Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Handy Reference Book


By Rajesh Rajagopalan  and Atul Mishra 
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 306, Rs. 850.00


The book is a long awaited one on three counts. One is that it fills a gap in South Asian strategic affairs litera¬ture and on that score will be valued by stu¬dents and initiates among the attentive pub¬lic. The second is that its explication of the well chosen entries is such that it settles some of the misconceptions that have attended strategic terms. Third, there has been a re¬current demand for a shared vocabulary and common understanding of it, for use both within the Indian strategic community and with interlocutors across the border. In do¬ing this, the book does not neglect ‘western’ definitions even as it adapts them to Indian and regional usage and conditions, a case in point being ‘massive retaliation’.
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The book, compiled under the tutelage of nuclear authority and realist theoretician, Professor Rajagopalan, is potentially a valu¬able resource. It carries a short history of the nuclear trajectory of both South Asian states as its introduction. It begins with expand¬ing the set of abbreviations in the nuclear field and goes on to a brief chronology. It wraps up its 229 pages of terms and their definitions with 17 pages of select bibliog¬raphy. The reading list does not restrict it¬self to the region, but includes classics such as Freedman’s Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. Neither does it ignore nuclear pacifists in its inclusion of Bidwai and Vanaik’s On a Short Fuse and N. Ram’s Riding the Nuclear Tiger. It’s over 400 entries cover personalities, nuclear installations, doctrines, equipment, legal regime and organizations. This way it puts between one set of covers a thought¬fully compiled and competently written, comprehensive overview and detail of nuclear matters in the region. However, its effort could have been enhanced by an index for ease of consultation.
Perhaps its next edition, suitably dis¬tanced in time, say, five years on, could in¬clude a section with terms having relevance outside the region. The US could be repre¬sented for instance by reference to its Nuclear Posture Review and Strategic Defence Re¬views. Those who tend to think that India weighs in with China and should not be bracketed with Pakistan may also want in-clusion of China specific terms such as Jin class and Chengdu Military Region. This of course risks offsetting the book’s current ad¬vantages: that it is not bulky as to weigh-down a student satchel and is within the price range not entirely off-putting for stu¬dents. Also, some minor glitches could be removed such as its placing of HQs 12 Corps in Bhatinda and extending its calendar of events of the past four years from its cover¬age of a mere two pages.
The book is important in the sense that any book dealing with nuclear issues is. There are too few books dealing with the subject, as a result there is not enough concern over the fact that the region is now indubitably into the nuclear age. Whereas the world managed to get by without any of its 60000 warheads at the peak in the last eighties be¬ing fired in anger or panic, the dangers from regional nuclear arsenals, numbering over 200 warheads today, are not any less. After Mumbai 26/11, it will take but a few jihadis to set off a conflagration. Two South Asia hands in the US whose work figures in the bibliography, Tellis and Perkovich, have in a senate testi¬mony early this year indicated as much.
It is reckoned that a regional nuclear war involving half this number would result in two billion deaths worldwide, resulting not so much from the direct effects of blast, heat and radiation, but from dust clouds blank¬ing out the sun. Nuclear winter should not be the region’s answer to global warming. There is simply not enough apprehension in the two states on this score, evident from the book including a reference to CNDP (Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace) in the abbreviations but carrying only a perfunctory entry on a nuclear peace move¬ment in South Asia and of knowledgeable peace mongers such as Parvez Hoodbhoy or more lyrical activists as Arundhati Roy.
Arguably, the peace lobby is equally Subrahmanyam and the IDSA (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses). However, while there are references to the agitations surrounding Jaitapur and Kudankulum, the lack of space for the former is only reflective of the lack of attention the peace lobby com¬mands in the region in general. It may re¬quire growing into a movement before it fig¬ures in proportion to its importance. This needs happening soon, lest parts of the coun¬try end up as the Nanda Devi mountain fast¬ness, rightly covered in the book.
The book is also useful in its coverage of nuclear energy. Over the past decade, the in¬terconnected issues of energy, foreign and stra¬tegic policy have been so beclouded as to be under virtually a radioactive nuclear overhang. With its very first entry on the 123 Agree¬ment, the book throws some light on the In¬dia-US nuclear deal that appears to have brought the two ‘estranged democracies’ to¬gether. With China looming, this relation¬ship can only grow, even if Obama’s visit over Republic Day has not helped dispel the haze surrounding the deal. The book can assist the lay reader in appreciating the headlines bet¬ter and arrive at their own conclusions on the desirability—or indeed otherwise—of the nuclear route to energy sufficiency.
To Nehru the nuclear complex was part of the modern temples of India. After Chernobyl and Fukushima, these are no more ‘holy cows’. Nehru, alongside left scope for what Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagwad Gita, observed on witnessing what he (Oppenheimer) had wrought: ‘the radiance of a thousand suns’. On this score, the book’s non-inclusion of Nuclear Zero amounts to a shortfall.
Neither the Strategic Plans Division (‘Directorate’ in the book) nor the National Disaster Management Authority (surpris¬ingly omitted) can save the region, and the globe, in case a sub conventional trigger sets up a conventional push to nuclear shove. Tightly-coupled, crises-ridden systems such as South Asia need light the book helps pro¬vide. And a little more to appreciate the find¬ings of the Vienna Conference on the hu¬manitarian consequences of nuclear ex¬changes: ‘The only assurance against the risk of a nuclear weapon detonation is the total elimination of nuclear weapons.’