16 September 2017

Pungyye-ri blast — Time India resumed thermonuclear testing (re-titled)

North Korea did it. Exploded at the Punggye mountain site a genuinely full-bore thermonuclear weapon. The Richter scale registering 6.3 level seismic shock wave followed by a 4.1 level quake and huge rockslides, translatable to around 250 KT yield, though Western sources who have always underestimated North Korean nuclear prowess, claim these seismic reading denote yield in the 50-120 KT class. It leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kim Jun-Un now possesses the mighty Hydrogen Bomb. That should quiet the “fire and fury” talk by Trump and still the doubts Western strategic circles have to-date feasted on about Pyongyang still lacking the critical staged weapon threshold tech.

Indian government/Indian Ministry of Defence have finally taken note, evident from some newspapers who get their regular feed on security matters from MOD reporting the disquiet especially about the North Korea- Pakistan angle, and how this would result in Pakistan soon being in possession of the essential two-stage fusion weapon design. “Der se ayai, per durust ayai”. Welcome to the real world, babu-log. Something this analyst has been belabouring in my books ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’ [2008] and ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ [2015].

But the real culprit are not the nuclear tutpunjias — Pakistan and North Korea, but their nuclear master China which has continuously been disseminating nuclear expertise for over 30 years and thermonuclear material and design assistance over the last 15 years to Pakistan, which has been the remote channel helping North Korea become a thermonuclear weapons power. In fact, the boosted fission design the North Koreans last tested was one Pakistani scientists designed with Chinese help as, perhaps, is the hydrogen bomb. Pakistan has always been the route and instrumentality that China used to nuclear arm North Korea. I elaborated and updated all these various streams of evidence and material on this “rogue nuclear triad” in a piece “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea” published July 25, 2016 by The Wire (https://thewire.in/53338/countering-the-rogue-nuclear-triad-of-china-pakistan-north-korea/ ). This was a piece Ryan Evans, chief editor of the Washington-based blog — ‘War on the Rocks’, highly popular with the US strategic Beltway community, had expressly solicited from me but refused to publish because of my solution it carried about how to deal with this triad — a solution I have been touting to GOI and in my writings since my time on the First National Security Advisory Board in 1998 — TRANSFER NUCLEAR-TIPPED MISSILES TO STATES ON CHINA’S PERIPHERY — Vietnam, for a start, followed by the Philippines, and any other country that lines up to oppose China.

After all, that was the metric Beijing used to arm Pakistan to contain India, and North Korea to contain Japan, thereby neutralizing its two main Asian rivals — India and Japan. It was a reckless strategy China adopted, but it opened the door for a strong, expansively nationalist-minded government in Delhi to return the compliment in kind, considering Japan is still too colonized by the US to consider the option of, if not proliferating to 3rd countries, than to arming itself with H-Bombs to keep off China. The basic weakness in the extended deterrence notion is this: The US will be damned if it is going to come to Japan’s or South Korea’s or any other country’s rescue if that risks an annihilating North Korean atomic/hydrogen bomb strike on Guam or even Hawaii, what to speak of Los Angeles/San Francisco. The reason why I argued in the 2008 book that sooner rather than later, Japan. South Korea and Taiwan will serially/near simultaneously go weapons nuclear. I called them the “nuclear dominoes”.

Time is long past, I have been arguing, to begin paying back China in its own coin. But, here’s the problem. Rather than using North Korea’s thermonuclear blast to tell the world that all restraints are off, and India will resume fullscale open-ended testing of hydrogen weapons, MEA was fast and nearly the first off the block to excoriate North Korea for the H-test. (The S-1 test in the 1998 Shakti series of underground tests to reiterate again was a fizzle and unless we test again at full yield or, at a minimum, the certifiable and scalable 250 KT level, India cannot credibly claim ownership of thermonuclear weapons status.) Can anything more retrograde for India’s nuclear security be imagined? This sort of reaction is not a surprise from an MEA with FS, K. Jaishankar, the lead negotiator of the nuclear deal with the US and therefore the prime official prop for it. He’d be most keen for India never to test again and thus imperil the N-deal, his handiwork, from which India has got little it couldn’t have got without it, but has surrendered much. The larger question though is — Does the Modi government’s desire to please the US trump India’s national security interests???

And the still more pressing question is — why has Delhi not publicly decried the China-Pakistan-North Korea nuclear connection, and squarely blamed Beijing for the proliferation nightmares the world is in for? Why is China the beneficiary of the Indian government’s inability to perceive the primary threat to the country’s existence even as no opportunity is lost to rail against the minor, pipsqueak of a neighbour to India’s west? Oh, I know, I know. GOI is waiting for the US to do so first, whereupon the brave and bold in Delhi will suddenly wake up to the peril that’s always been posed by China, and only China. Pakistan is a small sideshow that — if Delhi has the slightest strategic sense it will try its utmost to dissuade from climbing into Beijing’s pocket, which it almost has done by signing on to CPEC. A whole slate of economic and other inducements as I have long argued is what Islamabad would find irresistible. Because let’s be absolutely plain about this: India finds itself unable to handle Pakistan very well, and it has in mind to tackle a Pakistan- fully allied with China?

But what about the nuisances — the LeT, JeM leaders prancing about Muridke and elsewhere — what stops the Indian military from deploying their Special Forces on strategic missions for a change to take them out? Or, RAW from arranging what needs to be done? Surely, these are options, the NSA, Ajit Doval, with his career in covert ops, is well suited to conceive and order. Then again, perhaps, the Modi govt thinks thundering on about “surgical Strikes” will do the trick.

But our “strategic” brains so stop working as soon as Pakistan heaves into view, it is pathetic, of course, but also so ridiculous — there’s nothing left to say. Moreover, with the BJP going deeper into the Hindutva mode and GOI and Indian military continuing to fixate on the so-called ‘Pakistan threat’, India is as likely as not to slip from the marginal position it now occupies in world affairs — truth be told — to the sub-marginal state category Pakistan currently occupies. If Pakistan has China to lean on, we have Umrika bahadur. Right?

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