An IDC Review

A review of four books by Ashley Tellis, Dr Sanjay Badri Maharaj , George Perkovitch and Raj Chengappa, each related to the nuclear status of India and Pakistan


New Delhi, 22 November 2001

IDC Comments

There is a hyped fear that Al-Qaeda terrorists may have access to nuclear bombs, as Pakistani nuclear scientists were in contact with Osama bin Laden for transfer of technology and a home in Kabul had diagrams of Nuke making. IDC has perused a lot of material and has also met Dr Raja Ramanna, India’s Openhiemmer, who is in New Delhi for the Parliament session. We are convinced that even a crude bomb needs expertise in metallurgy, triggers, detonators and delivery platforms.

Analyzing the Taliban’s and Osama’s ambition to use nuke terror, although it may be present but appears to be too far fetched to be successful. Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist who interviewed Osama recently said that bin Laden claimed that he could buy the weapons for 10 to 20 million dollars from the Central Asian Republics. IDC feels chemical and bio weapons may be easier to come by, as Iraq used them in its war with Iran and Soviet Super Virus designer –– Igor Domaradsky now 75, explained how he produced Plague and Cholera weapons for battle, but nuclear devices are a far cry for Osama.

IDC therefore has great pleasure in reviewing four very important books on the subject of Nuclear Posture of India and Pakistan, as it has become very relevant post the 11 September hijacking attacks in USA. There is evidence with Indian intelligence that a Somali Diplomat posted in India also tried to get nuclear technology for the Al Qaeda group. He was deported or escaped action as India is normally soft on diplomats (they even sell their wares, liquor etc. with impunity and carry on other side businesses, which is impossible in many other countries. The name of this Sudanese gentleman and another, which appeared in the media in Delhi, have now also been linked to the attack on USS COLE.

IDC has been saying repeatedly that India's intelligence inputs are excellent, plenty and meaty, but even now no reform for making intelligent use of it has been attempted –– though we keep hearing that it would happen –– but the turf wars continue. Intelligence is also money for jam. It is a pity that the political hierarchy, the Cabinet and Home Secretaries who are to control it, have little knowledge how to go about its analysis and follow up. With busy Ministers forming the NSC which seldom meets, the over burdened and globe trotting NSA, a powerful Chairman JIC ––  dislodged to become the Secretariat of NSC and more changes in the offing for RAW, IB and MIs –– there is even more diffusion. Media reports indicate that the core group formed to list terrorist groups is getting no cooperation from “State police”.

BOOK REVIEW -- THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR (Lancer Publishers & Distributors)

By Dr Sanjay Badri Mahraj  

Sanjay Badri Mahraj who teaches and lives in Trinidad breathes Indian and Pakistani defence affairs and the only criticism one can offer is he is emotional. He is a knowledgeable but modest military analyst with deep knowledge of Indian and Pakistani nuclear stances, with an abiding interest in India. His book ‘The Armageddon Factor’ is eye opening for the minute details he provides on India’s nuclear posture, capabilities and deployment. He assumes and proves India and Pakistan have clear ability to convert their infrastructure into deliverable nuclear weapons at short notice.

He has done an admirable job of detailing the progress of India’s nuclear trail and the great point of his book is that he has threaded it with excellent quotes from the media and others in an academic style, which holds credibility. Then he goes further which no other book does –– to discuss the Armed Forces of India and how the arsenal can be delivered. The whole range of Mirages-2000, Jaguars, Prithvi and Agnis are laid bare and the operational aspects of the India Pakistan orbat along the border are scripted.

In the bargain he discusses DRDO, Plutonium and Uranium usages and attacks on each others nuclear facilities. He has explained Pakistan’s route via the uranium path in some detail. His battlefield scenario deserves credit. IDC was more impressed because he has discussed the views of the British bureaucrat Quinlan, who came to India and met a whole lot of Indian experts including IDC. His picture of India’s stances and abilities became clear by the day. Having supervised the British nuclear programme, he asked the right questions over tea and spirits and IDC is sure British Intelligence has his feedback. The book also discusses nuclear deterrence and whether it will work in the subcontinent. The book has great professional value for operational commanders and thinkers.

IDC Comments

 IDC was impressed so we got Sanjay to review Ashley Tellis’ book. We do not fully agree with his Review but we offer it to our readers. Ashley Tellis now Security Adviser to US Ambassador Blackwill in Delhi has written a long and detailed book, which needs paraphrasing if it is to be enjoyed. The plus point in his book is the explanation that India has been compelled to look at nuclear deployment. Recessed and spread all over under civilian control with the ‘core’, the ‘trigger’ and ‘assembly’ in different pockets, where they are kept ready to be deployed, the military is out of the loop except to practice conventional acts with dummy warheads.

The Indian Navy has been doing missile firing practices with dummy warheads and knows that this can be practical. India has to use this SWADESHI nuclear policy and hence the NO FIRST USE stance, as there is no other option. If India tried to militarise the nuclear arsenal like USA and Russia have done it will go broke. As Quinlan explained when he came to India, UK had to give up the land based nuclear forces altogether and lean on Uncle Sam for their Submarine based nuclear deterrence. China is an enigma but IDC can confirm that plans to have a TRIAD are firm in the Government’s thinking –– as disclosed by the Defence Secretary at a seminar. Ashley’s book deserves a long review. He was funded by the Rand Corporation and if India follows suit then IDC would like to do the job –– but India does not like think tanks. Only the IAS can be our think tanks!)


Reviewed by Dr Sanjay Badri Mahraj.

In the aftermath of India's nuclear tests, the United States scrambled to find ways to relate to and deal with a nuclear India. Questions such as how advanced is India's nuclear weapons technology, how many weapons does India intend to produce and what doctrine will govern the shape of this arsenal and the possible employment of these weapons, assumed great importance to US policy makers. Tellis' book intends to answer some of these questions and guide US policy makers in their dealings with India. He was commissioned by RAND to write this book.
Noble intentions indeed, but does Tellis fulfill these objectives? Tellis begins, as one would expect, with an overview of the development of India's nuclear arsenal and the nuclear tests of 1998 and immediately the shortcomings of his work become obvious. Tellis, in his assessment of the 1998 tests, launches a savage denunciation of the Indian claims based –– in large part –– on an early analysis of the tests by Dr Terry Wallace. Tellis accepts, and spends a great deal of time
regurgitating, Wallace's view that the tests were between 9–16 kt and scoffs at India's thermo- nuclear capability. He even pours scorn on any suggestion of an Indian capability of boosted fission weapons. Unfortunately, Wallace's yield assessments have been thoroughly and completely discredited by the Federation of American Scientists as well as independent Indian scientists. The Federation of American Scientists puts the yield of the thermonuclear test as between 22 and 30 kt and suggests that a weapon of 2-300 kt yield could be developed without too much trouble. Furthermore, a group of three independent analysts have strongly refuted Wallace's claims and have suggested yields closer to BARC's claims and have pointed to the real possibility of the thermonuclear device being over buried.

This scientific evidence serves to severely undermine Tellis' analysis of India's nuclear capability as he spends a great deal of space attempting, on the basis of what now appears to be faulty analysis, to deny India's thermonuclear capability. He then extrapolates Indian weapons capability into the future based on this. With a seriously compromised starting point, Tellis's claims and assessments have major credibility problems. Tellis, however, does a reasonable job of comparing various assessments of India's plutonium stockpile. Unfortunately, even this is undermined by Tellis's dogmatic views on the viability of reactor grade plutonium for
weapons. That there are genuine problems with the use reactor grade plutonium is undeniable. However, many competent nuclear scientists, including those at the Federation of American Scientists, suggest that by the use of gas boosted primaries, India could make use of its reactor grade plutonium stockpiles to make viable nuclear weapons. Tellis does not assess these viewpoints in any meaningful way. He is firm on his position and cites evidence to support it and fails to deal with the opposing viewpoint. In the 'technical' part of Tellis's book, there is a suggestion by the author that India should not underestimate Pakistan's nuclear capability. No problem there. However, Tellis's evidence for this is abyssmal to say the least –– citing a bizzarre MSNBC report in 2000. The report that he refers to is completely inaccurate on the basis of all scientific evidence and if Tellis chooses to use it, he should provide greater evidence for his claims. This 'technical' part forms nearly half of Tellis's book and makes for very aggravating reading by anyone familiar with the subject.

The rest of Tellis's work deals with somewhat more esoteric matters relating to India's deterrent versus Pakistan and China and India's emerging nuclear doctrine. With these topics, Tellis performs somewhat better. His work on command structures, in particular, and command and control issues is very impressive. If one is cynical, this could be because he is speaking of things to come and as such nobody can verify whether he's correct or not! Nonetheless, it is interesting reading as he explores the various permutations and combinations of structures likely to be adopted by India. Tellis is a strong proponent of India not looking at keeping assembled nuclear weapons married to delivery systems. India, he claims, intends to ensure 'Assured Retaliation' rather than rapid retaliation. The evidence for his claims are a bit hazy, but they cannot be ignored.
Tellis also spends some time looking at the military map of India versus China and examines the various methods that India might use to deliver a warhead onto a Chinese target. Again, Tellis's technical shortcomings make themselves obvious. His assessment of military technology strikes one as being a bit too 'textbookish'. Furthermore, he missed an important news item carried in Janes' Missiles and Rockets where the range of Agni-2 was given as 3700 km. With that range, Beijing could be targetted from points in Eastern India. This is perhaps quibbling over details, for Tellis does a reasonably good job at assessing many aspects of the nuclear relationship and balance between India and China. It certainly puts things into an interesting perspective. Tellis's conventional military assessment of India and its operational doctrine vs Pakistan is, however, very deeply flawed. Tellis places great reliance on some work he did in the mid 1990s for RAND and on a RAND report on the Indian Air Force published in 1995. Both sets of work are of very poor quality as they rely on press reports and poor analysis of these reports. They also relied on an obsolete military doctrine. As such, a lot of his discourse on the Indian military's capabilities and doctrines are not of any real value.

The final part of Tellis's book is its briefest and deals with America's relationship with a nuclear India. For India's policy makers, it is of importance to note that Tellis believes that the US should stay engaged with India, not so much out of strategic commonalities or out of a greater understanding of India's security concerns, but to guide and limit India's nuclear arsenal and its objectives. If India seeks to maintain strategic independence, America's intentions should be viewed with a bit of caution.

There remains one other aspect of Tellis's work that needs to be examined –– his tone. Tellis's tone is one of sneeringly arrogant dismissal towards anyone who does not support or acquiese to his apparently pre-determined perspectives. On the technical aspect, in particular, Tellis does not restrain his condescension towards Indian claims. In light of the dubious scientific basis of his assertions Tellis should be much more circumspect. Tellis loves to use the word 'unsubstantiated' –– many time incorrectly especially if one were to go back to the orignial book or article) to dismiss any Indian claims, but he never debates or refutes them on the basis of real evidence or scientific fact. Tellis seems to have picked the sources he agrees with and, instead of evaluating contrary opinions, opted to dismiss them. Tellis makes no provision for the fact that different assessments and interpretations can be made on the same material. Indeed, many of the views he chooses to dismiss are in fact based on similar, if not identical, material to his own sources. Moreover, Tellis himself is not above making completely unsubstantiated claims. His assessments of India's NBC defences and his support of the MSNBC story on Pakistan's nuclear capability are both unsubstantiated and renders his attempts to dismiss contrary viewpoints as being 'unsubstantiated' somewhat hollow. This is not proper research and it serves to severely undermine Tellis's work. Tellis's biggest problem is his complete lack of appreciation for and understanding of nuclear technology and military tactics, operations and technology. He can be forgiven for this since few academics have such an appreciation or understanding. Tellis's problem is, however, compounded by the fact that he does not understand the extent of his own ignorance.

(The views expressed above are those of the author and IDC does not necessarily subscribe to them)

IDC Comments

For professional readers IDC commends Sanjay’s book as it is practical and Tellis’ book as it is professional. Sanjay explains the 444 and 555 Missile Groups set up along with the Artillery, problems along Afghanistan border even before 9–11 and India’s ADGES, AREN and Air Defence Control. He touches on CBMs, DRDO attempts for the ASWACs plane, EMP in aircraft and BARC’s attempts in future nuclear technology.  It is only then that the reader can fully grasp the state of India’s nuclear ability which is diffused and spread out but ready to be put together. 

IDC had met Dr Waldo Stumpt the builder of South Africa’s Atomic Bomb when he came to India in 1993 and he too had such thoughts, which must have influenced the Indian Scientific Community. Mr Quilan from UK whom IDC holds in high regard, had different thoughts. The military has taken it lying down as it does most matters. IDC is of the view that to make even the simplest weapon system operational some military personnel have to be fully involved. We see no signs of that except the IAF having done some work with the Mirages and Toss Bombing. Possibly the Government is waiting for the CDS and Strategic Forces to come into being. On the Pakistan side the weapons appear to be further operationalised and hence the world worries on the Indo-Pak equation over Kashmir.

The other two books are George Perkovich’s ‘India’s Nuclear Bomb –– The Impact on Global Proliferation’, Berkley - UCLA Press, which again lists the whole programme and achievements and is a theoretical expose of India’s bomb. Finally there is “Weapons of Peace” by Raj Chengappa, an excellent journalist, who with interviews from all the Who’s Who of India has written a very readable book published by Harper Collins –– who made good money on it. It tells you tit bits of how every Government except possibly Morarji Desai cleverly and secretly funded and kept the nuclear programme alive. No one has written that India could have also got into the Pressler amendment trap if the CIA knew and they probably did, but then world politics is –– ‘you scratch my back and I will tickle yours in return’. That is the political state between India and USA today and the rest is history and CIA was also fooled during Pokhran II. India too must realise that there are no permanent friends only interests.

We have everything going for us except the economy and resolution of the Kashmir problem and we feel that in a small way we are contributing to solve these two issues. Hence this longish piece on NUCLEAR STATUS, which we hope you enjoy and we look forward to your feedback.

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