New Delhi: Four days after US President Barack Obama put New Delhi and Islamabad in the same bracket and equated the subcontinent with a flashpoint like the Korean peninsula, a clearly unhappy India has pushed back, saying Washington seems have a “lack of understanding” about India’s military doctrine.
On April 1, Obama held a press conference at the end of the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, the last hurrah on an issue close to the president’s heart but one he has failed to make much headway on. He had shepherded the first summit in 2010 after he spoke of a nuclear-free world just a few months after his inauguration – which ultimately led to his Nobel peace prize later in the year.
The last question at the end of the half-an-hour press interaction on Friday was a pertinent one. The journalist reminded Obama that even as he was talking of having a world without nuclear weapons, the US was working actively on miniaturisation of war-heads, which spurred Russia and China also on their own path.
In response, Obama spoke about the challenges of reducing the US nuclear stockpile when the Russian president Vladimir Putin was not on the same page.
Obama said that US and Russia’s leadership was essential to ensure huge cuts in the nuclear arsenal.
While that was an unexceptionable comment, it was his next line which miffed New Delhi. “The other area where I think we’d need to see progress is Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction,” said Obama.
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from his three nation trip, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup challenged Obama’s contention.
“Yes, we have seen those remarks. There seems to be a lack of understanding of India’s defence posture,” he said.
Swarup noted that India had “conventionally” never initiated military action against any neighbour. “We also have a no-first use nuclear weapons policy,” he added.
The foreign office spokesman then proceeded to remind the US of Obama’s own words at the same press conference. “Since the context was the Nuclear Security Summit, the President’s own remark that ‘expanding nuclear arsenals in some countries, with more small tactical nuclear weapons which could be at greater risk of theft’ sums up the focus of global concern,” he noted.
Modi had attended the summit and was seated conspicuously next to Obama during the plenary.
Pakistan had itself admitted that it had developed low-yield nuclear weapons for the first time in October last year, before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelled to Washington.
Islamabad argues that tactical nuclear weapons are its response to India’s so-called ‘cold-start doctrine’.
The Pakistani admission at the time had come in the background of reports in the western media that Washington was ready to offer a ‘nuclear deal’ to Islamabad, just like it had done to New Delhi in 2005. There had been persistent speculation that the ‘deal’ for Pakistan would involve restrictions on its nuclear arsenal.
As per a 2015 report of Carnegie Endowment and Stimson Centre, India has a stockpile of around 50 to 100 nuclear weapons, while Pakistan has about 100 to 120.