All my life I have opposed nuclear bombs. I have argued that such bombs are basically unusable; that, instead of ensuring security, they risk escalation of small conflicts into disasters; and that they lead to undesirable macho foreign policies. Most Indians exulted after India’s nuclear tests of 1998, claiming India was now a great power on par with the US. I cautioned that India was merely on par with Pakistan and North Korea. However, after seeing Ukraine bullied by Russia, I have to revise my views. Nukes are not useless, and may be essential deterrents.
Ukraine was one of a dozen new states created when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. It emerged independent with a massive 1,190 nuclear warheads, more than the arsenals of Britain, France and China combined.
But it mistakenly thought that the Soviet collapse heralded the end of Moscow’s domination. So, it agreed to give up all its nukes and send them to Russia for destruction. In return, the US, Russia, and Britain signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, pledging to safeguard Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. This was greeted with universal applause.
Today, Ukraine knows it made a terrible mistake: it can no longer deter its powerful neighbour. Last month, Russia sent troops to annex Ukraine’s Crimea province. Now Russia threatens to split the rest of Ukraine, converting Eastern Ukraine (where a quarter of the population is ethnic Russian) into a puppet state, just as it earlier used armed muscle to convert the Russian-ethnic regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia into puppet states. Armed Russian infiltrators have teamed up with local ethnic Russians to seize major cities in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian troops and police are too fearful of Russian firepower to offer much resistance. How they regret giving up nukes!
Last week’s Geneva talks proposed peace, but with no teeth at all. Neither the US nor the UK, both Budapest Memorandum guarantors, is willing to stop Russia militarily. They are reluctant to even impose stiff economic sanctions, since Putin could retaliate by slashing gas supplies to Europe and nationalizing Western investments in oil and gas.
Western security guarantees to Ukraine have proved as empty as those given to Czechoslovakia before World War II. When Hitler demanded the right to expand into Czechoslovakia to “protect” ethnic Germans there — the same excuse used by Putin to move into Eastern Ukraine — the Western powers gave in.
Putin’s words in a TV interview were straight out of Hitler’s book. “We definitely knowthat we should do everything to help these people (ethnic Russians) defend their rights and define their destiny . We will fight for this. The Federation Council (of Russia) gave the president the right to use military force in Ukraine. I hope very much that I don’t have to use this right.”
Most Indians are uninterested in a far-away country like Ukraine. Anti-US Indians are happy to see Putin bash the West. Yet the Putin principle is monstrous. How would readers react to Pakistan wanting to take over Muslim-inhabited areas in India to protect Muslims there? Or to Bangladesh taking over Assam to protect Bangladeshi migrants there?
India is militarily strong and so can resist any such threats. Ukraine, Georgia and most states cannot. The USSR once posed an existentialist threat to the West, which therefore took security guarantees seriously. But no more. The West will honour military commitments only when this is costless, or affects its core interests. Ukraine has taught the world not to depend on the promises of the mighty.
One consequence will be more nuclear proliferation. Japan and Korea have long avoided nukes, and depended on a US security umbrella. After Ukraine, they will think again. I predict both will go nuclear in a decade.
Saudi Arabia, fearful of Iran and Iraq, has long depended on US security guarantees, including steps to prevent Iran from getting an N-bomb . After the Ukraine fiasco, Saudi Arabia knows how hollow US assurances are, and will embark quietly on a nuclear plan. The US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, and bombed Libya. Would it have done so if those countries had nuclear bombs? For an answer, look at North Korea. This country has violated the UN charter repeatedly, attacked South Korean ships, and poses a security threat to East Asia. But the US does not intervene because North Korea has nukes.
Lesson for non-nuclear states: don’t depend for security on the big powers who will dump you when convenient. Disarmament is for wimps. Go get your own nukes if you can. More nuclearization will deter some invasions, but also increases chances of a nuclear clash or accident. It is not a panacea. But it is now inevitable.
5 thoughts on “Disarmament is for wimps. Go get your nukes if you can”
Mr Swaminathan, you are correct in your observation that while nuclear warheads are unusable, they deter adversaries from resorting to military combat.
However, given their all-obliterating potential, the size of nuclear arsenal is largely redundant: a country either has or has not.
Unlike sparsely-populated and monstrously-large Russia, on which nuclear weapons can perhaps be deployed as a “show of force”, there isn’t any practical application for it in South, South-East or East Asia. A nation deploying them here will find it hard to defend that against its own conscience, let alone International agencies.
True sir .. In today’s time nuke’s are to avoid war .. Chine will never think of going into the war with india ..he knows if they will force India might use nuke and that’s it no china no india.
So .. To survive in this world you should have the technology that can destroy your world.
I would like to share one more example of this scenario.
US/UK always want other countries to surrender there nukes or don’t want them to test nuclear weapons.Because they know if everyone has the same then nobody will come to there doors and they can use them as puppets.
This, Mr. Swami, is one of the best articles you have written.. ! Phenomenal insight..!
“Pink Floyd”, I think there is a major difference in having “enough” number of war heads,
We can’t have a single warhead and tackle China, Pakistan and Bangladesh at same time.
Also with single warhead, it is not possible to tackle even single enemy, if first target was nuke itself (infrastructure around the nuke), basically making the nuke non-usable. The more we have, the more difficult for enemy to make them as non-usable.
I used to think only one nuclear arsenal is good enough (during 1998). This article has shown what the country requires.
But in the above given scenario, nuclear weapons are more important for smaller nations with weaker conventional militaries.
So it would actually be advisable for Bangladesh to secure nuclear weapons, not India. Since the chance of Bangladesh invading India is remote [no one considers it a possibility], but the reverse is not necessarily true [and it has precedent, India has annexed territory like Sikkim before].
In the above scenario, it would be Bangladesh which would be advised to build the bomb; not India [or even Pakistan].