The debate among nuclear scientists on the success or failure of the Pokhran-2 Test continues to be fierce. Nuclear scientist K Santhanam who ignited the debate said that India will need to “carry out two to three tests” to ensure its hydrogen bomb is working and “not rush to sign” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In a TV interview Mr Santhanam did concede however that India has an “atomic bomb deterrent”. His objection is that India lacks a credible hydrogen bomb. He wants more tests in order to ensure such a bomb and to prevent India from signing the CTBT.
India’s eminent scientists are divided over the efficacy of the Pokhran-2 Test. The late doyen among nuclear scientists, Raja Ramanna, had endorsed the success of Pokhran-2. Others have rubbished the test. We laymen need not enter into that controversy. We lack the expertise to judge. However even laymen have the common sense and expertise to judge politics. The decision to sign or not sign the CTBT is a political decision. The need for a fusion bomb instead of a fission bomb as a nuclear deterrent is a political decision. Nuclear scientist Homi Sethna who supports Santhanam’s view said that politicians should not meddle in scientific matters. He is right. But he should be equally advised that scientists should not meddle in political affairs.
What is a credible nuclear deterrent? It is not one that can match the nuclear force of a big power. It is one that can deter a nuclear power from bullying India. Hypothetically, if the US threatens to destroy India with its thermonuclear power, it could. But if it knows that in doing so India will destroy New York or Washington it would know the price and it would, unless its leaders have gone insane, be deterred.
Nuclear scientists, like judges, may have great expertise in their chosen vocation. That does not qualify them to butt into political debate. They are capable of displaying considerable stupidity. India needs fastest progress in missile and radar technologies in order to perfect a pre-emptive delivery system. It does not, whether Pokhran-2 succeeded or failed, need a hydrogen bomb. And starry-eyed intellectuals who look up to the scientists and to sections of international opinion need to acquire self-confidence. They should learn to think for themselves. Former nuclear hawk Dr Henry Kissinger along with Congressman Sam Nunn is currently busying himself with ways and means to achieve total nuclear disarmament. This wisdom has dawned on him two decades after Rajiv Gandhi had proposed this goal. The greatest threat to mankind, and especially to India, is that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists. That must be prevented.
Mr Santhanam still has not answered the question posed by this scribe when he first raised doubts about the success of Pokhran-2. Why did he not speak up when the test occurred? Why did he not speak up during all the intervening eleven years? The possibility of India signing the CTBT now is no credible explanation. After Pokhran-2 Prime Minister Vajpayee seriously toyed with the idea of signing the CTBT. Why did not our patriotic scientists speak up then? By raising doubts about Pokhran-2 eleven years after the event whose political agenda are they serving now?
Do tell us Mr Santhanam; do tell us Mr Sethna, why are you dabbling in politics now?