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May 12, 2000
US expert says India does not need neutron bomb
Nitish S Rele
The recent call by ex-chairperson of the Atomic Energy Commission, P K Iyengar, for India to develop and test a neutron bomb has stirred up a debate in the United States of America.
Iyengar told a group of scientists at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Bombay last week that India should not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty unless it had conducted tests on the neutron bomb.
George Perkovich, author of the recently published book India's Nuclear Bomb, for one, believes India does not need a neutron weapon even if it were to be used only as a deterrent against Pakistan.
"If the purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter one's possible adversaries from using nuclear weapons, then it is not evident that one needs fourth-generation nuclear weapons to achieve this," he said in an exclusive interview with rediff.com.
Director of the Secure World Program of the W Alton Jones Foundation, a $400 million philanthropic institution in Virginia, Perkovich recently lifted the veil of secrecy around India's nuclear ambitions.
In his books he quoted widely from recently de-classified US documents and interviewed high-level Indian and American officials, key Indian scientists, military leaders, diplomats and politicians.
In addition to managing the Secure World Program, Perkovich also oversees a $14 million Sustainable World Program.
"The capacity to destroy Lahore and Rawalpindi and perhaps a few other targets should be more than sufficient to deter Pakistan. First-generation fission weapons can do this -- even 50-year-old nuclear weapon technology destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If this capacity is insufficient, then it is difficult to see how more sophisticated designs would change the situation. Hitting Lahore with a 15 kiloton weapon would be an unmitigated disaster, and it's hard to see how a 250 kiloton weapon would improve the deterrent."
Perkovich doesn't believe that a deterrent against China is more problematic. "First, it's not clear what India seeks to deter China from," he said. "I have not found Indian or military strategists who posit a plausible military threat from China."
On Iyengar's call on CTBT, Perkovich said that no nuclear weapon scientist truly welcomes a test ban. "All nuclear weapon scientists want to keep doing the experiments that give their lives excitement and professional gratification."
Perkovich also felt that Iyengar's comments revealed a long-standing desire of top Indian scientists to show off their brilliance by keeping up with the nuclear laboratories of the US.
"There is no national interest in doing this, but only personal and institutional interests," he claimed.
"In the US this ego-driven approach to nuclear weapons has been played out primarily in competition between our own nuclear laboratories."
As examples, Perkovich cites scientists at Los Alamos who make a breakthrough only to be topped by scientists at Livermore.
The author admitted that India has nuclear warheads that explode reliably and with a yield large enough to devastate a major city. "In the real world - as opposed to the bizarre theoretical world of the US-inspired deterrence theory and nuclear laboratory fantasies - the basic capacity to deliver even fission weapons onto large population centers is sufficient," he said.
Perkovich believes that throughout India's nuclear history, there are examples where top scientists have tried to hijack national policy "and where scientists made claims of expertise and capability that simply were unwarranted. This feels like another such episode."
All about India's nuclear tests
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