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The Programmable Diplomatic Kill Switch

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If indeed “War is a mere continuation of policy with other means” [1] the metaphoric kill switches that have made their way into strategic weapons by arms manufacturers give Clausewitz’s nearly two-hundred-year-old observation new meaning. The ability of states that manufacture complex strategic networked weapons systems to simply turn off or at least partially disable such systems, on demand, is not really new.

This capability is not simply to ensure such weapons cannot be turned and used against states that manufacture them. It can and will be used when it is in the interest of third-party states to modulate a conflict. International relations could be steered down a path that was once traveled down by surrogates of superpowers.

Surely, a kill switch is not a marketing feature, nor will one have its tutorial in the training manuals of the U.S. FA-18 Hornet’s Target Acquisition System, Israel’s Hermes and Heron UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones), or in Russia’s Iskander guided ballistic missile, among other systems. Such compromised access is made through backdoors, allowing unauthorized remote access to the computer control hardware. These backdoors are not hacked into but rather are designed into the system, analogous to the Trojan Horse tale of subterfuge.

We are not talking about the future. When the U.S. sold FA-18 jets to Australia three decades ago, they would not supply the system codes necessary to acquire enemy targets the Australians wanted them to. These jets would only lock on targets the U.S. would allow [2]. Subsequently, the Australian military developed their own Electronic Warfare Self Protection, a Radar Warning Receiver known as ALR-2002 [3]. It has been also claimed that Australian programmers discovered the codes the U.S. would not provide them [4], but both of these indigenous efforts might be the same although announced and interpreted differently. The Australian Defense Minister at the time noted “The radar of our Hornet could not identify most of the aircraft in this region as hostile … so our frontline fighter could not shoot down people who might be the enemies in this region” [5]. By 2006 Australia’s ALR-2002 project was being phased out in favor of Raytheon’s ALR-67 (V3) as this unit provided necessary access to radar signatures the Australians required, and it was fully operational whereas the ALR-2002 was still in its qualification stage. For fifteen years, the U.S. arbitrarily denied an ally access to full system capabilities.

There have been reports [6] that during a specific politically contentious period between Turkey and Israel, 2014 or before, Israel sent a strong message to the Turks through a surrogate, Azerbaijan, when some of Azerbaijan’s Israeli-manufactured UAVs were unexpectedly unable to launch. This would not be surprising as Israel’s Elbit weapons manufacturer and other IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) have tended to use unified UAV control and data centers, robustly connected via networks and satellites [7].

On September 6, 2007, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed a purported Syrian nuclear research facility, Syrian early warning radar wasn’t just jammed but it appears their entire network was disabled to such an extent that the Syrians never saw the Israeli jets violate Syrian air space. As with the Azerbaijani incident, no official mission report was made public. Much of the Syrian military only knew of the events after the facility deep inside Syria was destroyed. It seems that a combination of techniques was used, including speculation that the Israelis were able to incapacitate key pieces of computer technology using Syria’s own command and control infrastructure, including algorithm injection and infecting systems that may have actively compromised CPU (Central Processing Unit or microprocessor) function. The latter is conjecture in this case, although not without precedent. The French manufactured CPUs with the ability to be shut down remotely when used in military equipment they export [8]. Spiegel [9] wrote that a Syrian official, during a trip to England in late 2006, frivolously provided access to his laptop, allowing Israeli agents to place a Trojan Horse malware on the laptop, eventually revealing the inner workings of the purported nuclear facility. Some details can be found in the November 26, 2007, Aviation Week and Space Technology article [10] and any role the U.S. technology may have played.

Some argue that it is costly and even a security risk to incorporate kill switches in high-tech weaponry [11]. However, such an argument loses its price-performance claims as the systems move from anti-tank weapons and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (such as Stingers) to strategic drones and ballistic missiles. Besides, it is well-known that the U.S. and other major nuclear powers install safeguards not only on their nuclear arsenal (known as Permissive Action Link) but also on items such as jets and strategic bombers. For example, upon receiving a series of codes embedded in part of its target acquisition system, an F-16 will shut off its weaponry if part of its return signal information includes codes determined to be coming from a targeted U.S. asset. Its radar may send a coded pulse and listen for a specific response. This is nothing new and is used to prevent such aircraft from attacking a real U.S. piloted aircraft or other military facilities. This capability extends to other large weapons manufacturing states.

The following is taken verbatim from The Economist’s Technology Quarterly, November 30, 2013 [12]:

“Kill switches” or “backdoors”, as these features are sometimes known, have so far been associated with expensive weapon systems that must send and receive data to operate. David Kay, America’s most senior arms inspector in post-Saddam Iraq, has noted that one of the reasons why Russia’s best air-defence systems have not been installed in Iran is probably because the Iranians fear that Russia might be capable of countermanding missile launches against certain countries’ aircraft. Now similar “override” systems are being applied to small arms, too.”

Major strategic weapons manufacturers would be remiss if they did not add such a capability to control the use of their weapons.

It has been suggested that military-class GPS navigation or a time limiter be added to tactical weaponry, allowing their use in a limited geographic area and only for certain time periods, or both. A satellite overhead could reset the weapon’s timer with a stroke of a remote keyboard. If this is within the realm of possibility, the same mechanism easily becomes a kill switch, thus turning on or off the ability to exercise the weapon effectively. Worse, such a capability could permanently disable on-board computer circuitry. Even certain cell phones turn into bricks if lost or stolen. A 2011 Brookings study [13] notes how UAVs are basically networked flying computers and “on-board computer systems on drones can be equipped with kill switches that could be tripped remotely if the drones go missing” and, thus, can easily be turned into inoperable bricks by remote fiat.

Claims of disabling or altering CPU function do come with empirical evidence. A state-of-the-art Intel- or AMD-powered Windows computer comes with the ability to update its microcode. The microcode is used to translate, internally within the CPU, the individual instruction in the running software into actual operations within the CPU. Such operations could be arithmetic, logical, and/or other. This means there is access to core internals of these microprocessors, regardless of “guaranteed” safeguards. In addition, most integrated circuits over the past 25 years or so can be tested as a functional unit using JTAG (Joint Test Action Group) pins. Further, these and similar JTAG lines are available on motherboards. JTAG offers access to the internals of integrated circuits, since its function is to test subsections of finished products. Unless these JTAG lines are physically disconnected from the user, they provide sources of backdoor access.

A very convenient integrated circuit known as an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) is specifically designed to power-up without any real operational capability; it simply awaits initialization, programming, and loading of other operational procedures into the FPGA upon boot-up. In military systems, every effort is made to verify and securely feed proper instructions into the FPGA, but many of these FPGAs have been subcontracted to entities outside the borders of weapons manufacturing states, which is asking for trouble. A case in point is the American-designed, but Chinese-manufactured, ProASIC3 FPGA (also known as PA3) by Actel (now Microsemi) used in products spanning automotive to aerospace to U.S. military applications, which was purported to have a deliberate backdoor. This was demonstrated by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Quo Vadis Labs in England [14]. Some dispute a deliberate intent claiming that no evidence has been brought forth that it was an intentional design-in [15]. Others claim backdoors are everywhere waiting to be exploited [16].

Former U.S. counter-terrorism czar, Richard Clarke, stated in the Smithsonian Magazine [17] that “logic bombs” and “trap doors” exist in the U.S. supply chain of chips, routers and hardware imported from China. Clarke also stated in the same interview, “Every major company in the United States has already been penetrated by China.” This may be an extreme view, but he also suggested in memos to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice on January 25, 2001 and September 4, 2001 that something on the scale of 9/11 may be in the planning [18].

In any case, since claims of backdoors, malware, and CPU accesses peaked in 2012, U.S. government agencies have intensified the search for and programs to detect such traps, backdoors, kill switches, etc. Such activity began even as early as 2005 and 2007 [19]. By mid-2013, it was reported in Security Affairs that “spy agencies reportedly have a long-standing ban on Lenovo PCs due to backdoor vulnerabilities”, stating “the research allegedly documented the presence of hardware and firmware backdoor vulnerabilities in Lenovo chips” [20].

It turns out that Intel, the maker of the most popular series of microprocessors in the world, the x86, has added a second tiny processor to its latest chipsets [21]. The prevailing explanation for the function of this added processor, which cannot be seen by the main CPU or the operating system, is to aid in remote management. This is an enhancement to an older subsystem called Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI). However, Intel’s Management Engine (ME), a 32-bit ARC processor, in conjunction with Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT), runs in the background even when the system is powered down, has the ability to monitor network traffic with its own dedicated network stack, runs its own firmware secured with 2048-bit RSA encryption, and has access to system RAM [22]. While probably not designed to be a backdoor, it can be used as one [23].

The diplomatic nature of this metaphorical kill switch could determine the outcomes of conflicts. Of course, such manipulation of military hardware has its limits. Military secrets are most fleeting and, as such, kill switches must be used in a manner that would make their effects appear somewhat innocuous. As demonstrated by the effort put forth by the Australians on their F-18s, it will only be a matter of time before the capabilities of kill switches are overcome. In response, the controlling “diplomats” may simply increase the errors in the trajectory of projectiles, slow down the sampling rate of sensors, etc., lest the military-industrial complexes of the world lose their markets to indigenous development.


[1] “Der Krieg isteinebloßeFortsetzung der PolitikmitanderenMitteln” Everything You Know About Clausewitz Is Wrong

[2] Beazley tells of U.S. code crack

[3] Economics of War and Peace: Economic, Legal, and Political Perspectives, Ben Goldsmith, JurgenBrauer, Emerald Group Publishing, 2010. Chapter 4: Arms Export Controls and the Proliferation of Weapons Technology, pages 59-66

[4] Australia ‘cracked top-secret U.S. jet fighter codes’

[5] See ref #3, Economics of War and Peace, page 63

[6] No hard documented empirical evidence has been presented to this author to conclude causation. However, the correlation between the near absence of Israeli-manufactured Azerbaijani drone sorties with the peak in political tension encountered by Israel (in at least one specific case) is rather interesting.

[7]   Hermes™ Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) and UAV command, control & communications

[8] High-tech weapons sow fears of chip sabotage and New Technique Detects Hardware Trojans, many others such as, The Hunt for the Kill Switch

[9] How Israel Destroyed Syria’s Al Kibar Nuclear Reactor

[10] Aviation Week and Space Technology

[11] The Case for Kill Switches in Military Weaponry

[12] Kill switches and safety catches

[13] Cyber-Physical Attacks and Drone Strikes: The Next Homeland Security Threat

[14] Breakthrough silicon scanning discoversbackdoor in military chip

[15] Experts dispute threat posed by backdoor found in Chinese chip

[16] Back Doors Are Everywhere

[17] Condo Lied: Declassified memo from Clarke

[18] Richard Clarke on Who Was Behind the Stuxnet Attack

[19] Defense Science Board Task Force on High Performance Microchip Supplyand DARPA “TRU.S.T in IC’s” Effort

[20] Spy agencies ban on Lenovo PCs due to backdoor vulnerabilities

[21] Intel x86s hide another CPU that can take over your machine (you can’t audit it)

[22] Intel ME Secrets; Hidden Code in your Chipset and How to Discover What Exactly it Does

[23] Is the Intel Management Engine a backdoor?

David Davidian is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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Defense

Sleepwalking Toward Nuclear War

Igor Ivanov

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Authors: Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor S. Ivanov, Sam Nunn

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, one of the world’s most horrific conflicts.  One of the best accounts of how this tragedy began, by the historian Christopher Clark, details how a group of well-meaning European leaders—“The Sleepwalkers”—led their nations into a war with 40 million military and civilian casualties. Today, we face similar risks of mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals, compounded by the potential for the use of nuclear weapons—where millions could be killed in minutes rather than over four years of protracted trench warfare. Do we have the tools to prevent an incident turning into unimaginable catastrophe?

For those gripped with complacency, consider this scenario. It is 2019. Russia is conducting a large military exercise in its territory bordering NATO. A NATO observer aircraft accidentally approaches Russian airspace, and is shot down by a Russian surface to air missile. Alarmed, NATO begins to mobilize reinforcements. There is concern on both sides over recent nuclear deployments in the wake of the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Suddenly, both NATO and Russia issue ultimatums—each noting their respective nuclear capabilities and willingness to use them if vital interests are threatened. Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real.

Each of the strands in this hypothetical scenario is visible in the wind today, exacerbated by new threats—such as cyber risks to early warning and command and control systems, which can emerge at any point in a crisis and trigger misunderstandings and unintended signals that could accelerate nations toward war. This is all happening against a backdrop of unease and uncertainty in much of the Euro-Atlantic region resulting from the Ukraine crisis, Syria, migration, Brexit, new technologies, and new and untested leaders now emerging in many Euro-Atlantic states.

What can be done to stop this drift toward madness?

When leaders from across Europe meet in Paris on 11 November to mark the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I, those with nuclear weapons—President Donald Trump, President Vladimir Putin, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May—should reinforce the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.  This principle, articulated at the height of the Cold War by the presidents of the United States and Russia, was embraced then by all European countries. It would communicate that leaders today recognize their responsibility to work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe and provide a foundation for other practical steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use—including resolving the current problems with INF and extending the New START Treaty through 2026.

There remains the challenge of rebuilding trust between the United States, NATO and Russia so that it will again be possible to address major security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region. This was done throughout the Cold War and must again be done today. This process could begin with a direction by leaders to their respective governments to renew a mutually beneficial dialogue on crisis management, especially in absence of trust.

Crisis management dialogue was an essential tool throughout the Cold War—used for managing the “day-to-day” of potentially dangerous military activities, not for sending political signals. Leaders should not deprive themselves of this essential tool today. Used properly, crisis management can be instrumental in avoiding a crisis ever reaching the point where military forces clash inadvertently or where the use of nuclear weapons needs to be signaled, let alone considered, by leaders with perhaps only minutes to make such a fateful choice.

In reviewing the run up to past wars, there is one common denominator: those involved in the decision making have looked back and wondered how it could have happened, and happened so quickly? In Paris next week, 100 years after the guns across Europe fell silent, leaders can begin taking important steps to ensure a new and devastating war will not happen today.

Des Browne, a former British defense secretary, is Vice Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Chair of the European Leadership Network.

Wolfgang Ischinger, former German Ambassador to the United States, is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Professor for Security Policy and Diplomatic Practice at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

Igor S. Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Minister and Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation from 2004 to 2007, is President of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Sam Nunn, a former Democratic US senator, is Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Defense

S-400: A Game Changer in South Asia

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India and Russia have signed a US$5b deal, under which India will receive S-400 air defence missile system – that is poised to be game changer in South Asian strategic environment.

The Russians have definitely made a breakthrough with sales of weapons to some NATO countries with uncertain futures in the bloc (e.g. Greece, Turkey) and strong US client countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states such as the UAE. India’s procurement of five S-400 regiments that is expected to be completed in 2020 is something that is giving a new dynamics to the issue.

The main usage of S-400 long-range missile is against stand-off systems including flying command posts and aircraft such as the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). These aircraft, which are used by the US and its NATO allies with a squadron stationed in Japan at Kadena Air Force Base and in the UAE at al-Dhafra, are vulnerable to S-400 interceptors and lose their stand-off range protection.

The S-400 missile system is a state-of-the-art air defence and anti ballistic missile platform with a maximum range of 400km against aircraft while reportedly can engage ballistic missiles at 40km range. It is considered one of the best defense systems in existence. Russian-made Almaz-Antei S-400 Triumf air defense systems (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) are expected to be fully integrated with the Indian Air Force’s IACCS (integrated air command and control system). The IACCS is an automated command and control system for air defense, which integrates the service’s air and ground-based air sensors and weapons systems.

The S-400 Triumph missile defense system is a significant strategic upgrade in India’s military hardware and in its pursuit to become a global power. The development is particularly worrisome for Pakistan.  The system if deployed along Pakistan border will provide India an edge of 600kms radar coverage with option of shooting down incoming aircraft from 400kms from its territory.

However, India’s purchase of S-400s and its option to acquire upgraded US Patriot systems remains on the table as well. This extensive arms shopping spree by Indian side includes C-17 Globemaster and C-130J transport aircraft, P-8(I) maritime reconnaissance aircraft, M777 lightweight howitzers, Harpoon missiles, and Apache and Chinook helicopters. The US will likely accept India’s request for Sea Guardian drones, and American manufacturers including Lockheed Martin and Boeing are contenders for mega arms deals with India. This (S-400) will further destabilize strategic stability in South Asia, besides leading to a renewed arms race which is disadvantageous for the peace of entire region.

The Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) law tries to push back against Russia’s malign activity around the world.

“We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that would trigger sanctions under CAATSA,” a State Department Spokesperson said

When asked about India’s plan to purchase multi-billion S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

“The Administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability – including the S-400 air and missile defense system,” the spokesperson said.

Islamabad has from decades faced various stringent sanctions and severe political pressure from Washington. This all is evident from opposition over transfer of any sophisticated arms including the F-16s falcons.

The silence over such issue by Washington seems to be a part of its ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, considering China as the next global adversary. Washington is in a difficult position where it is seeking to bolster ties with India to counter China’s growing assertiveness while maintaining pressure on Russia. Whereas, China may not fret over the S-400 system deal provided to India but it will have implications for Pakistan’s Air Force and missile program both.

Finally, it cannot be underestimated that most of Indian defense system is Pakistan centric. As far conventional weapons are concerned, the balance has always been in India’s favor, because of India’s better and larger economy. Therefore, Pakistan is concerned about this deal keeping in mind that it disrupts the equation of conventional weapons that exist in this region.

The induction of S-400 might lower the nuclear threshold to a new level that is already precarious with the waivers and blessings by big powers to India. These moves have the capacity to lead the region in a spiraling arms race which can bring about an increase in instability through the escalation of an already dangerous arms buildup in the region.

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Revisiting the No First Use Policy of India Vis-À-Vis India’s Nuclear Doctrine

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The object of deterrence is to persuade an adversary that the costs to him of seeking a military solution to his political problems will far outweigh the benefits. The object of reassurance is to persuade one’s own people, and those of one’s allies, that the benefits of military action, or preparation for it, will outweigh the costs.The object of reassurance is to persuade one’s own people, and those of one’s allies, that the benefits of military action, or preparation for it, will outweigh the costs.- Michael Howard

India’s new political discourse on revisiting its nuclear doctrine has once again attracted transnational debate on the efficacy of no first use policies, despite the fact that India has repeatedly recapitulated that it is amenable to negotiate no first use treaties bilaterally or multilaterally with all nuclear weapons states including China and Pakistan. Foreign policy and strategic affairs are developed on the basis of a country’s long-term national interests and soft-power and take into consideration both internal diaspora and external factors. The foreign policy of a country does not change when governments change, but the foreign diplomacy and strategic priorities undergo changes. The Narendra Modi government has so far not suggested any change in the nuclear doctrine or the No First Use (NFU) policy on which India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is based, but the BJP’s election manifesto promised to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.” The debate was further fuelled when former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar questioned NFU policy reckoning national responsibility and political independence. Former Commander-in-Chief of Indian Strategic Forces, Lt-Gen BS Nagal, questioned NFU doctrine by posting whether it was viable for India’s political leadership to accept huge casualties by subduing its hand, realising that Pakistan was about to use nuclear weapons.

The Donald Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review embellishes the range of significant non-nuclear strategic scenarios in which the United States may scrutinize nuclear weapons use. After the recent visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to China last week, China appreciated steps taken by Pakistan in strengthening the global non-proliferation regime.  The joint statement issued;“In this context, China supports Pakistan’s engagement with the Nuclear Suppliers Group and welcomes its adherence of Nuclear Suppliers (NSG) Group Guidelines,” while Beijing’s political clout continues to barricade India’s bid in becoming a member of the NSG, the 48-member crème da la crème league, which administers global nuclear trade. The Indian nuclear doctrine was articulated in 1999 and looking at the current geopolitical developments across the world especially the growing friendship of our neighbours, it is high time to review it.  The main features of India’s nuclear doctrine as summarized by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting in January 2003, held over four and a half years after the May 1998 tests are:(i)Establishing and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent; (ii) A “No First Use” policy, i.e. nuclear weapons to be used only “in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere”; (iii)Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be “massive” and designed to inflict “unacceptable damage” and such a nuclear retaliatory attack can be authorized only by civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority; (iv) No use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states; (v) India to retain recourse of retaliating with nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack against it with biological or chemical weapons; (vi) Continuance of strict restrictions on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies, participation in FMCT negotiations, continued moratorium on testing; and (vii) Take measures for establishing a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory disarmament.

It is a common misconception that the locution ‘No first use’ is China’s contribution to international peace and stability. In actuality, the no first use formulation dates back to circa 1925 when the international community concluded a no first use treaty on chemical weapons and toxins in the Geneva Protocol. India’s not so detailed nuclear doctrine based on the concept of NFU is ambiguously strengthen by a policy of assured massive retaliation. The intent of the active retaliatory provision is to convince warmongers that, any threat or use of nuclear weapons against India shall involve measures to counter the threat, and any nuclear attack on India and its forces anywhere shall result in massive retaliation, inflicting damage to the adversary. It means that if anyone dared use nuclear weapons against India, the nation would confidently retaliate and inflict unacceptable damage on the initiator. This is India’s doctrine of credible deterrence. Picking up from this interpretation, it is clear that the Indian doctrine is hinged on the concept of deterrence by denial and not by punishment. This diplomacy is intended to put the adversary on notice that the use of nuclear weapons will imply massive retaliation. The nature of retaliation and the parameter to judge massiveness is still vague, while a policy of assured retaliation, combined with a small nuclear force built on the principle of sufficiency, could overall be characterised as minimum deterrence. China backed Pakistani government officials and diplomats have been explicitly critical of India’s no first use doctrine on the grounds that it is only a declaratory policy and can be easily amended when the necessity arises.

The nuclear doctrine of a country decides a country’s nuclear force structure, command and control system, alert status and its deployment posture. The prerequisites of the First use doctrine are hair-trigger alerts, launch-on-warning and launch-through-attack strategies and elaborate surveillance, early warning and intelligence systems with nuclear warheads loaded on launchers and ready to fire. Jaswant Singh in ‘Against Nuclear Apartheid,’Foreign Affairs, vol. 77, no. 5, September/October 1998has written, “No other country has debated so meticulously and, at times, sinuously over the chasm between its sovereign security needs and global disarmament instincts, between a moralistic approach and a realistic one, and between a covert nuclear policy and an overtone.” What our neighbours often deliberately ignore, is that India has at multiple times offered to negotiate a mutual no first use treaty with Pakistan that would be binding and verifiable. India has a very clean record of adherence to international norms. Unfortunately, a paradoxical approach has been followed by India’s principal opponents, who have violated numerous treaties with impunity, including the NPT and the MTCR. Nuclear weapons are now becoming a mere political weapon rather than weapons of ‘warfighting’. India’s nuclear doctrine is foundationally drafted based on the concept of minimum deterrence, which means that the policy and strategy would be driven by the minimalist principle.  The concept of minimum deterrence is not completely a doctrine but is a nuclear force structure. The Indian doctrine can be interpreted to be framed on ‘assured retaliation’ and this is to be implemented by a minimalist nuclear force as an assured retaliation force structure is postulated on the dogma that no one will start a nuclear tussle if the adversaries are assertive of a nuclear retaliation.

In the book Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China through Military power’, authors Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab argued, “Let alone China, India cannot even win a war against Pakistan. And this has nothing to do with the possession of nuclear weapons- the roles of nuclear and conventional weapons are separate in the war planning of India, China and Pakistan. The reason India would be at a disadvantage in a war with Pakistan is that while Pakistan has built military power, India focussed on building the military force. In this difference lies the capability to win wars.” Nonetheless, there lies an undeniable connection between nation’s conventional military capabilities and its dominance over other nations. A nuclear-armed nation with low military capability as compared to its adversaries may find it absolutely necessary to espouse an in extremis first use strategy to impede a conventional military strategy that may threaten to undermine its territorial integrity. This in nutshell is the nuclear dilemma of Pakistan. This may be one of the reasons why Pakistan does not accept India’s offer of a bilateral no first use treaty as a nuclear confidence building and risk reduction measure. On the other hand, India’s existing defence machinery due to low investment is becoming outdated, as China is rapidly reindustrialising its armed forces, raising deployment units and improving the logistics infrastructure in Tibet with a subtle intransigence in resolving the outstanding territorial and boundary dispute with India.

Former National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon in his book Choices argued, “There is a potential grey area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against NWS. Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.” Many analysts have argued that India has gained nothing and has unnecessarily elected to bear the horrendous costs of a nuclear strike by choosing to adopt a purely retaliatory nuclear policy. India’s tempestuous relationship with its neighbours, changing paradigm of Indian Ocean diplomacy and its desire to be a global power is shaping the framework of its nuclear weapons programme and policy. In order to engage global nuclear powers in a productive positive dialogue, there has to be a special diplomatic effort from the Ministry of External Affairs to strengthen its position as a responsible partner in the nuclear stability dialogue.The domain of Nuclear security has always been the prerogative of the Prime Minister Office, and it is the right time for India to revisit the existing framework and articulate and advocate for an international consensus to draft a new policy taking into account the geopolitical changes in South Asia.

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