(Analysed and summarised by IDC.. For full text of foreign researcher's article Click Here)

The Kargil conflict raised many concerns around the world about the nuclear postures of both India and Pakistan. To most of the world, an artillery duel in a remote mountain area is not an issue of major interest. But when both the parties involved have nuclear weapons, an outbreak of hostilities between them does cast a horrid nuclear shadow. To begin with, let us examine the nuclear landscape around the sub-continent. Nuclear capable submarines of the US and UK regularly patrol the Indian Ocean. China, France and Russia also possess nuclear submarines and presumably these also spend some time here. China is reported to have the capability of reaching the US with its Dong Feng-4 missiles and is also reported to have developed and deployed tactical nuclear weapons. The Chinese have also reportedly supplied Pakistan with long range missiles which can be tipped with nuclear warheads against an "Indian nuclear threat".

All of this has caused many factions in India to advocate for increasing nuclear capabilities. Naval advocates are pushing for a sea based nuclear deterrent force. India has an on-going programme to build a nuclear submarine but the project is six years behind schedule and has already incurred a 300% cost over-run. Defence analysts say that China has the ability to launch a devastating nuclear attack against India without fear of retaliation unless we operationalise the long range Agni-4 or a submarine based nuclear missile force. They argue that China could take out military targets without inviting strategic intervention and thus open the path for a Pakistani armoured thrust towards Delhi. "Even a limited tactical nuclear attack can have military consequences greater than the three wars fought with Pakistan to date". The argument that because US, UK, Russia, France and China all have submarine nuclear capability, India remains vulnerable to a nuclear blackmail hence a "triad" of land, sea, and air based nuclear capability is necessary to protect the nation.

As for reality on the ground, firstly, at the present rate of progress, India’s nuclear submarine is years away. Even if we acquire the capability of sea launched missiles, of what value would they be? Why would China even consider "taking out military targets in India" to open a path for Pakistani armour? If such an attack did occur, the least of India’s problems would be Pakistani armour. What, prey tell, is "a limited tactical nuclear attack"? In what manner would the US, UK, France, or Russia wish to use nuclear blackmail against India?

Against this backdrop, the Vajpayee government has recently issued a statement of nuclear doctrine. The doctrine, issued by a caretaker government preparing for elections, was described as "a draft document designed to generate debate". One would have to look a long time to find anyone who believes this. This document is but another "in-your-face" demonstration of the willingness of the Vajpayee government to use any means at its disposal to gain political advantage. The first was the Pokhran II test followed by the announcement of the nuclear doctrine. The major points enunciated in the doctrine are:

  • To pursue minimum credible nuclear deterrence.

  • Not to be the first to initiate a nuclear strike but, should deterrence fail, to respond with punitive retaliation.

  • No use or threat of use against non-nuclear states or states not aligned with Nuclear powers.

  • To maintain sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared nuclear forces.

  • To have a robust command and control system in which the nuclear trigger is with the Prime Minister or his designated successor.

This is not exactly a brand new statement of policy. Nor is it particularly definitive. It is a broad set of principles that invite all sorts of operational interpretation.

Before discussing some of the glaring problems with India’s nuclear direction, let’s think for just a moment about a couple of nuclear realities. Suppose some regional conflict were to spark a nuclear exchange. What would happen? It does not take any great stretch of imagination to suppose that a belligerent would not waste its limited nuclear capabilities to obliterate central Bihar, the Rajathstan desert, Bellary or Goa. Even a small device, say one the size of the bomb that made much of Hiroshima disappear, exploded in or over Bombay, New Delhi, or Calcutta would cause catastrophic loss of life and damage to the economic survivability of the country. The initial blast would probably incinerate a million or more people instantly. They may well be the lucky ones. The shock wave and thermal effect from the blast would level a huge area and cause devastating fires killing more millions of people. The really unlucky people would be the ones who survive the initial blast, the collapsing buildings and the fires. These people, maybe a million more, would die a very slow and painful death from radiation poisoning. More would die years later from various forms of radiation caused cancer. In addition to purely nuclear related deaths, even more people would die of disease because surviving medical facilities would be overwhelmed and sanitation and clean water would not be available.

As long as a nuclear exchange remains possible, there is nothing India can do to defend against it. If Pakistan were to launch a missile at Bombay or New Delhi, its flight time would be 8-10 minutes. Early warning is out. That amount of time would not allow anyone to get to any sort of shelter even if such existed. One politician spoke recently about "ringing Delhi with anti-ballistic missiles. This technology is well beyond India’s reach and, in all probability, also beyond such countries as the US and Europe. Even if the technology did exist, it can be overwhelmed by multiple missiles or warheads and some will get through.

This being said, let’s think about India’s "draft" Nuclear Doctrine again. This document, in a nutshell, says that India won’t be the first to use a nuclear weapon but should anyone be so boorish as to nuke India, it will retaliate massively. Who, one must ask, is likely to nuke India? One can’t see the US, the UK, France or Russia doing that. Ruling out the West then leaves Asia, which means China and Pakistan. China, as one writer has pointed out, announced a no first use policy many years ago except within its borders. The message is clearly, "don’t think about invading us". So unless India has plans to invade China, China would seem an unlikely candidate for a nuclear exchange. Pakistan might present another problem. It has not announced any no first use policy. Why should it? Their major concern ought to be India’s conventional superiority and the nuke is one way to even out that disparity. The more India emphasizes the "high readiness – massive retaliation" part of the doctrine, the more trigger happy Pakistan is likely to become.

Deterrence is, after all is said and done, a game of bluff. Who will blink first? If you tell the other guy he can shoot first, it seems that you give away a lot of the game. This, however, is not the real problem. Back in the cold war days, neither the US nor Russia had a NFU doctrine. They had something infinitely more frightening. That was the Doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Never has an acronym been more appropriate. This simply said that I recognize you can deliver more warheads than I can stop and can destroy me but I have the same capability and the ability of surviving a first strike so you also will be destroyed. Think about it. This doctrine said that if anyone pushed the nuclear button, much of the population of the earth would cease to exist.

The concept of no first use is absurd. What if you know your enemy is preparing a strike? Are you going to wait for him to launch? To be functional a deterrent threat must be rigidly controlled. The release of nuclear weapons must be based upon very accurate, very timely and very reliable intelligence and assessment. Any error or delay in knowing and understanding what a potential enemy’s intentions are as well as what he is actually doing would result in either an "accidental" release or a delayed release. As has been discussed in relationship to the Kargil situation, India’s intelligence gathering and assessment is, at best, suspect. And then, of course, there is the question of command and control. It is more than a little frightening when someone says that ultimate release authority rests with the PM or "his designated successor". Who might this be? The likes of George Fernandes?

The problem for India is not whether it has a nuclear doctrine or whether it will or will not use its weapons first. The problem is how can India and its neighbours assure that a nuclear weapon is never used? By anyone.

There’s enough talk on both sides about actually using nuclear weapons during and post Kargil conflict. As one example a letter to the editor in ‘India Today’ which referred to a column in the previous issue by Tavleen Singh and stated, "Knowing your columnist Tavleen Singh’s pseudo-secular antecedents, I am not surprised by her opposition to the RSS’ proposal to nuke Pakistan ("Nuke Nuts in the RSS" July 12). Pakistan is a country founded on hatred. During the Kargil crisis it threatened to use nuclear weapons. Keyboard queens like Tavleen Singh inflict their pompous analyses on the readers without caring for the safety of the nation." (The RSS, for readers who may not be familiar with India’s political relationships, is said to have enormous influence with the BJP the largest party in the present coalition Govt). Interestingly, the writer of the letter was in Dubai, presumably outside of the primary fallout area. (Speaking of fallout, has anyone thought about which way the prevailing winds blow from Pakistan and where much of the deadly fallout might end up?)

Any lack of strategic thought in the governments of both Pakistan and India may make the use of a nuclear device entirely possible. Neither country has capability to stop a nuclear disaster from happening either intentionally or by accident. This capability is tenuous even in the most sophisticated governments. Why, really, does India require a nuclear arsenal? Maintaining a nuclear arsenal has not helped any of the superpowers. It didn’t help Russia in Afghanistan, it didn’t help the US in Vietnam. Nuclear weapons are not going to help the US deal with Saddam Hussein or North Korea.

The operational aspects of a nuclear India are daunting enough but what about the potential cost of building and maintaining a broader nuclear capability? Some analysts have estimated the cost to be Rs 10,000 to 15,000 crore per year (US$2.3 to 3.4 billion). It is hard to even contemplate the effect of expenditures of this magnitude on a country that stands 138th out of 175 countries in the scale of human development, a country with one billion people, one third of whom live in poverty and a country in which half of the world’s illiterate live.

Nuclearization is only going to lead India into a hopelessly expensive arms race (it is already doing so) and it will not change anything in the strategic balance of the region. No one can take back Pokhran. It happened. But the country can stop deploying nuclear weapons. Argentina and Brazil gave up nuclear capability. It is unlikely that this will happen here, no matter how noble, but deployment can be stopped and the threat of suicide held to its current level.

We invite readers of our website to send us their views on this article. We would faithfully reproduce them with their names with the hope that the debate would be conclusive.

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