Nuclearisation of Tibetan Plateau and its Implications for India

13 Mar, 2001    ·   482

Satish Kumar points out why India and China should sort out the issue of nuclearisation of the Tibetan Plateau through a security dialogue

Li Peng has visited India and met the Indian President, Prime Minister, other leaders and the media. But he ducked the Tibet issue, since China does not consider Tibet to be a dispute between India and China .



India ’s commitment to improving bilateral ties with China and discussing the boundary dispute is clear. But this will not dispel the cloud of mutual suspicions and antagonism unless the Tibet issue is brought on to the agenda. The nuclearisation of the Tibet plateau is an established fact. According to a report submitted by the American author John Avedon to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 17 September 1987, “one quarter of China ’s 350 strong nuclear missile forces are in Tibet .”



China ’s major nuclear sites are located in Tibet . China ’s nuclear production establishment, known as the Ninth Academy , was ready to produce nuclear weapons by 1971. The first batch of nuclear weapons manufactured was reportedly brought to Tsaidam Basin and stationed at the extreme north west of Amdo province because of its high altitude and isolation. These missiles, located at large Tsaidam and small Tsaidam, are reported to have a range of over 4,000 km, placing the whole Indian subcontinent within striking distance.



The strategic importance of Tibet is equally important for China and India . George Ginsburg and Michael Mathow, who made the first study of Communist China and Tibet, explained the strategic importance of Tibet in these words, “He who holds Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont threatens the Indian subcontinent and may well have all of South Asia within his reach, and with that all of Asia.” In fact, the Chinese take over of Tibet is based on their strategic calculus.



Prior to 1950 China was not linked to Tibet by road. Immediately after its occupation in 1951, the Chinese began constructing highways which connected Tibet and China . By the end of the 1970s, China had completed more than 90 highways and 97 percent of Tibet was connected with China by road. This transportation network has speeded up the process of militarisation and nuclearisation of Tibet . Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the process of nuclearisation continued unabated.



Chinese nuclear establishment on the Tibetan plateau affects the South Asian security in general and India in particular. Chinese nuclear policy is based on limited deterrence which, according to Johnston, a specialist on China ’s strategic doctrines, is aimed at inflicting heavy counter-force and counter-value damage on the enemy.



The Tibetan plateau is hardly two thousand kilometres away from the Indian capital. If India deploys its nuclear weapons on the Sino-Indian border, the situation will become volatile. Ecologically, militarisation of the Tibetan plateau is an important regional and global issue, because it is a major source of river water for India , Bhutan and other countries. Upsetting the ecological balance of the high Tibetan plateau also affects the jet streams that blow over it, and are linked with the environment of the whole Asian continent and global climatic patterns.



The time has come for India to raise the Tibet issue. In fact, Tibet was the buffer zone between the British India and China . Chinese nuclear establishments are mostly concentrated in ‘Inner Tibet’, which is closer to the Chinese mainland and different from ‘Outer Tibet’, which refers to the Tibet Autonomous Region that enjoys autonomy and separate entity; therefore establishment of Outer Tibet as a buffer zone poses no threat to its nuclear sites. The concept of buffer zone should be based on the British-Russian Treaty that was signed on 1907. This treaty was the culmination of the rivalry between Britain and Russia . Both imperialist powers agreed to create Tibet and Afghanistan as buffer zones between the two. This treaty not only induced peace in the region but also reined in the incessant flow of money on defence preparedness which was a logical corollary of mutual suspicion, danger and threat perceptions.



In fact, neutralisation of Outer Tibet will decrease the tension between the India and China and induce peace in the entire region. Unless it is done accordingly, India ’s security will remain endangered; and endangered security is bound to create mutual antagonism and suspicion.



At this juncture, if India deploys its nuclear weapons on the Himalayan border, then China might advance its nuclear weapons to Outer Tibet which is very close to the Indian border. Such an initiative will bring two nuclear powers on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe. So, it is wise to sort out the difference through security dialogue.