One year after the Pokhran (POK-2) series of tests in May 1998, it is
useful to examine the progress on the diplomatic front and see what next?
After the seventh/eight round of Singh -Talbott talks, it appears that
a level of understanding with US on Indias nuclear status is being reached. It was
preceded by interactions, with all major powers- economic and nuclear and countries in the
neighborhood and was followed by resumption of talks with China in April 1999. The Sensex
has recovered to its pre-POK-2 levels. The suspension of loans from the multilateral
financial institution could have hurt the inflow of developmental loans but private funds
were not hurt much as evidenced by the Resurgent India bonds issued by the State Bank of
India were subscribed in full. In general, Indian business lost out a lot because of
short/medium term loans or investors went to other markets and having invested there
heavily are not going to return to India soon. But the overall economic situation and
financial ratings of India of India did not suffer much and are today actually in a much
better situation than pre-May 1998 levels. The domestic political scene is fractious as
ever and elections are to be held soon.
It is now an opportune moment to examine Indias deterrent
posture. Immediately after the POK-2 round of tests, India declared the following elements
of its policy- No First Use (NFU) and non-use against non-weapon states which constitute
negative assurances to non- NWS. An additional element was credible minimum deterrent
posture to assure the world that the Indian position was not open ended and India had no
intention of seeking parity or indulging in an arms race in and outside Asia.
It is important to examine the role of nuclear weapons in Indian
thought. The primary role is to deter other nuclear weapons. Hence this role exists as
long as other states possess these weapons. They are not to deter war and the Indian Army
leadership has acknowledged this. They only deter escalation.
In Indian context there is no role for these to deter other threats
(B&C). Both Pakistan and China have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as
non-weapon states and India has signed as a weapon state. This means it has to destroy its
inventory in ten years under international inspection agency (OIPCW). It is difficult to
justify a role for nuclear weapons, as deterrent to chemical weapons in view of the
negative assurance to non-nuclear powers. However, there are persistent and disturbing
reports of biological weapons research in Mid-East and these, have to be addressed in an
appropriate manner. A possible way would be the negotiation of a Biological Weapons
Convention on the lies of the CWC.
Some elements in India believe that, the use or threat of nuclear
weapons even when attacked or threatened by such weapons cannot be justified and therefore
they should be abandoned unilaterally. It is heartening to see such humane thoughts but
these cannot exist in isolation in India while proliferation is raging around in the
Elements of a credible deterrent
The first element is to have a clear doctrine stating the conditions
under which the Indian State would resort to nuclear weapons. It has to keep in mind the
commitment to No First Use and the negative assurances to non-weapon states. This doctrine
has to address all threats state and non-state actors. The declared position of the
GOI on NFU etc. takes care of state players. However as regular warfare is deterred, there
is possibility of proxy wars through non-state actors both within and without India. Due
to ideological ties and possible command of such movements by surrogates or regulars on
leave, the state players might not feel they are violating their sovereign commitments of
non-transfer of WMD. Under such conditions the doctrine has to treat the sponsors as proxy
aggressors and deal accordingly.
In addition it has to take into account the fact that the Revolution in
Military affairs (RMA) makes it possible to subject the state to severe degradation with
conventional attacks. The NFU pledge could lull an attacker to resort to massive
conventional attack with out fear of retaliation. Thus the NFU clause has to have rider
that it would not apply when facing a severe defeat- a la Panipat. This was the main
reason for POK-1&2. An alternate clause would be that use of force not in accordance
with international law or the UN charter would negate the NFU. These take care of
aggressions and unlawful use of force.
The possibility exists of some powers using fourth generation nuclear
weapons, which are not accompanied by chain reactions. These could be what are termed as
micro-nukes and could be used against high value targets. To counter such use, the use of
weapons based on fission or fusion or using nuclear materials or bye products should be
considered as first use and invite retaliation.
Command and Control
A clear chain of command and control of strategic forces has to be put
in place. Logically the Prime Minster would be the ultimate decision-maker. The other
aspects have to be worked out. First and foremost is the authentication of the strike-
whether it really is nuclear, where it came from and who is responsible. There is no place
for incompetence here. In case of incapacity of the PM, the line of succession has to be
clearly documented by an act of Parliament. Separate travels arrangement for those on the
list have to be implemented. The Warrant of Precedence is hangover form colonial times and
is good for protocol purposes only.
The communication system has to be augmented. Press reports indicate
two transponders on the INSAT series could be used for secure communications. These have
to be expanded and eventually a dedicated satellite system has to be put in place. All
feasible measures to avoid accidental/unauthorized launches have to be in place. Another
step needed is to setup an early warning system based on satellite sensors for timely
detection of hostile moves. The Cartosat program with its 2.5m and future goal of 1m
resolution provides a basis for this setup. Again tradeoffs between roles and missions has
to be done. For instance the remote sensing role requires a sun-synchronous orbit. In the
misty winters of the sub-continent this may not be adequate due to cloud cover. Hence
suitable orbits have to be selected in conjunction with the planners and end users.
Dedicated strike force and command
A dedicated strike force and chain of command has to be established to
provide a convincing way of enforcing the doctrine. A separate strategic force commander
should be appointed, reporting to the chief of defense staff along with all other service
The strike force should be a joint one, and include the Army units, the
IAF and IN for the missile and aircraft based systems. Currently the force is based on
land-based mobile missiles and aircraft. Eventually the bulk of the deterrent has to move
to a submarine platform for survivability. In the interim it can be based on surface
assets missiles and aircraft. The idea is to raise the cost of first strike to an
aggressor and enable the Armed Forces to deploy its assets to match the situation.
The actual devices themselves have to be made by DRDO with inputs from
BARC. There has to be a joint certifying agency for stockpile issues. It is necessary to
separate the weapons programs from the civilian side of BARC to ensure no inadvertent
leakage of technology (proliferation concern). Some steps have been already taken as per
statements after POK-2.Thus separation of civilian and military aspects is ensured.
There is no real basis for distinguishing between tactical and
strategic weapons. All nuclear weapons are strategic and the decision to use them is a
political step on the escalation ladder. The real distinction is between low and high
It is essential to integrate the services and the ministry of defense.
The Defense Secretary should be in charge of administration and budgetary process etc. In
other words a purely administrative capacity. The Chief of Defense staff should be
selected and appointed on basis of merit and should be the point of contact for passing on
the strike authorization to the strike force command. It is also necessary to ensure that
the services operate in a joint manner.
In the Northern and eastern sectors, theater commands combining Army
and Air Force units should be set-up. The theater commander can be from Army or Air Force.
The headquarters need not be in the same location. This way there is dispersion of command
assets. In the southwest and southern sectors there could be tri-service theater commands
led by competent officers from any of the services. As a start, a joint theater
warfare/command school should be setup in the National Defense College, by combining the
existing elements from the different service establishments, which are now scattered all
over in isolation.
Survivable force deployment
The strike force assets have to be deployed such that it ensures
survivability after a first strike. It is possible to designate some formations as strike
units. This would surely invite retaliation on them. A better posture would be to provide
NBC training to all delivery formations and have the units attached as needed by the
strike command in a matrix approach. In this approach the units are tasked to perform
their conventional role. However under extraordinary circumstances, the command under the
strategic forces commander. The object is to raise the cost of first strike for all
aggressors. By having all combat aircraft trained for this mission but assigned only as
needed it would require the aggressor to dedicate a large amount of his assets to first
strike. If one takes into account the various military formation facilities, command and
control centers, and commercial centers it would require a large number of incoming which
would rule out every one except the most determined challenger. In other words in order to
maximize the survivability have a large number of facilities where the credible deterrent
could be located. When the submarine platform is inducted the emphasis will shift
There is a false debate about the need to deploy the deterrent in a
de-alerted status- separate the payload from launch vehicles. This is possible only when
all NWS go to such a status. As India has threats from a neighbor, which cannot give a NFU
pledge, it is not possible to take this step. It would be de-stabilizing and invites an
aggressor to launch a first strike hoping for international intervention to prevent
Another issue is whether tactical devices will be inducted. This is
portrayed as a way of reducing the tempo and a confidence building measure. Due to the
short distances involved, it is postulated that not having tactical devices would be a
stabilizing measure. However if the other side knows that the Indian side does have access
to such means, it will be deterred from escalation when faced with a conventional
superiority even on it own territory. It cannot use the first strike against fielded
forces, as it would be faced with retaliation. It rises the cost of first strike to the
aggressor, as he has to attack more units.
Foreign Policy & the Political class
The task of the diplomats is now even more challenging. They have to
behave maturely as representatives of a nuclear weapon state. It is even more important to
mend fences with the neighbors. The Gujral doctrine and Lahore declaration are steps in
the right direction. More emphasis has to be placed on trade and economic diplomacy. The
formation of South Asia Preferential Trade agreement (SAPTA), South Asia Free Trade
Agreement (SAFTA), BMIST and Indian Ocean Region (IOR) are steps in integrating the
economies to reduce tensions and disgruntlement. The economic disparities are what fuel
illegal immigration. It is essential for the foreign policy establishment to identify key
issues that effect India and its place in the world and act accordingly.
Need to negotiate with IMF/WB with a clear purpose for which the loans
are needed and implement them in a timely manner. At the same time the need is to divest
the GOI of loss making public sector enterprises and free up the economy of debilitating
laws and procedures which hamper economic growth. It means carrying the economic reforms
forward and reduce the subsidies. The message has to be sold to the Indian public to
ensure consensus and continuity.
The chattering political elite elected to the Parliament and attached
to the MEA, MOD, HM, committees, has to undergo training and course work from National
Defense College. This way they understand the dynamics of the issues they are elected to
handle. Some of the budget (Rupees 1 crore, already allocated to them, to spend in their
constituencies) they get, should be used to hire staff to help them in their work. While
on this subject, it is important to develop civil defense measures to mitigate an
unfortunate first strike. Around potential targets, it is important to develop satellite
townships, medical facilities to treat radiation and burn damages, stockpile antibiotics
and iodine, improve fire fighting techniques and equipment. Institutions like the National
Police Academy, Administration College, etc. should conduct regular courses in dealing
with this calamity.
Payload credibility aspects have been addressed in the POK-2 round of
tests conducted in May 1999. The conference conducted in the aftermath added a lot of
transparency to the payloads available. The numerous interviews and statements from
officials at BARC have gradually peeled the layers of secrecy around the tests and add to
the overall credibility. The seismic results and the evaluations were published in BARC
newsletters. The radio-chemical analysis was completed and the results were confirmed in
Parliament and the Press. True there is the matter of the Wallace and Barker reports in US
based journals. These were addressed by BARC in their November, 98 newsletter. In
retrospect, the two papers highlight the limitations of the CTBT monitoring system-
multiple explosions, yield estimation in un-characterized regions, and sub-kilo test
The regional delivery systems have been calibrated with the test firing
of Agni-II. It is an all-up solid fuel, rail/road mobile system and can be widely
dispersed in sub-continental India. The follow-on programs (Agni-III etc.) are necessary
to ensure that the deterrent posture can handle long range threats. Additionally, the DRDO
and ISRO launch programs have to be more closely integrated. This way developments in
launch vehicles can be quickly introduced into the deterrent system in an affordable
manner, minimizing the negative impact to schedule and costs. The launch vehicle successes
will assure the reliability of the posture. This will invite more scrutiny from
international entities. This is bothersome, however if the Indian deterrent is accepted
than, the dilemma is less difficult than the sale of nuclear reactors to China which has
done more to proliferate than any other country.
The deterrent posture has been presented as being a
minimum. This has not been defined further as to how much is a minimum? Jasjit
Singh has suggested it as that which deters an aggressor the maximum. The
question has wider implications.
Strategic balance issue
For the outside world, it effects the strategic balance and arms
control. The world is seeing a reduction due to end of Cold War, affordability
considerations, and rationalization. A large number of weapons in South Asia would upset
the balance and cause an upward movement in the arsenals of hitherto reducing countries.
But there are other reasons for this also - deployment of theater missile defenses in East
Asia, national missile defenses in US, degradation of conventional capability in Russia,
expansion of the Western alliance system into out-of area and the propensity to ignore
international collective political organizations like UN. At the height of the Cold War
the SALT agreement was signed, between the US and Soviet Union, which placed an upper
bound of around 6000 strategic weapons each. As the Cold War wound down, the numbers were
reduced to around 3000 each. There are prospects that these numbers could go down further
with future rounds of START. These agreements do not include tactical weapons. The other
second tier states are reputed to have the following- France-550, UK- 300, and China-450.
These numbers are being reduced for the European states (400 and 192 respectively), due to
rationalization. Moreover, they are purely based on submarines, which are more survivable.
It is important to note that, China is supposed to have around 300 strategic and 150
tactical weapons. However, it has very limited number of long range delivery systems (less
than 20). This means most of its arsenal is developed, to address a local context.
For India, the number has to be formulated taking into account various
factors. Some of which are-
Threat perceptions, the nature, location, and political disposition of
the challengers- democratic need less deterrence while autocrats need more, the
survivability of the force, and international geopolitics play great role. Indian adoption
of theater missile defenses to reduce the number of in-coming payloads from regional
challengers would help the minimal aspect, as the force would become more survivable. It
would become very complicated to examine all these factors. A possible approach is to
envision the security situation in terms of low, medium, and high risk.
Let us examine the low risk situation. In this scenario, there is the
1999 level of political situation- US and NATO primary security alliance, declining
Russia, ascending but reforming China and Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif type of
India should have the capability to destroy 20 long range, 30 medium
and 50 regional targets. These are based on ensuring enough destruction capability to
deter any aggressive behavior from any quarters. If only modest numbers are available, it
would mean a reverse kamikaze situation- a negligible, minuscule retaliatory strike on a
challenger who has delivered excessive destruction to the Indian State in a first strike.
As the Indian deterrent program is based on minimal testing and low yield devices (<
45kt), it would require three times this numbers to assure destruction. These numbers
could come down with further delivery vehicle tests to prove reliability and accuracy;
again if new payload details are revealed and accepted by the challengers, the numbers
could go down.
Add to this another hundred to ensure survival of first strike. This
number could go down, if a global or bilateral no first use agreement is reached with the
NWS states. Another would be if a mutual de-targeting agreement were signed with principal
NWS. A NWS declaration about not expanding their doctrine to non-nuclear threats would not
be of much use to India in this case as she does not intend to use such threats- B&C
Add to this about a hundred for pipeline process- weapons at lab, under
replenishment, in logistic cycle, unavailable due to any reason etc. This number is not
subject to any trimming.
India is not part of any global security arrangement and has to rely on
itself. The numbers suggested reflect this. If it were to be accommodated in international
forums and mutual threat reduction mechanisms, then participation in reduction regimes can
An argument is being articulated that, India should come up with its
numbers by taking a page from the French and UK arsenals. After the collapse of the Soviet
Union, these states do not face a challenge to their existence. Also, being members of
NATO they have an extended umbrella from US. Moreover, they have deployed their arsenals
on survivable platforms nuclear submarines. The two powers have conducted 200 and
45 tests respectively which gives them assurance on reliability. They have special
agreements on weapons with the US, which gives them access to know-how. On the other hand,
China has in the eighties clarified that its NFU applies only to the P-5 which are
recognized by NPT and it does not apply on its own territory. India is not a member of NPT
and China claims vast areas of Indian territory, in Arunachal Pradesh among others. India
would be an implicit victim of this clarification In addition it has created security
problems for India by transferring nuclear weapons technology and material to Pakistan,
not to mention violation of the very treaty confers special privileges on it- NPT. The
Indian posture should be based on numbers which give it comfort and assurance and not on
any external insights. If this results in a higher number for Pakistan so be it. The
thinking among experts is Pakistan will try to match India and will not let itself, be
left with lower numbers and this could lead to a failed state. This problem is not of
Indias choosing. Pakistan is a sovereign state and is quite capable of making its
own decisions. In addition what is to prevent China from transferring more weapons to
Pakistan? It has not obeyed laws in the past. It signs treaties for convenience and
ignores them when it suits their perception.
Medium Risk situation
An un-representative military government in Pakistan, which is in an
alliance with a totalitarian, un reforming China would represent a medium risk security
scenario. They could encourage insurgencies in border-states, and hold out prospects of
simultaneously threatening India.
This situation would require additional delivery vehicles and weapons,
which can be used in a regional context. Examples are additional lower yield weapons for
battlefield use, and more higher yield weapons for counter- value targets in China. Add
another hundred of these to the numbers from low risk scenario.
High risk situation
An aggressive Western alliance, alone or in consort with the medium
risk scenario is one situation, which comes to mind. Another is a change of politics in
Russia, which exhibits tendencies inimical to Indian interests. The point is, any grouping
which has large numbers of nukes available to them and has inimical disposition has to be
These would require more, high yield payloads and long range delivery
vehicles on survivable platforms. It could also require MIRV development and would be a
costly endeavor. The challenge to Indian diplomacy and the political class is to prevent
the emergence of this situation. The main limitation to handle this situation is access to
fissile material and the strength of the economy. Low cost technology initiatives to
maintain this option are- regular PSLV launches of multiple satellites, production
facilities for advanced fusion materials, a robust command and control system, and
ballistic missile nuclear submarines.
Disincentives for rational challengers
While formulating the doctrine, it is important to consider the various
disincentives to rational challengers. Any use of nuclear weapons on India would represent
a break down of the de-facto moratorium on first use that has existed since the end of
Second World War. That happened in an atmosphere of extended war resulting in large
casualties, on and off the battlefields in addition to systemic mass genocide in Europe
and vast experimentation of biological weapons by the Japanese in Asia. A first use now
would mean the breakdown of the first use moratorium. This would start copycat use and is
not in the interests of the super-powers who would be potential targets.
Another consideration is arsenals are not in vacuum. In other words, in
the world of limited numbers due to arms control and four letter treaties, the small time
challengers would make themselves vulnerable to the bigger fish and have to operate with
this in mind.
Arms control Regional and global
Arms control is one aspect that has impact on the minimum aspect of the
deterrent. Both regional and global agreements can serve to reduce the need for large
numbers. Regional agreement can serve to ensure smaller number of low yield and global
agreements can ensure smaller high yield.
India should take advantage of promoting global weapons reduction, as
it would serve its security interests. The current strategy of global disarmament is not
feasible. The indefinite extension of NPT shows that nukes are here to stay. Only thing
that can be done is to limit their numbers and ensure no adverse impact from them. Some
measures are reducing number of tactical weapons worldwide. This would serve as confidence
building measure for the large alliances as they seek to expand their influence and nature
from defensive to offensive. Another would be to separate the fusion components from
deployed weapons, as this would reduce the destructive impact of accidental launches.
India has enunciated a nuclear doctrine, which needs further
elaboration in certain areas. Some of these are explored and suggestions are made keeping
the stated policy in mind. Parallel activity to protect the doctrine is also examined. As
India completes the elections and emerges into the 21 century as a full fledged self
confident member willing to bear the responsibilities that come with POK-2, it is hoped
some of the concepts spelled out here are found useful. As a minimum they should help
understand the doctrine, as it is unveiled.
Since the publication of a draft version of this article in Bharat-
Rakshak in late April, a series of events have happened in the sub-continent and globally.
First the Kargil intrusion, in which Pakistani intruders occupied mountain tops in Kargil
sector of Kashmir and were evicted by the Indian Armed Forces with out conflict spill
over. The caretaker cabinet announced its Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND), which is for the
next elected government to take up. The draft generally follows some of the logic in this
article. Elections have been held and a new government has been put in place. There was a
military coup in Pakistan with the military firmly under control of the nuclear forces.
The BARC has published the radio-chemical analysis of all its tests confirming the yields
of the May round of tests.
The US Congress provided the President with sanctions waiver
authority, which has been exercised to the extent possible. The news reports indicate the
Singh-Talbott talks are set to resume in mid November 1999. The US Senate has rejected the
ratification of the CTBT and this has lead to a stalemate in the efforts to ban global
testing. There exists a national moratorium on further tests, which is voluntary. Perhaps
national means should be the way out of this labyrinth. The coming months will see the
process of accommodating India into the global security architecture.