After India exploded 5 nuclear devices, a lively debate has been started in India (and elsewhere) on issues like nuclear testing, CTBT, economic consequences etc. However, after weeks of incessant talk shows and columns on these topics, it is becoming apparent that the debate is being led by technically uninformed loud mouths whose sole qualification may be `peace activist' or `environmental crusader'. Even the tag `scientist' is meaningless if he/she doesn't know the technical details of CTBT, NPT, subcritical tests or fourth generation nukes. Worse, the political personalities are not technically well informed enough to counter this set and sometimes even second their opinions if it suits them politically. After the Pakistan tests, decibel levels shot up further.
While this reflects very well on the freedom of expression enjoyed in our society, it does place a certain responsibility on those better informed to raise the level of public awareness.
A regular feature of most debates seem to be a set of rhetorical questions whose answers are taken to be evident. Sadly, they are evident one way for the unwary and another way for the well informed, and therein lies the danger. Just as a lie if repeated often may become the truth, a falsehood not contradicted long enough may also become the truth. This article is an attempt to answer some of these questions. The first part is structured as Question-Answer. Inevitably, some answers need to address fairly technical issues or require elaboration. In order to maintain continuity, these technical issues/elaborations have been clubbed together under `Part-II Technical Issues'. The Question-Answer section contains many references to this section (as [See This Topic]) but the reader may skip them on the first pass. The issues discussed here are more technical rather than political / social. The author believes that only after the technical nuances have been mastered can the latter issues be meaningfully dealt with.
In the recent tests we have shown that we are also in the reckoning for these `designer nukes'. This deterrence was UTTERLY lacking in the '74 test. In layman terms, making these small bombs is more difficult than making big bombs just as making a wristwatch TV is than a 14in TV. [See Types of Nukes]
Question: Hasn't India destroyed NPT/CTBT and drive towards N disarmament?
Can disarmament take place now?
Implied answer: It has, and for that we should be ashamed. Little hope for disarmament now, thanks to India
Real Answer: Yes, we did deal a body blow to NPT and CTBT. And that is all. We have not dealt a body blow to disarmament because it was never there to begin with. What were NPT and CTBT trying to achieve? They were eliminating hypothetical nuclear weapons only - the few crude devices that `rogue' states may have produced. In return for this, NPT gave legitimacy to the 5 nuclear weapons states (NWS) to stay nuclear forever. That means [See Number of Nukes] NPT legitimized over 35,000 *actual* nuclear warheads while eliminating a hundred *hypothetical* warheads. CTBT was even worse. It was aimed at letting these same NWS develop `fourth generation' warheads, which are far more USABLE [See Types of Nukes] and in return it would have eliminated the same phantom warheads as NPT. NPT and CTBT were instruments of surrender rather than treaties.
Does disarmament stand a chance now? I believe the answer is YES. More so now than before! Consider this: there were three types of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological. The world quickly agreed to ban the last two and concrete steps have been taken in that direction. So why not nuclear? All the talk of `verification reliability' applies to all three types, so that can't be the real reason. I believe the real reason was the perception that ANYBODY could make chemical / biological bombs. They were low technology (poor man's nuke, they called it) options that gave no advantage to the big guys. So they were banned. Nukes were different. Did their development not require a galaxy of brilliant people like Oppenhiemer, Feynman, Teller? That hi-tech image has stuck, along with the associated perceived strategic advantage. The US has openly stated that the utility of CTBT to US lies in CTBT's ability to freeze that advantage [See US and CTBT]. Given the license to N arms ALREADY granted by NPT to the Big-5, if CTBT was allowed to also assure a monopoly then there would have been absolutely no incentive to disarm. SALT treaties would reduce the bloated stocks for US and Russia, but no NWS has ever committed to total elimination. Now, with India forcing the NWS to face a world sans CTBT-assured nuclear monopoly, their assessment might change. An advantage based on sophisticated (and costly) convention weapons may be deemed more sustainable than nukes if nukes are perceived as giving too many `small' countries a viable deterrence. This won't assure peace, but for what its worth, the world may be rid of nukes.
Questions: Won't these tests start an arms race and hamper peace in the region?
Implied answer: Of course they will. There goes the neighborhood!
Real Answer: Just because it is said on BBC/CNN, it doesn't have to be true.
By testing 5 devices of increasing complexity, India has in one stroke restored the asymmetry. Pakistan matched us numerically for show, but not technically or in terms of infrastructure. So we will have a stable asymmetric chain once again, albeit with one more link to it: Russia-China-India-Pakistan. Moreover, the stability of this configuration will be guaranteed by the size and technical sophistication of the underlying economies, a far more dependable anchor than international goodwill.
Questions: Can we afford nuclear arms?
Shouldn't we be spending on food & housing?
Implied Answer: No, nukes are a rich man's toy.
Real Answer: Not so fast, my politically correct friend!
So we come now to the cost of maintaining asymmetric nuclear deterrence. It turns out that if one does have a big enemy, then it is cheaper to use a nuclear deterrence than a conventional one. This conclusion was arrived at by Trueman (President) and Dean Acheson (Sec of State) in '51. [See Bang for the Buck]. The US is rich, but rest assured they count their pennies. (Where their projections went haywire is in failing to stop at deterrence and sliding into a race.) So now we have the worlds richest nation
The lesson to be learned from US-USSR is that we SHOULD seek a nuclear deterrence w.r.t. China but NOT seek parity. And if Pakistan tries for parity rather than deterrence, its their economic funeral - not ours. No economy 1/7th our size can sustain parity with us in the long run.
Now that missiles have become MUCH more accurate, low yield devices can be used with them. This will reduce the political fallout and mass destruction of civilians. This now gives NWS the option of using nuclear weapons in Third World conflicts.
Reference - Los Alamos Study Group
The treaty bars all signatories from conducting all nuclear tests that involve any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion. Exactly what "nuclear explosions" are prohibited will be determined by parties to the CTBT, and possibly the International Court of Justice, on the basis of the treaty text, the (sparse) negotiating record, and the future practice of all states parties, including their statements at review conferences. As with NPT, the nuclear weapon states (NWS) have inserted escape clauses for themselves. The NWS have stated that the treaty bars explosions involving a self-sustaining chain reaction. Accordingly, they claim, subcritical tests are permitted though they involve the production of neutrons by fissile materials. However, such tests involve a nuclear "explosion" though a chain reaction does not occur. It remains to be determined whether the CTBT bars tests of possible "fourth-generation" weapons in which fissile material is "burned", without a chain reaction, at a rapid rate resulting in yields of tens or 100s of tons.
After India's categorical refusal to sign the CTBT draft in Geneva, there have been several indications that efforts would be made to by-pass or coerce India.
Extract from the Los Alamos Study Group:
The NWS could ratify the CTBT and then seek to persuade/coerce India to endorse the treaty. This appears to be the present US strategy.
More direct indications come from the Special briefing on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Washington, DC, April 7, 1998. John Holum, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms, while answering a query on the future of CTBT had this to say:
QUESTION: Back on the CTBT, you spoke earlier about a review conference in September 1999, if you can't get all 44 countries to ratify the treaty. Assuming that conference becomes necessary, what specific options are available at that time to bring the treaty into force? My understanding is that the conference would not be able to waive the original requirements stating that all 44 countries would have to ratify it. What is the current thinking about what measures could be taken to accelerate the ratification conference if that becomes necessary?
ACTING UNDER SECRETARY HOLUM: "You're getting a little ahead of the game, I think, because we need to ratify first before we can even go. So if we're not going, it won't be fruitful to develop a strategy.
"One thing that such a conference would do is presumably talk about a political strategy. The test ban, as most of you probably know, takes 44 specifically named countries before it can enter into force; 41 of those 44 have signed the treaty, and we expect they'll ratify. Three - India, Pakistan and North Korea - have not signed, and I'm sure an intense focus of the conference, assuming the other 41 have ratified by then, will be, what is the right political strategy to engage the other three, to bring them on board?
"Some people have suggested that the countries who are present
there could make a decision to adopt a different test ban treaty.
They couldn't amend this one, but they could adopt on their own a
test ban treaty that would have all the same provisions but a
different entry into force provision. That's a theoretical
possibility, I suppose. Or they could decide on provisional
application. I think any of those kinds of options would be very
difficult to pursue because the entry into force provisions of the
treaty were the product of very intense negotiations and they
wouldn't be likely adjusted by countries that presumably will have
ratified by then. Certainly, the two who ratified last week, who
have just ratified - the UK and France - have strong views on that
It is telling that just about every possibility was discussed save that of accommodating India's concern!
The CTBT, when originally proposed, would have led to (forced) nuclear disarmament. At that time not enough was known to either design new weapons or verify safety of old weapons without explosive testing. That is when the NWS opposed CTBT. Subsequently a technological threshold was breached whereby, if one had sufficient data, there would be no more need for testing. Tests were now purely the requirement of nuclear aspirants. Suddenly the NWS were gung-ho on CTBT. Even then, France and China had to scramble up the technological ladder at the last minute with their 1996 tests. Once again, we turn to Holum (see above) for a clear exposition of the US perspective. (Note: The quotes from Holum only do not imply that the other NWS were any less cynical. It is just that the US is more open.)
"...I want to underscore here the importance of ratifying this treaty for one of our most important international security challenges, and that's to intercept and prevent the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to more countries."
"...You can make a nuclear weapon without testing, but it's a much bigger challenge, much more difficult to make weapons of small enough size to be of great danger to us. We had to dig a trench under a B-29 bomber to put our first nuclear weapons on board. Without testing, it's an insurmountable challenge, virtually, to get them down to the sizes and weights that would be of particular danger to us."
"...So then the argument becomes, well, if we're not going to test anyway, why not hold the rest of the world to the same standards?"
Now for a final quote, which I think takes the cake. Having just testified that the US would not be inconvenienced by CTBT anymore since it no longer needed explosive tests, Holum gives the following `ethical' reason for the US signing CTBT:
"... Remember that the non-nuclear weapons states have considered, since the time the Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in the 1960s, that part of the bargain was an agreement on the part of the nuclear weapons states to engage in good-faith efforts towards disarmament; and the Test-Ban Treaty was specifically mentioned at the time in the late 1960s as part of the bargain. So, in order for us to make our case effectively for non-proliferation, we need to hold up our end of the bargain; and the test ban is part of it."
Number of Nukes: (Time magazine May 25, 1998)
Known US 12,070 Russia 22,500 UK 380 France 500 China 450 Presumed [These are just guesses and have no official sanctity] India about 65 Israel 64-112 Pakistan 15-25As the numbers show, only US-Russia were in a `race'. The rest were content with just deterrence. It also shows that US-Russia SALT talks are about removing redundancy, not renouncing N weapons.
The following is an extract from the above source.
In his State of the Union message, January 7, 1954, Eisenhower's two leading defense planning considerations dealt with the new nuclear weapons technology.
"First, while determined to use atomic power to serve the usages of peace, we take into full account our great and growing number of nuclear weapons and the most effective means of using them against an aggressor ... [including] the tactical use of our nuclear weapons .... Second, the usefulness of these new weapons creates new relationships between men and materials. These new relationships permit economies in the use of men as we build forces suited to our situation in the world today ...." (p. 5, _DAFR_, 1954)
Much is said about the recent reduction of tension with China. Much less is said about its past track record of hostilities following such `friendship' as discovered by India('62), USSR('69) and Vietnam('79). Further, while USSR and even tiny Vietnam held their own, India was routed. These lessons of history seem lost on our die-hard China apologists. Recent events in Taiwan and Spratleys also indicate that while friendship with China is desirable, keeping one's guard up is also essential. Contrast the flippancy with which many Indians dismiss the Chinese threat (`It happened 35 yrs ago') with the pragmatism with which US has dealt with Japan & Germany. Even though they were *defeated*, more than 50 yrs ago, they are still denied their own military/armament build-up. If defeated, and *politically reformed* Japan and Germany are still suspect, shouldn't we be wary of an undefeated and unreformed China that is getting stronger by the day?