A secure India through nuclear disarmament

Below you can read my opinion on how India can achieve true safety: through nuclear disarmament simultaneously with Pakistan. A much shortened version of this opinion was published as a Letter to the Editor in The Hindu on December 31, 2007.

For interesting articles on this issue I can highly recommend the articles by M.V. Ramana.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in nuclear-armed Pakistan has everyone worried about the security of India. In fact, Pakistan's instability is cited as one reason why India requires nuclear weapons: to deter a nuclear attack. However, this conclusion is flawed: precisely because of Pakistan's instability, true safety for India can only be obtained when Pakistan and India are both free from nuclear weapons.

During the cold war, nuclear war was successfully avoided by the principle of mutually assured destruction. But it required both the US and the USSR to recognize that a nuclear war cannot be won. Instead, both sides will end up losing due the incredible destructive power of nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan do not have a sufficient nuclear arsenal to assure their mutual destruction. Still, even a few nuclear weapons per country will assure suffering on an unprecedented scale. Simulations by the Natural Resources Defense Council of the air blasts of even "small" Hiroshima-style nuclear weapons predict 1.7 lakh dead in New Delhi and 4.7 lakh dead in Mumbai (with much more severe casualty figures in case of ground blasts). These numbers alone show that a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would devastate both countries for decades to come.

The question is this: can India rely on a doctrine of credible minimum deterrence to avoid a nuclear attack from Pakistan? Only if the Pakistani side finds the outcome of a nuclear war unacceptable. The generals in Islamabad may be relied on for that. But the spectre of a Pakistan in the hands of militant Islam in the style of a Taliban-led Afghanistan can no longer be ruled out. And the never-ending string of suicide bombings shows the utter disregard of such people for the lives of innocents and their own people. Thus, the assumption underlying the doctrine of deterrence would no longer be valid in such a scenario.

The only way out is a nuclear weapons-free India and Pakistan. Then, even if Pakistan degenerates into radical Islam, India does not need to fear a nuclear attack that no amount of its own weapons may deter.