writings of ali ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab), with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. Twitter: @aliahd66
Also see blog-www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in. Former UN official, academic and infantryman. Author India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). All views are personal.
The Indian system at the political level comprises the National Security Council and the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority. The change from the Draft was in a Council authorising nuclear use, while in the Draft, it was the prime minister. In this case, the prime minister does so as head of the Political Council. The composition of the Political Council has not been given. However, it is expected to be the same as that of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the National Security Council.25 The defence aspect is represented by the defence minister at this level. At the strategic level is the Executive Council, headed by the NSA. The three chiefs form part of the Executive Council.
There has been no parliamentary legislation on the NSC system”¦Since this vital component of national security is outside of defence, comprising as it does the nuclear complex, it is controlled at the level of the prime minister.
Alongside are the NSC system comprising the NSC Secretariat (NSCS), the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), the Core Group (Committee of Secretaries), the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Cabinet Secretariat. The command post and alternate command post have reportedly been readied. The intelligence system comprises both civilian and military agencies such as National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which oversees signal intelligence, the Defence Imagery Processing and Assessment Center, Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW), Technical Coordination Group (TCG) and the Intelligence Coordination Group (ICG).
At the operational (Military-Technical) level is the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Chief of Staff to the COSC (CISC) and Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). At the executive level are the armaments in the joint custody of the military, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The associated agencies are Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
On the SFC, former COSC Admiral Suresh Mehta, opined, “The Strategic Forces Command is a good example of how the Services can work together seamlessly and synergistically, in a ‘Functional’ Command.”26 The SFC has the nuclear assets under operational control, including those with dual capability. These assets are under the administrative control of respective service. Air force assets include Mirage 2000 and Su 30s. News reports have it that the army has a few regiments of Prithvi, Agni I and II ballistic missiles and the Brahmos cruise missiles. Agni III, Sagarika and Shaurya are under development. The nuclear-capable cruise missile Brahmos has been deployed with both the navy and the army. The navy has the ships Suvarna and Subhadra as platforms for the Dhanush missile. The triad is well underway with the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) likely to be in position by mid-decade.
Given the extraordinary power of nuclear weapons and the power that those handling these systems could acquire, it could imbalance the system of democratic checks and balances. It would overcome the lacuna in strategic oversight.
The SFC provisions the primary and alternative command posts, operations rooms and communication links and maintains an interface with the AEC and DRDO. The challenge to C2 in conflict would mainly be communication with ship, submersible, ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarines and assets on the move and working through attack, including its electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects. The nascent organisation has the advantage of setting the highest standards of safety and security both procedurally and technologically. This would require that its personnel selection and training be of the highest order. The security of the assets is entrusted to the respective service, where assets are with the service, and the Defence Security Corps for the rest. The safety of nuclear systems, a major issue of nuclear C2 concern, is with the AEC and DRDO of weapons parts in respective custody, and of delivery systems with the user.27
There has been no parliamentary legislation on the NSC system. It was created by a Cabinet Secretariat order of April 1999. Since this vital component of national security is outside of defence, comprising as it does the nuclear complex, it is controlled at the level of the prime minister. The Atomic Energy Act of 1961 provides the legislative cover. However, the arrangement could be improved with greater institutionalisation of oversight. The nuclear dimension of the NSC system requires a parliamentary committee to oversee its working. Streamlining of responsibility that an act can bring about is essential to build in accountability. While the system was growing, there was the requirement of secrecy. It was small and, therefore, was easier to control, even by an overworked prime minister. However, this is not the case since 1998. India has no cause to be secretive or defensive of its existence. The complexity is also growing. Therefore, lines of authority need to be outlined in an act for the purpose. In case of nuclear accidents or nuclear use against or by India, there would be a requirement for an accounting to affix responsibility for both credit or errors of omission and commission. The system today is of strategic reticence and aversion to the written record. This dates to the 1974 tests.28 This can be brought about by deepening of institutionalisation, beginning with national legislation on the strategic nuclear complex.29
The creation of the appointment is overdue, given that the nuclear capability is now two decades old and overt nuclearisation over a decade old. India may create this appointment in due course.
Given the extraordinary power of nuclear weapons and the power that those handling these systems could acquire, it could imbalance the system of democratic checks and balances. It would overcome the lacuna in strategic oversight. Currently, the Political Council is charged with decision making related to nuclear use. This does not have any military representative in keeping with the tradition in civil-military relations of noninclusion of service chiefs in nuclear decision making. This is no longer tenable since military operations are the military’s domain. The nuclear dimension is now intrinsic to the military sphere. Any conventional conflict would have the nuclear backdrop. This, to some, entails that the service chiefs or the chief of defence staff (CDS) in future should figure in the Political Council as statutorily mandated permanent invitees.30 This would have their advice immediately available, alongside that of the NSA, who is the secretary of the Political Council. The disadvantage of this is the danger of the military dimension overshadowing the political in decision making related to nuclear use.31 The aspect certainly needs greater debate than attends it at the moment.
A grave shortcoming is the relationship of the NSA and the COSC with the commander-in-chief (C-in-C) SFC. The NSA heads the Executive Council, charged with the executing the Political Council’s dictate. This implies that the COSC, to whom the SFC reports, is answerable to the NSA. The COSC is, therefore, a channel for conveying orders. The COSC, with the incumbent being double-hatted as a service chief alongside, is not in a position to give this task the attention it deserves. In effect, the SFC has a part-time “boss.” This gives the NSA greater power without responsibility, in keeping with the tradition of the Ministry of Defence. This is untenable, given that India has faced many crises, and conflict has been only one step away. A service chief cannot effectively be multihatted. This leads into the next point on the CDS or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for “unity of command.”
The creation of the appointment is overdue, given that the nuclear capability is now two decades old and overt nuclearisation over a decade old. India may create this appointment in due course. It is perhaps not doing so presently, intending to organise the deterrent prior. The limitations of the current delivery systems are in terms of range and that the nuclear submarine–based missiles are at least half a decade into the future. In not creating the appointment, India perhaps hopes to keep neighbours complacent. It conveys a relaxed posture, even as these capabilities are built. Once the capability is acquired and the appointment is created, then operationalisation of the deterrent can be said to be complete. Creating the appointment prematurely would make neighbours take note and deem the synergy the appointment brings about as a heightened threat to them. This would create a security dilemma for them, with their reactions leading to an increased security threat to India. With all the pieces in place, India would be able to meet such a challenge.
It is required not only for operationalising the nuclear capability but also for exercising restraint along the conventional nuclear interface in limited war”¦
In case the appointment is created now, then without the wherewithal in place, such as intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) to cover China, India would be at a disadvantage. Such thinking is in sync with India’s strategic culture. It is a reflection of the restraint in the combination “restraint and resolve” underpinning India’s strategic culture. Nevertheless, the appointment is critical and cannot be indefinitely postponed. It is required not only for operationalising the nuclear capability but also for exercising restraint along the conventional nuclear interface in limited war since the CDS would be one step removed from the warfighting and, therefore, would be able to gain a wide-angled view essential to advising limitation. The task cannot be left to the Chiefs of Staff who, as representatives of respective services, have an institutional role alongside their advisory one. However, in the recommendations by the Group of Ministers (GOM) on the CDS, the appointment is only in “administrative” control of the SFC.32 This is not viable. The CDS needs to have the SFC indubitably under him in keeping with the principle of “unity of command,” mentioned in the Draft.33
The operations and planning section require being under the CDS, with the SFC in charge of the execution. Currently, the SFC is charged with both the operations and planning and execution. An analogous Operations Directorate of respective Service HQs does not exist in relation to the SFC. This could have three possible locations: the HQ SFC as at present, in the HQ IDS when under the CDS and in the NSCS since the AEC and the DRDO are joint custodians.
There is a case for thinking through aspects of transparency through national technical means and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the nuclear sector.
In the Pakistani system, there is the over-weaning Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD). There is a case for having a planning staff distinct from the SFC. It should preferably be in the HQ IDS to service the COSC, under which is the SFC, and later the CDS on appointment. The SFC can then be left to the execution, a task requiring singular attention. On the other hand, it could be part of the NSCS under the NSA, who has been charged with the execution of nuclear responsibilities. The other civilian agencies in the loop, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and DRDO, would prefer this arrangement rather than subordinating their representatives to the military.
However, the “unity of command” principle dictates that the military is in charge and the civilian operational components of the nuclear complex would require subordinating themselves to the military hierarchy. This rules out the NSCS as a possible location for the nuclear staff. It needs to be relocated from HQ SFC, as at present, to the HQ IDS, with the head of the directorate reporting directly to the COSC in the interim till the creation of the CDS.
The military has been incorporated through inclusion in the Strategic Policy Group along with about a dozen other secretary-level officers. This would obscure the military input at a time when the conventional-nuclear interface has become a live one.
So far, the discussion has been on the system in conflict. Peacetime control of nuclear developments requires a mechanism. The controversy over the thermonuclear bomb being a “fizzle” is an example of what can be averted in case of closer supervision of the nuclear complex.34 Civilian control over the strategic enclave today is directly under the prime minister. A Strategic Joint Planning Group headed by the defence minister, with requisite staff, has been proposed to meld the technological and operational dimension of nuclear development.35 This could be along the lines of the Development Control Committee of the Pakistani National Command Authority, but with a different composition since the Pakistani one is military heavy. This would include the armed forces in the nuclear loop indubitably. It would bring technological momentum in line with doctrine and preclude technological determinism.
This is imperative in light of tendencies in the Indian system. The technological and financial planes having somewhat stabilised over the last decade, India may be moving towards a larger arsenal than originally envisioned. Seen in the context of the ongoing cold war with Pakistan and the possible one with China and the “two front” formulation ending up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it would appear that such an expansion is required.
However, this recreation in a minimal form of the cold war situation is not in India’s best interest. It would place an undue reliance on deterrence. As argued in theory, deterrence has its limitations.36 The argument heard earlier was that once India reaches a semblance of parity with China, it would have the self-assurance to engage it to solve the border problem. With the problem out of the way, there would be no risk to the economic trajectories of both nations. This is persuasive, but it bears attention that a three-front arms dynamic, if not arms race, does not catch on. Some such tendencies are in the push for higher numbers, currently advocacy in the range of 200;37 the push for testing and for the thermonuclear weapons, despite it not being essential to deterrence;38 the change in strategic culture brought about by growing Indian power credentials; advocacy from time to time of jettisoning NFU; work towards ballistic missile defences, etc.
The case against expansion under the logic of certainty and “credibility” is that the numbers and force postures make the deterrent resemble a first-strike posture. By disturbing the nuclear equanimity of threatened neighbours, it does not increase the nuclear security of the state. These aspects presently are balanced by “political SOPs”39 of restraint on the pace of nuclear developments. Nuclear C2 requires covering the peacetime profile of the nuclear deterrent also lest the quest for “credibility” truncate the “minimum” in the formulation of “credible minimum deterrence.”
Lastly, there is a case for thinking through aspects of transparency through national technical means and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the nuclear sector. This may require some verification mechanisms down the road. One such CBM is a nuclear risk reduction center.40 This would require a C2 link to the nuclear complex, since it would be critical in crisis and in conflict.
Since not enough is known about nuclear developments, it cannot be said that there is any push towards expansion of the nuclear complex beyond the “minimum” as stipulated in India’s long-standing nuclear doctrine. However, if compulsions in the security situation and technological momentum combine with political inattention, India could well end up on a slippery slope. For instance, Pakistan is reportedly ahead of India in numbers of both weapons and missiles.41 Combined with the “two front” nexus, there would be pressure citing security to move the goalposts. As it is, the possibility has been built in with the “minimum” being deliberately left undefined. Therefore, institutionalised political oversight is necessary. The prime minister is currently responsible for this, with the NSA to assist.
The technological and financial planes having somewhat stabilised over the last decade, India may be moving towards a larger arsenal than originally envisioned.
The military has been incorporated through inclusion in the Strategic Policy Group along with about a dozen other secretary-level officers. This would obscure the military input at a time when the conventional-nuclear interface has become a live one. Continuing nonresolution of India’s outstanding issues with both its nuclear neighbours mean that crises could occur and any of these may eventuate in conflict. The NSC system is currently outside of parliamentary scrutiny, even though the defence function is scrutinised by a standing committee.42 This could be extended to cover the NSC system so that benefits of democratic check and balances and the Indian genius attend the nuclear complex also. In nutshell, strategic logic should not over-ride political logic. Political logic has to be anchored in India’s condition and aspirations. Any tendency away from the minimalist formulation of thinkers as Sundarji, Subrahmanyam and Jasjit Singh needs check.
Notes and References
See for instance, Rajesh Basrur. Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006; and Manpreet Sethi. “Nuclear Command and Control: A Comparative Analysis of India, Pakistan and China.” India’s Comprehensive National Power: Synergy Through Joint Decision Making. New Delhi: CENJOWS, 2010.
Shaun Gregory. Nuclear Command and Control in NATO. London, MacMillan Press, 1996. pp. 3–4.
Robert Osgood. Nuclear Control in NATO. Washington D.C.: Washington Center for Foreign Policy Research, 1962. p. 21.
Shaun Gregory’s book Nuclear Command and Control in NATO has five pages of acronyms.
This stands for command, control, communications and computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Peter D. Feaver. “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations.” International Security 17, no. 3. p. 162.
For a history of the nuclear era, see L. Freedman. Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989.
Arnold Toynbee. A Study of History, vol 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. pp. 191–195.
This is defined as “the phenomenon that weapons and military strategies begin to look the same across the world” by J. Pretorius in his article “The Security Imaginary: Explaining Military Isomorphism.” Security Dialogue 39, no. 1. March 2008.
Rajesh Basrur. Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. p. 172.
Op cit, n. 6, p. 163.
The National Security Council was established by the National Security Act of 1947 and amended by the National Security Act Amendments of 1949 as per the White House website <http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nsc/>.
For a contrast, see Rajesh Basrur. South Asia’s Cold War: Nuclear Weapons and Conflict in Comparative Perspective. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Ministry of External Affairs. “Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine.” 1999. <http://meadev.nic.in/govt/indnucld.htm>.
See official website at <http://www.icc-cpi.int/menus/icc>.
The term “strategic enclave” has been coined by Itty Abraham, India’s “Strategic Enclave”: Civilian Scientists and Military Technologies.” Armed Forces and Society 18, no. 2.
K. Bajpai. “The Indian Nuclear Debate.” Edited by R. Samaddard. Peace Studies: An Introduction to Concept, Scope and Theme. New Delhi: Sage, 2004, p. 353.
K. Sundarji. “Nuclear Deterrence: Doctrine For India.” Trishul VI, no. 1, 1992. pp. 83–84.
The White House website <http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nsc/> informs that the U.S. system comprises the NSC chaired by the president. Its regular attendees (both statutory and nonstatutory) are the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the Treasury, the secretary of defense, and the assistant to the president for national security affairs. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the statutory military advisor to the council, and the director of National Intelligence is the intelligence advisor.
Sagan, S. “The Perils of Proliferation: Organisation Theory, Deterrence Theory and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons.” International Security 18, no. 4, 1994.
Ali Ahmed. “The illogic of ‘unacceptable damage.’’’ IPCS Article, http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/the-illogic-of-unacceptable-damage-2991.html.
“Limited deterrence” is a term usually associated with the Chinese nuclear deterrent, which is reputed to have 300–400 nuclear weapons. India does not aim for parity with China. However, increase in numbers due to an elastic definition of “minimum” could result in a movement away from “minimum” deterrence.
NSAB 1998–2000. “Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine.” http://meadev.nic.in/govt/indnucld.htm.
*PMO Press Release. “Cabinet Committee On Security Reviews Progress In Operationalizing India’s Nuclear Doctrine. 2003. <http://pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr2003/rjan2003/04012003/r040120033.html>
In the NDA government period, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission was also included in the NSC. This is not the case with the UPA government.
See text of speech “India’s National Security Challenges” at a National Maritime Foundation event at <http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?261738>.
There is a greater degree of information of Pakistani systems. This owes to Pakistan feeling the need to demonstrate that it is in control of nuclear weapons in light of the terrorist threat to its systems.
K. Subrahmanyam, editor. India and the Nuclear Challenge. New Delhi: Lancers, 1986. p. 259.
For information on the NSC Act in the U.S., see A. G. Noorani. “Discipline and Decision Making” Frontline, 8 May 2004.
Manpreet Sethi. “Nuclear Command and Control: A Comparative Analysis of India, Pakistan and China.” India’s Comprehensive National Power: Synergy Through Joint Decision Making. New Delhi: CENJOWS, 2010.
Ali Ahmed. “Re-visioning the Nuclear Command Authority.” IDSA comments. <http://www.idsa.in/strategiccomments/RevisioningtheNuclearCommandAuthority_AliAhmed_090909>.
See Group of Ministers’ recommendation on the issue, Chapter VI “Management of Defence.” Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security. New Delhi, pp. 100–102.
The subpara in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine reads “5.3. For effective employment the unity of command and control of nuclear forces including dual capable delivery systems shall be ensured.”
S. Varadarajan. “Fizzle’ claim for thermonuclear test refuted.” Hindu, 27 August 2009.
Manpreet Sethi. Nuclear Strategy: India’s March Towards Credible Deterrence.” New Delhi: Knowledge World, 2009. p. 166.
Robert Jervis. “Deterrence Theory Revisited.” World Politics 31, no. 2, 1979.
Gurmeet Kanwal. Nuclear Defence: Shaping the Arsenal. New Delhi: Knowledge World, 2001. p.135.
Ali Ahmed. “India’s Thermonuclear Test: Bombed?” IPCS article. <http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/indias-thermonuclear-test-bombed-2959.html>.
S. Sasikumar. “India’s Nuclear Command and Control: Perspectives from Organisation Theory.” Strategic Analysis 34, no. 3, May 2010.
Rafi uz Zaman Khan. “Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers.” Stimson Center. <http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/rafikhan.pdf>.
Pakistan is reported to have 70–90 warheads as against India’s 60–80. See Rajat Pandit, “Pakistan’s nuke arsenal bigger than India’s.” Times of India, 3 June 2010.
The nuclear complex is not covered by the parliamentary committees listed on the parliament website http://www.parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/intro/p21.htm.