India — Nuclear neighbourhood: Challenges for India

An excel­lent civil­ian per­spec­tive on the aspect of Lim­it­ed wars against a Nuclear back­drop. India is per­haps the only coun­try that faces the chal­lenges aris­ing from hav­ing two nuclear neigh­bours, who close­ly coop­er­ate with each oth­ers’ nuclear pro­grammes and who main­tain adver­sar­i­al rela­tions with her. A nuclear-weapon enabled ter­ror­ist threat is sup­port­ed by strong and con­sis­tent denials of cul­pa­bil­i­ty for any such ‘non-state’ attack and a reliance on its ‘pro­tec­tor’ and men­tor, Chi­na, to han­dle the inevitable diplo­mat­ic furore that is bound to rise if the taboo on nuclear weapons is bro­ken with how­ev­er lim­it­ed an appli­ca­tion. It would appear that Pak­istan has adopt­ed a pol­i­cy of bat­tle­field use of its nuclear weapons, a like­ly esca­la­tion of a con­ven­tion­al con­fronta­tion to a nuclear lev­el, arrange­ments for rapid deploy­ment which could entail pre-del­e­ga­tion to unit com­man­ders in the event of a loss of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, (which is what appar­ent­ly hap­pened at Salala recent­ly when 24 Pak­istani sol­diers were killed in an ISAF air attack on two bor­der posts). She asserts that there is a need to slight­ly tweak our nuclear doc­trine; the objec­tive would be not to change our No First Use pol­i­cy, but to revert to the lan­guage of the Draft doc­trine on the ques­tion of retal­ia­to­ry strikes — these should be ‘puni­tive’ rather than ‘mas­sive’ as now exists. Last­ly, she makes the very bold asser­tion that in order to dis­il­lu­sion the adver­sary of our intent to retal­i­ate, the con­trol of the weapons should be placed square­ly with the Strate­gic Forces Com­mand.

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

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

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Recent devel­op­ments in India’s neigh­bour­hood have led to an increase in the insta­bil­i­ty in the region with par­tic­u­lar impli­ca­tions for India’s secu­ri­ty. Pakistan’s fool­har­di­ness — or as the Pak­ista­nis view it, their bold­ness — in chal­leng­ing the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty by decid­ing to not attend — and to not allow its sur­ro­gates, the Tal­iban — to attend the just con­clud­ed Bonn Con­fer­ence on Afghanistan, in tak­ing actions which could see a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with the US and the ISAF forces on its west­ern bor­der and when it is such a par­lous sit­u­a­tion at home, can only arise from their assur­ance that at least polit­i­cal­ly and diplo­mat­i­cal­ly, if not mil­i­tar­i­ly, they can depend on the sup­port of Chi­na. Despite India’s own efforts to man­age her prick­ly rela­tions with Chi­na, such unqual­i­fied sup­port of Pak­istan, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the mil­i­tary and nuclear areas, must inevitably raise con­cerns in India.

India is per­haps the only coun­try that faces — or has ever faced — the chal­lenges aris­ing from hav­ing two nuclear neigh­bours, who close­ly coop­er­ate with each oth­ers’ nuclear pro­grammes and who main­tain adver­sar­i­al rela­tions with her. To be sure, dur­ing the Cold War, the Sovi­et Union faced sev­er­al hos­tile nuclear neigh­bours, which were bound togeth­er in an alliance and from 1971, anoth­er nuclear neigh­bour that formed a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to its secu­ri­ty. Chi­na, too, till 1971 and for about a decade before that, faced both the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union in adver­sar­i­al posi­tions. It was in the con­text of the Cold War that the­o­ries of lim­it­ed con­ven­tion­al wars under a nuclear over­hang — usu­al­ly on dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents — has been devel­oped by schol­ars, main­ly in the West. Whether such the­o­ries are applic­a­ble to the dual chal­lenge fac­ing India is a ques­tion that needs to be care­ful­ly con­sid­ered.

Unique sce­nario

The sit­u­a­tion that India faces today is unique; first­ly, it shares com­mon and dis­put­ed bor­ders with both hos­tile neigh­bours; Chi­na has, accord­ing to sev­er­al knowl­edge­able com­men­ta­tors and intel­li­gence sources (of the West) built-up Pakistan’s nuclear arse­nal almost from scratch — pro­vid­ing designs, mate­r­i­al, includ­ing fis­sile mate­r­i­al, tech­nol­o­gy, deliv­ery vehi­cles (either direct­ly or through North Korea) and even con­duct­ed a weapons test in 1990 on its Lop Nor Test site, for Pak­istan. Today it is sup­ply­ing reac­tors, which it claims will be under IAEA safe­guards; but giv­en the short shrift it has giv­en the Nuclear Sup­pli­ers’ Group, not to men­tion its oblig­a­tions under the NPT in arriv­ing at the agree­ment to do so, it is unlike­ly that the mate­r­i­al from these reac­tors will remain for civil­ian pur­pos­es only. Third­ly and most dan­ger­ous­ly, Pak­istan has been using its grow­ing nuclear arse­nal as an umbrel­la under which it appears to feel that it can use sub-con­ven­tion­al attacks against India with lit­tle or no dan­ger of (con­ven­tion­al) retal­i­a­tion.

None of the above has been seri­ous­ly dis­put­ed by either par­ty; nor has the vague but omi­nous ‘red lines’ that Pak­istan seems to have evolved regard­ing its stat­ed doc­trine of first use of nuclear weapons. It appears to have in mind the esca­la­tion of any con­ven­tion­al response from India to even an armed attack on Indi­an soil by its nation­als, to a nuclear counter-response. The the­o­ries of deter­rence would seem to not be applic­a­ble in a sit­u­a­tion if there is a ‘fail­ure of ratio­nal­i­ty’ on one side. Of course, it could very well be that the inten­tion is to indeed give an impres­sion of irra­tional­i­ty, to act as a deter­rent to any action on India’s part for fear that Pak­istan would react ‘irra­tional­ly’. This stand, of what has been termed ‘a nuclear-weapon enabled ter­ror­ist threat’ is sup­port­ed by strong and con­sis­tent denials of cul­pa­bil­i­ty for any such ‘non-state’ attack and a reliance on its ‘pro­tec­tor’ and men­tor, Chi­na, to han­dle the inevitable diplo­mat­ic furore that is bound to rise if the taboo on nuclear weapons is bro­ken with how­ev­er lim­it­ed an appli­ca­tion. India’s doc­trine calls for ‘mas­sive retal­i­a­tion’ in the event of a nuclear first strike; that would entail attack­ing counter-val­ue tar­gets, which could include cities and oth­er pop­u­la­tion cen­tres. There would inevitably be calls for restraint on India’s part, despite the enor­mi­ty of the action by Pak­istan and there is also like­ly to be some domes­tic resis­tance to attacks on cities or towns. In this, per­haps, worst-case but not improb­a­ble, sce­nario, what are India’s options?

There are some facts which are need­ed to be fac­tored in to any con­sid­er­a­tion of the issue.

Dif­fer­ence between a ‘declara­to­ry’ doc­trine and an oper­a­tional one; the lat­ter can only be deduced from the infor­ma­tion avail­able on acqui­si­tions and capa­bil­i­ties, state­ments of pol­i­cy by albeit retired senior mil­i­tary men from Pak­istan and such West­ern sources, pre­sum­ably from intel­li­gence inputs. On the basis of these, it would appear that Pak­istan has adopt­ed a pol­i­cy of bat­tle­field use of its nuclear weapons, a like­ly esca­la­tion of a con­ven­tion­al con­fronta­tion to a nuclear lev­el, arrange­ments for rapid deploy­ment which could entail pre­del­e­ga­tion to unit com­man­ders in the event of a loss of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, (which is what appar­ent­ly hap­pened at Salala recent­ly when 24 Pak­istani sol­diers were killed in an ISAF air attack on two bor­der posts)

Sino-Pak nexus

First­ly, we need to take China’s sup­port of Pak­istan for grant­ed, even the use by the lat­ter of non-state groups as a part of their for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. This has been demon­strat­ed repeat­ed­ly and not only in the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, where Chi­na has blocked any for­ward move­ment on the nam­ing of spe­cif­ic Pak­istani nation­als and spon­sored groups as ter­ror­ists. Sec­ond­ly, while the state of the inter­nal insta­bil­i­ty in Pak­istan is prob­a­bly exag­ger­at­ed in the media, Indi­an, Pak­istani and the West­ern, there is no doubt that there is a con­sid­er­able rise in reli­gios­i­ty with strong sec­tar­i­an and intol­er­ant strains in Pak­istani soci­ety in gen­er­al; this would have an inevitable impact on all state insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the mil­i­tary. At the same time, the mil­i­tary has not yet abjured its sup­port for spe­cif­ic non-state groups as ‘assets’ in the fur­ther­ance of its for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives. Some of the groups may well be out of con­trol of the mil­i­tary, though there is lit­tle appar­ent effort to con­trol them in any effec­tive way, though some oth­er groups, tar­get­ing the Pak­istani state, are being attacked or nego­ti­at­ed with, accord­ing to press reports. Third­ly, while like many oth­er devel­op­ing coun­tries, Pakistan’s econ­o­my is cur­rent­ly in a very frag­ile con­di­tion, the wors­en­ing of rela­tions with the US may adverse­ly affect the bud­getary sup­port that Pak­istan has been used to receive — Chi­na usu­al­ly restricts itself only to project and com­mod­i­ty aid and does not give bud­getary sup­port to any of its allies, how­ev­er close. Notwith­stand­ing these devel­op­ments, the ambi­tions of Pakistan’s mil­i­tary remain vault­ing. Giv­en these facts, it is clear that the sit­u­a­tion is such that in the event of any cri­sis, or with the inten­tion of cre­at­ing one, India could face nuclear threats at mul­ti­ple lev­els from Pak­istan — it is not unlike­ly that these would be sup­port­ed by Chi­na, which, how­ev­er, will ensure that it is not direct­ly involved.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

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