Newspapering over nuclear weapons

Rules won’t make China obey them. Nukes just might.

The Economist declares China v India as the contest of the century. Good. It should help focus minds of international readers on an important issue, because in the coming years they are likely to have to choose sides.

But the 20th century taught the world that blatantly foreseeable conflicts of interest can become increasingly foreseeable wars with unforeseeably dreadful consequences. Relying on prosperity and more democracy in China to sort things out thus seems unwise. Two things need to be done.

First, the slow progress towards a border settlement needs to resume. The main onus here is on China. It has the territory it really wants and has maintained its claim to Arunachal Pradesh only as a bargaining chip. It has, after all, solved intractable boundary quarrels with Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Surely it cannot be so difficult to treat with India?

That points to a second, deeper need, one that it took Europe two world wars to come close to solving: emerging Asia’s lack of serious institutions to bolster such deals. [The Economist]

While framing the challenge fairly well, that famously opinionated newspaper ignores the beasts in the basements that are the ones most likely to prevent their masters from coming to blows. We are, of course, referring to nuclear weapons, which I have argued, are the New Himalayas that make direct military conflict between the two giants unlikely. Indeed, it is the shadow of the New Himalayas that contrains China from expanding its extravagant claims to the old Himalayas.

You can see how the absence of direct nuclear deterrence in the Western Pacific has emboldened China to claim almost the entire South China Sea as its own (see the myths that Yang shattered). All the activity in East Asia trying to work out a regional security architecture is premised on the unfounded hope that a powerful China will play by the rules it promises to. Liberal internationalists, of course, will prescribe such hope-based policies. It is unfortunate that a newspaper as bold as the Economist should accept this wishfulness to such an extreme that it entirely ignores nuclear deterrence. It might be that it has to do this, because evoking nuclear weapons would damage its dogmatic and silly insistence that India should give up its arsenal because it is ‘illegitimate’.

From the archive: He saw the light after leaving the Economist; a review of Bill Emmotts’ book.

5 thoughts on “Newspapering over nuclear weapons”

  1. I can’t buy this debate, yet. Both have enormous internal challenges. ‘Superpower’ talk can end up becoming a burden.

  2. Given India’s professed no first use of nuclear weapons what would deter China from using conventional weapons only to attack India.

  3. India has a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons. As such, they’re completely useless in preventing a conventional attack. No other country in the world apart from China and North Korea has such a policy.

    Given India’s stance, I don’t think it’s prudent to look at Nuclear weapons as the ultimate defense. Hardly any country would be willing to use them in the first place – short of certain total annihilation. And that hardly ever happens. Cause once you use them, there’s no turning back.

  4. A NFU policy is unverifiable and unenforceable. It is not like India has to stick to this policy if an adversary started escalating up the “ladder” towards nuclear war.

    However, such a policy presents a non-threatening posture at peacetime, which is useful with adversaries that have a vested interest in pretending that nuclear war is impending in the Indian subcontinent, as they have been doing for decades.

  5. Nitin

    Nice design/layout. However, I feel that its not very blog-like and has probably resulted in reduction of comments. Perhaps this was your goal – to make it more like a webzine than a blog.

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