India’s Arihant — upping the psychological anteJuly 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Shireen M Mazari
Coming back to the Indian nuclear powered submarine – it should be pointed out that we do not yet know how it will perform once its reactor goes critical. Will it actually have the speed and capability – given that it has been built with Soviet/Russian technology and the fate of many Soviet/Russian subs lies at the bottom of the seas – taking a heavy toll of human life and reflecting the limitations of Soviet weapon systems?
While Pakistan’s decision makers squabble over whether to go ahead and implement the 2008 decision of buying German submarines or alter course and seek more French subs instead, India has put its prototype nuclear powered submarine, INS Arihant, into the waters. Incidentally, those in Pakistan who have been ranting for years over the use of Islamic warrior names for our missiles seem absurdly mute in commenting on India’s aggressive usage of Hindu mythology warrior names not only for its missiles but now also for its nuclear-powered submarine. Of course, the reality is that the nuclear reactor of this submarine will not go critical till 2012, so at the moment Arihant is more of a symbolic reflection of where India is headed in terms of its nuclear arsenal. Nevertheless, the development has signalled the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean by a littoral state – since nuclear weapons have been present in this Ocean through the military presence of the external nuclear powers, especially the US.
That is one major reason why the US, France and UK always opposed the UN General Assembly’s efforts to make the Indian Ocean a weapon-free “zone of peace” – as reflected in the first UN GA Resolution of 16 December 1971(2832:XXVI). Ironically, along with the Soviet Union, India was a major force behind this Non-Aligned Movement-supported UN resolution. But then this has been the hallmark of Indian security policy: seeking time through multilateral diplomatic moves while it builds its military capability. In contrast to the Indian position on the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace resolution, the US, France and the UK always voted against this idea and in 1989 they chose to withdraw from the 44 member UN committee on this issue that had been set up in 1972. The US in fact demanded that the committee be eliminated so as to reduce UN spending and we know how this whole issue simply died for lack of visible progress. Now that India has also moved towards nuclear militarisation of the Indian Ocean, it will be difficult to see any revival of the zone of peace proposal for this region in the future. With the launching of the Arihant, India has moved still further away from being a proponent of nuclear disarmament to being a projector of nuclear force. Strategic rationality makes it incumbent on Pakistan to seek to restore the nuclear balance for the future.
However, this should not be a major issue for us even in financial terms, as long as the lure of commissions does not distort or destroy our strategic interests. We already have conventional submarines including the Agosta-type which are not only capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but can be upgraded to being fitted with air-independent propulsion technology (AIP) specifically designed to allow conventional subs to remain submerged for longer periods. That is the main advantage of nuclear-powered submarines, along with the speed element – they do not need to surface like conventional subs that need to surface after short periods of being submerged and therefore become vulnerable. AIP technology is specifically designed for conventional subs and the Germans have been in the forefront of this technological development, although the Agostas can also be upgraded.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s purchase of subs has been delayed apparently over the commissions lure, because now the international community will make it harder for this country to acquire these subs. Have we learnt no lessons from what happened to Pakistan in 1974 after the Indian nuclear test? India tested and Pakistan was penalised! The Canadians withdrew from KANUPP despite IAEA safeguards and a legal agreement. There is nothing to suggest that things will be different this time round – given how Hillary Clinton practically blessed Indian militarisation with a new defence pact. Besides Pakistan’s pathetic record of asserting legal agreements with its allies makes us easy victims of foreign pressure and diktat – remember the replacement of F-16s with wheat and soya beans? Not only did we lose our money, but before the US finally retracted on the deal, we were made to pay parking charges for these F-16s also! But we always forget US abuse and present ourselves for more of the same whenever the occasion arises!
Coming back to the Indian nuclear powered submarine – it should be pointed out that we do not yet know how it will perform once its reactor goes critical. Will it actually have the speed and capability – given that it has been built with Soviet/Russian technology and the fate of many Soviet/Russian subs lies at the bottom of the seas – taking a heavy toll of human life and reflecting the limitations of Soviet weapon systems? A major disadvantage of nuclear-powered subs is that they are noisier because they have to keep the reactor powered on all the time so if conventional subs can acquire longer submergeable capability through AIP technology – although it will still not be the same as a nuclear-driven sub – the imbalance can be offset to some extent.
Sea-launched nuclear missiles are central to second strike capability which acts as a stabiliser in the context of nuclear strategy since it reduces the imperatives for first strike. In this context, although Pakistan has not officially made any declarations regarding the development of this capability, it is now fairly well-established that we are already on the way to ensuring this second strike capability. It is also now recognised that we have had more success with missile development than India – probably because we have kept our missile ranges and types limited and focused more on developing solid fuelled delivery systems (which, again, are more stable) and reducing circular error probabilities. India, on the other hand, chose to have a wide-ranging missile programme including seeking the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). While we have stabilised our cruise missile as well as moved towards the beginnings of sea-launched ballistic missiles, from all accounts, India has not been too successful in both these fields – especially with the Sagarika (which is to be its sea-launched missile) in surface tests. So if India is to gain any advantage from its nuclear-powered submarine, assuming it will perform as expected once its reactor goes critical, it will have to work more on its delivery systems.
For Pakistan while there is no need to go into panic mode, we will have to stop sacrificing good deals simply because of the greed over commissions. The fact that a French inquiry has hinted at commissions lying at the root of the death of the French engineers in Karachi should be a sobering moment for any leadership. But the brazenness with which our successive decision-makers have been proceeding, with scant regard for propriety and wastage of limited national resources, shows that no lessons have been learnt – nor is there any desire to learn from even recent history.
Worse still, our rulers are full of bombast but are unwilling to take proactive concrete actions. Take the case of Balochistan. Political leaders of all shades have been repeating ad nauseum the need for political healing and economic investment in that province but why have the first steps in that direction not been taken beyond publication of reports and statements? Why is the leadership so hesitant to declare a general amnesty for all Baloch political figures and the release of all political prisoners? When we can talk to militants (and we should if they are our own people prepared to accept the writ of the state) and be allied to the Americans who continue to kill our people through drone attacks, why are we so unwilling to begin the healing process with the Baloch people and their leaders? Why are we allowing our detractors to provide support for the dissidents instead of taking the punch out of their dissidence by granting them a one-time amnesty if they accept the writ of the state? How can we rise to external military challenges posed by countries like India and the US when we are unable to deal with our own people? Our weakness lies within ourselves reflecting a psychological confidence deficit which makes the rulers aggressive and non-accommodative with the nation and timorous before external players. The Indians and Americans are exploiting this well which is why the Indian’s are making grandiose statements about a submarine that has yet to show how it performs!
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org