The myth of nuclear power

A cogent analysis of why just mere possession of nuclear weapons does not guarantee victory; sound strategy does

The myth of nuclear power
Asthana cautions that our weapon acquisition notwithstanding, our invincibility in a nuclear neighbourhood may be a myth.

As a police officer, NC Asthana often hit the headlines for his unconventional views. As a writer of books on military science and arms, he doesn’t hold back either, saying or rather writing as he sees. In National Security and Conventional Arms Race: Spectre of a Nuclear War, Asthana argues that there is no way the Indian military can guarantee a “solution of the Pakistan problem or the China problem” by inflicting a decisive defeat on the nuclear-armed adversaries, frenzied race to import conventional weapons notwithstanding.

Consider these lines in the opening chapter: “We might blunder into a war almost unknowingly because since the past few years, people have collectively started consuming the heady mix of a cleverly manufactured hyper-nationalism and xenophobia. This means that both the people and the rulers have been playing into the hands of populist sentiments and exploit them in turn for electoral benefits… In popular perception, shared by political as well as military leaders, no significance is attached to the fact that both Pakistan and China are nuclear powers. It demonizes them with all the attributes of an evil human being, who will not behave unless they are spanked… Under a delusion that we have somehow, magically become invincible, a large number of Indians seem to be itching for a war.”

Asthana cautions that our weapon acquisition notwithstanding, our invincibility in a nuclear neighbourhood may be a myth. He points out that nobody has so far invented a miraculous weapon anywhere in the world that could ensure a quick, decisive victory in a conventional or nuclear war.

Cautioning against the growing trend of politicians exploiting enmity with Pakistan for electoral benefits, he says this has left India with a one-dimensional policy, one which is unrealistic in view of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

India’s Achilles heel, he argues, is that there is no “national war-fighting strategy”. “The military strategy of a nation is not the expression of its government’s, military’s or its public’s desire to do what they want to do with the enemy. It is the process of interrelating ends and means; intentions and capabilities; or interests and resources, so that the desired objective is achieved in the most efficient manner,” he writes. This is not 1971— when India inflicted a massive defeat on a better-equipped Pakistan, leaving the enemy nation with a bloodied nose and a huge part of its territory being truncated into the new nation of Bangladesh, Asthana underscores.

“In any case, the moment Pakistan feels that it is going to lose a conventional war under the weight of a bigger Indian military, they will have to go nuclear immediately. This is not 1971 and a military defeat now will become an existential crisis for Pakistan as a nation, something they cannot afford at all. A decisive victory in a conventional war, short or long, in a nuclear overhang, is therefore a treacherous fallacy, spelling nothing but doom,” he says. To win any war, Indians, as a people, he asserts will have to be prepared for suffering the horrors and devastations of war. “Our strategic planning has not prepared the people for a nuclear war. Raw valour of troops is no substitute for sound strategy and the national will essential for sustaining great destruction,” he writes.

On China, with who India is in a state of stand-off at several strategic points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the retired cop advises ample caution. “… The principal object of the Chinese in a war will be to grab land; any damage caused to the Indian military, industry, society or reputation would be only incidental. Given our current public posturing, peace should not be taken for granted,” he says.

Asthana concludes that Indian citizens and the political leadership must understand that accepting the nuclear reality is not synonymous with any sign of national impotence.

National Security and Conventional Arms Race: Spectre of a Nuclear War
NC Asthana
Aavishkar Publishers
Pp 430, Rs 2,500

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First published on: 10-01-2021 at 01:00 IST