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Nuclear tests and the defense preparedness

Vinod Kumar


India’s recent nuclear tests have been defended by some as exercise of "rational leadership to maximize India’s national interests" while it has been criticized by others as it "could make war in South Asia more likely and make India isolated in the world". Many have labeled these as manifestation of partisan politics to boost BJP image.

India’s nuclear tests have to be seen in the overall security aspects and long term interests of the nation and not in the narrow concepts of immediate concern or partisan politics. India in its long history is known for many noble things but the preparedness for the defense is, unfortunately, not one of them. And for this India has paid dearly over centuries. It is not the place to go into those details but it would suffice to say that any nation that is not prepared to defend itself could not remain free for long.

I would not question the priority that one should attach to the economy and prosperity of the country but this prosperity could easily be lost if the nation were not prepared to defend itself. No one should know it better than India having lost it many times before.

Today, no one would deny that the USA is the most powerful and defended country in the world. No one in the world dare cast a dirty glance at her. There are things about defense which it would do India good to learn from the US. I would like to quote a few words about defense of a nation, which Richard Nixon wrote. We as Indians might not agree with Nixon on many subjects but we could not question his patriotism and commitment to his nation.

Let us see what Nixon has to say about preserving freedom. It is worth pondering upon.

In his book "The Real War", Nixon wrote: "Nations live or die by the way they respond to the particular challenges they face. Those challenges may be internal or external; they may be faced by a nation alone or in concert with other nations; they may come gradually or suddenly. There is no immutable law of nature that says only the unjust will afflicted, or that the just will prevail. While might certainly does not make right, neither does right by itself make might. The time when a nation most craves ease may be the moment when it can least afford to let down its guard. The moment when it most wishes it could address its domestic needs may be the moment when it most urgently has to confront an external threat. The nation that survives is the one that rises to meet that moment: that has the wisdom to recognize the threat and the will to turn it back, and that does so before it is too late."

"The naïve notion that we can preserve freedom by exuding goodwill is not only silly, but dangerous. The more adherents it wins, the more it tempts the aggressor."

Nixon went on to write: "There are two aspects to national will. There is will as demonstrated by the nation itself, and there is will as perceived by the nation’s adversaries. In averting the ultimate challenge, perceived will can be as important as actual will. Although an American President would launch a nuclear strike only with the most extreme reluctance, the Kremlin leaders must always assume that he might; and that if truly vital interests of the nation or the West required the use of nuclear weapons, that he would do so. If they are to be effectively deterred from the ultimate provocation, they must perceive that such a provocation carries with it the ultimate risk.

"National will involves far more than readiness to use military power, whether nuclear or conventional. It includes a readiness to allocate the resources necessary to maintain that power. It includes a clear view of where the dangers lie, and of what kinds of responses are necessary to meet those dangers. It includes also a basic, crystalline faith that the United States is on the right side in the struggle, and that what we represent in the world is worth defending.

"For will to be effective, it must necessarily include the readiness to sacrifice if necessary – to deter those goals that are merely desirable in order to advance those that are essential; to pay the cost of defense; to incur risks; to incur the displeasure of powerful constituencies at home and of raucous voices abroad."

It is clear that Nixon wrote this with reference to the USA but this defense of nation is more generic and it aptly applies to India.

Many have accused Vajpayee and his government of jingoism. All previous governments have been aware of the threats to Indian security; they had continued the preparations for these tests but they lacked the will to act. These tests were by no means an act of aggression or jingoism. These reflect more acute recognition and realization of the threat, imminent and future, to our freedom, our civilization, our way of living, our prosperity, to every thing we believe in. These tests go only a step further from realization to the will to act to prepare the nation for its defense. But all this would be a terrible waste if the nation would lack the will to use the capability proven by these tests and the will "to sacrifice, if necessary -- to deter those goals that are merely desirable in order to advance those that are essential; to pay the cost of defense; to incur risks; to incur the displeasure of powerful constituencies at home and of raucous voices abroad."

No, these tests are by no means an act of jingoism but even jingoism in the defense of freedom is no sin, and cowardice, under any circumstances, or giving up one’s freedom without a fight is never a virtue. The defense of one’s freedom, civilization, way of living and of the nation is not something to play petty and partisan politics with. It is a serious affair.


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