Break with the past

SISIR GUPTA

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THE lopsided emphasis on the cost aspects of the atom bomb in the current debate over the advisability of reviewing India’s declared nuclear policy is a measure of the disproportionate importance given in India to the economist’s view in the determination of all major state policies. Several factors may have resulted in this situation. In the first place, the national movement itself in its later years shifted the focus to India’s economic problems as the only major tasks for free India to tackle. Secondly, the simplified view that economic growth is the key to social and political stability has been for long accepted as Gospel in this country, thanks to the influence of the western Left on our ideas.

Thirdly, the predominantly bania outlook of many Hindu minds paves the way for the elevation of the immediate economic issues as the most important issues in public life. Lastly, of all the social scientists of India, the economists have been the most sophisticated and most articulate and have been accorded a role in the policy formulating agencies of the country which others have been denied, if only because they are crude, unsophisticated and underdeveloped.

Nation-building, however, has many more dimensions than the purely economic one; operating in isolation from the larger problems of making an overall approach to the task of nation building in the formative years of a state is not the best way to deal with the economic problem as such.

 

 

So far in this country there has been no systematic thinking or approach to foreign policy and foreign relations as an ingredient of nation building; external problems have been viewed only as extraneous matter. In practice, Jawaharlal Nehru made some use of foreign policy in the domestic sphere. In curbing the potentialities of the various opposition parties in India, in building up a sense of dignity and prestige about the Indian state in Indian minds, he had made full use of the few glorious years of his foreign policy. But these aspects of the role of India’s foreign policy were never clearly spelt out.

When the advantageous position of India in the international field was lost, the attempt was made to turn the focus inwards and pursue the policy of withdrawal from the earlier expansive role in world politics. We have now come to a stage when the process of relegation of foreign policy to a position of relative insignificance in the list of national priorities is almost complete.

Before an attempt is made in this article to note some foreign policy considerations regarding the atom bomb, it is necessary to state the view that far from being an embarrassment for a nation dedicated to the task of economic growth, foreign policy and relations are essential ingredients of nation building. For one thing, it has been the experience of free India that it is only a foreign policy issue or an external threat to the country which is equally relevant for all Indians at the same time. It is, therefore, obvious that bold internal decisions can be legitimised in India only in terms of India’s external problems.

The scale of values built up in our minds by the impact of British liberalism on the Hindu view of life is such that unorthodox and determined action on the part of the state in dealing with internal problems is not permissible because it might infringe on our concepts of law, justice and so on. It is only in terms of external situations that such internal radicalisation would be permitted. It should be remembered that in this country, even starvation acts as a sedative and there is hardly any internal situation which can legitimise bold and radical steps towards internal reorganisation.

 

 

A second important consideration to be noted is that Indian nationalism is relevant only in so far as it has external manifestation and, for the varied national groups of this country, the most relevant argument for belonging to a single political entity is that thus alone can they aspire to have prestige and power in the world. If India is to be guaranteed safety, security and the consequent significance in international affairs, the separatist tendencies within the country have to be curbed. It has also to be noted that in approaching the problems of nation building, most of the neighbouring countries of India have systematically used foreign policy and that there is no possible reason for India being left alone.

Finally, even the most developed and stable nations have accorded much greater importance to problems of power and prestige. It is doubtful if the economists would ever consider the United States good enough economically to waste money on space ventures so long as Harlem and Mississippi are there. Likewise, how could the Soviet Union develop her luniks and sputniks when so many and so much of fundamental economic problems are yet to be tackled in that country.

 

 

The unpleasant fact needs to be recognised that the low level internal equilibrium which has been built up in India has too many elements of stability and the inadequacy of this particular level of existence can be underlined not by any conceivable internal situation but by a continuous confrontation of India with hard external realities. The role and function of leadership in Indian society today is apparently one of just to keep the country going and at best to tinker with institutions; stability and order, rather than progress through dynamism, being the major concern of the leadership.

In this sense, there is a great deal of truth about the observation that an Indian attempt to make the bomb would be a negation of India’s past. But for that very reason, perhaps, many would consider it essential to do so. The point to be made here is simple: that even if an effective device could be found to ensuring India’s security and safety by getting external assistance, through alignment or non-alignment, it cannot be an adequate policy for India from the point of view of her internal requirements.

The conclusion, therefore, becomes inescapable that India has to pursue a foreign policy which is activist and which keeps this country as a significant factor in global politics. The fact must be stressed that nationalism remains the only viable passion and urge among the Indian elites which can force them or push them towards a bolder approach to the problems of nation-building and it is not possible to convert India into somebody’s trusteeship territory (even if it be the United Nations) and hope to build a modernised economic and social structure in this country.

 

 

It is in this light that the question of a nuclear umbrella or a joint nuclear guarantee by the Great Powers should be viewed. In one sense, a policy of seeking joint guarantee by all the Great Powers is worse than a policy of getting India’s frontiers guaranteed by one of them. The advantage of an American or a Russian guarantee, as against a joint guarantee by all the Great Powers, is that it can be invoked at short notice and without any fear that a joint decision by such diverse powers would come too late, if at all it comes. For that very reason, however, no country is likely to be brave enough to give India the guarantee which she wants.

It has now been revealed that when the late Prime Minister asked for bomber squadrons from America and Britain for air operations against the advancing Chinese troops in 1962, the reaction in Washington was less than enthusiastic. It is not easy to persuade the United States to commit itself totally to India. What is possible is to get a guarantee that in case a nuclear bomb is thrown on India, someone will care to throw a bomb on China also. Here again, a joint guarantee is of little use.

The only argument in favour of the joint guarantee is that it is in conformity with India’s past policies and helps to keep up what we have called the policy of non-alignment, namely a policy of simultaneous friendship with the Soviet Union and the United States. But it is one thing for India to try to emerge as an area of agreement among the two Great Powers of the world and get full support and sustenance from them in keeping India going; it is an entirely different thing to expect a Soviet-American guarantee to India against China. This hope, indeed, symbolises the failure of the present Indian policy-makers to view the Chinese bomb question in particular and the China question in general in its proper perspective.

The nuclear guarantee idea assumes that there are many countries of the world which feel terribly threatened by the Chinese bomb and that the non-aligned countries will welcome a Soviet-American guarantee against nuclear attack when no such guarantee is needed. Therefore, to assume, as some Indian newspaper commentators have done, that India, by pleading for a joint nuclear guarantee, is doing something good to the world is a very dubious assumption. Secondly, Indian policy-makers seem to proceed on the assumption that there is a common urge among the Great Powers to curb China or limit her in this region by upholding India and other smaller neighbours of China.

 

 

It is certain that all Great Powers of the world have what may be called the China problem but it is wrong to think that each one of them has a China policy today. The response to the China problem from the various world capitals is not likely to be as uniform as the Indians imagine. Another hard fact to be recognised is that the major problem posed by the Chinese bomb in the capitals of the world is not what will happen to India but what is to be done with China. It is not India but China which is the major policy problem and India will be accommodated only to the extent that the broad policy towards China leaves room for such accommodation.

In Moscow and Washington, not to speak of London, the inadequacy of the erstwhile China policy has now been demonstrated. Of the many policy alternatives available to the Great Powers individually and collectively, containment is only one. At one extreme, of course, would be a policy of bombing out Chinese nuclear installations and reducing China again to a militarily insignificant nation. But on this there is likely to be no agreement among the Great Powers, or even among the policy formulating agencies of a Great Power.

 

 

At the other end would be a policy of taming China by ‘appeasement’ or by gradually recognising and accommodating China’s rights, claims and aspirations, and hoping all the while that she will be mellowed by the burden of the privileges she would enjoy in the world. The French policy and to some extent the British approach, belong essentially to this category of response to the Chinese problem. It is the safety and security of Australia and New Zealand which is vital enough for the western nations to want to go to war with China. (Hence perhaps the present concern about the Indian Ocean in London.) But the passing away of some unviable Asian countries under the hegemony of China may not be that great a catastrophe for the West as we in this country imagine.

The United States in its present mood is different but there are already many exponents of that policy of masterly inactivity in the United States, and the future of American policy towards China is uncertain, particularly in view of the fact that at the moment the United States seems to be in a blind alley so far as its China policy is concerned.

The case of the Soviet Union is different because of geo-political considerations which Soviet State policies must take into account. But even the Soviet Union’s China policy is in the doldrums and various policy alternatives must certainly be under review in Moscow. The Indian search for a joint guarantee against China assumes a firm China policy on the part of the Great Powers when none exists.

The Chinese bomb has many implications. One of them certainly is that it exposes the countries of South and Southeast Asia to nuclear blackmail and particularly adds to the menace to India. But viewed from other capitals, the meaning of the Chinese bomb may indeed be quite different. The status quo for the preservation of which the two Great Powers had striven and to which India also was largely committed by the pursuit of her erstwhile policies has come to an end.

 

 

The problem today is of evolving a new level of stability for the world political system, a new world balance of power and a new status hierarchy. The restoration of the status quo demands a series of bold actions and use of force to crush the new claimant to a status, namely China, and it is unlikely if not impossible that such policies would be thought of.

It is one of the rules of the game of power politics that if you have failed to prevent the rise of a nation to power, it is necessary to accept the fact of its power and accommodate it in a new power balance. The Chinese bomb has announced with a bang to the world the emergence of China as a Great Power. It is not that a vital difference has been made to China’s capabilities by the development of one nuclear bomb but it has demolished the mental resistance in other parts of the world to the acceptance of China as a Great Power – a status for which she has been pressing her claims by successful military ventures in the form of guerilla and sub-limited wars, by her defiance of the Soviet Union, and by extending the range of her interests to such distant parts of the world as Africa and Latin America. The immediate impact of China’s power is felt round her borders in Asia but she has a global connotation. The identification of China with the under-developed and coloured world has permitted this to occur.

 

 

What makes it likely that the alternative of accommodating China as one of the Great Powers would ultimately prevail is that only 20 years back, the victorious nations of the world had in fact envisaged a privileged position for all these Great Powers when the right to veto was given to five. In the world today, five nations have got the veto and the bomb; and, what is more, each has a sphere of influence.

To be sure, a great deal of conflict and discord will exist among the Great Powers over the precise lines of their respective spheres of influence. The delimitation of a sphere of influence for China is sure to prove difficult and all kinds of problems, even violent conflicts, may occur in that process. But the principle that those who have the veto and the bomb may also need a sphere of influence is not likely to be resisted. As it is, France has its little empire in Africa, Britain its special relationship with at least the white countries of the Commonwealth, America its special position in Latin America, and the Soviet Union its big brother status in Eastern Europe.

Even China has its North Korea and North Vietnam and hardly anyone hopes to liberate those areas from Chinese influence. A policy of denying China the status of a Great Power implies a policy of trying to demolish the central authority in China by taking advantage of the discontent in the outlying areas like Tibet and Sinkiang. This is too bold and painful a policy for countries which are convinced of the need to avoid a major confrontation in this nuclear era. At any rate, such a policy is not relevant for India’s needs.

 

 

The choice before India today is precisely the choice that China had before itself at the time of the Moscow Test Ban Treaty. There is no doubt that the treaty was basically a mechanism of preventing China’s rise to eminence by denying her the right to make the nuclear bomb. The Moscow treaty was indeed a frantic, belated attempt on the part of the three signatories to exclude China from the nuclear club. The pattern of Chinese response to the treaty was typical of the style of the Chinese leadership; but it is difficult to see what other policy the Chinese could have pursued. Fortunately for her, China had already gone a long way in developing her own nuclear capability and the worst that could have happened to China out of a policy of defiance of the Great Powers had already happened.

With the explosion of the Chinese bomb, the Moscow Test Ban Treaty is nothing but a scrap of paper so far as its original purpose and intention is concerned. But the principle that further nuclear proliferation should be prevented at all costs remains. It is also probable that the Moscow Test Ban Treaty has in effect one more powerful signatory today, namely China. In the sense that China is already a member of the nuclear club, it is in her interest as much as in the interest of other members to see that no further addition is made to its membership.

Faced with this situation, India as the sixth power in a world where only five are recognised to be great, is obviously at policy crossroads. It can either enter the club by defying the world and making a bomb or see to it that the bomb as a status symbol loses its significance because of effective progress towards disarmament. A policy of just seeking a guarantee against a Chinese bomb and of continuing to play the role of an apologist for the Great Powers, who are now five in number, is obviously inadequate and wrong.

 

 

The least that India should expect under the circumstances is not a guarantee by the Big Powers but a joint attempt on their part to reopen the question of permanent membership of the Security Council

It must be recognised that in the world of today, it is only a pious hope to expect early disarmament . Apart from other reasons, military capability remains the most important source of a country’s status, prestige and power, and unless a different set of status symbols can be conceived to keep the present hierarchy intact, it is hardly likely that any of the armed nations will agree to disarm. This is not to say that there can be no progress towards arms control but only to point out that even after control, arms will remain the determinants of a country’s status. For India to try to persuade the world to disarm is to take upon itself an impossible task and the fact should be recognised that even in the movement towards disarmament, the initiative lies with those powers who have the arms.

For this country, therefore, the question of making or not making the bomb is of great and utmost significance. It is almost certain that an Indian decision to go ahead with the manufacture of the bomb would be detested in many part of the world. It should also be remembered that when China was making the bomb, all kinds of attempts were made, all the levers used, to dissuade her from doing so and the actual act of the explosion of the bomb was preceded by a break with the Soviet Union and total isolation of China from the other Great Powers.

 

 

A policy of making the bomb in India would essentially be a policy of defying the Great Powers – a policy which would indeed be a total break with past policies and postures and which would expose India to the wrath of the powers who are our present benefactors. It may indeed deprive us of what is now our major source of sustenance, namely, foreign aid. An entirely opposite policy is the one now being pursued of further underlining India’s dependence on the Great Powers.

It should be noted that any deterioration of relations with the Great Powers can only be temporary and if India can withstand a phase of sustained pressure on her, she might well be considered mature enough for more serious diplomatic dialogues than the present application for ‘guarantee’ entitles her to. Whatever importance India had in the past in the minds of policy formulators in Moscow and Washington is only likely to be further underlined by the emergence of India as an independent power factor. In fact, India’s diplomatic efforts today must be concentrated on persuading the Great Powers that it is ultimately in the interest of world peace and stability that India emerges as a strong and powerful nation with a vital role in this region. Finally, the emergence of India as an independent power factor may permit her to begin a meaningful effort at the development of normal friendly relations with China also.

 

* Reproduced from ‘The Bomb’, Seminar 65, January 1965.

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