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Make the nuclear philosophy complete

Nearly four months after Pok-haran II, a minimum nuclear doctrine is emerging. Having named its nuclear threats, India's nuclear strategy...

Written by Ashok K Mehta |
September 8, 1998

Nearly four months after Pok-haran II, a minimum nuclear doctrine is emerging. Having named its nuclear threats, India’s nuclear strategy to meet them is ready. The nuts and bolts of weaponisation, delivery means and command and control have to be out in place. The person at the heart of the nuclear doctrine is the Prime Minister’s special envoy, Jaswant Singh, though there are others in the government’s nuclear security strategy core group.

By the end of August Singh had four rounds of nuclear talks with US special negotiator Strobe Talbott, met the Chinese foreign minister and endorsed ARF’s South East Asia nuclear weapons-free zone at Manila and attended the SAARC meet in Colombo. This month his book Defending India will be released. That is not all. He has recently articulated India’s first nuclear cri d’coeur in a column syndicated by the Los Angeles Times and carried by The International Herald Tribune.

Singh has encapsulated the nuclear parameters of India’s supreme national security interests as “equal and legitimate security”. The alternative is global disarmament. He argues persuasively for a balance of rights and obligations in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation. Meanwhile nuclear tests have given India the much needed strategic autonomy in a world of unequal power balances and relations.

India’s minimum nuclear doctrine has two components: minimum deterrence and a unilateral No First Use (NFU). Both the doctrine and the emerging command and control are India-specific. Minimum deterrence relies on a credible second strike capability against the adversary who has made the first use of nuclear weapons and would therefore deter the first strike.

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The NFU policy also has two elements non-use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapons state and no-first-use against a nuclear weapons state.China is the only other country which espouses an NFU policy similar to India’s with one difference: NFU does not apply to its own territory. China lays claim over Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Minimum deterrence and NFU allow the maintenance of a limited nuclear arsenal warheads and delivery systems, and a smaller and less elaborate command and control structure. This makes the strategic deterrent affordable and prevents a nuclear arms race. It also ensures that nuclear weapons are initially not deployed and are dealerted. The nuclear pits are kept outside the casings and weapons are not mated with the delivery system. This would prevent accidental or unauthorised launch of nuclear weapons.

As far as tactical nuclear weapons are concerned, second strike doctrine blurs the distinction between battlefield, tactical nuclear weapons and strategic weapons. Since minimum nuclear deterrence does not envisage nuclear war fighting, the decentralisation of tactical nuclear weapons to field commanders becomes irrelevant. In the erstwhile western strategy of flexible response and maximum nuclear deterrence, tactical weapons played a key role in calibrating response on the escalation ladder.

India has proved its nuclear bonafides and good faith by making a set of declarations: it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, a voluntary moratorium on nuclear tests which it is prepared to link with the CTBT, readiness to discuss the cut-off in production of fissile material and accession to the Chemical Weapons Conven-tion. What is left is to campaign for a new nuclear weapons conventions which will take on board, global disarmament and a time-specific nuclear abolition plan.

Till these goals are achieved India’s paramount national security interests demand a credible minimum deterrence which is progressively upgraded to meet the challenges of the next millennium with maximum restraint, keeping the nuclear powder dry.

The mystery is why the armed forces who have to crank in nuclear strategy in operational doctrine have been kept out of the nuclear policy loop specially when the BJP is committed in its national security manifesto to correct the deficiency of past governments not consulting the services.

The writer is a retired Major General


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