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Presidential Irrationality and Wrongdoing in US Nuclear Command Authority

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Abstract: In post-World War II memory, no greater political danger has confronted the United States than the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Endowed with nuclear command authority, this unstable and openly law-violating American leader pointed the United States toward existential harms.[1] Recognizing this threat to the nation’s physical survival, General Mark Milley acted honorably and effectively to protect an imperiled republic. By expanding pertinent safeguards against any presidential abuse of nuclear command authority,[2] the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did what was necessary and proper. The following assessment by Professor Louis René Beres, who has been publishing on nuclear war-related issues[3] for more than half a century, underscores what should never again be allowed to defile America’s national security decision-making. “The safety of the people,” reminds Cicero in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

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“As to dangers arising from an irrational American president, the best protection is not to elect one.”

General Maxwell D. Taylor, from personal letter to the author, 14 March 1976[4]

Meanings of Decisional Irrationality

Strictly speaking, irrationality is not a proper medical or psychiatric term; rather, it is a more-or-less scientific description of human distortion and behavioral disposition.[5] Still, as a convenient shorthand for exploring mental or emotional debility in US presidential decision-making, this colloquial reference is adequate, timely and potentially useful. In essence, though now just retrospective, America’s most senior general officer revealed assorted verifiable grounds for questioning former President Donald J. Trump’s mental stability. Now, looking ahead, it is necessary to take a longer term and generic look at US presidential nuclear authority.

               This look must become a task for disciplined strategic thinkers, not politicians.

               How to begin? This uniquely critical area of presidential decision-making – one that has remained ambiguous or deliberately “opaque” – concerns both the right and capacity to order a launch of US nuclear weapons. To be tangibly meaningful, these intersecting decisional components must always be examined together. This is the case though any presidential nuclear capacity functioning without correct antecedent authority would be worrisome per se.

               By definition, as I have discovered personally over the past half century, these are all complicated intellectual matters. In 1976, then just five years out of Princeton as a newly-minted Ph.D., I began work on an original book about nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.[6]  From the start, I focused especially on US presidential prerogatives to order the firing of nuclear weapons.  I was most particularly interested in the potentially-plausible prospect of presidential nuclear irrationality and/or wrongdoing.

               In technically scientific terms, this did not mean a US president who was “clinically insane” (obviously the most fearsome sort of scenario), but “only” a Head of State who might sometime value some specific preference or combination of preferences more highly than American national survival. Today, at least until General Milley’s revelations, we worry more about leadership irrationality in certain other countries, most conspicuously in North Korea and Iran.[7] Nonetheless, as the JCS Chair recently disclosed, the worst atomic decisional errors could happen here. Even if this were not the case, there could still take place  variously unforeseen decisional synergies between (1) a fully rational American president and his irrational negotiating counterparts in Pyongyang or Tehran;[8] or (2) an irrational American president and his expectedly rational counterparts in such conspicuously adversarial states.[9]

In the Beginning

               Back “in the early days” of apocalyptic nuclear issues, and with an expressly American decision-making focus in mind, I entered into ongoing communication with then-former JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor. In my last correspondence with the distinguished and decorated general, he responded with a handwritten letter (attached hereto) dated 14 March 1976. As the Taylor response explicitly referenced only the dangers of an “irrational American president,” I could legitimately undertake no automatic extrapolation of his diagnosis to other strategic risks.[10]

Still, there are various related hazards that ought never be disregarded prima facie.  For example, we must become better prepared to deal with a US Chief Executive who appears more than irrational. This means a president who was seemingly “crazy,” “insane,” or “mad.”[11]

               It is difficult for me to imagine that General Taylor would have hesitated to adapt these characterizations of more advanced decisional “pathology” to the extant subject-matter scope of nuclear decision making. This is the case even though such characterizations could never be seriously scientific. To obtain authentically scientific assessments of nuclear event probability, there must first exist a determinable frequency record of pertinent past events. Unassailably (and fortunately), there has never been a nuclear war from which to draw valid strategic inferences.

               There is more. Any US presidential order to launch nuclear weapons would be effectively sui generis. The US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II did not constitute a nuclear war, but rather the American use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional war. In August 1945 (the month of my own birth in war-torn Europe), there were no other atomic bombs anywhere on earth.

               Not a one.

Whether concerned with presidential irrationality or madness, present analytic concern should be focused upon an emotionally or mentally debilitated president.[12]  Whichever applies, the truly vital questions going forward will have to do with Constitutional, statutory and other recognizable sources of US war-making authority, especially presidential right to order the use of nuclear weapons.

International Law and US Law

Urgent questions here will relate to assorted and sometimes subtle intersections of international law and US law. From the beginning of the United States, international law has been an integral part of its national law. Early on, Chief Justice John Marshall asserted and reasserted that all international law – whatever its source – had been incorporated into the domestic law of the United States.[13] Before Marshall, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on The Law of England clarified that the “law of nations” is always “a necessary part of  the law of the land.”

These Commentaries represent the authoritative foundation of all United States law.

               Under current US law, whatever its apparent jurisprudential origins, a president may correctly use military force once Congress has declared a war or after the US (and/or its citizens) have been attacked.[14] As to the permissible kinds of force and levels of force, these operational decisions would have to be determinable according to longstanding laws of war of international law (the comprehensive law of armed conflict or humanitarian international law), and also the municipal law of the United States. In any such foreseeable circumstances, there would exist no clearly identifiable prohibitions against nuclear force per se.[15]

               For better or for worse, non-weapon-specific prohibitions would apply broadly, to the extent that any US retaliation or counter-retaliation would violate the always-binding expectations of discrimination (sometimes called “distinction”), proportionality,[16] or military necessity.[17]

               Both the US Constitution and the War Powers Act place strict limits on any president’s authority to initiate hostilities with a foreign power, whether by conventional or nuclear means. A significant grey area has to do with the Commander-in- Chief’s right to strike first defensively or preemptively; that is, as a presumptive expression of “anticipatory self-defense.[18] Here, the authorizing component of permissibility must be the perception of any grave danger that is “imminent in point of time.”

               Logically, the relevant criteria of “imminence” could not reasonably be the same today as they were back in a pre-nuclear 1837. That was the year of the Caroline, the classic case setting the correct legal standard for all subsequent preemptive national action.[19]

Matters of Chronology and Crisis

               What should we have expected from former President Donald Trump if he had sometime reasoned that a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies was “imminent in point of time?” Should we have remained comfortable with leaving such a prospectively existential judgment to his own personal decisional standards of the moment? Or should this eleventh-hour option have been be a matter of more plainly shared or “concurrent authority” with the US Congress?[20]

               In actual state practice, applicable questions of law are apt to be subordinated to the overarching and ubiquitous assumption[21] that any  president’s final authority in defending the United States should never be challenged during an impending or already-ongoing crisis. This sort of assumption would become especially worrisome in circumstances where an enemy nuclear attack could be contemplated and anticipated. In brief, this means that a verifiably irrational or mad American president would likely have his military commands obeyed, up to and including an order to use nuclear weapons. This reasoning applies also to preemptive American strikes, whether launched in retaliation or counter-retaliation. It also means that while a wide variety of redundant safeguards already exists to prevent unauthorized uses of American nuclear weapons up and down the identifiable nuclear chain of command, no parallel safeguards can exist at the top or apex of this unique decisional hierarchy.

               This was the precise conclusion reached in General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 letter to me (attached hereto) on nuclear command authority.

               There is more. It remains possible, of course, and even potentially desirable, that a presidential order to use nuclear weapons would be disobeyed at one or another recognizable level of implementation. Strictly speaking, however, as any such expression of disobedience would be “illegal,” it is not sufficiently probable or reliable in extremis atomicum. The staggering irony of actually having to hope for certain high-level instances of disobedience or chain-of-command failures ought not be too casually set aside.

               Prima facie, this irony reveals that extant US nuclear-decision safeguards are sorely and overwhelmingly inadequate.

The Best Protection Lies with the American Voter           

               Is the US nuclear presidential authority dilemma remediable in any still-promising ways? “The best protection,” I learned from General Maxwell Taylor almost fifty years ago, is “not to elect” an irrational president. But now, as such straightforward advice cannot be acted upon retroactively, the residually “best protection” must lie elsewhere Among potentially gainful sources, this suggests more vigilant statutory oversight by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and certain select others. This oversight also includes a more predictably reliable willingness – either singly or in appropriate collaboration with the others – to disobey any presumptively irrational or insane presidential nuclear command.

               Such willingness could be correctly defended as law-enforcing under those universally binding Nuremberg Principles (1946)[22] that obligate all persons (especially senior government officials everywhere)  to resist “crimes of state.” Because war and crimes against humanity are not mutually exclusive, compliance with overriding Nuremberg Principles could become necessary not only to limit aggression, but also to prevent genocide.[23]

               Ultimately, America’s best chance of avoiding or surviving such a grievous threat could depend less upon any codified law or tangible institutions than the last-minute or impromptu courage of a handful of senior officials. Though any such estimation must be less than ideal or optimal, it may simply be “realistic.” To wit, it was the courage and insight of a single senior decision-maker, JCS Chair Mark Milley, that firmed up necessary Constitutional protections against a severely debilitated commander-in-chief.

Buttressed by national and international law, it is incumbent upon voting American citizens to act upon General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 warning.[24] That earlier alarm, which cautioned “not to elect” a potentially “irrational” American president, should be extended to include even a potentially “insane” Commander-in-Chief. In the final analysis, however, we may not be able to rely upon prudential and law-oriented voters to effectively save the United States from itself – that is, from prospectively aberrant nuclear decision-making. In that intolerable case, all narrowly statutory or technical directions on nuclear decision making would be overtaken by  visceral expectations of American “mass.”[25]

               Then it would be too late.

 American democracy owes a sincere debt to US General Mark Milley. In the sycophancy-driven Trump world, a world of determined anti-reason, Milley’s reliance upon law and virtue was much more than merely acceptable.[26] For US national integrity and survival, it was indispensable.

But what should we do now?


[1] For informed accounts by this author of nuclear attack effects, see: Louis René Beres,  The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975);  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy ((Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[2] This expansion included urgent consultations with chiefs of the armed forces and conversations with foreign leaders concerned about Trump-induced US instabilities.

[3] These publications have been both strategic and legal in focus.

[4] General Taylor was an earlier Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His handwritten letter to Professor Beres follows this article and the author’s bio. On August 18, 2017, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives that would have required President Donald Trump to undergo a mental health examination to determine if he is emotionally stable enough to remain in office. The proposed legislation expressly invoked the 25th Amendment, a rarely-used Constitutional provision allowing the vice-president and members of the Cabinet to remove a president from office. Rep. Lofgren’s bill did not become law.

[5] “Science,” says 20th-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis, ” by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual – is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. the latter is not possible without the former.”

[6] This book was published by the University of Chicago Press as Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[7]Irrational adversaries would likely not be deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular) see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”  The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog). February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] Nuclear risks threatening US security could form an intricately interconnected network. Capable assessments of such risk must eventually include a patient search for synergies, and also for possible cascades of failures that would represent one especially serious iteration of synergy. Other risk properties that will warrant careful assessment within this genre include contagion potential and persistence.

[10] One such generally ignored risk is “playing to the audience,” that is, seeking personal popularity at the expense of national security. Accordingly, see Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have…. anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[11] Donald Trump’s presidency brings to mind those fragments of Euripides that concern tragic endings. Here we may learn from the classical playwright, “Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad.” Inter alia, Greek tragedy explores the wider civil harms that any deranged “sovereign” mind can produce. Looking at the United States today, struggling with rampant “plague” and with extraordinary domestic instability, there is a still-discoverable wisdom in classical Greek tragedy.

[12] Significantly, neither the irrational/rational nor insane/sane distinction is narrowly dichotomous. There are, rather, multiple or “continuous” variations of each pairing, an indisputable fact that makes any more far-reaching psychological or legal analysis of these already-complex nuclear decision-making issues even more problematic.

[13]  See also “Supremacy Clause” of the US Constitution (Article VI); The Paquette Habana, 175 US 677,700 (1900); and Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726, F.2d. 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) per curiam).

[14] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[15] See, on such issues: Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion), 1996.

[16]  The principle of proportionality has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah, or Biblical Pentateuch.

[17] The principle of “military necessity” is defined authoritatively as follows: “Only that degree and kind of force, not otherwise prohibited by the law of armed conflict, required for the partial or complete submission of the enemy with a minimum expenditure of time, life, and physical resources may be applied.” See: United States, Department of the Navy, jointly with Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; and Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M, Norfolk, Virginia, October 1995, p. 5-1.

[18] Long before the nuclear age, Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel took a position in strong favor of anticipatory self-defense. Vattel concludes The Law of Nations (1758) as follows: “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” (See Vattel, “The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations,” reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust 1916 (1758). Vattel, in the conspicuously earlier fashion of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, (The Law of War and Peace, 1625) drew widely upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and Jewish law.

[19] The Caroline concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally been sufficient in law to justify certain appropriate militarily defensive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then US Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for national self-defense that did not require antecedent attack. Accordingly, the authoritative jurisprudential framework now permitted a military response to threat as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Naturally, this standard could sometimes be more easily met in our time-compressed and prospectively apocalyptic nuclear age.

[20] Reflecting this second point-of-view, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D, LA County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D, Massachusetts) introduced H.R. 669 (Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017) back on 24 January 2017. Although this proposed legislation would have prohibited the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional Declaration of War, it’s not clear that it could also have dealt satisfactorily with the irrationality/insanity issues herein under discussion. Moreover, the proposed legislation seemed to make no meaningful distinction between a nuclear first-strike and a nuclear first-use. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-lieu-senator-markey-introduce-restricting-first-use-0

[21] In part, at least, this implicitly core assumption is rooted in our continuously-anarchic system of international relations, a decentralized structure often referred to by the professors as “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the landmark Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty-Years War and created the still-extant state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two major agreements comprise the historic “Peace of Westphalia.”

[22] See Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Adopted by the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1946. Inter alia, these Principles underscore the formal jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between states. This peremptory expectation, known in formal law as a jus cogens assumption, was already evident in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 The Law of War and Peace (1625; Chapter 20); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758; Chapter 19).

[23] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948; Entered into force, 12 January 1951.

[24] “The safety of the people,” Cicero warns prophetically in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

[25] The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” Seem, also, by Professor Beres, at Yale: Louis Rene Beres,  https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage; and at Princeton: Louis Rene Beres: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[26] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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India’s Naval Modernization efforts: Implication for Regional Stability

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In recent years, India has been undertaking significant efforts to modernize its navy in order to enhance its capabilities and protect its economic interests in the Indian Ocean region. This naval modernization has been reflected in the acquisition of new ships, submarines, and aircraft, as well as the development of new base and port facilities. However, these efforts have not only implications for India but also for the regional stability in general and for Pakistan in particular. The increasing naval capabilities of India have a direct implication on the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region which could lead to an arms race and potential conflicts with other countries in the region. India’s increasing naval presence in the region could lead to increased patrols and surveillance which could have negative impact on the security of the region. In this editorial, we will examine the implications of India’s naval modernization efforts on regional stability and explore how these developments may impact Pakistan and other countries in the Indian Ocean region.

How could India’s naval modernization efforts impact South Asia’s regional stability?

However, it is important to note that India’s Naval modernizations efforts could also be seen as a response to the growing naval capabilities of other regional actors, such as China and Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s navy modernization efforts could also contribute to regional stability by providing a stronger deterrent against potential adversaries and by fostering cooperation with other countries in the region through joint exercises and other initiatives.

It is also important to consider the fact that India’s modernization efforts are also driven by its growing economic and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region, which is becoming increasingly important for global trade and energy security. These interests may lead to India to play a more active role in maintaining security and stability in the region.

It is also worth noting that India’s modernization efforts have been met with concerns from other countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, which views them as a potential threat to its own security. This has the potential to exacerbate existing tensions between the two countries.

India’s naval modernization efforts have the potential to impact regional stability in South Asia in several ways.

First, India’s expanding naval capabilities, including the acquisition of new ships, nuclear powered submarines, and aircraft carriers, new and advanced attack helicopter, rejuvenating its third eye through employment of spy satellites could potentially shift the balance of power in the region in its favor, which could fuel military tensions with neighboring countries such as Pakistan. India’s ambitious efforts could lead to an arms race in the region as other countries may follow suit and need to enhance their naval capabilities to counterbalance India’s expanding naval muscles, which could be destabilizing.

Second, India’s increased naval presence in the region could lead to increased patrols and surveillance in the Indian Ocean, which could lead to potential conflicts with other countries in South Asia, particularly Pakistan. It could affect the maritime security of South Asia.

Third, India’s naval modernization efforts may lead to an increase in military spending by other countries in the region, which could divert resources away from economic development and potentially increase income inequality, which could be destabilizing.

Fourth, India’s naval modernization could also have economic implications for the region, as India’s increased naval power may give it more influence over trade routes and access to resources in the Indian Ocean, which could have negative economic consequences for neighboring countries such as Pakistan.

Overall, India’s naval modernization efforts have the potential to impact regional stability in South Asia, and it will be paramount to closely monitor these developments and their implications for the countries in the region.

 According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India is among the top five military spenders in the world. India’s military spending has been increasing in recent years, driven by a variety of factors, including border disputes with neighboring states in region, and the growing naval capabilities of China. According to SIPRI data, India’s military spending in 2020 was $71.1 billion USD, representing an increase of around 3.9% from the previous year. The Indian Navy is being modernized and India has also been investing on procuring new naval vessels, submarines, aircrafts, weapons systems and developing new naval bases and infrastructure.

How Indian Naval Modernization efforts are affecting Pakistan’s Security?

India’s ongoing efforts to modernize its navy have implications for Pakistan. As Pakistan views these efforts as a potential threat to its own security. The acquisition of advanced weapons systems and abovementioned factors as well as the expansion of its naval bases and infrastructure, could potentially alter the balance of power in the region. While Pakistan sees this as a direct challenge toward maintaining regional balance with the help of garnering it naval capabilities.

Pakistan’s concerns stem from the fact that India’s navy modernization efforts are also driven by its growing economic and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region, which is becoming increasingly important for global trade and energy security. These interests may lead Pakistan to play a more active role in maintaining security and stability in the region, which could potentially be at the expense of India’s said military interests in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

It is worth noting that Pakistan is trying to balance in its navy to maintain the strategic balance of the region in recent years, with the acquisition of new submarines, frigates and other naval assets. This step by Pakistan has been seen as a strategic balancer in the region and response in line with India’s naval modernization aims and has the potential to further promote the peace and stability in Indian Ocean Region.

Time for World Powers to Intervene:

India’s ongoing efforts to modernize its navy have the potential to impact regional stability in South Asia, and as such, the role of world powers in this regard is an important consideration.

One potential role for world powers is to encourage dialogue and cooperation between India and other regional actors, particularly Pakistan, to address concerns and to work towards maintaining regional stability. This could involve facilitating direct talks and negotiations, as well as encouraging confidence-building measures such as joint military exercises and other initiatives.

Another important role for world powers is to support the development of regional institutions and mechanisms for addressing security challenges. This could include supporting the development of a regional security architecture, such as a South Asian security dialogue or forum, which would provide a platform for countries in the region to discuss and address security concerns.

It is pertinent to mention that India’s modernization efforts are also driven by its growing economic and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region, which is becoming increasingly important for global trade and energy security. World powers could play a role in supporting and encouraging India’s efforts to secure its economic and strategic interests in the region.

Furthermore, world powers could also play a role in encouraging transparency and predictability in the military activities of regional actors, particularly in the Indian Ocean region, through mechanisms such as confidence-building measures and arms control agreements.

In conclusion, India’s naval modernization efforts have the potential to impact regional stability in South Asia, but the effects will likely be complex and multifaceted. Further research and analysis would be necessary to fully understand the implications of these efforts. India’s modernizing its naval forces have serious implications for Pakistan could be a potential threat to its security. It is important for both countries to engage in dialogue and cooperation to address these concerns, and to work towards maintaining regional stability.

In the end, these efforts in South Asia have the potential to impact regional stability, and world powers have an important role to play in encouraging dialogue and cooperation, supporting regional institutions and mechanisms, and encouraging transparency and predictability in the military activities of regional actors.

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Why India’s No First Use Policy must remain

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The policy of No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons has for long remained central to India’s nuclear doctrine. India adopted the NFU policy after its second nuclear test, Pokhran-II, in 1998. According to its nuclear doctrine, India would refrain from a first nuclear strike and will pursue a policy of “retaliation only” while not eschewing punitive measures in case it is attacked by nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. India’s strict adherence to the NFU policy is often held by diplomats, government spokespersons and strategists as proof of its status as a responsible nuclear power. At the same time, there have been concerns regarding India’s stance on the use of nuclear weapons. Various strategists, military leaders and government officials have, time and again, regarded NFU as restrictive stating that India should reserve the right to a first strike as a security measure. Given the growing security challenges it faces in a highly unstable and contentious neighbourhood, a revaluation of India’s nuclear doctrine, particularly the no first use status, does not seem far-fetched.

India’s No First Use Policy

No First Use is a retaliation-based policy where a state employs nuclear arms only as means of retaliation against a nuclear attack by another state. The No First Use policy is rooted in the sole purpose doctrine which views nuclear weapons only as a means of deterrence. The central argument behind the adoption of NFU by nations is the recognition that nuclear weapons serve a limited purpose, that of ensuring national survival.

In the aftermath of the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee presented a paper in the Indian parliament on the evolution of India’s nuclear policy. Vajpayee argued that India’s move to acquire nuclear weapons was influenced by its security considerations. The concern that some countries permitted the first use of nuclear weapons contributed to India’s decision. No First Use was, for the first time, officially realised in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) of 1999. The DND described its policy as “retaliation only” in clause 2.3, whose section (b) further elaborated that “any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.” The DND offered two objectives for India’s nuclear weapons. First, their fundamental purpose is to deter the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state against India. Second, India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike but will respond with punitive measures should deterrence fail.

India’s official nuclear doctrine was released on January 4, 2003 having a clear emphasis on No First Use, much like the Draft Nuclear Doctrine.

Debates over No First Use

Over the years, a number of criticisms have been levied against the No First Use policy. Instead, various strategists have favoured a policy of “first use” of nuclear weapons arguing that No First Use of nuclear weapons restricts action and leads to a loss of initiative by allowing the adversary to use its nuclear weapons first in combat. Other arguments bemoan the NFU as idealist and pacifist in nature, claiming that a country engaged in combat cannot rely on the passivity that stems from it.

A policy of First Use might be prudent in the case of conventional weapons but this does not hold true for nuclear weapons. A first strike must ensure neutralising of all the nuclear capabilities of the adversary as a potential retaliatory strike has the capability of causing irreversible and unprecedented devastation due to the nature of the nuclear bomb. Hence, a policy of first strike is only effective when a country can ensure that its adversary lacks secure second-strike capabilities once the strike has been carried out.

Although by employing NFU the initiative to act rests with the adversary, the calculation of a first strike cannot be limited to just the first strike damage. Due to the modernisation of nuclear arsenals and development of secure second-strike capabilities, the inevitable retaliation leading from a first strike must be taken into account. Therefore, even an elaborate offensive strategy cannot assure victory or help escape the extent of the damage.

First use of nuclear weapons is mostly advocated in cases where the adversary’s preparation for a nuclear strike is known. It is argued that in such a scenario, it is in the benefit of nations to use the nuclear weapons rather than potentially losing them to a neutralising strike. Although possibilities of a first strike can be known, this information does not guarantee the certainty of a nuclear strike. In modern times, states use nuclear weapons not as an end but as a means for achieving their ends through coercive diplomacy and nuclear brinkmanship. In such a scenario, even stationing of nuclear weapons in an aggressive position can not be taken as certainty of a nuclear strike. Hence, if a state indulges in a preventive strike, it will be regarded as an act of aggression leading to potentially devastating retaliatory strikes as well as widespread condemnation.

Why No First Use?

India has for long presented itself as a responsible nuclear power. In the aftermath of Pokhran-II, India faced widespread criticism and international sanctions on what was regarded as an act of unprovoked aggression. In order to escape this predicament, India found official adoption of NFU to be the most prudent way forward. NFU helped in representing India as a responsible nuclear power by relegating nuclear weapons to purely defensive purposes. A more important imperative for NFU is its strategic viability. A policy of First use advocates for forces to be on hair trigger alert leading to a potential arms race which in turn contributes to instability and crisis. A First use policy can also lead to threats of miscalculation, increasing the risk of an accidental launch. NFU, on the other hand, provides a relatively relaxed posture which inturn helps in avoiding a costly and potentially devastating arms race. An abandonment of NFU will likely have repercussions in India’s immediate neighbourhood. The policy of No first use has been central to Indian strategic thinking since the Nehruvian era. The policy against use of nuclear weapons can be traced back to the 1950s when Prime Minister Nehru called for a standstill agreement proposing a ban on nuclear testing. In 1965, India advocated for a strong non-discriminatory treaty imposing a ban on nuclear weapons. Hence, the strategic culture of nuclear minimalism and restraint manifested into the adoption of the No first use policy. A shift in this policy has the potential of further aggravating hostilities in India’s neighbourhood.

The policy of No first use of nuclear weapons and the nuclear minimalism of India’s nuclear doctrine has solidified its image as a strong, credible and morally responsible nuclear power. NFU offers India great leverage in the international community. India’s bid for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group also relies on its image as a responsible nuclear power.

At a time when countries are actively advocating for the realisation of a stronger non proliferation regime, India should be at the forefront of facilitating that end rather than taking a belligerent stance and abandoning the crucial diplomatic leverage it enjoys in the international community. Although it is important to re-evaluate India’s doctrinal position to ensure that national security is not compromised, the abandonment of NFU does not present any benefits to this end. India should continue with the longstanding NFU and actively work towards the realisation of a stronger, more equal non-proliferation regime.

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Defense

Induction of Women in Indian Armed Forces

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India’s first three Women Fighter Pilots. Image source: twitter @KPMFilms

The gender of an individual is not a hindrance when it comes to applying for a position in the armed forces. In modern warfare, having the necessary skills and knowledge is more advantageous than having brute strength. The Indian Armed Forces are in dire need of a strong mixed gender force as the recruitment and retention rates have reportedly gone down. By allowing women to serve in combat roles, this can be addressed. Due to the lack of women in command posts, the Indian Army decided not to allow women to serve as commanding officers. This issue has to be addressed in order to improve the culture and norms of the Army. The political and military leadership of the country must also play a role in making these changes. Some of the world’s most prominent military organizations, such as the US, France, Germany, and North Korea, have female officers serving in front-line combat roles. Women have the right to pursue their careers and reach the top ranks of the armed forces. Equality is a fundamental constitutional guarantee. The Indian Armed Forces have seen a surge in the participation of women. In a major push to the women intake by the forces, the government has also taken significant steps to increase the percentage ratio of women officers and other ranks (ORs). Whether it’s women in combat roles or the medical services in Defence, it’s a significant push towards their empowerment also.

In contrast to developed countries such as Canada, the UK, and USA, India has taken a long time to allow women to pursue other careers apart from being medical or nursing professionals. The number of women in India’s armed forces has significantly increased over the past couple of years. They are now joining the military as both soldiers and fighter pilots. There has been a lot of talk about the entry of women into the Indian Armed Forces. In spite of the male-dominated nature of the military, young women from India have been able to break the glass ceiling and are currently serving in various positions in the country’s armed forces. The government has also approved the induction of 1,700 women as jawans into the Corps of Military Police. Although women have been accepted into auxiliary services in the Indian Armed Forces, the issue of including or not allowing them in combat roles has been a persistent one.

Glance at the Indian Defence History with regard to Women:

In 1888, the Indian Military Nursing Service was established, which marked a significant step in the development of women’s roles in the Indian Armed Forces. During World War I, nurses from the Indian Army served in various capacities. The Women’s Auxiliary Corps was also established to allow women to take on non-combatant roles such as administrative and communications. One of the members of the corps was Noor Inayat, who served as a spy during the Second World War. She was able to earn a reputation for her service. Women were only allowed to serve in non-combat roles in the British Indian Army until Bose established the Azad Hind Fauj.

In 1950, the Army Act made it illegal for women to receive regular commissions. On November 1, 1958, the Medical Corps of the Indian Army became the first military organization to give female soldiers regular commissions. Women were also allowed to serve on short-service commission throughout the 80s to 90s. By 2020, women are not allowed to serve as combat troops in Special Forces such as the British Parachute Regiment. They can still join other non-combatant wings such as the signal corps and engineers.

Also, opposing arguments were made regarding including women in combat roles or in PC positions within the Indian Armed Force:

  • Society in India is patriarchal, which makes it hard for women to participate in active combat roles.
  • It has been believed that men are better at fighting than women due to their physical prowess and aggression.

Although women have been accepted into auxiliary services in the Indian Armed Forces, the issue of including or not allowing them in combat roles has been a persistent one. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that officers from the short-service commission can be granted permanent positions in the Indian Armed Force. Currently, officers in the Indian Armed Forces are only allowed to serve for 14 years. While a PC can serve until they retire, three options will be available for the SSC after 10 years, i.e., Elect for a Permanent Commission, Resign from service and Opt for resignation.

The Supreme Court’s ruling allowed women to serve in the Indian Armed Forces as PC officers. This was regarded as a significant step in the advancement of women’s roles within the military. Women are only allowed to participate in combat roles within the Indian Army and certain specialist brigades. Non-combatant positions are still available for women.

The percentage of women in Armed Forces is as under:

ArmyOfficers (Excluding AMC/ADC)3.97%
Officers (AMC/ADC)21.25 %
MNS Officers100%
JCO/OR0.01%
NavyOfficersAbout 6%
Air ForceOfficers (excluding Medical & Dental Branch)13.69%

 Source: MoD

There are no vacancies for women in the Indian Army. The posts in the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy are gender neutral. There have been various steps taken by the government to increase the number of women in the defence sector. According to the above table, women officers of the Army Medical Corps and Army Dental Corps make up about 21.25% of the officers in the Indian Army. Participation of women makes up about 0.01 % of the total Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and ORs. Similarly, women represent 6% of the total officers in the Indian Navy and 13.69% in the Air Force, excluding the officers in the Medical and Dental branch.

Army

The Indian Army’s combat employment philosophy for women is continuously reviewed. Currently, women are being commissioned into various streams in the Indian Army. These include the Corps of Engineers, the Corps of Signals, the Army Air Defence, the Army Service Corps, the Army Ordnance Corps, the Army Aviation Corps, the Intelligence Corps, the Judge Advocate General’s Branch, and the Army Education Corps. As for military nurses and doctors, these are women only positions. Various initiatives are being taken to improve the recruitment and training of women in the Indian Army. These include the establishment of a permanent commission for women officers and the recruitment of women cadets in the NDA.

Navy

In 1991, the Indian Navy started to recruit women as officers. Over the years, various branches of the organization have been opened for women, including through NDA. Women sailors are also being recruited through the Agnipath Scheme for the first time. About 20% of the total vacancies in the Navy are for women.

Air force

The recruitment of women in the Indian Air Force is conducted in a gender-neutral manner. All the branches of the organization are covered by women officers. There are also regular publicity drives and print and electronic media campaigns about opportunities for women in the service. An opening for women has been provided through the National Commission for Women’s Special entry for flying SSC. In 2015, the Indian Air Force started implementing a permanent scheme for inducting women officers into all combat roles. This approach is gender neutral and allows women to join the organization without any restrictions.

Conclusion

In 1992, the Indian Army started recruiting women. They were then commissioned for five years in various streams, such as engineering, intelligence, and education. Women are expected to participate and share information and power with others as they have been taught this since their childhood. They are also ruthless when the situation requires them. It’s natural for women to enhance their self-worth and get the most out of their colleagues. Unfortunately, the armed forces are still reluctant to allow women to join the ranks. Their role in the combat domain should be more broad- based. By breaking the gender barrier, India will join a select few countries worldwide. Women have previously served in various roles in the military, including in the technical and administrative fields. They finally got a chance to take on combat roles in the Military Police after the Supreme Court ruled that women can serve in command positions. The debate regarding women’s participation in combat roles in the Armed Forces has been going on for a long time now. It has taken a long time for the organization to come to a point where it accepts women’s participation in such roles. Unfortunately, in 2021, some retired generals are still maintaining that women should remain the weaker sex in the force. These generals use stereotypes to justify their position, and they point out the various facts about men’s physical attributes, such as their size and pulse rate. They also claim that women are incapable of shouting much louder and have a lower level of natural strength. If the military were to look into the qualities that a good soldier requires, it would be able to determine if women are equally capable of performing at the same level. Already, women have established a niche within the field of supporting services. Before making a decision regarding whether or not female soldiers should be allowed to enter the Army, two factors should be considered. One is the institution’s nature, and the other is the nature of combat. If women are equal in terms of their job performance in the Army, then they should be allowed to participate in combat roles. This is because, on many occasions, they have been able to perform at the same level as their male counterparts. Critics of the exclusion argue that modern warfare is more technological and doesn’t require the physical strength of older combat soldiers. In 1992, India started recruiting women into various non-medical positions in its armed forces. The government then took the first step towards allowing women to join the combat roles. In addition, the Air Force was allowed to recruit female pilots. During the time of the former, women were regarded as nurturers and followers, while men were leaders. Things have changed, and the role of women in the Army still remains controversial. This issue is also relevant to society at large. It’s widely believed that militaries don’t create employment. They have nothing to do when it comes to gender equality. One of the most important factors that the country can consider when it comes to addressing its issues is the empowerment of women in governance. Gender discrimination within the Armed Forces is a persistent issue that the country, which aspires to be a rising power, should address. Women should be treated equally in every aspect of their employment. There should also be regular attention paid to the administrative and institutional policies related to maternity leave and transfers. India’s attitude towards women has to be revamped in order to boost its economic growth and improve its image in the international community. Doing so will also help in promoting women’s empowerment. Besides being able to perform their duties as interpreters, they should also be able to communicate with other nations through their foreign language skills. This is because the country’s military is looking for people who can understand the language of other nations. Throughout history, India has produced numerous prominent women leaders and freedom fighters. It’s time for the Armed Forces to follow in their footsteps and create a feminist culture. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women to serve longer tenures and receive promotions, the country’s armed forces will now be able to provide them with the same benefits and opportunities as their male counterparts. A positive change in the society is needed to promote gender equality, as well as to keep the country’s national security in mind. Doing so will help India become a better place.

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