Inaugural Address by

Raksha Mantri

At 09:30 on January 24, 2000

 

2nd International Conference on

ASIAN SECURITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Organised by

Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

January 24-25, 2000.

(Gulmohar, Habitat Centre)

 

 

 

Thank you Pant ji.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to the 2nd International Conference on "Asian Security in the 21st Century."

 

As we leave the 20th century behind us our thoughts must turn toward what the future holds for all of us. The future would not only be a product of the dominant trends affecting international peace and security, but will also depend greatly on how countries wish to shape that future. The world is in a state of transition, as it has always been; except that the pace of change is now so much greater than ever before. The greatest challenge of our times, therefore, is how to manage change that tends to overwhelm us. This is made more complex by the information revolution which has been reshaping not only the belief systems but also the way we think about many issues and events. But that does not automatically translate into better understanding of each other's hopes, aspirations and expectation. Conscious efforts are required if we are to ensure that misperceptions do not gain ground and mistrust among states is avoided.

Tremendous social and economic changes have taken place in Asia during recent years. And they impact differently on different countries. The East Asian economic crisis is behind us but it has left a trail of political and social turmoil in some countries. Economies of Asian countries are once again starting to grow. But economic growth would greatly depend on energy availability in future especially since three large consumers, that is, Japan, China and India are net importers of energy. A decade ago in the Gulf where oil was a major factor. Potential for conflict for energy resources remains a distinct possibility in future and we need to ensure that such a situation is prevented well in time.

A series of arms control agreements among the major powers in the period immediately after the end of Cold War had raised expectations of further progress toward abolition of nuclear weapons. The early hopes of substantive strategic arms control arrangements have been belied by the developments in recent years. The US Senate vote against ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has resulted in the treaty sliding into a coma. This has introduced serious uncertainties about the treaty coming into force in the foreseeable future. Other nuclear arms control agreements like START II remain without ratification by the Russian parliament years after they were agreed upon. The balance seems to be tilting against arms control with the 1972 ABM Treaty being rendered ineffectual due to the efforts by the treaty members to introduce ballistic missile defences. At the same time development and deployment of ballistic missile defence systems are viewed by countries like China to be highly de-stabilising and counter-BMD measures are to be expected. China is already reported to be working on its own ballistic missile defence system. Development and deployment of ballistic missile defences would increase strategic instability since significant asymmetries would prevail among states for a long time.

Meanwhile the Chemical Weapons Convention seeking to abolish such weapons continues to be far short of universal adherence. The concept that chemical weapons provide a deterrent capability, even if limited, against nuclear weapons remain untested, but seems to be accepted as conventional wisdom by some countries. Fresh concerns have arisen about biological weapons in spite of the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972. There are increasing risks that terrorist groups may have access to weapons of mass destruction in future. These are challenges that the international community has to face through international co-operation and not through de-segregated policies.

A few words about Indian defence policy. Our defence spending kept coming down since the mid-1980s from 3.6% of GDP in 1987 to 2.3% last year. This had seriously affected modernisation and preparedness. It was only inevitable that defence expenditure and defence modernisation would be restored and this process has begun. Our experts feel that we must possess conventional capability of a sufficiently high level in order to lift the nuclear threshold as much as possible. This assumes importance since conventional war has not been made obsolete by nuclear weapons.

 

War remains a possibility among nuclear weapon states below the nuclear threshold. But the danger of escalation to nuclear exchange should make us rethink about initiating even a conventional war. We had understood the dynamics of limited war especially after India declared its nuclear weapons status nearly two years ago. Nuclear weapons did not make conventional war obsolete; they simply imposed another dimension on the way warfare could be conducted. The Kargil War, therefore, was handled within this perspective with results that are their for every one to see. Pakistan on the other hand had convinced itself for decades that under the nuclear umbrella it would be able to take Kashmir without India being able to punish it in return.

 

We can state with some degree of satisfaction that nearly two years after we declared India to be a state with nuclear weapons there is better understanding of the imperatives of our security and the restraint that India seeks to exercise in its nuclear weapons policy and posture. We have committed ourselves to a defensive nuclear doctrine that only seeks to deter a nuclear weapons threat against us; and we remain firmly committed to the doctrine of "no-first-use" by us. We are committed not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. Our strategy, therefore will be one of "retaliation only." This policy should reassure everyone who is not contemplating to pose a threat to India.

It is obvious that our nuclear doctrine is different from that of any other nuclear weapon state, although Chinese posture comes very close to it. It is not surprising that the concept has been found difficult to understand by the nuclear weapon states that had built up huge arsenals of nuclear weapons for nuclear warfighting. We should encourage joint studies on nuclear doctrines and their implications for international peace and security. Nuclear weapons affect all humanity; and such studies would benefit greatly by the participation of non-nuclear weapon states who would bring objectivity into the discussions.

There is also another dimension of nuclear weapons that has been affecting countries of Asia for fifty years. Nuclear stand-off between the two super powers during the Cold War led to proxy wars across the world. Many in Pakistan believed that armed with nuclear weapons they would be able to "take Kashmir" while Indian response would be paralysed because of those nuclear weapons. The covert war against India was started in mid-1980s based on the same premise. This certainly created a continuing tragedy for innocent people in India; but the fundamental error of such policy was clear if anyone wanted to see it. There was a worse error of judgement that Pakistan made after the nuclear tests in May 1998 when its political and military leaderships started believing that India would be deterred in any war imposed on it, and will not fight back. There was a perception that the overt nuclear status had ensured that covert war could continue and aggression across the Line of Control could be carried out while India would be deterred by the nuclear factor.

In fact Pakistan did hold out a nuclear threat during the Kargil War last year. But it had not absorbed the real meaning of nuclearisation: that it can deter only the use of nuclear weapons, but not all and any war. Elementary reading of history would tell us that thirty years earlier (in 1969) two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries – China and the Soviet Union – had fought a bitter border war across their frontiers. So the issue was not that war had been made obsolete by nuclear weapons, and that covert war by proxy was the only option, but that conventional war remained feasible, though with definite limitations if escalation across the nuclear threshold was to be avoided. China has been emphasising its military doctrine based on the assessment that "local, border wars" would be the pattern in future. India has demonstrated in Kargil that its forces can fight and win a limited war at a time and place chosen by the aggressor

 

But what we are experiencing is the continuing tragedy imposed on innocents people by Pakistan through its transnational trans-border terrorism for over 15 years. The level and viciousness of violence has been increasing. Afghanistan-Pakistan region is the epicentre of trans-national terrorism supported and propagated in conjunction with narcotics trafficking from this region. The problem is that Pakistan, especially its military and the ISI have been rationalising the use of terror as a legitimate activity sanctioned by Islam - a word which literally means peace. This intellectual and ideological justification started in the late 1970s when serving military officers argued in an obvious mis-interpretation that the Holy Quran teaches the use of terror to fight a "total" war!

 

In his book, The Quranic Concept of War, Brigadier S.K. Malik writes, and I quote

 

"The Quranic military strategy (thus) enjoins us to prepare for war to the utmost order to strike terror into the heart of the enemies, known or hidden, while guarding ourselves from being terror-stricken by the enemy." (emphasis in original)

 

The then military dictator of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq commended the book in his Foreword. Pakistan's military leaders have continued to repeat this core conclusions in their speeches at Pakistan’s military institutions.

 

There is a need to build an international coalition against terrorism in Asia which should become the model for other regions. Transnational terrorism is sustained by narcotics trafficking and money laundering, and is driven by religious extremism. Concurrent steps will be needed to address these issues at the international, regional and national levels. All of us need to work towards creating a coalition to rid civil society of the menace of terrorism.

 

In conclusion I would like to say that we believe that dialogue among experts of Asia and other countries is extremely critical to enhancing better understanding and build the framework of greater co-operation for peace and security. We are gratified to see the enthusiastic response for this conference although I am told that some of the eminent participants who had agreed to come had to cancel their plans because of pressing national commitments.

 

We look forward to the conclusions of your deliberations with great interest and anticipation. We are confident that they will provide extremely valuable inputs for our policy making in the coming years. We also look forward to your continued support to and participation in this exercise.