The bogey of the US threat

In the last two columns I criticised some of those in the media who say the US is the biggest threat, both to our national security and the security of our ‘nuclear assets’. That criticism was largely based on a rational de-bunking of some arguments they present in support of their claim. Today I propose to go a little further and discuss this particular proposition head-on.

Why? After all, I am no expert on defence and nuclear policy issues. But then I do not think this to be a terribly serious handicap. For a start, no one has any experience of nuclear conflict. Secondly, completely overshadowing the technical minutiae of relative offensive and defensive operational capabilities of the protagonists, the much larger and far more important questions that need to be understood and answered when discussing this issue are political in nature. Either way, in discussing this issue, a little rational common sense, and a general awareness of basic international realities, matter more than technical expertise.

So, let me start by stating my conclusions before giving you my reasons. Talk of an ‘Indian threat’ — given our history — is something I can at least rationally understand (though, again, I discount it as a practical modern-day reality). But it is my opinion that the so-called ‘US threat’ is largely a bogey, intended for domestic consumption to facilitate and reinforce powerful entrenched vested interests.

If you do not believe what I have said so far, then answer this: why is it that the Indians do not spend sleepless nights pondering the same question, whether the US is a threat to their security and the security of their nuclear assets?

So, I will largely shy-off from discussing technicalities today (such as an OBL-type operation or an attack by cruise missiles, etc) to get the following fundamental message across to our public, our strategists, and our media celebrities: get your politics right and, like India, you do not even have to answer this specific question; but get your politics wrong — as we have done — and you open up a Pandora’s box of problems that may, or may not, even have satisfactory answers.

Another important matter needs clarification: though the notions ‘a threat to our security’ and ‘a threat to the security of our nuclear assets’ overlap somewhat, it would be wrong to equate them (e.g. think of the break-up of the former Soviet Union). In the modern world, whether we survive, or do not survive as a nation, with or without nuclear assets, is entirely in our own hands and no one else’s. And, to that end, nuclear weapons are not an indispensable ingredient, even though, once we have them, they should add to rather than detract from our feeling of security (at least from our neighbours, though not necessarily from the US).

Now, it is barely understandable by me if someone argues that the US (or the international community — I am not going to differentiate between the two here) is the biggest threat to our nuclear assets. After all, they do not — and never did — like us having nukes (whatever the reasons, justified or not), and are the only ones (and certainly not India) having the resources to even dare think of attacking us in order to take out our nuclear assets. But what exactly does it mean when someone says ‘the US is the biggest threat to our security’?

Do US drone attacks on the Taliban near the Afghan border constitute a threat to our security? Should those be viewed as somewhat different from the more worrying case of possible drone attacks in one of our major urban areas? The point is, should an undoubted technical breach of our sovereignty (as was the OBL raid) be considered a sufficiently serious threat to our national security to justify a military response in retaliation? And, realistically speaking, are we not, as a practical matter, forced to make a distinction here between India carrying out such hostile activities and the US? In the Indian case our geographical proximity and capabilities are, probably, a sufficient deterrence against their adventurism. But in what sense can we meaningfully retaliate against the US in pursuit of our security?

I am not saying we should ever lower our guard, or not do whatever it takes to defend our soil. My point is even if you believe the world is intent (with the aim of disarming you of your nuclear assets) on destabilising you to eventually break you up and balkanise you as a nation, your nuclear weapons are going to be no protection against such a conspiracy.

But is such a conspiracy a reality? Or is this a fantasy dreamt up by those who, for one reason or another, further their own interests by hiding under the umbrella of what might loosely be termed as ‘the Islamic anti-US agenda’? Let us re-visit our history to check whether the US has indeed some nefarious designs against us, and a well thought out ‘agenda’ for this so called geo-strategically important area we inhabit.

When US money was filling the coffers of our army and religious parties during the Afghan war, why was there was no such talk and no such fears? Also, if there were these nefarious designs, why did the US show little serious interest in us or Afghanistan (instead of consolidating their gains) for some 15 years after the Soviets left Afghanistan?

Come to think of it, was it not always us (rather than the US) who were anxious to involve the US in our affairs? Did we not reach out to the US very early in our history for financial and military aid, and hoped the US would help resolve the Kashmir problem? More recently, have we forgotten how Mr Sharif flew to Washington to beg their president to extricate us somehow from the consequences of our Kargil lunacy? Or, how General Musharraf was prepared to swallow the ignominy of President Clinton agreeing to visit Pakistan for a few hours only, on the condition that they would not even shake hands and the occasion would only be used for a speech by Clinton to the Pakistani people? Is this the behaviour of a superpower that has ‘designs’ on you and the area?

And how many remember that George W Bush, in the first two years of his presidency (before 9/11) was considered (and roundly criticised) for being an isolationist, who took no interest in world affairs? Was it not only 9/11 that forced US attention on our miserable nook of the world? Is it not more realistic to think it was our potential to make a right nuisance of ourselves rather than any grand US geo-strategic designs that eventually sucked the US back into our neighbourhood?

Let us face it. The world, however reluctantly, accepts us as a nuclear power. Nor does it have any intention to embark on highly dangerous adventurism to physically neutralise our nuclear assets (for, logistically and operationally, any military operation to this end can ever be only partially successful, and lead to unspeakable consequences). That said, the world certainly has a powerful interest in us behaving as a mature and responsible nuclear power. And here, it is our past history of reckless adventurism and nuclear proliferation, and the more recent history of our love affair with dangerous and aggressive religious extremism, that makes the world abundantly wary of our extra-territorial and destabilising ambitions, regionally and globally.

We have nothing to fear from anyone as long as no one has anything to fear from us. What we need to do is to re-integrate with the international community rather than thumb our noses at it. – Dailytimes