Zero Nuclear Weapons

Public Forum
November 13 and 14, 2009
Toronto, Canada

Naval Arms

The decision of the Indian Government to add a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine to its naval arsenal is understandable as a boost to national pride in technological achievement, but is an altogether backward step in international security.

The nuclear-armed submarine was a child of the Cold War, providing antagonists with a retaliatory power in the event of a first strike against their own land-based missile silos. One can thus understand the nuclear submarines of China, the USA and the USSR as an Orwellian triangle of retaliation, with Britain's and France's submarines as a European, NATO component.

But the nuclear submarines always added a dicey element to the unacceptable prospect of nuclear war because, once submerged, these terrible war toys were out of touch with central command; so the safety of the world depended on the captains of the submerged vessels not launching any weapon, regardless of what they suspected was happening to their country -- suspicions they could not verify.

The world should be thankful that none of these undersea captains ever launched one of those horrendous missiles.

By contrast, India has little naval experience and none of the hard naval discipline in war. An Indian nuclear-armed submarine, with missiles ready to launch, could create the worst risk the world has seen of inadvertent nuclear war -- a risk that has for decades been too high.

The prospects of nuclear disarmament are improving. Since there no longer is a hostile stand-off of the kind that existed in the Cold War, the naval retaliatory capacity could be eliminated first. As an initial step, an agreement could be made to disable all nuclear weapons on the nuclear submarines of the five powers that have them, and the Indian Government should be induced to commit itself to such an interim agreement.

Countries now renewing their nuclear submarine fleets could benefit from considerable cost savings by terminating these programs.

Derek Paul (Professor Emeritus)
Participant, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
Board member, Science for Peace
Chair, Global Issues Project

30 July 2009