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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.
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North Korea’s Nuclear test has brought into sharp focus Pakistan’s role as a Nuclear Proliferator. The blast, at an underground facility in North Hamgyong province, was believed to have occurred at 11.36am North Korean time yesterday. Although seismic experts in other countries were trying to verify the claim, there seemed no reason to believe North Korea was bluffing. Russian experts said they believed the claim was accurate and that the explosion may have had the power of about 15 kilotons of TNT, roughly the same as the Hiroshima bomb in 1945.  It has taken North Korea almost four decades to piece together the technology to bring its nuclear ambitions to a head. India said Monday it was “deeply concerned” by North Korea’s claim to have conducted a nuclear test, warning it could jeopardize peace in the region, the external affairs ministry said. In a strongly worded statement, India said Pyongyang is “in violation of its international commitments, jeopardizing peace, stability and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.”

So what are the implications of the North Korean Nuclear Test to India ?

Reflecting a rather tactical response to the Korean Nuclear Test, editorial commentary and remarks attributed to the National Security establishment have focused on the Pakistan angle as a proliferator and how the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intends to highlight this in his upcoming visits to Britain and the EU. Some have also opined that this was bad news for the Indo-US Nuke deal while others have contended that this would have the opposite effect. The predominantly tactical thinking in India marked by complaining about Pakistan is a reflection of the bankruptcy strategic thinking with the nation. The Times of India and the Indian Express have been the exceptions. The positions taken by the TOI and the Express reflect the two extreme view points that are emerging across the Atlantic on how the world must respond to the Korean Nuclear Conundrum.

At one end of the spectrum are the advocates for universal disarmament who see a zero sum game any other way. At the other end of the spectrum are those advocating or at least accepting a Nuclear Japan and South Korea and an inevitable review of nuclear deterrence across the globe. With a Nuclear Iran threat looming in the background either school of thought has its own rationale for why or how this was the only way out. Then there are those like the New York Times who while not calling for Universal Disarmament nor accepting a nuclear Japan, have called for the U.S. to directly negotiate with North Korea on security guarantees and thus address its paranoia. While the jury is out on whether nuclear blackmail must be rewarded, closer home in India which has been at the receiving end of nuclear blackmail and salami tactics, the question remains on what are the strategic implications for India.

Offstumped believes that the North Korean crisis bring into sharp focus China’s role in the region. It is China that has been nurturing North Korea as a client state over the years and it was China that stood between North Korea and the west on military action and sanctions over the years. The lifeline that China holds out to North Korea through its supply of energy and food was the leverage the West counted on. Thus a North Korean test, ostensibly without Chinese approval, brings into question Chinese objectives and intentions. The general perception in the west is that China was an honest broker in the crisis and its outrage genuine. Given the economic integration of China with the west, it would be hard to doubt chinese sincerity. But then we live in different times. India must fully factor these changed times as it evolves its strategic thinking on this issue.

From Iran to North Korea to Venezuela one is witnessing a strategic calculation by anti-western leaders to call the west’s bluff be it on the strength of Oil dollars or on the weakness of an overstretched U.S. Military with a diminished public appetite for pre-emptive Military action. It is this very same strategic calculation that was reflected in Musharraf’s remarks in UK on his way back from the UN General Assembly, when he warned the west that it would be bought to its knees without help from Pakistan. Across all of these countries the one pattern that is clearly emerging is a boldness to engage in Nuclear blackmail and leverage it to re-write the strategic equations . It is this dynamic that portends most ominously for India.

Last week thousands of Korean Communist soldiers scampered over the 38th parallel which had divided Korea since 1945. Rarely in history had anyone questioned the right of a nation under attack to strike at its enemies’ home base. In the world’s free nations last week there were men who urged that U.N. forces content themselves with shooting North Koreans across the 38th parallel. Reasons for opposing the crossing advanced by this group of nations ranged from: fear that invasion of North Korea would bring Communist China, possibly even Russia, into the war; the prospect that by following North Korean aggressors across the parallel the U.N. forces might themselves become guilty of aggression.

The above is an extract from an October 9th, 1950, Time Magazine article tilted “Everybody Bowed”. The spokesperson for that Group of Nations who were advocating against UN troops crossing over into North Korea was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India. Nehru’s last reason for opposing this was  “I am no great admirer of [South Korean] President Rhee anyhow.”

It is precisely this tactical mindset from the Nehruvian days the Congress party has been beset with. A mindset that failed to foresee North Korea’s war potential. A mindset that compromised the U.N.’s ability to demonstrate that international crime does not pay.  A mindset that now threatens to dilute India’s anti-terrorism strategy to a line item in Foreign Policy. A mindset that is clueless about dealing with Pakistan’s salami tactics.

Offstumped Bottomline: There is an urgent need for India to evolve its strategic thinking in response to the Korean Nuclear Test. While complaining about Pakistan’s proliferation tactically, India must spell out how it intends to deal with Korean Nuclear conundrum and how it intends to secure Indian interests in the face of Nuclear Blackmail and Salami Tactics. Manmohan Singh needs to work with the BJP in building a national consensus on our Security Strategy and Foreign Policy and free them from the politics of the day. Manmohan Singh must not repeat Nehru’s strategic mistakes. 

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