin Jeffrey suggested that the risks
are less from ‘formal’ war between India and Pakistan than from rogue elements
in both militaries, from theft by terrorists, from ‘leakage’ to other
countries, and from accident and maintenance disasters.
Accepting that there is the possibility of a
nuclear exchange between the two countries, a number of witnesses pointed to
situations likely to trigger a serious confrontation. Kashmir in particular,
has been cited as a possible flash point. India and Pakistan have fought two
wars - 1948 and 1965 - over Kashmiri territory and it remains a ‘major thorn in
their bilateral relations’. Kashmir is one of the most militarised regions in
the world. It has troops positioned on either side of a ceasefire line. They
engage in regular skirmishes which have the potential to flare into serious
exchanges between the Indian and Pakistani forces.
Dr William Maley asserted that it was the
combination of nuclear capability with points of friction that could lead to
unintended escalation in a conventional conflict. In referring to India and
Pakistan, he noted:
What sets this pairing of nuclear states apart from, for
example, the pairing of the United States and the Soviet Union is that they did
not have territorial disputes which brought them into immediate eyeball to
eyeball confrontation, whereas in the case of India and Pakistan there are
major territorial disputes in Kashmir and in respect of the Siachen Glacier.
Those are literally situations in which Indian and Pakistani conventional
forces are staring right down each other’s barrels. That creates the danger of
some small incident which can blow up to something slightly bigger, to
something slightly bigger again and end up with a consequence which nobody
particularly intended or desired in which the sense of state honour leads
elites away from a very hard-headed, rational appreciation of the dangers in
which they are placed into behaviour which, looked at from the outside, would
be massively self-destructive.
He pointed out that this sense of danger is heightened
by the development of missile technology:
It creates a situation of extreme risk of pre-emption because
there is so little opportunity to interdict a nuclear weapon once it is
launched in circumstances of short warning times that if a crisis develops the
only way in which it may seem possible to save one’s country is to strike
pre-emptively against the other side before they can strike against you... 
Nuclear weapons and national
Mr Alan Oxley approached this problem of nuclear
weapons and a nation’s perception of its security interests from a different
angle. He asserted that ‘basic economic strength is now the instrument through
which nations have a role and exert some influence’. Based on studies of historical
adversaries France and Germany; and Argentina and Brazil, he concluded:
...when traditional rivals strive to achieve security by achieving
military supremacy, they do not achieve security and they deny opportunities
for increasing prosperity because they can not secure the benefits of economic
Where they have eschewed military competition and sought
economic integration, they have increased economic prosperity and have secured
greater military security.
In applying this theory to India, he maintained:
India has sought to achieve its position in the world by
achieving a certain military position and strength and has neglected its
economic strength. That is probably why it exerts a far smaller role in global
affairs than it would aspire to.
In brief, he stated that military competition
between India and Pakistan, clearly demonstrated in their race for nuclear
superiority, ‘pre-empts the conditions for economic integration, for economic
prosperity, and for mutual security’.
The Pakistan Government clearly appreciated the
advantages that would come to its people by turning away from military build-up
and toward social and economic development.
Pakistan recognizes that economic deprivation and increasing
poverty are among the basic causes of global instability. In such circumstances,
the arms race is a cruel contradiction as it consumes precious resources,
diverting them from the noble goal of uplifting humanity from hunger and
disease. Pakistan, therefore, recognizes the complementary relationship between
disarmament and development and fully endorses the view that precious material
and human resources should not be squandered on arms build-up. Promotion of the
regional peace and security through a military balance at the lowest level of
armaments is an objective which would effectively promote an environment where
more resources could be allocated to economic development.
Professor Hu suggested that since India and
Pakistan have detonated their nuclear bombs, the international community should
accept this development as a fait accompli and now focus on ‘how to
manage and prevent a potentially catastrophic nuclear arms race in South Asia’.
Security concerns in the Indian
Relating the South Asian nuclear tests to
Australia’s specific interests, DFAT argued inter alia that they have
the potential to affect Australian security concerns adversely because they:
create the potential for nuclear confrontation in a region contiguous to
Australia’s area of immediate strategic concern; and could lead to a more
general degradation of regional and global security environments.
Professor Paul Dibb and Mr Peter Prince held
more immediate concerns about possible developments in the Indian Ocean. They
offered the following assessment:
With its current leadership, India clearly believes a nuclear
weapons capability gives it greater international standing, influence and
power. Thus Australia will face a more assertive India in the Indian Ocean.
While the two countries do not have extensive overlapping interests in the
region, they have clashed in the recent past - for example over former Foreign
Minister Gareth Evans’ attempts to create a multilateral body of Indian Ocean
Should India develop - with Russian help - a sea-based nuclear
weapons capability, deployable across the Indian Ocean, this would be of major
concern to Australia, relevant in this context is Russia’s eagerness to swap
key military technologies for foreign currency, which provides India with a
ready source of nuclear and related technology, including systems for naval
deployment. This points to a greater requirement for Australian surveillance of
the Indian Ocean area, in coordination with its friends and allies.
The Committee believes that, although remote,
the possibility of rising tensions in the Indian Ocean should not be
discounted. The importance of surveillance and intelligence gathering in this
region underscores the need for Australia to re-establish defence links with
India and Pakistan, especially the reappointment of Defence Advisers in India
and Pakistan, and to strengthen political ties with Indian Ocean rim and South
Implications for India and China
Dr Malik told the Committee:
In the south Asian context, the nuclear proliferation chain
started with China when China conducted its first bomb test in 1964. India’s
nuclear weapons program was a response to China’s nuclear weapons program. So,
in the beginning when India refused to sign the 1967 NPT, Pakistan was not a
consideration. In 1974, when India tested its first nuclear bomb, Pakistan was
not a consideration. In fact, if Pakistan were the only security concern,
India would have liked to see south Asia remain a nuclear-free zone because
India’s superiority in conventional arms provides India with a huge leverage
vis-a-vis Pakistan. 
continues to have a conventional arms superiority over Pakistan, Pakistan’s
only real threat to India’s security is its nuclear weapon capability.
According to Mr Oxley:
As China starts to acquire significant global nuclear
capability, we do not need people to stimulate it to acquire a bigger and
greater capacity. We need China to consider that it can build its security by
economic and trade relationships. It is not in our interests that China emerge
as a nuclear superpower in the region. India’s actions have a significant
impact on encouraging China to go down that route.
China was aware of India’s undeclared nuclear
capability and appears not to regard India’s recent tests as increasing the
security threat to itself. There is no evidence to suggest that China intends
to upgrade its nuclear capability on the basis of developments in South Asia.
DFAT/Defence submitted that:
China has concerns at the outbreak of a nuclear arms race
between India and Pakistan, and the addition of more destabilising factors to
an already turbulent situation to its south. Given India’s desire to rival
China and the strength of China’s traditional ties with Pakistan, China is a
critical factor in assisting in the reduction of tensions in South Asia. It is
notable that China’s reaction to the outbreak of nuclear testing in South Asia
has been restrained, but also firm in pressing support for the international
nuclear non-proliferation regime.
During the second hearing with DFAT on 4
December 1998, the Ms Stokes, in her opening statement, said: ‘Another
significant concern is that India may seek to close what it perceives as a
strategic vulnerability vis-a-vis China; this may lead India to divert
additional resources into its nuclear program’. This comment was amplified in
a subsequent written statement by DFAT.
Until the election of the BJP led coalition,
relations between India and China had been improving over the previous decade.
Nevertheless, throughout this period, China had allegedly been supplying missile
and nuclear technology to Pakistan. It is inconceivable that China would not
have known that such transfers would increase instability in South Asia.
However, Dr Malik went as far as asserting that this was a deliberate policy to
distract India from competing against China in economic development and in
becoming an influential player in Asia. It is also understandable, from an
Indian perspective, that China’s military assistance to Burma’s military
government and its consequential access to the Indian Ocean would be seen by
India as a threatening move by the Chinese Government. Dr Malik cited the two
moves as an attempt by China to encircle India.
The Committee agrees with the DFAT/Defence
assessment cited above that ‘China is a critical factor in assisting in the
reduction of tensions in South Asia’. Since 1962, India has regarded China as
its main security threat and rival in Asia and many of China’s actions over the
last decade have reinforced this view. It was this threat which prompted India
to initiate and continue to develop a nuclear weapon capability.
It is also understandable that China would be
‘firm in pressing support for the international nuclear non-proliferation
regime’. It is a legal nuclear weapon state under the NPT and it is obviously
in its national interest for India to dismantle its nuclear weapon program and
join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
At the hearing on 4 December 1998, Ms Stokes, in
her opening statement, said that ‘Another significant concern is that India may
seek to close what it perceives as a strategic vulnerability vis-a-vis China;
this may lead China to divert additional resources into its nuclear program’. In a subsequent letter, DFAT
amplified this statement:
India's sense of strategic vulnerability vis-a-vis China dates
from their 1962 war, and acquired a nuclear dimension following China's
detonation of a nuclear device in 1964. On 4 May 1998, one week prior to
India's first series of nuclear tests, Defence Minister George Fernandes said
in a televised interview that China was India's “potential threat number one”.
Following India's nuclear tests, Prime Vajpayee cited the security threat posed
by China as the main reason for India conducting the tests. The Times of
India on 12 May 1998 quoted an unnamed Indian military source as follows:
“Given that universal nuclear disarmament is utopian, and that China is merrily
proliferating, there was no option but to take steps to perfect our
deterrent.” The statement by Smt. Vasundhara Raje, Indian Minister of State
for External Affairs in the general debate at the Ministerial Meeting of the
Non-Aligned Coordinating Bureau in Cartagena de Indias on 19 May 1998 contains
the following statement: “... in our region the strategic situation became
steadily intolerable. We have found ourselves surrounded by nuclear weapons,
either overtly or covertly deployed. Our government had to take steps to
ensure that, if the security of our people ... was threatened, we would have the
same capability to defend them as those which the nuclear weapons states
consider essential for themselves.”
An intent by India to develop a strategic capability vis-a-vis
China is further indicated by its active development of the extended range
AGNI (ER-AGNI) ballistic missile with a planned range of 2,500
kilometres. India does not require such a range to strike Pakistan nor would
it afford India a significant second-strike capability against Pakistan. The
Indian Government has announced its intention to test the ER-AGNI in
1999. Pakistan's missile development program is focused solely on countering a
perceived threat from India. 
Although there is some basis for arguing that
India will further develop its nuclear weapon capability, there is no evidence
to suggest it is trying to match China’s nuclear capability.
China, for its part, began its nuclear weapon
program because of perceived threats from the USSR and the United States.
There is no evidence available to suggest that China’s nuclear weapon program
was intended for use against India or that China has any designs on Indian
territory. Although a part of the border between the two countries is still in
dispute, neither side has shown any interest in trying to wrest away the
disputed land from the other since the border war of 1962, unlike the armed
conflict which has bedevilled the Line of Control between India and Pakistan
over the last decade.
China sees India as a rival in Asia but not as a
security concern in the same way as it sees the United States and Russia, or
even Taiwan and Japan. As relations with the United States waxes and wanes, so
does China’s concerns of its own security. In the same way as India perceives
China’s so-called encirclement of India, China has often accused the United
States of trying to encircle China.
It is probably fair to say that 1996 was the lowest point in
Sino-U.S. relations in twenty-five years, and between China and Australia as a
spin-off. the Taiwan Strait crisis and the unqualified Australian support for
U.S. actions, the reinterpretation of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, the
reinvigoration of the U.S.-Australian security alliance, and the Agreement on
Maintaining Security between Australia and Indonesia cumulatively sapped the
strength of the Australia-China relationship.
India’s nuclear tests probably contributed to a
rapprochement between China and the United States in 1998, albeit of short
duration, as other issues achieved prominence which removed the gloss once
again from the relationship.
Proliferation beyond South Asia
Some witnesses believed that the tests could
provoke nuclear proliferation beyond South Asia and that other nuclear
threshold nations might seek to join the nuclear club. They suggested that the
nuclear tests could spur countries, such as Iran, Libya, North Korea and some
Latin America countries to develop a nuclear capability.
Professor Saikal recognised that the nuclear
tests could possibly entice a number of other regional forces, notably Iran, to
seek their own nuclear weapon capability. The Pakistani tests probably
confirmed Iran’s fear that it is surrounded by nuclear states - Israel to the
west and Pakistan to the east.
Iran’s security concerns also include Iraq. It would also have wider strategic
interests in developing a nuclear weapon capability.
In keeping with the views of other witnesses, Dr
Hanson considered ‘we may well see other states - Iran, Iraq, North Korea,
Syria - either initiate their own programs or reactivate their agendas to
acquire a similar capability’.
DFAT also recognised the possibility that
India’s and Pakistan’s demonstrated nuclear weapons capability could arouse
more interest in weapons development in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran and fuel
their nuclear aspirations. It submitted:
A worst-case scenario could see a Middle East state using
India’s and Pakistan’s claim to be nuclear weapon states as the public
justification for exercising its right under Article X of the NPT to withdraw
from the Treaty.
Professor Dibb and Peter Prince added their
voices to the concern about Indian and Pakistani preparedness to proclaim their
nuclear capability and its influence on other states. They maintained:
Israel in particular must be alarmed by the open demonstration
of a nuclear weapons capacity by Pakistan, given that country’s religious and political
links to fellow Islamic nations in the Middle East.
Pakistan’s neighbour, Iran, is one of the four ‘high risk’
nuclear weapons states (along with Iraq, Libya and North Korea), considered to
be well on the way to producing its own nuclear bomb. In addition, Iran is
thought to be developing its own medium range missile which could be used to
deliver such a weapon.
In looking to the broader Asian region, they
pointed to the ‘demonstrator effect’ of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests
which could send a message to developing countries, including Australia’s
regional neighbours, that one way of gaining domestic prestige and
international status is by acquiring nuclear weapons. They saw the Asian
economic crisis as a further complicating factor in the region. They noted that
the possibility of regional nations suffering economic and social chaos turning
to weapons of mass destruction to bolster their national and international
standing as ‘an issue that Australian security planners need to confront’.
Any proliferation of nuclear weapons has the
potential to encourage other states to develop their own nuclear weapon
programs. By openly declaring their nuclear weapon capabilities, India and
Pakistan spurned international norms, even in the knowledge that they would be
subject to sanctions. Such a stand might give succour to other states seeking
a nuclear option. It has certainly not lessened the risk of further nuclear
It must be remembered that Indian and Pakistani
nuclear weapon capabilities were already widely known. India had tested a
nuclear device as early as 1974. And as neither is a member of the NPT, the
tests did not transgress international law. However, the tests have put
pressure on the global non-proliferation regime.
The nuclear tests have raised doubts about the
viability of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Dr Malik stated:
...the danger is that its defiance of global nonproliferation
norms by India will prompt others to follow suit. The domino theory has it that
nuclear proliferation in South Asia opens the possibility of similar
development in other areas of regional tension, the Middle East (Syria, Libya,
Iran and Iraq) and Northeast Asia (North Korea, Japan and Taiwan). In Southeast
Asia, Vietnam is seeking nuclear and missile technology from India...The biggest
worry is that a bankrupt Pakistan may be tempted to share its nuclear-weapons
technology with other Islamic states, in exchange for financial aid or step up
Dr Hanson supported the view that the recent
nuclear tests could erode the achievements of the international community
toward non-proliferation and weaken the global non-proliferation regime. She asserted:
The last two years have seen a decline in expectations that
significant arms control proposals can go any further. There is increasingly a
sense that the international community cannot move towards new
non-proliferation agreements and may not even be able to implement those
agreements already achieved. Some of the advances made in recent years are in
danger of being unravelled.
In summary, DFAT and Defence outlined both the
regional and global concerns sparked by the recent nuclear tests. They
Weaponisation and deployment of nuclear arm[ed] missiles by
India and Pakistan in the current environment of heightened bilateral tension,
volatile domestic politics and rudimentary command and control systems, as well
as the immediate geographic proximity of the two countries, create a serious
risk of the use of nuclear weapons. The nuclear tests also run counter to
international resolve to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons – a resolve
which has seen in recent years the nuclear non-proliferation treaty extended
indefinitely and the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Although the potential for nuclear proliferation
to increase beyond South Asia, there is no evidence yet that this has happened
noting, of course, that some states were seeking to fulfil nuclear ambitions
before the tests took place. The NPT has weathered the threatened withdrawal
of North Korea, Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program and, so far, the Indian and
Pakistani tests. The widespread recognition of the importance of the NPT to
global security has enabled the NPT to withstand such trials. Nevertheless, the
international community needs to remain vigilant to ensure that the
non-proliferation regime is not eroded, particularly from within its own
Lack of Commitment to Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament
Some regarded the South Asian nuclear tests as a
sign pointing to a failed global nuclear non proliferation regime rather than a
cause contributing to that failure. More specifically, they saw the tests as ‘a
symptom of the failure of the international community to fully commit itself to
control the spread of nuclear weapons - and to work toward substantial
reductions in the numbers of these weapons’. There is a view that the nuclear
weapon states are not making significant headway in reducing their stores of nuclear
In support of this argument, Dr Hanson told the Committee:
Essentially, there exists a widespread and growing view that the
existing nuclear weapon states are not moving towards serious nuclear
disarmament and appear unlikely to relinquish their own nuclear capacities.
This is despite pledges from these states to reduce their own arsenals.
She suggested that this situation has only
fuelled the nuclear aspirations of states such as India and Pakistan. She
pointed out that China, France and Britain have indicated that if the two major
nuclear powers move towards serious reduction, they will follow suit. She
stressed that the initiative has to come from the US and Russia - they are ‘the
In strong agreement, Dr Pitty pointed out that
the fundamental weakness of the non-proliferation treaty is that the
obligations imposed on the nuclear weapon states under Article VI to move in
good faith towards nuclear disarmament have not been fulfilled.
DFAT conceded that during the Cold War, Article
VI was ‘definitely respected more in the breach than the observance, and that
was very disappointing.’ Nevertheless, Mr Griffin believes that the end of the
Cold War has opened up new possibilities in terms of nuclear arms elimination.
He referred to the START I and the START II processes. This will be considered in
more detail in Chapter 8.
Some commentators believe that some of the
nuclear weapon states are using sub-critical tests and computer modelling to
further develop their nuclear weapon capabilities, and not just for nuclear
On the matter of sub-critical tests, DFAT told
the Committee that the nuclear weapons states are undertaking or will conduct
sub-critical experiments for the purpose of ‘maintaining the reliability of
their stockpile’. Mr Griffin explained that the nuclear weapon states made
clear throughout negotiations on the CTBT that they would need to conduct
non-explosive experiments in order to maintain the safety and reliability of
their arsenals. He went on to explain:
It has been alleged by those who have problems with the CTBT
—including India—that this is all a trick and nuclear weapons states will
enhance their arsenals and will have more and more sophisticated nuclear
weapons through non-explosive testing.
Mr Griffin insisted that the nuclear weapon states were not
flouting the CTBT and that there was no evidence to support the contention that
they are or will use sub-critical tests to refine or further develop their
The issue of sub-critical tests - defined by
Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Retd.) as a ‘nonself-sustaining nuclear chain
reaction - remains clouded. Colonel Smith noted that the US Department of
Energy’s planned sub-critical tests were designed to ensure the ‘safety and
reliability of the US nuclear arsenal’. He made plain, however,. that ‘this
means testing some plutonium to make sure it will explode should nuclear
weapons ever be used’. In further explanation, he pointed out: ‘While
technically not violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ...these tests are
contrary to the spirit of the Treaty’.
The Committee accepts that DFAT’s assessment of
sub-critical tests may well be correct but is nevertheless concerned that a
number of individuals and organisations hold strong suspicions about the
intentions behind sub-critical testing. The Committee believes that this
uncertainty only further undermines confidence in the non-proliferation regime
and highlights the need for greater transparency in the whole area of nuclear
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