Monday, 12 May 2014

EPW - NFU existential crisis

No First Use Nuclear Policy

An Existential Crisis Ahead

http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/20/No_First_Use_Nuclear_Policy.pdf



That India's No First Use policy is under threat of the axe in any future review of the nuclear doctrine is apparent from the election time controversy over the mention of a nuclear doctrinal review in the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The reference - subsequently toned down - was possibly an attempt by the conservative party to live up to its image as a strategically assertive replacement of the Congress Party.
No First Use (NFU) is taken as among the cardinal principles of India’s nuclear doctrine; the o­thers being “credible” and “minimum”.1 Even as developments in India’s deterrent posture, specifically, in the number of warheads, its variegated missile capability and operationalisation of the deterrent, have led to the “credible” potentially superseding the “minimum”, the NFU is also seemingly under threat of eclipse. This is best evidenced by the recent controversy that attended the release of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto promising to “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine. While the manifesto did not anticipate which pillars of the doctrine would face the axe, the very mention led alert nuclear commentators to pre-emptively pitch for continuation of I­ndia’s NFU.2
The reaction was prompted by BJP functionaries initially alluding to the NFU as a prospective area of change.3 The BJP probably was reacting to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call at a Pugwash-Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) conference in New Delhi for adoption of NFU as a new “global no-first-use norm”.4 Since the speech was the government’s swan song on nuclear matters, it is possible that the BJP was reluctant to have its strategic space tied down by the Congress-led administration’s last minute initiative. In the event, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, seemingly in response to the criticism in strategic circles,5 put a lid on the topic by maintaining that he would give NFU credence since it had the imprint of the BJP stalwart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose moder­ate image he, Modi, was emulating during the electoral campaign under way.6
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/20/No_First_Use_Nuclear_Policy.pdf
http://www.epw.in/commentary/no-first-use-nuclear-policy.html
The pre-editing full version submitted is below: 

NFU: An existential crisis ahead
By Ali Ahmed
(Ali Ahmed, PhD (JNU) is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). He blogs at www.ali-writings.blogspot.in.)

Summary
That India’s NFU is under threat of the axe in any future review of the nuclear doctrine is apparent from the election time controversy over the mention of a nuclear doctrinal review in the BJP manifesto. The reference was possibly an attempt by the conservative party to live up to its image as a strategically assertive replacement for the effete incumbent. Nevertheless, the juncture provides an opportunity to revisit NFU. Though it is taken as a pillar of the declaratory nuclear doctrine, India has hedged its NFU pledge. The direction of India’s deterrent has been such that rescinding NFU can easily be done, for the structure of a ‘first use’ posture is partially emerging. This article is a timely biography of India’s NFU that may well end up serving as it epitaph.
No First Use (NFU) is taken as among the cardinal principles of India’s nuclear doctrine; the others being ‘credible’ and ‘minimum’.[1] Even as developments in India’s deterrent posture, specifically, in numbers of warheads, its variegated missile capability and operationalisation of the deterrent, have led to ‘credible’ potentially superseding ‘minimum’, the NFU is also seemingly under threat of eclipse. This is best evidenced by the recent controversy that attended the release of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto promising to ‘revise and update’ India’s nuclear doctrine.[2] While the manifesto did not anticipate which pillars of the doctrine would face the axe, the very mention led alert nuclear commentators to pre-emptively pitch for continuation of India’s NFU.[3]
The reaction was prompted by BJP functionaries initially alluding to the NFU as a prospective area of change.[4] The BJP probably was reacting to the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s call at a Pugwash-Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) conference in New Delhi for adoption of NFU as a new ‘global no-first-use norm’.[5] Since the speech was the government’s swan song on nuclear matters, it is possible that the BJP was reluctant to have its strategic space tied down by the Congress led administration’s last minute initiative. In the event, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Modi, seemingly in response to the criticism in strategic circles,[6] put a lid on the topic by maintaining that he would give NFU credence since it had the imprint the BJP stalwart, Mr. Vajpayee, whose moderate image he, Modi, was emulating during the electoral campaign underway.[7]  
While a review by itself is unexceptionable, the concerns voiced in wake of the manifesto owed in part to the precedence of the reference in the BJP manifesto of March 1998 to a strategic review including India’s nuclear path. Then, the nuclear tests of May 1998 took the world by surprise by short circuiting the promised strategic defence review.[8] Therefore, the BJP’s utterance set off a small storm in strategic circles. Consequently, the BJP, having gained mileage as a party attuned to national security, but wanting to project a sober image on that score, has stepped back.
Nevertheless, the contretemps indicates the shadow over NFU. While NFU in the declaratory doctrine is useful, it is more important that the posture must itself be evident in the operationalisation of the deterrent. There are apprehensions that developments in nuclear technology and direction of operationalisation make NFU less than credible. The problem this gives rise to is that it would make nuclear trigger fingers itchy in case the recurrent ‘push’ of subcontinental crises comes to conventional war ‘shove’.
NFU was first broached in the strategic context of thinking in the sixties on whether India should go nuclear. Writing anonymously in the late sixties on a ‘strategy for India for a credible posture against a nuclear adversary’ for the IDSA, the writer, possibly K. Subrahmanyam, then director of programs at IDSA, advocated a push for delegitimizing nuclear weapons use.[9] The measure to this end was to be an NFU treaty for all nuclear powers, requiring their combined response to any breach of the treaty by any nuclear power. It is notable that four decades on the prime minister’s Pugwash-IDSA speech reiterates this idea of a multilateral framework by all nuclear weapons possessing states.   
Today, as a reckonable nuclear power, the NFU has come to the ‘central tenet’ in its doctrine. Shyam Saran, currently head of the National Security Advisory Board, in his ‘Subbu lecture’ in April 2013 in honour of late K. Subrahmanyam, describes it thus: ‘… India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but that if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary.’[10] This formulation echoes the Draft Nuclear Doctrine put out by the 1998-99 edition of the Advisory Board that had been chaired by Subrahmanyam which stated NFU as: ‘India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail (Para 2.4).’[11]
While seemingly straightforward, ambiguity crept in with the Draft adding a caveat: ‘India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon power (emphasis added to its Para 2.5).’[12] The intrusion of the caveat referring to nuclear use against a non-nuclear state aligned to the hostile nuclear power also contradicted India’s ‘unqualified’ negative security assurance further down in the Draft (Para 8.2). In effect the caveat qualifies both the NFU and the negative security guarantee.
The NFU in the 2003 official nuclear doctrine is phrased as: 'A posture of "No First Use": nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere (Para 2 ii).’ However, NFU was yet again with a caveat, specifically: ‘…in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons (Para 2 vi).’ This can be attributed to the influence of global strategic culture with India emulating the US which had stated something similar in the run up to the Iraq War II.[13] It bears noting that a decade on, Shyam Saran in his lecture retains this caveat, stating that nuclear retaliation would be against use of ‘such’ weapons, meaning weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.
These caveats suggest a discomfort with NFU. This is best evidenced by psychological slips such as the National Security Advisor’s gaffe in his 2010 address to the National Defence College fraternity at its golden jubilee. He worded NFU as: ‘No first use against non-nuclear weapons states.’[14] Vipin Narang, a knowledgeable nuclear watcher, dismissed this as significant, stating, ‘the most plausible explanation is that the NDC formulation was simply the product of an innocent typographical or lexical error in the text of the speech.’[15] The point is telling slips like this are one way to gain a measure of India’s nuclear policy.[16]
Adversaries are surely alert to these. They also no doubt listen in on the debates within the strategic community where there are strong voices for jettisoning NFU altogether.[17] Karnad argues that attempting to fashion a counter strike after receiving a debilitating first strike may be too much to expect from an India that even faces problems from the monsoons! This would be inevitably so for any country on the receiving end of a first strike attempt. However, first strike – the attempt to degrade enemy counter strike ability - is not the only manner of first use. Therefore, a counter strike is very much possible. Recognising this enables preserving the utility of NFU.
Currently, NFU suits India strategically since there is little incentive for India to use nuclear weapons. The Draft of 1999 had required India to maintain ‘highly effective conventional military capabilities’ in order to raise ‘the threshold of outbreak both of conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons (Para 2.7).’ There is an internal contradiction in this requirement. India’s conventional strength when leveraged by its limited war doctrine has led to Pakistan’s lowering of the nuclear threshold.
For Pakistan, nuclear weapons are also meant to deter conventional war, in the fashion of the NATO in the Cold War era. This is distinct from India’s concept that these deter not war, but nuclear weapons, as was articulated most recently by the prime minister, thus: ‘that the sole function of nuclear weapons, while they exist, should be to deter a nuclear attack.’[18] Being at variance conceptually, Pakistan has emulated the NATO in its induction of the Nasr,[19] a tactical nuclear weapon to attempt checkmate India’s ‘Cold Start’.
Raising the threshold entails getting Pakistan to accede to NFU. It is possible that India’s efforts since early nineties in this direction are prompted by this need. Since Pakistan has studiously avoided such commitment, India may be using the threat of abandonment of NFU as last ditch pressure to get Pakistan to sign on. In a hark back to the 1994 non-papers by JN Dixit, then foreign secretary, one of which was on NFU,[20] most recently India reiterated the NFU in Saran’s offer that stated, ‘An agreement on no first use of nuclear weapons would be a notable measure….'[21] His warning alongside of ‘inexorable’ escalation, yet another hangover from the Subrahmanyam era, is to use India’s doctrine of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation to bring to bear on Pakistan the dangers stemming from introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict. Since the threat held out first in the 2003 official nuclear doctrine has not worked, perhaps India is using NFU abandonment as pressure tactics. 
Pakistan, by not adhering to NFU rules in ‘first use’; thereby, worrying India. This brings to fore the option of ‘first use’ for India since Pakistani first use preparations may prompt pre-emptive nuclear strike thinking on India’s part. Among the implications is a jettisoning NFU. Arguably this is when NFU would be most needed, so as not to be stampeded into nuclear decisions by possibly false or misleading intelligence of Pakistani preparations. Also, a display of nuclear preparation will form part of nuclear signalling in conflict. An NFU can tide India through, with the risk being worth bearing.
The thrust in India may however be towards yet another possible next step out of the strategic cul-de-sac. The possibility has been brought out by a former chief of the Strategic Forces Command: ‘This (introduction of tactical nuclear weapons) provides the incentive for use and a reactionary (sic) generation of a first strike capability or an anti-ballistic missile competence or counter-force potential on the part of the adversary.’[22] The three capabilities he mentions are not necessarily acquired in reaction. India has been variegating its arsenal and structure even prior to Pakistani introduction of TNWs. What Pakistani action provides is a handy rationale for a capability for all three: first strike, ABM and counter force. The third feeds into the first, forming a closed loop, with the ABMs providing a nuclear shield to attempt escape the target state’s nuclear counter strikes. Given the precedence in India going overtly nuclear when it was technologically able to do so,[23] India could also move away from NFU when all the pieces are in place.  
For India that ‘credible’ supersedes ‘minimum’ is already apparent.[24] It is in the middle of demonstrating technological capability in all dimensions: missile defence, nuclear submarines, submarine launched ballistic missiles, multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, ballistic missiles, command and control measures such as the national command post, warheads ranging from 200Kt to sub kiloton levels, cold tests, silo based and mobile delivery systems, miniaturisation, military surveillance and communication satellites etc. Though a step behind in numbers, it has the capacity for a warhead surge, given that it has over eight tons of reactor grade plutonium that can also be used to fashion warheads.[25] The surveillance capability and the numbers of warheads it could reach when combined with the missile defences and an invulnerable nuclear submarine based second strike capability enables a potential first strike capability. This by definition impacts NFU negatively, enabling abandonment when India gains a sense of escalation dominance through these efforts. 
The impending review will at best be an interim one and will cover the pros and cons in relation to India’s security interests. Among the advantages of retention is, firstly, NFU is morally compliant and can help retain the moral, and at one remove, the political high-ground once a nuclear conflict is terminated. It has strategic dividend in that India could keep a conflict non-nuclear and thereby use its conventional power to its advantage. NFU can also serve as a buffer that can be rescinded at an opportune time. Doing so at the crunch can be useful to convey a message that escalation could result if a conflict continues in a direction unfavourable to India.
But, ironically the instrumental uses of NFU for national security institutions makes it more saleable. It provides cover for simultaneous nuclear and conventional preparation. Conventional preparedness can continue under the rationale that since nuclear weapons are not to be considered, strategic aims have to be met by non-nuclear means. Nuclear build up can keep pace with the excuse that given that the enemy has the nuclear initiative India has to cater for the worst case which could be a first strike attempt, defined as an attempt to take out one’s retaliatory capability. A second strike capability can then be pursued involving both vertical proliferation and sub-surface capability, besides missiles defences. This will permit a distancing from NFU if and when needed.
On the cons side of the equation, militarily, NFU is seen as positioning military forces at a disadvantage. They would not only require bearing the burden of a strike in case they are targeted but to also continue operations in a nuclear environment. In the run up to such a situation, the military would certainly bid for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the threatening nuclear assets being readied by Pakistan for first use. India is attempting to gain the capability for such detection and targeting. In the event of a conflict, it will likely pursue non-nuclear measures to degrade tactical nuclear weapons with Pakistan, which can prompt its nuclear first use under the ‘use them or lost them’ logic. India’s discarding of NFU would help alleviate this problem in the expectation that Pakistan would be less inclined to be nuclear trigger happy. This would reduce India’s pursuit of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons through conventional means.
Politically, it is seen as an expression of India’s strategic culture that has been overly restrained. This is taken as emboldening India’s adversaries. Fashioning of a new strategic culture has been underway over the past quarter century involving a move towards an assertive India that is not averse to proactive and offensive deployment of military power. The NFU has faced attacks from the segment of strategic community so inclined. Reportedly the C. Rangarajan headed 2003 NSAB had recommended a move away from NFU.[26]
Though important to retain so as to prevent the aggressive subculture in India’s strategic culture from gaining an upper hand, this subculture is likely to be energised with the possible advent of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, in government. The last time it was at the helm it moved India’s strategic culture further towards assertion, best exemplified by its banging its way into the nuclear club. This time round it would likely want to make similar waves since its leader, Mr. Modi, may wish to project his ‘56 inch’ chest. The NFU is a readily available issue that also provides an opportunity for adherents of the assertive subculture to take over the reins of strategic policy and the dominant position in the strategic community. Declaring NFU void will be a consequential signal to Pakistan that India means nuclear business. 
India’s NFU pledge is therefore in an existential crisis. While BJP may not abandon NFU since escalation dominance capability is not quite in place yet, a review is certain since India’s nuclear doctrine saw two iterations in its last tenure as against none during the Congress reign and the changed circumstance since its adoption entail review. Since there are two potential areas of change over: a distancing from ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation and the NFU, it is possible that both may be done simultaneously. In order to keep deterrence on even keel, a step back from ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation can be compensated by abandoning NFU. What needs doing alongside is reminding the nuclear establishment that even if NFU does not figure in the declaratory doctrine, it could continue to inform operational doctrine. This will preserve the one element that could preserve South Asia from a nuclear fate brought on by Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling’s conceptualisation famously put as: ‘He thinks we think he thinks… he thinks we think he will attack; so he thinks we shall; so he will; so we must.’[27]



[1] The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Cabinet Committee on Security reviews progress in operationalising India’s nuclear doctrine’, widely taken as India’s official nuclear doctrine, is available at http://pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr2003/rjan2003/04012003/r040120033.html (accessed on 10 March2014).
[2] The BJP manifesto is available at http://www.bjp.org/manifesto2014 (accessed on 16 April 2014).
[3] Vipin Narang, ‘Why India must stay the nuclear hand’, Indian Express, 12 April 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-india-must-stay-the-nuclear-hand/ (accessed on 15 April 2014).
[4] Sanjeev Miglani and John Chalmers, ‘BJP puts ‘no first use’ nuclear policy in doubt’, Reuters, 7 April 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/04/07/india-election-bjp-manifesto-idINDEEA3605820140407
(accessed on 10 April 2014).
[5] Dr. Manmohan Singh, ‘Inaugural Address by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India on A Nuclear Weapon-Free World: From Conception to Reality’, 2 April 2014,
[6] Jayanth Jacob, ‘BJP Manifesto: ‘No-first-use policy to continue’’, Hindustan Times, 8 April 2014,  http://www.hindustantimes.com/elections2014/election-beat/no-first-use-policy-to-continue/article1-1205874.aspx (accessed 15 April 2014).
[7] Douglas Busvine, ‘India's Modi says committed to no first use of nuclear weapons’, Reuters, 16 April 2014,
[8] PR Chari, ‘India’s nuclear doctrine: Confused ambitions’, Non Proliferation Review, Fall-Winter 2000, p.124,   http://cns.miis.edu/npr/pdfs/73chari.pdf (accessed on 10 March 2010).
[9] Anonymous, ‘A strategy for India for a credible posture against a nuclear adversary’, New Delhi: IDSA, 1968. It is fairly certain that the anonymous writer was Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, who as a serving IAS officer was director of programs at IDSA was perhaps not permitted by the government in the context of the debates in the run up to the non-proliferation treaty to voice the strong view for nuclearisation carried in the monograph.  
[10] Shyam Saran, ‘Is India’s nuclear deterrent credible?’, Lecture at India International Center for the Subbu Forum Society for Policy Studies on 24 April 2013, available at http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2013/05/Final-Is-Indias-Nuclear-Deterrent-Credible-rev1-2-1-3.pdf (accessed on 2 March 2014).
[11] NSAB, ‘Draft report of the National Security Advisory Board on Indian nuclear doctrine’, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/1999_07-08/ffja99 (accessed 3 March 2014)
[12] Scott Sagan, ‘Evolution of Pakistani and Indian nuclear doctrine’ in Scott Sagan et al (eds.), Inside Nuclear South Asia, Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 247.
[13] Scott Sagan, ‘Evolution of Pakistani and Indian nuclear doctrine’ p. 248. The US in the classified National Security Presidential Directive 17 in September 2002 reportedly stated that "the United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force--including potentially nuclear weapons--to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies." See, ‘U.S. "Negative Security Assurances" At a Glance’, Factsheet, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/negsec (accessed on 25 February 2014).

[14] Speech of NSA Shivshankar Menon, ‘The Role of Force in Strategic Affairs’, delivered on 21 October 2010 is available at http://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/798/Speech+by+NSA+Shri+Shivshankar+Menon+at+NDC+on+The+Role+of+Force+in+Strategic+Affairs (accessed 17 March 2014).
[15] Vipin Narang, ‘Did India change its nuclear doctrine? Much ado about nothing’, IDSA Comment, http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/DidIndiaChangeitsNuclearDoctrine_vnarang_010311 (accesssed 17 March 2014).
[16] Firdaus Ahmed, ‘One gaffe too many’, http://indiatogether.org/gaffes-in-india-s-nuclear-doctrine-op-ed (accessed 17 March 2014).
[17] For instance, Bharat Karnad says that ‘NFU is not in the least credible…’. See his, ‘Minimum deterrence and the India-US nuclear deal’, Seminar, January 2007, http://www.india-seminar.com/2007/569/569_bharat_karnad.htm (accessed on 15 April 2014).
[18] Dr. Manmohan Singh, ‘Inaugural Address’, op. cit.
[19] Press release, Inter Services Public Relations, 19 April 2011, https://www.ispr.gov.pk/front/main.asp?o=t-press_release&id=1721 (accessed on 10 February 2014).
[20] Ibid. Subrahmanyam records that his suggestion for a mutual NFU treaty with Pakistan in the mid-eighties was not taken up, only to be taken up later in the JN Dixit non-papers.
[21] Shyam Saran, op cit p. 16.
[22] Vijay Shankar, ‘India-Pakistan: Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures’, IPCS Article 10 February 2014, http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/india-pakistan-nuclear-risk-reduction-measures-4301.html (accessed 3 March 2014).
[23] K. Subrahmanyam, ‘Narasimha Rao and the Bomb’, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 28 (4), October 2004, http://www.idsa.in/strategicanalysis/NarasimhaRaoandtheBomb_ksubramanyam_1004 (accessed 20 April 2014). Subrahmanyam records Rao keeping India’s nuclear secrets close to his chest in the mid eighties, when capability was being acquired in order not to alert the world to these developments.
[24] Rajesh Basrur states that minimum deterrence in India ‘has tended to lose its moorings’. See his, Minimum Deterrence and India’s National Security, Stanford University Press, 2006, p. 2.
[25] Zia Mian and MV Ramana, ‘Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India’, Arms Control Today, 36: 1, 2006, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_01-02/JANFEB-IndiaFeature (Accessed on 10 April 2014). They estimate that 1100 bombs can be made from this material since India has reportedly tested a bomb made from this in May 1998.
[26] The Rediff Special, ‘Abandon No First Use policy, experts tell government’, http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/jan/09ia.htm (accessed 2 March 20140).  However, Air Marshal Patney, who was member of the NSAB then, dismisses this (intervention at a lecture attended by this author in New Delhi in circa 2010) stating that the matter never came up for discussion.
[27] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1980, p. 207.

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