Sunday, 13 October 2013

post conflict factor in nuclear decision making

Article No.:
The Post Conflict Factor in Nuclear Decision Making
Col Ali Ahmed
Nuclear decision-making is only partially dependent on the doctrine. While the operational as against declaratory doctrine will inform such decision making, since doctrine by definition is to serve as guide, the significant coordinates of the conflict circumstance, the opponent’s manner of nuclear first use and conflict termination strategies that would inevitably kick in with introduction of nuclear weapons into the conflict will be equally significant. This article makes the point that along with these very pertinent considerations must also be factored in the post conflict scenario as a second order consideration. 

The nuclear strategy chosen as response to the adversary’s nuclear first use will determine not only subsequent conflict strategy, end game and outcome, but also the nature of the post conflict future. This article examines two nuclear strategies that form potential options for India’s nuclear response: massive punitive retaliation and flexible nuclear retaliation. It argues that from a perspective of a post nuclear conflict future, the former suffers in comparison to the latter. This needs to inform nuclear retaliation considerations.
Nuclear use considerations usually limit themselves to what would deter best. They are formulated in order to prevent the nuclear use. India’s nuclear retaliation doctrine has it that India would respond with punitive retaliation to any form of nuclear use against it or its forces anywhere. In the declaratory nuclear doctrine, this would be of ‘massive’ levels. The threat of this, in an India-Pakistan conflict, is to stay Pakistan’s nuclear hand. It is not impossible to visualize that the operational nuclear doctrine could well be different and that in the event of enemy nuclear first use, the nuclear strategy might well be different.
Some analysts say that India must fulfil its promise in case Pakistan tests India’s resolve. Not doing so will reveal a chink in India’s resolve thereby subjecting it to further attacks. Punitive retaliation will return Pakistani decision makers to their senses. Others maintain that the circumstance of introduction of nuclear weapons into the conflict must dictate India’s response. While the deterrence doctrine will inform India’s response, it will not dictate it. Disproportionate response would be escalatory, opening up India to like retaliation.
What has not informed the debate so far is the factor of post nuclear conflict circumstance. Pakistan has not ruled out nuclear first use. The two approaches differ on the importance of the type of first use: whether this will be at a higher order in the form of an attempted first strike or a counter value strike or a lower order strike such as on India’s military formations on its territory. For the former – punitive retaliation – the type of nuclear first use does not matter. India’s response will be a heavy one. In case of the latter – flexible retaliation, this would be consequential to shaping India’s response.
From the perspective of a post nuclear conflict future, which of the two make better sense?
Punitive ‘massive’ retaliation makes sense in the circumstance of an attempted first strike by Pakistan. India will give back as good as it receives with a higher order strike. However, to the more probable manner of Pakistani nuclear first use – a lower order strike – this may be disproportionate. Even if the response sets back Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal considerably, of the 100 or so weapons it has, there would likely be some left over to damage India. While some analysts are sanguine that a large country like India can ‘take’ the loss of a couple of cities or so, they point out that Pakistan would be ‘finished’. This possibility would stay Pakistan’s hand and is therefore better for deterrence. What of the aftermath?
Firstly, are the environmental consequences; not only to Indian border-states, but possibly also globally. Secondly, there would be an accounting for the harm received by India. Blaming Pakistan may not be enough in the post mortem, since India’s own actions would be under scrutiny. This would be both internal and very likely also external. Internally, it is quite clear that the India’s disaster management capability would be overwhelmed. Externally, this may even take a legal turn with the decision makers being held responsible for their decision. Thirdly, there would be economic fallout. States not persuaded by India’s logic may make it an object of sanctions, effecting India’s recovery. Fourthly, politically, coping with these consequences may push into an authoritarian regime. Lastly, strategically, the expending of nuclear ordnance on Pakistan and the damage sustained by India’s nuclear and military infrastructure would push India back a generation in respect of China.
On the contrary, the flexible retaliation strategy predicated on proportional response in the initial stage of the nuclear part of the conflict does not suffer these disadvantages. In case of escalation, control is exercised and speedy conflict termination arrived at, the nuclear damage can be kept minimal. Environmentally, economically, diplomatically and politically this would be more sustainable.
Its unanticipated consequence may even be benign in a speedy mutual nuclear disarmament by both states. Having sustained nuclear damage, they would be more realistic on the utility of nuclear weapons to security. India would under the circumstance not have China’s retention of weapons detain it down this road. Globally, nuclear disarmament would receive a boost, making it a possibility in ‘Obama’s lifetime’.
Nuclear strategy making must go beyond deterrence and the conflict circumstance it is to prove responsive to. It has to also be informed by a vision of the post nuclear conflict circumstance. Such consideration reveals that ending the conflict earliest and with least damage sustained or inflicted makes strategic sense.  
Col (Dr) Ali Ahmed (Retd) is a Delhi based strategic analyst.  

shyam saran contested
#4135, 8 October 2013


India, Nuclear Weapons and ‘Massive Retaliation’: The Impossibility of Limitation?
Ali AhmedIndependent Strategic Analyst
Shyam Saran speaking in his personal capacity, rather than as the current head of the National Security Advisory Board, relies on his association with the evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine to make the case that India would do well to stick with the doctrine of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation. He has succeeded in setting the terms of the debate, but more importantly in getting a debate going. This article contests his position in suggesting that there is need for further evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine in light of developments this century.

Saran’s case is that nuclear war cannot be kept ‘limited’. India would therefore require firing off at least a proportion of its nuclear arsenal to inflict ‘massive’ punitive damage on the adversary should it mistakenly choose to ‘go first’. A commitment to this alone will deter the adversary from this first step. Since it is a doctrine for deterrence, this makes sense.

However, in case the adversary does introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, despite the deterrence in place, then the situation is one of responding to the nuclear attack and in doing so also deterring any future nuclear use by the enemy. Therefore, it is partially one of deterrence, and of nuclear use. This implies that the nuclear deterrence doctrine needs supplementing with a nuclear use or operational nuclear doctrine.

Saran would like the operational doctrine to reflect if not be identical with the declaratory nuclear doctrine. India must respond with punitive retaliation, if necessary of ‘massive’ levels, in case of nuclear first use by the enemy, whatever the manner of such first use. The advantage of doing so would be to reinforce credibility and thereby in-conflict deterrence. This will bring the enemy to his strategic senses in double quick time. Such a setback for the adversary would have limiting effects in knocking out the enemy’s ability to continue with the exchanges and, at one remove, the conflict. In any case, it is not possible to get off the nuclear escalator; nuclear limitation being, to Saran, a contradiction in terms. 

Saran gets it right on deterrence. Deterrence doctrine reiterates to a potential nuclear adversary the inevitable - not merely possible - consequence of its nuclear first use. However, an adversary’s nuclear decision is one that can at best be influenced, not dictated. Alongside, nuclear use has to be articulated in an operational doctrine.
A punitive strike, particularly one of higher order proportions in a situation of nuclear plenty, as currently obtains, invites a potent counter retaliation, even if it is a broken-backed one. This is especially so in case the nuclear first use instance is of a lower order level. Incensed by what in its perception would be a disproportionate response, the adversary will try and get even; exacting a price that arguably can prove unaffordable.

While the adversary may be ‘finished’ as a result, India would receive a setback. While for deterrence posturing it is necessary to be cavalier over the possible loss of a ‘couple of cities’, decision-makers who require facing the political, social and environmental aftermath, have more sober considerations.

Secondly, as has been pointed out by critics such as, among others, Ashley Tellis, promising ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation will incentivise first use of first strike levels of attack. The enemy taking India’s nuclear doctrine seriously would, to in Patton’s tradition, be ‘firstest with the mostest’. In the aftermath of such a strike, seeking to respond massively may itself be a contradiction in terms.

Therefore, if higher order nuclear retaliation is not necessarily the only or best way, what are the options? Against Saran’s belief in the inevitability of escalation, the view to the contrary is that only escalatory possibilities will invariably kick-in. Nuclear use decisions informed by the operational doctrine are the manner in which escalation can be managed. As with the tango, escalation management requires both players to ‘cooperate’.  An operational doctrine that enables cooperation towards the common end of nuclear conflict termination is best. Counter-intuitively then, the moot question is: Which responses facilitate cooperation under the prohibitive conditions?

Early on in the nuclear debate, General Sundarji had provided an answer: to end nuclear exchange(s) at the lowest possible level of nuclear use. The opposite view of K Subrahmanyam, echoed by Saran, on the impossibility of nuclear limitation, has instead dominated since. What makes the situation this century different that it is time to hark Sundarji?

Nuclear first use can occur, given the intimate coupling between the sub-conventional and conventional levels sought by India and between the conventional and nuclear levels worked towards by Pakistan. India needs to think equally of limiting the consequences of nuclear use to itself as much as punishing the enemy. The operational doctrine must emphasise nuclear limitation; with nuclear cooperation enabled by a ‘tit for tat’ strategy and structural innovations as joint nuclear risk management. 

It is possible that Saran, apprehending a shift, calls for transparency and re-dedication. While transparency is seconded, a coming out in favour of the shift is called for.

book, review eating grass and afghan endgames

Games Nations Play
Ali Ahmed

Games Nations Play

Ali Ahmed 

Edited by Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla 
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 229, price not stated.

By Feroz Hassan Khan 
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2013, pp. 520, price not stated.


The editors of Afghan Endgames are at the Department of Defence Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. In their words, they have assembled an ‘all star cast of experts across a range of fields relevant to solving the strategic riddles of Afghanistan’. Given that Obama’s deadline of draw down and pull out of 2014 is nearing, the book is a timely one to inform thinking on American policies in ‘Afpak’ and consequences for the wider region that includes India. That it is the outcome of a research project funded by the Defence Department in around 2011 indicates that it was part of the input into the policy choices adopted in Afghanistan that finds the US finally talking to the Taliban.   Curiously there is no discussion in the book on this vital issue. This is perhaps the fundamental flaw in the book; perhaps testimony of the nature of the defence ‘establishment’ that in the US includes intellectual hangers on who build the rationale, legitimacy and strategic communication details cloaking US pursuit of its strategic interests through violence and the threat of violence over much of the globe.   Synthesizing the expert opinion in the concluding chapter, the editors suggest that ‘much less is more’. They want the US to ‘go local, go small, go long’. This entails closing most bases and downsizing others, stopping expensive development and infrastructure projects, displacing the ‘old guard’ with ‘young Afghan leaders’, downsizing the Afghan National Army, maintaining a very small anti- terrorist presence for high value counter terrorism missions, drastically reduce funding of Pakistan and persuade India to sharply reduce its footprint in Afghanistan. If the book has helped to arrive at this prescription for US policy, its credibility would depend on (a) whether the US is indeed embarked down this road, and (b) if such a policy makes strategic sense.   A negative answer to (a) is evident from the US initiating direct talks with the Taliban who have opened an embassy in the UAE for the purpose. The US adoption of this route of attempting to co-opt the Taliban, thereby making continuing counter insurgency redundant in Afghanistan dispenses with the book’s suggestions—the verdict on (b). It is clear to the US that it cannot do with a minimal force strength in support of ...

Feroze Hassan Khan is not necessarily the
one to write the definitive book on Pakistan’s
nuclear project as he has been a longstanding
insider in the Pakistani nuclear establishment.
The fact that he has been allowed to draw on
his earlier official work to write the book by
Pakistani authorities themselves indicates that
while there is much that he has covered, there
is also much that may have been left under
wraps. Pakistan has reasons to have its nuclear
capability dwelt on, not least for reasons of
deterrence and transparency. The author’s
project was probably welcomed by the authorities
to the advantage of the author, since
it also helps him record his critical contribution
to the development of the doctrinal aspect
of the programme.
Given this happy symbiosis, Eating
Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb,
while welcome and timely, must be read with
a pinch of salt as to its claims of Pakistani
prowess, contribution to national and regional
security and Pakistan’s ability to keep
their nuclear capability under control. The
book is important not only for what it says
of the bomb, but what it refrains from saying
out loud, though one discerns from the
narrative that the author has more to say but
does not do so.
The book does for the Pakistani bomb
what George Perkovich’s book did for India’s...

Please  or  to Read More Entire Article