The logic in having

nuclear missile

Pakistan has just test-fired another nuclear missile. No one doubts that country's nuclear capability. The only question is whether other states aspiring to join the nuclear club will take the silence of the world as a quiet go-ahead for nuclear testing, writes ERIC KOO PENG KUAN

What is India News Service
3 March 2005

The father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “States with nuclear weapons are feared even by their friends.” Politicians have acknowledged this truth and can think of no better bargaining chip in the arena of international politics. After testing its Ghauri V missile, which has a proven range of about 1,500 km, and another ballistic missile, the Hatf-3 (Ghaznavi) missile, Pakistan has successfully test fired another ballistic missile, the Hatf-IV, as part of an ongoing series of missile tests.  

Nuclear weapons have always evoked a love-hate relationship with international politics. Originally meant for use as a weapon of war just like a tank or bomber plane, the awesome destruction wrought by a single nuclear explosion was plain to see in the historical bombing of the Japanese cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.

Considering the vast quantities of nuclear missiles and bombs amassed during the Cold War by both the USA and the Soviet Union, a mutual fear was induced of a future nuclear Armageddon, leading to the creation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, which banned either the transfer or sale of nuclear technology to other states. A nuclear bomb produced must be tested to prove its destructive capability, and missile-testing often led to diplomatic and international repercussions, ranging from resultant economic fluctuations to perceived threats by mutually hostile states. The proclaimed observations of nuclear tests were often interpreted in a negative political sense as saber rattling by a hostile state. Yet states had nevertheless sought to acquire nuclear weapons at great cost. The saying “Military means subordinated to political purposes” applied literally to nuclear warfare, in that states have showed off their nuclear weapons for mainly achieving political ends. Unlike the development of other types of conventional arms, which are deliberately hidden for security purposes, a nuclear arm is meant to be displayed and publicized by all means possible, from media to internet. Ironically, having a nuclear arm is almost akin to advertising one’s country of being capable of wreaking mass destruction and is therefore not to be trifled with.

Incidentally, besides the five members of the UN Security Council --- the USA, Britain, France, Russia and China, being nuclear powers, a host of smaller nations located at volatile flash-point regions also possessed nuclear arms or are on the verge of developing them. Pakistan and India are both nuclear capable states with a longstanding dispute over the Jammu and Kashmir region. Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab states and fights an ongoing Palestinian intifada militant insurgency. Impoverished North Korea is also perceived as a nuclear threat to its neighbours – Japan and South Korea. And Iran is suspected of eventually developing its own bomb.

All the above mentioned states, of course, claimed nuclear arms possession for the sake of deterrence against others, but still, another man’s intentions are difficult to fathom and suspicions naturally abound.

The world is becoming a more and more dangerous place with terrorism and the spreading of the nuclear status among states. Yet the United Nations and individual states had chosen to discreetly avoid nuclear arms reduction, choosing instead to engage in frequent and fruitless bilateral or multilateral talks, with a live and let live type of attitude on nuclear issues. 

Many analysts have argued that nuclear arms are the ultimate insurance policy for a state wishing to deter another stronger state. Compared to having to maintain scores of soldiers, tanks and aircraft for defense, the cost of maintenance for a nuclear missile is almost negligible. It is true that the bomb is a white elephant, but even so, it is well worth the cost of possessing one. 

As for the rest of the world, other states will merely shrug their shoulders and move on. After all, the modern world did survive the Cuban Missile Crisis and bore witness to a dozen or more nuclear missile testing in the past. Pakistan’s testing of the Ghauri V missile is not its first, and certainly will not be its last. 

No one doubts the nuclear capability of Pakistan. The only question is whether this test firing incident served any purpose at all, and whether other states aspiring to join the nuclear club would cite this incident as a precedent that silence meant consent from the USA and the rest of the world on the issue of nuclear testing. 

The writer, based in Singapore, is a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSS). He writes on international affairs,
security and terrorism