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Volume 2(3)
November-December 1999



































































































































































































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 India’s 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 India’s 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 neighborhood.

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 chiefs.

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 yield devices.

Joint operations

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 accordingly.

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 retaliation.

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.

Credibility Issues

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 detection.

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.

Minimum aspects

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 representative rule.

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 W.

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 be considered.

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 India’s 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 considered

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.

The author would like to thank Rupak Chattopadhyay, the editor, for his comments and suggestions.


Copyright Bharat Rakshak.