India — Nuclear neighbourhood: Challenges for India

The Pak­istani nuclear doc­trine, at least our knowl­edge of it, is today based on an inter­view giv­en by Lt Gen­er­al Khalid Kid­wai (retd), Direc­tor Gen­er­al of Pakistan’s Strate­gic Plans Divi­sion to Pao­lo Cot­ta-Rass­mussen and Mau­r­izio Mar­tinel­li pub­lished by Pug­wash Inter­na­tion­al in 2002. There is, how­ev­er, as has been not­ed else­where, a 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) and increas­ing risks of inad­ver­tent or acci­den­tal launch. Ash­ley Tel­lis in his 2000 book on India’s Emerg­ing Nuclear Pos­ture has writ­ten of the ‘uncer­tain­ties’ which arise from “The severe moti­va­tion­al and cog­ni­tive bias­es that have his­tor­i­cal­ly afflict­ed Pakistan’s high­er deci­sion mak­ing insti­tu­tions on mat­ters of war and peace (which) raise fears about the prospect of extreme respons­es that might be pre­cip­i­tat­ed in a cri­sis … These fail­ures of ratio­nal­i­ty … could be com­pound­ed by exi­gen­cies of domes­tic pol­i­tics, civ­il-mil­i­tary dis­cord and biased and unre­li­able intel­li­gence … ”This pos­ture is one which appears to be based on the assump­tion that India will not per­mit the sit­u­a­tion to esca­late, by con­sid­er­ing a lim­it­ed and tar­get­ed use of, for exam­ple, air strikes.

Non-state actors

At anoth­er lev­el, non-state groups could be used either to pro­voke a mil­i­tary response from India, or, more dan­ger­ous­ly, nuclear mate­r­i­al could become avail­able to these groups through theft or through insid­er link­ages. The attack on Pakistan’s Mehran naval base was appar­ent­ly enabled by insid­er col­lu­sion. At the same time the already fri­able sit­u­a­tion could be exac­er­bat­ed to intol­er­a­ble lev­els if the state itself, fol­low­ing the trends with­in Pak­istani soci­ety, becomes a theo­crat­ic intol­er­ant state, bent on the estab­lish­ment of a Caliphate in the region. The mil­i­tary and non-state groups are cer­tain to have been embold­ened by India hav­ing been ‘deterred’ in 1999, fol­low­ing the Kargil attack, in 2001 after the attack on Par­lia­ment and Oper­a­tion Parakram and more so, after 2008, after the attack on Mum­bai. Would India react dif­fer­ent­ly in the event of anoth­er Mum­bai-type attack?

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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. Mas­sive retal­i­a­tion would imply counter-val­ue strikes and would lead to incor­rect assump­tions on the part of the adver­sary, where­as a puni­tive strike would retain the flex­i­bil­i­ty of options. In addi­tion, 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

There is no doubt that the cur­rent dia­logue with Pak­istan helps us to buy some time, though giv­en the polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in Pak­istan and the split poli­ty in India, the chances of it being sus­tain­able or effec­tive remain slight unless oth­er sig­nals are sent. There is a need to use this time to for­mu­late oth­er tools to rein­force the mes­sage behind the talks; a need for exam­ple, to start seri­ous dis­cus­sions with Pak­istan on nuclear doc­trines. It will be more dif­fi­cult to get this accept­ed by the Pak­ista­nis, par­tic­u­lar­ly as the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is at the moment more pre­oc­cu­pied with con­sol­i­dat­ing its some­what frayed image with­in the coun­try and deal­ing with the imme­di­ate chal­lenges of deal­ing with the US and Pakistan’s ambi­tions in Afghanistan. Nonethe­less this objec­tive has to be fol­lowed with per­sis­tence and patience, with as much impor­tance giv­en to this objec­tive as to our over­all mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness. So far, there have been some dis­cus­sions on nuclear CBMs with Pak­istan, main­ly at the Track II lev­el, but they have been over-mod­est efforts and at the offi­cial lev­el, the steps have been fal­ter­ing and weak. Pak­istan sees its nuclear weapons not only as essen­tial to their secu­ri­ty but as their ‘crown jew­els’ almost as a sym­bol of their nation­hood. With­out dis­put­ing their pos­ses­sion of these weapons, how­ev­er, an increase in efforts to pre­vent any nuclear mis­ad­ven­ture is urgent. At the same time, dis­cus­sions on nuclear issues with Chi­na too, need to be start­ed and again it will be a dif­fi­cult task. The dis­cus­sions need to be at high polit­i­cal lev­els or even with trust­ed back chan­nels. Some Track II dis­cus­sions have indeed tak­en place with Chi­na, but they remain spo­radic and with lit­tle sub­stance or follow-up.

Ret­ri­bu­tion

With­in our own estab­lish­ment, 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. Mas­sive retal­i­a­tion would imply counter-val­ue strikes and would lead to incor­rect assump­tions on the part of the adver­sary, where­as a puni­tive strike would retain the flex­i­bil­i­ty of options. In addi­tion, 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. The Pak­istani and Chi­nese mil­i­taries have the ‘advan­tage’ of greater coher­ence and con­gru­ence in their weapons poli­cies, as the mil­i­tary is in full con­trol of the nuclear weapons pro­gramme, where­as our weapons remain under civ­il con­trol even while the deliv­ery vehi­cles may be with the military.

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 empha­sise, these are sig­nals to the adver­sary in this inter­im peri­od, with­out any oth­er change in our nuclear pos­ture. There are bound to be many who will see this as too hawk­ish and too dan­ger­ous; they should then pro­pose less dan­ger­ous meth­ods of sig­nalling. Oth­ers might see it as too lit­tle in terms of pre­pared­ness for retal­i­a­tion, but the hope is to try and avoid the neces­si­ty of nuclear retal­i­a­tion. The ulti­mate objec­tive must always be to ensure that the chances of adver­sar­i­al nuclear inci­dents are min­imised and that nuclear weapons are nev­er actu­al­ly used in a war. 

The already fri­able sit­u­a­tion could be exac­er­bat­ed to intol­er­a­ble lev­els if the state itself, fol­low­ing the trends with­in Pak­istani soci­ety, becomes a theo­crat­ic intol­er­ant state, bent on the estab­lish­ment of a Caliphate in the region. The mil­i­tary and non-state groups are cer­tain to have been embold­ened by India hav­ing been ‘deterred’ in 1999, fol­low­ing the Kargil attack, in 2001 after the attack on Par­lia­ment and Oper­a­tion Parakram and more so, after 2008, after the attack on Mum­bai. Would India react dif­fer­ent­ly in the event of anoth­er Mum­bai-type attack?

About the Author
Amb Arund­hati Ghosh
The writer joined the Indi­an For­eign Ser­vice in 1963 and served in var­i­ous capac­i­ties in the Min­istry of Exter­nal Affairs and in Indi­an mis­sions abroad. She was incharge of eco­nom­ic rela­tions when eco­nom­ic reforms were launched in 1991. Served in the Branch Sec­re­tari­at of the Min­istry to liaise with the Bangladesh Gov­ern­ment — in — exile in Cal­cut­ta dur­ing the birth­pangs of that nation-state. Served as Ambas­sador in Egypt, South Korea and as Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to UNESCO and to the UN Offices in Gene­va. As Ambas­sador to the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment in Gene­va she etched in indeli­ble words the sov­er­eign resolve of the Indi­an nation nev­er to sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Her words rever­ber­ate in Indi­an hearts to this day. She told the world in mea­sured, author­i­ta­tive tones that India would nev­er sign the CTBT. “Not now! Not ever!”.

Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA
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