Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Arguing for NBC Training 

Article No.:
Arguing for NBC Training
Ali Ahmed
The last edition of pamphlets on NBC warfare, issued in mid last decade, are perhaps among the least dog-eared in a unit training library. Even though all military exercises mention a ‘nuclear backdrop’ in their opening narratives, there is a seeming unwillingness to come to grips with the implications of the reality. This is so, despite of South Asia arguably having gone nuclear by the mid-eighties. This article argues that a concerted NBC training regimen needs being instituted to move decisively into the nuclear age.
This is not to suggest that India’s nuclear deterrent lacks credibility. This is also not to suggest that India should move to a nuclear war fighting posture. Instead, the idea here is that NBC training makes the military capable of operating in a nuclear environment. This helps reinforce deterrence, in that the military demonstrates that even if nuclear weapons are introduced into a conflict, it still has the resilience to fulfill its obligation in delivering political goals set for it by the nation. This will help deter first use in that the ‘gains’ end of the costs-benefit calculation of the enemy would be affected adversely. There being little to gain - since the war would be carried on by a nuclear battlefield capable enemy – there would be one incentive less for first use.
The second reason for the suggestion here is more complex. The fact of a military unready to fight optimally in a battlefield milieu that has been rendered nuclearised by enemy nuclear first use, would impact the politico-military calculation of type of nuclear response. This would restrict India’s nuclear response options. The balance of the article explains how.
The punitive nuclear retaliation currently envisaged is of inflicting unacceptable damage. This is meant for enhancing credibility of the deterrent. However, despite this, in case of enemy nuclear first use, the situation is not one of deterrence, but of nuclear employment consideration. In such consideration in-conflict nuclear deterrence remains a factor, but the options of retaliation are not necessarily restricted to those as the doctrine promises. The nuclear doctrine is therefore declaratory and meant for deterrence. It is not necessarily a nuclear employment or operational doctrine.
The latter could be different and more variegated or permissive of more options to the Political Council of the NCA. Among the options would figure prominently infliction of unacceptable damage. Pakistan for its part cannot discount that this option is not the one that will eventually be alighted on by the political decision maker. Therefore, deterrence does not suffer in acknowledging the distinction between the declaratory and employment doctrine.
There is of course no mention in India of such a distinction in India, no doubt to bolster the credibility of its official nuclear doctrine. A hint of the possibility has been dropped in the Draft nuclear doctrine that states that the deterrence is meant for ‘peacetime’. Specifically, the doctrine states: ‘India's peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor 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 corollary is that the possibility of ‘peacetime posture’ can vary from wartime employment. We know that the Draft has served to substantially inform the official doctrine of 2003, of which, incidentally, only a cryptic summary has been made available in the famous press release. In any case, in theory a doctrine can only serve to inform a strategic decision, not bind it down.
The inference from the foregoing is that India will have a choice of retaliatory options that it can choose to exercise its prerogative from. In case the military is unready for combat operations when the nuclear factor is no longer in the ‘backdrop’ as depicted in exercises, but is instead unmistakably in the foreground, then this would restrict the choices available. This implies that a military better prepared for the nuclear battlefield has an enabling affect on nuclear response choice.
An illustration is in order here. A popular example of nuclear first use by Pakistan has it using TNW in a defensive mode on its own territory on a tactical target. India under the circumstance need not necessarily choose by default to up the ante and go for inflicting unacceptable damage on Pakistan since this is escalatory. The Pakistani counter strike, on receipt of unacceptable damage, could exact unacceptable damage on India. To preempt such a counter strike, India may have to launch a ‘massive’ punitive strike, as indeed is promised in its 2003 doctrine. Pakistan, fearing this, may be more violent and quicker on the nuclear trigger. This is how escalation could occur. Even if it ‘finishes’ Pakistan, India would be grievously hurt, even if not unsustainably so.
How do higher nuclear training levels help the decision maker in such a circumstance? A military geared for the nuclear battlefield can continue pursue operations in light of political ends modified by the nuclear advent. Indian decision makers can then choose non-escalatory nuclear response options, such as the options General Sundarji had ruled in: quid pro quo or quid pro quo plus options. This will ensure that the gains that Pakistan had sought to make by attempting for early termination of the conflict through catalyzing international pressures are negated. In fact, the capture of the moral high ground and a the demonstration of political capacity for an assured retaliation, would make for credibility of India’s in-conflict nuclear deterrence.
The conclusion is that training levels that are of the order of nuclear war fighting levels enhance deterrence. In the unlikely event of deterrence breakdown, the political decision maker will have the options of preserving India unscathed. At the very least the current surreal image of nuclear war will be decisively dispelled.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi

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