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In Search of a Strategic Culture

K.P. Fabian

By Verghese Koithara
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 294, Rs. 795.00


This book is a pleasure to read though it deals with weapons of mass destruction, mainly because it is a study in brevity and lucidity and the author, Vice-Admiral Verghese Koithara, invites the reader to look at the big picture as far as national security is concerned. At the same time, the conclusions of the author should worry those of us who take interest in national security. Many of us bemoan the absence of a strategic culture in India, but very few make a contribution to promote such a culture. This book does make such a contribution.   The author does not indulge in diplomatic circumlocution. ‘For a variety of political and organisational reasons, India is saddled with a nuclear force management system that is seriously inadequate for the work it needs to do.’ There are two reasons for such a state of affairs.   Firstly, India is the only nuclear weapons state (NWS), with the possible exception of France, that commenced its nuclear programme without the clear intention of producing weapons. For the first 15 years, the programme was wholly civil oriented. When China tested in 1964, India already had a system controlled by scientists, with no scope for any role for the military.   Secondly, the ‘barren relationship’ that developed between the political leadership and the military since Independence resulted ‘in the rapid whittling down of the latter’s contribution to national security policy-making’. The military was deliberately excluded from the decision-making loop when India considered the starting of a nuclear weapons programme.   The word ‘barren’ is well chosen. However, the reader might wonder whether it would have been prudent or even necessary to have consulted the armed forces about the decision to build nuclear weapons as the Government had good reason to believe that the forces would not be opposed to it. We all know about the Manhattan Project with scientists living in secret cities not on the map. Harry Truman as Vice President was not in the know and he was briefed about the bomb after he succeeded Franklin Roosevelt. India’s Manhattan Project did need secrecy.   The author makes a distinction between the control and management of nuclear weapons. Nuclear forces of all NWSs are ‘directly commanded and controlled by the national leadership’. This is how it should be. But, except in India, nuclear forces in NWS are managed by the armed forces under the supervision of the political leadership. ...

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