Nukes cannot be used as equalisers, US congressional panel told


WASHINGTON: Nuclear weapons cannot be used as equalisers for matching India’s influence in South Asia, two US think tank experts told a congressional panel.

While commenting on the growing imbalance of power between India and Pakistan, they argued at a recent hearing that in the last 20 years India had rapidly increased its economic and military strength but Pakistan did not. This increased the gap and Pakistan was now using its nuclear programme to bridge this gap, they added.

Pakistan rejects this assessment as incorrect, arguing that its nuclear programme is only a deterrence against India’s and that it’s not involved in a nuclear race with any country.

At the hearing on US-India relations at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, ranking Democrat Senator Ben Cardin referred to an earlier statement by another senior lawmaker, Senator Edward Markey, who says that India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would cause a “never-ending, action-reaction” nuclear race in South Asia.

“Senator Markey made a very interesting observation, which is absolutely accurate. We’ve seen a proliferation in recent years,” Senator Cardin said.

Noting that Pakistan would be “willing to use nuclear weapons” in a regional conflict, he asked: “What can we do in our relationship with India to try to bring back the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons in that region?”

Doctrine debate

“I would argue that Pakistani doctrine couldn’t be influenced by the US-India relationship. Pakistani doctrine, or the fact that they’re trying to move towards tactical nuclear weapons, has to be influenced by the US-Pakistan relationship,” said Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington.

“So, the questions to be asked are …why does the Pakistani military leadership feel that putting nuclear weapons in the hands of military commanders, which I think is widely recognised as very dangerous, is a wise move, as opposed to an extremely unwise move?” said Mr Dhume who, like the other witness Alyssa Ayers, is an Indian-American.

“And that’s something that really goes down to how they think of nuclear weapons, and how they view nuclear weapons as an equaliser. And it’s obviously a serious concern. But I think the concern is in the wrong place,” he added.

Ms Ayers, a South Asian affairs expert at the US Council on Foreign Relations, said that India had declared a “no-first-use” doctrine for its nuclear weapons.

“You don’t see a no-first-use doctrine with Pakistan, and you do see the development of these tactical nuclear weapons,” she added. “So, to me those are very different postures. One is a defensive … the other is looking to have these very dangerous weapons utilised in a way that could be even more dangerous.”

Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s chairman, asked if Pakistan had more nuclear weapons than India.

“Pakistan is slightly more I believe,” said Mr Dhume. “A lot of missile-material, but only slightly more in the way of warheads,” he added.

Senator Corker then asked if the two countries were involved in a nuclear race to continue to outdo each other. “What is the psychology of the two countries relative to nuclear armaments right now?

“I would say they’re very different. I think the way India has historically viewed nuclear weapons is in two ways. The first is to be kind of a member of the club of great powers so to speak. It’s almost been a status issue,” Mr Dhume responded.

Indian capability

He claimed that India’s nuclear programme was not aimed at Pakistan only as New Delhi also wanted to “have a minimal capability,” particularly in case of another war with China.

“Beyond that India has not been particularly aggressive in terms of its nuclear build-up. Out of the countries that have acknowledged nuclear weapons programmes, India has the smallest number of warheads,” Mr Dhume said.

That’s why India’s nuclear programme was “defensive, not aggressive,” he claimed.

Mr Dhume then moved to a fear often expressed in Washington, terrorists getting nuclear weapons. He claimed that the nuclear weapons had a “more actively role” in Pakistan’s defence strategy and that’s why it was making the so-called tactical nuclear weapons.

Mr Dhume accused Pakistan of using nuclear weapons “as an umbrella under which terrorism can be used against India”.

“One of the concerns that we should have more broadly with nuclear proliferation in the world, not just worrying about the weapons themselves being used, but worrying about when these weapons are in the hands of countries that also happen to host a plethora of Islamic terrorist groups, how it affects the use of terrorism,” he argued.

“Ms Ayres, do you have anything to add to that?” asked Senator Corker.

“I actually agree with that statement,” she replied.

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