India — India’s Nuclear Dilemma

A high­ly cere­bral for­mer Vice Chief of the Army reflects upon the recent intro­duc­tion of Nasr Tac­ti­cal Nuclear Mis­siles by the Pak Army. He feels this con­sti­tutes a par­a­digm shift which calls for a rethink­ing of our nuclear and con­ven­tion­al warfight­ing Doc­trines. Pak­istan has enough land based mis­siles to car­ry out such a first strike by launch­ing Tac­ti­cal Nuclear Weapons, either as a demon­stra­tive one or on a tac­ti­cal tar­get to inflict suf­fi­cient dam­age to own troops and con­cen­tra­tions which are pure­ly mil­i­tary in nature and thus be termed as Counter Troop. In all like­li­hood such a strike would be on Indi­an soil but be termed as defen­sive. He feels that the cur­rent Indi­an doc­tri­nal posi­tion of a full fledged Indi­an counter val­ue response to such tac­ti­cal nuclear use may not be viable. He rec­om­mends instead a match­ing response with own tac­ti­cal war­heads which will enable own con­ven­tion­al offen­sives to pro­ceed apace.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Delhi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA


In May 1998 India and Pak­istan car­ried out nuclear explo­sions in their respec­tive coun­tries and in the face of great oppro­bri­um of many coun­tries declared them­selves as new ‘nuclear weapon’ pow­ers. Soon the think tanks of both coun­tries start­ed their delib­er­a­tions to evolve nuclear doc­trines suit­ed to their strate­gic needs. India declared a pol­i­cy of NO FIRST USE while Pak­istan made no such com­mit­ment and remained ambigu­ous, with a stat­ed posi­tion that India has a much larg­er con­ven­tion­al force and could over­whelm Pak­istan Forces in a con­ven­tion­al war; hence Pak­istan may / will resort to FIRST USE if need­ed. This in essence implied that India will not use nuclear weapons first but if the oth­er side chose to do so India will retal­i­ate ful­ly to the extent nec­es­sary. Both sides since then steadi­ly built up their nuclear stock­pile and today by some edu­cat­ed esti­mates Pak­istan has much larg­er a nuclear arse­nal than India and in fact has emerged as the fifth largest coun­try behind USA, Rus­sia, Chi­na and France.

This con­cept or doc­trine remained valid till such time both sides had strate­gic nuclear weapons of large yields, rang­ing upwards of 20 Kilo­ton and above. This also meant that such weapons will essen­tial­ly be COUNTER VALUE because of the inevitable col­lat­er­al dam­age and not like­ly to remain con­fined to COUNTER FORCE. With induc­tion of Tac­ti­cal Nuclear Weapons how­ev­er by Pak­istan, there is a par­a­digm shift which needs to be articulated.

Tac­ti­cal nuclear weapon refers to a weapon designed to be used in bat­tle­field in a mil­i­tary sit­u­a­tion as opposed to Strate­gic Weapons which are designed to men­ace large pop­u­la­tion. In oth­er words, the for­mer is meant to be used pri­mar­i­ly against ene­my forces while the lat­ter counter val­ue, meant for tar­gets which may include civil­ian objec­tives like pop­u­la­tion cen­tres. Tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons were a large part of World’s nuclear stock­pile dur­ing the Cold War and still con­sti­tute a size­able num­ber with USA and Rus­sia and per­haps others.

A size­able group of strate­gic thinkers main­tain that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPON because once a nuclear weapon has been launched by any side regard­less of its size and yield it is “open sea­son” there­after and the adver­sary is free to use its strate­gic weapons in a counter val­ue mode

It was Robert Mc Nama­ra, the great strate­gic Amer­i­can thinker and once The Defence Sec­re­tary of USA who first artic­u­lat­ed the con­cept of counter force strat­e­gy pub­licly in 1962 when he said that “Com­plete destruc­tion of cities etc. would ulti­mate­ly lead to a Mutu­al­ly Assured Destruc­tion sit­u­a­tion. Instead cities can be held hostages; to destroy them at the out­set was to sac­ri­fice their prin­ci­pal val­ue as object of lever­age against the ene­my. If War comes, USA will destroy enemy’s mil­i­tary forces and not his civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.” This con­cept led to the devel­op­ment of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons which enabled the pow­er using them to con­fine the pro­posed strike to ene­my troops and mate­r­i­al with­out a risk of major col­lat­er­al dam­age to civil­ian population.

Use of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons can be Coun­ter­force or Demon­stra­tive to show the will and deter­mi­na­tion of the user to use larg­er yield nuclear weapons against strate­gic tar­gets if nec­es­sary. The deploy­ing of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons is how­ev­er fraught with risk of esca­la­tion quick­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly with the side hav­ing no self-imposed restrain of NO FIRST USE. Sus­pi­cion of the adversary’s inten­tion can lead to an ear­ly launch of a weapon because of the syn­drome of -“He thinks, we think, he thinks we think; he thinks we will attack, so he thinks we shall: SO WE MUST”. It is fur­ther accen­tu­at­ed if the releas­ing author­i­ty is del­e­gat­ed to sub­or­di­nate com­man­ders instead of being retained in the hands of a cen­tral authority. 

A size­able group of strate­gic thinkers main­tain that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPON because once a nuclear weapon has been launched by any side regard­less of its size and yield it is “open sea­son” there­after and the adver­sary is free to use its strate­gic weapons in a counter val­ue mode. The dis­cus­sion has gone on not only in India but in many of the advanced coun­tries hav­ing nuclear weapons where many sub­scribe to the idea that tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons have no place in the dialec­tics of nuclear weapons. The writer does NOT sub­scribe to this with any degree of conviction.


Pak­istan nuclear doctrine

Now let us look briefly at Pak­istan nuclear arse­nal. By some guessti­mate Pak­istan has approx­i­mate­ly 90 to 120 war­heads with ade­quate num­ber of deliv­ery sys­tems in the shape of air­craft and dif­fer­ent vari­eties of nuclear capa­ble mis­siles includ­ing the lat­est Sha­heen I and Sha­heen II. Besides they have devel­oped / been gift­ed cruise mis­siles Babur and Raad which are nuclear capa­ble. With enhanced capac­i­ty of pro­duc­tion of weapon grade plu­to­ni­um they are in a posi­tion to add four to six war­heads every year to their stock­pile. To these the lat­est vec­tor which has been added is a Tac­ti­cal Mis­sile Sys­tem Nasr which Pak­istan claims is nuclear capa­ble. This mis­sile has been test­ed dur­ing a recent exer­cise by Pak forces. Obvi­ous­ly this also implies that they have in all like­li­hood, car­ried out minia­tur­i­sa­tion of the nuclear sys­tems to be fit­ted into The Nasr Mis­sile which are claimed to be high­ly mobile and vehi­cle mount­ed. Fur­ther, because of its com­par­a­tive­ly small­er size and mobil­i­ty would be easy to con­ceal which becomes vital in today’s bat­tle­field which is becom­ing more and more trans­par­ent. This sys­tem, pure­ly by def­i­n­i­tion would fall in the cat­e­go­ry of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapon.

Pak­istan has stat­ed with­out any ambi­gu­i­ty that their nuclear arse­nal is sole­ly India spe­cif­ic. Fur­ther they have repeat­ed­ly empha­sised that they will resort to nuclear weapons should their core inter­ests be threat­ened which include a num­ber of para­me­ters of space, sur­vival of mil­i­tary forces and eco­nom­ic blockade.

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