India — India’s Nuclear Dilemma

Now where that thresh­old lies is ambigu­ous to say the least. They also indi­cate through well con­sid­ered leaks that this may be resort­ed to even if a lim­it­ed war is start­ed by India in response to what­ev­er provo­ca­tion that occurs. This has been writ­ten about by some not­ed mil­i­tary writ­ers of Pak­istan. There is also a dou­ble wham­my that was first artic­u­lat­ed by their Chief of Army Staff Gen­er­al Mirza Aslam Beg when he wrote in his book that there is also a degree of irra­tional­i­ty that creeps in Pak­istan mil­i­tary mind when a threat emanates from India! All this is designed to deter India from under­tak­ing even a lim­it­ed war option.

Even though Pak­istan lacks a sea launched nuclear strike capa­bil­i­ty, they have 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.

To cater to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a mas­sive counter strike by India which could, in the present con­text be ‘counter val­ue’, either to inflict unac­cept­able loss­es or destruc­tion of Pak nuclear capa­bil­i­ties, Pak­istan must pos­sess a cred­i­ble sec­ond strike capac­i­ty. Hence the ever grow­ing nuclear arse­nal of Pak­istan.

Pak­istan think­ing on the sub­ject which has been artic­u­lat­ed in writ­ing by them defines the nuclear thresh­old as under:

  • Pre-emp­tive response on major troop con­cen­tra­tion to deter India to start its offen­sive.
  • Ear­ly response against Indi­an Forces when they cross into Pak­istan.
  • A delayed response when Indi­an Forces have made major gains and threat­en its hin­ter­land.
  • Last is the sit­u­a­tion where Pak war wag­ing poten­tial is about to be seri­ous­ly degrad­ed and their Nation­al Secu­ri­ty is at stake.

India had the abil­i­ty to respond to the launch of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons with a sim­i­lar kind and show its resolve to go through, with the fur­ther option of larg­er yield nuclear weapons, Pak­istan may have to pause and think about tak­ing the next step. This may also enable India to con­tin­ue with its con­ven­tion­al oper­a­tion con­cur­rent­ly

These when aired open­ly are meant to empha­sise that start­ing from India’s for­ward move and con­cen­tra­tion to actu­al­ly launch­ing an attack and there­after to fur­ther expand and con­sol­i­date, Pak­istan may resort to a nuclear strike across the whole spec­trum of even­tu­al­i­ties. Log­i­cal­ly the first two or even three thresh­old respons­es are like­ly to be launched on Indi­an troops and arma­ments and may be con­fined to Tac­ti­cal Nuclear Weapons deliv­ered with pre­ci­sion to avoid any major col­lat­er­al dam­age to civil­ian tar­gets; this they argue would give them a moral­ly defen­si­ble posi­tion.

Indi­an response

Giv­en our present doc­trine our response if exe­cut­ed will be a major counter val­ue strike which lim­it­ed wars tac­ti­cal nukes may or may not be able to destroy Pakistan’s sec­ond strike capa­bil­i­ty. With our present arse­nal such a strike, even if aimed at being con­fined to coun­ter­force tar­gets, will invari­ably have col­lat­er­al dam­age to civil­ian pop­u­la­tion which would invite an attempt­ed sec­ond strike by Pak­istan. Can India be sure that her first strike would def­i­nite­ly destroy or deter Pak­istan from launch­ing their sec­ond strike? Per­haps not.

While the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an armed con­flict with Chi­na is not ruled out in a lim­it­ed con­text, it is unlike­ly to spin off into a nuclear exchange. On the con­trary, a lim­it­ed war with Pak­istan con­tin­ues to be a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty. The pro­fessed nuclear doc­trine of Pak­istan indi­cates a strong like­li­hood of their resort­ing to tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons in an ear­ly stage of the con­flict. India needs to rethink its own nuclear doc­trine and con­sid­er what steps need to be ini­ti­at­ed to counter them

It also must clear­ly be under­stood that to respond to Pakistan’s first strike, when con­fined to mil­i­tary tar­gets by tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons of com­par­a­tive­ly low yield with pre­ci­sion, by a major counter val­ue strike of high yield weapon(s), will of neces­si­ty demand a very res­olute polit­i­cal lead­er­ship who will not be deterred by the thought of mas­sive loss­es (in the event of a sec­ond strike by Pak­istan) to Indi­an civil­ian pop­u­la­tion and val­ue tar­gets of strate­gic import. Nor will the lead­er­ship allow itself to be per­suad­ed and coerced by Inter­na­tion­al pres­sures to with­hold such a strike. Not car­ry­ing out a retal­ia­to­ry nuclear strike(s) will not only be a polit­i­cal sui­cide by the rul­ing gov­ern­ment, it will also be extreme­ly demor­al­is­ing to the nation and its armed forces.

As opposed to the above sce­nario if India had the abil­i­ty to respond to the launch of tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons with a sim­i­lar kind and show its resolve to go through, with the fur­ther option of larg­er yield nuclear weapons, Pak­istan may have to pause and think about tak­ing the next step. This may also enable India to con­tin­ue with its con­ven­tion­al oper­a­tion con­cur­rent­ly. The counter argu­ment to this would be that there is no cer­tain­ty that this will stop the esca­la­tion by both sides grad­u­at­ing to counter val­ue strikes in an increas­ing­ly esca­la­to­ry response. While there is no cut and dry or hard and fast answer to any of these ques­tions one needs to pon­der and dis­cuss it thread­bare and not rub­bish the option out of hand.

Con­clu­sion

The debate on the via­bil­i­ty of retain­ing tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons has been going on in USA, NATO and Rus­sia for a long time. A size­able school of thought has empha­sised that tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons can­not be an option in the post-cold war in the West. The prob­a­bil­i­ty of an all-out war in Europe has reced­ed and there is a clam­our by NATO mem­bers to dis­man­tle all tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons from Europe. Rus­sia has not sub­scribed to this thought. The geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion has altered dras­ti­cal­ly is West but that is not the case in the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent where India faces two adver­saries who are nuclear pow­ers. While the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an armed con­flict with Chi­na is not ruled out in a lim­it­ed con­text, it is unlike­ly to spin off into a nuclear exchange. On the con­trary, a lim­it­ed war with Pak­istan con­tin­ues to be a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty. The pro­fessed nuclear doc­trine of Pak­istan indi­cates a strong like­li­hood of their resort­ing to tac­ti­cal nuclear weapons in an ear­ly stage of the con­flict. India needs to rethink its own nuclear doc­trine and con­sid­er what steps need to be ini­ti­at­ed to counter them.

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

About the Author
Lt Gen Shan­tonu Choudhry (retd)
The writer retired as Vice Chief of Army Staff in Jan­u­ary 2005. He has served in Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions and Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Direc­torates and has been an instruc­tor in Defence Ser­vices Staff Col­lege. He is a wide­ly read offi­cer who writes reg­u­lar­ly on nation­al secu­ri­ty.

Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA
Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) mag­a­zine is the only ISO 9001:2008 cer­ti­fied, pre­mier world class, new wave month­ly mag­a­zine which fea­tures par­a­digm chang­ing in-depth analy­ses on defence, secu­ri­ty, safe­ty and sur­veil­lance, focus­ing on devel­op­ing and strate­gic future sce­nar­ios in India and around the world.