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.