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15 Years After Pokharan, Is India Diving Deeper Into The Nuclear Darkness?

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By P K Sundaram:

While the stability and security that Pokharan was supposed to bestow on India is still eluding, the country is facing the grave consequences of nuclear weaponisation: a steep rise in the military budget, ever expanding nuclear arsenal and an unsafe, uneconomic and anachronistic expansion of nuclear energy that India had to embrace as a bargain for international legitimacy for its nuclear weapons.

Close to the 15th anniversary of the 1998 Pokharan nuclear tests this year, India shamelessly abstained from the UN voting on Arms Trade Treaty, having become the largest importer of arms in the world. This historic arms trade regulation pact received the support of 154 out of 180 countries. While 3 countries — Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed this treaty, India abstained along with 23 others like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia etc.

nuclear

India opposed the proposed treaty since the beginning. Pakistan, being a friendly neighbour when it comes to arms race, has been supportive of India’s stance, but it surprised the world by supporting the treaty just at the last moment.

India’s insatiable arms obsession

In March this year, India made it big into two global lists: it came 137th in a list of 186 countries in the global human development index, and it became the world’s largest arms importer accounting for 12% of the world’s total arms trade. India’s share in global arms trade has grown at a rate of 25% — in the period between 2003-2008, it purchased 9% of the total arms transferred in the global arms market.

The report titled Trends in International Arms Transfers published by the reputed Stockholm Institute of Peace Research (SIPRI) listed India as the world’s biggest importer of arms between 2008 and 2012. The global trends of arms transfer reveal a lot. While all the 5 biggest important were Asian countries — India (12 per cent of global imports), China (6 per cent), Pakistan (5 per cent), South Korea (5 per cent), and Singapore (4 per cent), all the major exporters of arms were from the West: US, Russia, Germany and France. China replaced the UK as the 5th largest exporter of arms. Israel and the US are biggest beneficiaries of India’s military shopping spree, signalling and resulting in major implications for its foreign policy.

Rising Weapons Expenditures After 15 Years of Going Nuclear

India’s increasing arms imports defy the claims of the nuclear hawks since 1998 that induction of nuclear weapons would bring stability and security for the country. May 11th this year would mark 15 years of India’s nuclear tests in Pokhran. India’s defence expenditures — on both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon systems — have increased dramatically since then. India’s defence budget has gone up from Rs. 35,277 crore in 1998 to a whopping 2,03,671.1 crore in 2013. In 2012-2013, India spent 1.93 trillion, or $40 billion, marking an increase of 17 per cent over the previous year. India has been recently spending much more on naval and air forces compared to the army, a trend indicative of its rising power projections and self-perception. It’s defence expenses between 1992 and 2012 have shot up by 1005%. 41% of which goes into acquisition of new weapons. In 2012, while it’s GDP grew by 6.7%, figures on defence expenditure growth varied between 13 to 19%.

Arms race — both nuclear and conventional — is going unbridled in South Asia. Both the countries have been upgrading their nuclear arsenals, qualitatively and quantitatively. While India goes on to define its ‘minimal credible deterrence’ maximally, Pakistan has diversified its nuclear arsenals by including tactical nukes in January this year. Add to this the frequent missiles tests, of ever increasing ranges and payloads. India’s recent addition of nuclear submarine in its arsenal would only further fuel this ace. South Asia is also home to gigantic military exercises on both sides — recently Indian Air Force did its biggest-ever exercise called Operation iron Fist in Pokhran with nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan, at the start of this year, had conducted a huge military exercise called Saffron Bandits.

Glaring Poverty Amid Super Power Dreams

Compare the facts on military build-ups with the shame of poverty in both the countries. While more than 40% people go to sleep without food in Pakistan. more than 230 million Indians go hungry daily. 37% of Indian deaths are still caused by “poor country” diseases like TB and malaria. A recent Oxford study has suggested that Nepal is reducing poverty faster than India. While our national budget is hijacked by the security establishment, India last year ranked worst among the G-20 countries as a country for women — in terms of female education, health and safety. In terms of gender equality, India fared worse than Pakistan in the UNDP human development report published in march 2013.

Needless to say, this huge stockpile of arms will push India into further belligerence and uglier conflicts. While India-Pakistan border has found place in the Guinness book of world records to be the world’s largest militarized territorial dispute, Indian political elite has been using heavily-armed tactics to subdue the dissenting sections of society — from the adivasis in Chhattisgarh to the ethnic minorities in the north-east and people protesting against neoliberalism in various parts of the country.

Deeper into the Nuclear Darkness

Contrary to the claims, the Indian foreign policy actually has become less independent after Pokharan and in order to achieve legitimacy from Western powers for its nuclear status, India has to enter into humiliating deals implying purchase of unsafe reactors without nuclear liability. The Indian government is losing the historic opportunity in the wake of Fukushima accident in Japan, to shun nuclear energy and go for sustainable pattern of energy and development, because it has to fulfil the reactor purchase promises that it made to France, Russia, the US and others during the 2008 NSG clearance.

India has also betrayed the cause of nuclear disarmament after possessing nuclear weapons. The official rhetoric on India being in favour of disarmament and that it has resorted to nuclear weapons only in absence of any progress on disarmament is nothing but a fig leaf. On October 21st, when 125 countries gave a call for universal nuclear abolition in the UN general Assembly, India’s voice was conspicuously missing.

It is time to call the bluff of the political leadership in India which has twisted and perverted the peaceful and Gandhian credentials of our country to pay lip service to peace while indulging in worst kind of adventurism and a criminal distortion of national priorities. A nuclear free South Asia will be safer and more stable, will provide more room for the two countries to focus on hunger and education, and the region will be less prone to be manipulated by the great powers’ nuclear games.

The Author is Research Consultant, Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace(CNDP)

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  1. Akshat

    I appreciate your pro-peace sentiment and pro-development sentiment. While I always viewed defense as an essential expenditure given the rise of political clout to our east and west (China and Pakistan), I never realized that more of this money could be used for alleviating the millions of Indians from disease and illiteracy. India is the biggest importer because most big countries manufacture their own weapons such as Russia, China, and America.I do not think that we should demilitarize India, but we should definitely pay more attention and money to “more important” causes.

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