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Suvrat Raju

By Achin Vanaik
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2015, pp. 232, Rs. 575.00


At a recent meeting, the Pakistani National Command Authority, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared that ‘nuclear deterrence is the factor of stability in South Asia.’ Its members would do well to read a copy of Achin Vanaik’s After the Bomb: Reflections on India’s Nuclear Journey. One of Vanaik’s central points is that this belief in nuclear deterrence is wrong and dangerous—not only in the South Asian context, but everywhere in the world. He weaves this message into a richer narrative, in which he analyses the politics of India’s decision to test nuclear weapons in 1998, places this within a broader global context of nuclear weapon’s issues, and indicates a way forward. Vanaik describes deterrence as the ‘irrational hope that a terrible fear of the consequences of nuclear war will continuously … promote wise decisions by fallible human beings’ (p. 45) and systematically lists ten fallacies of the idea that it leads to stability. For example, after acquiring nuclear weapons, governments then seek to acquire a ‘second strike’ capability to guard against the possibility that its rivals might finish off its nuclear capacity in a ‘first strike’. Historically this process has led to the growth of enormous stockpiles: Russia and the United States continue to maintain thousands of nuclear weapons and now Pakistan and India have both acquired in excess of a hundred nuclear bombs. Vanaik argues that it does not make sense to claim that these nuclear weapons ‘are never going to be used and that their purpose is only to prevent a nuclear conflict’ (p. 47). To the contrary, deterrence requires nuclear threats to be ‘credible’, since otherwise they would not deter. This leads to repeated displays of ‘nuclear brandishing and brinkmanship’ (p. 48). An additional problem that Vanaik could have added to the list has to do with the emergence of smaller nuclear weapons, called ‘tactical nuclear weapons’. Tactical nuclear weapons are the smallest class of nuclear bombs, although they are still extremely powerful by conventional standards. These weapons are destabilizing because they lower the threshold for the military use of nuclear weapons. A few months ago, Pakistan announced that it had deployed tactical nuclear weapons in response to the Indian military’s ‘cold start’ doctrine that threatens a limited invasion of Pakistan in the event of a terrorist attack. The Indian strategic establishment apparently believes that such an attack would fall short of provoking ...

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