Wednesday, 30 April 2014

nuclear orthodoxy

The Citizen

Severe Indigestion From Nuclear Orthodoxy

Wed Apr 30, 2014

Shyam Saran, chair of India’s National Security Advisory Board, in a recent op-ed, ‘The dangers of nuclear revisionism’(, begins by defending the NFU, but goes on to make the case for preservation of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation as a tenet in India’s nuclear retaliatory doctrine.
Since Saran is against nuclear ‘revisionism’, he would no doubt agree that nuclear orthodoxy is just as bad. Which of the two is worse can be best gauged from the answer to the pertinent question he poses: ‘Why, it is argued, should one retaliate with all of one’s nuclear assets if a tank brigade or some military installations are destroyed in a tactical nuclear attack, and thereby ensure the incineration of most of our cities and populace in a further and inevitable counter-attack using strategic nuclear weapons?’
Nuclear orthodoxy would lie in believing that ensuring the credibility of ‘massive’ retaliation assures deterrence. Faced by credible Indian actions to ensure follow through with its doctrine will stay Pakistan’s nuclear hand. India by not recognising any distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons and believing that limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms will appear implacable to Pakistan. Pakistan will then desist from nuclear first use.
What does Saran mean by ‘massive’? Wargaming the aftermath of the scenario in the question Saran poses may help with determining if ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation is credible. ‘Massive’ can be taken as short hand for counter value targeting. Even if counter value targeting is abjured, in order to preserve own value targets from being the object of the enemy’s counter retaliation, then ‘massive’ would imply higher order counter military targeting. This, by Saran’s own reasoning of lack of distinction between tactical and strategic weapons, implies considerable collateral damage of an order as to make countervalue targeting indistinguishable from higher order counter military targeting.
Given the magnitude of such a strike, it can plausibly be argued that Pakistan would be finished. But would the war end at that? Pakistan has taken care to get into the lower three digits in terms of warhead numbers. These it has been cautious enough to spread across six to ten or more sites. Therefore, it has potential for counter strike. When Saran asks for strengthening of the current nuclear posture, he probably means that India must rely on its anti-missile capability, currently in infancy and likely to be of limited credibility when it matures, to ward of the counter strike Pakistan is sure to launch. Even if such a strike back is broken backed, it would be considerably damaging. India would then, as part of its ‘massive’ strike, have to ensure a counterforce attack to set back this residual ability.
The key question is how many weapons does Saran imagine are required for such a retaliatory strike? In a conflict, the weapons will be with the strategic forces commands of respective service across Pakistan. Some would be postured forward to give credibility to the low nuclear threshold it projects. Some may be held back as reserve in order to provide for a second strike capability once India unleashes its promised ‘massive’ nuclear attack. India would be faced with a large target set and widely spread.
India can decrease the nuclear ordnance used by ensuring degradation through conventional means as also by selective targeting, such as of Pakistan’s command and control systems. At places even Special Forces could be employed. It can make the nuclear degradation task easier by relying on intelligence, both technological and human and on foreign sources of support on this score, including perhaps Israel and at a pinch even the US.
A degraded arsenal would imply reduction, conservatively estimated for our purpose here of back-of-the-envelope calculation, by about a third, which means taking out about 40 warheads. Even if conventional attacks take care of a fourth of this amount, there are still 30 remaining. To take out 30 weapons that are militarily ready to use, would require at least an equivalent number to be launched. This means that there would likely be a minimum 50 nuclear explosions in Pakistan.
As mentioned if Pakistan was to launch a bedraggled counter strike, comprising a sixth of its numbers left, this number increases to sixty explosions. Even if India takes care to configure its most of strike to ensure against fallout, Pakistan on the contrary would not be so inclined. Therefore, there can be expected to be at least 30 mushroom clouds formed by the explosions across the subcontinent.
Pakistan with its ten nuclear bombs lobbed cannot be expected to take out more than perhaps three cities. Even if we are to here assume that Mumbai and Delhi are not among these and India can cope with three cities less, visualising 30 fallout hotspots, including three Indian cities and perhaps double the number Pakistani urban centres, may give a better idea of the post exchange environment.
The second edition of a report on the effects on climate and in turn impact on agricultural production increased the numbers at risk globally from one billion to two billion in case of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving 100 detonations. Since in our scenario only 60 weapons have been used, it would imply that these figures can be reduced by about a third. It is quite clear that even then the numbers should deter Pakistan from nuclear resort.
However, the same is true for India. India must surely also be deterred from visiting such a retaliation on Pakistan. This means that India cannot reasonably launch the kind of retaliatory strike on Pakistan as it proposes to. This means that India’s doctrine lacks credibility. This lack of credibility increases Pakistan’s propensity for nuclear first use, especially in the manner encapsulated by the question Saran posed and failed to answer credibly.
If and since Pakistan could well go first in the manner suggested in the scenario, it would be best India also have options up its sleeve. It is evident that neither country can possibly think of taking further step up the nuclear ladder than the very lower rungs. This means there is little need for the capability Saran says is necessary to make for credibility of deterrence.
Incidentally, it is perhaps for the first time in a piece on nuclear matters, the term ‘minimum’ does not figure even once in Saran’s article. This implies ‘minimum’ in India’s doctrine has been jettisoned implying India has gone down the Cold War route even as it protests Cold War logic. If India following Saran was to have its cake and eat it to, only fatal indigestion can result.
Instead, since nuclear weapons exist, India and Pakistan need to follow General Sundarji’s sage advice to work out a modus vivendi to end a nuclear confrontation at the lowest threshold of nuclear use.
(Ali Ahmed is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge). He blogs at

the sundarji model for nuclear doctrine review


#4410, 30 April 2014
An Indian Nuclear Doctrine Review: A Third Model
Ali AhmedIndependent Analyst
The reference in the BJP manifesto to a review of the Indian nuclear doctrine has had the salutary effect of keeping the nuclear issue in the public mind. It has also made the possibility of a review of the doctrine, even if the BJP does not come to power, more likely. The discussion the reference provoked suggests that there are two models of deterrence that would vie for adoption during the review.

While the ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation model is already the declaratory nuclear doctrine, the challenger model is ‘flexible’ nuclear retaliation. The debate between votaries of the two has had ‘flexible’ votaries pointing out that ‘massive’ is incredible. ‘Massive’ votaries have in turn critiqued the ‘flexible’ model for being weak on escalation control. While ‘massive’ pitches for strengthening deterrence by reinforcing capability and resolve to visit unacceptable damage on the enemy, ‘flexible’, wary of deterrence breakdown, caters for an appropriate response.

For ‘flexible’ votaries, ‘massive’ has the drawback of inviting an equal counter-strike from Pakistan since Pakistan now has the numbers. This would make for self deterrence for India. Consequently, India would water down its nuclear response. Doing so would impact India’s projection of resolve, effecting in-conflict deterrence. India should therefore go for a ‘flexible’ model whereby its response would be tailored to the manner of Pakistan’s nuclear first use and cognisant of in-conflict deterrence, escalation control and war termination compulsions.

‘Massive’ votaries argue that this would water down deterrence, making nuclear first use more likely. Also it is unmindful of the inexorable escalation that would inevitably ensue from nuclear first use and proportionate retaliation under the graduated deterrence concept. ‘Massive’ has global environmental consequences in light of recent studies that indicate that even a regional nuclear war can trigger nuclear winter. ‘Flexible’ has potential to go the ‘massive’ route.

third model, the Sundarji nuclear doctrine eliminates the drawbacks mentioned. In Sundarji’s words, it states: ‘Terminate the nuclear exchange at lowest level with a view to negotiate a politically acceptable peace; riposte commensurate with strike received –quid pro quo option; a punitive element may call for response at a higher level than strike received – quid pro quo plus option; a need on occasion to degrade to maximum extent the adversary’s ability to continue with the exchange – spasmic response option; a need to minimise casualties among foreigners and innocents for post war rapprochement.’

By its focus on political negotiations for war termination, it caters for escalation control; thereby eliminating the problems posed by the other two models. However, the criticism this articulation may receive is that under the circumstance of nuclear use, the possibility of political and diplomatic engagement for nuclear exchange termination and for war termination will be severely negatively impacted. Since a nuclear exchange is the ultimate expression of distrust, making a two-way street of escalation control would be through the exercise of power to hurt and generating fear in the enemy of the power held in reserve in relation to potential targets yet to be addressed. Therefore, this is an almost wishful formulation.

The counter to such a critique is that instead of an emotive nuclear decision-making environment in which vengeance and in-conflict deterrence will be to fore, it is instead equally plausible that the first nuclear explosion will ensure a quick return to strategic sense since survival would be at stake. As this would be the case on both sides, there would be the necessary element of cooperation that can enable a negotiated end to the exchange in the first place and to the nuclear conflict next.

Effort to this end would also be greatly facilitated by the international community, energised by the fear of implications for escalation for the global environment. 
Clearly, this will call for mechanisms to be in place prior, forged in peace time. This implies not only doctrinal transparency and doctrinal exchanges, but also mechanisms of assured interface in the trying conditions of nuclear conflict outbreak or nuclear outbreak in a conventional conflict. This would entail creation of a nuclear risk reduction mechanism.

Currently, India and Pakistan have hotlines as part of CBMs (confidence building measures) between the two. Going beyond CBMs to NRRMs (Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures) is necessary for working the Sundarji doctrine. Since this cannot be done in crisis period or in war time, it is best to recognise the necessity for escalation control communication in conflict and emplace the mechanism.

A counter-point would be that to create such a body means to tacitly admit a lack of faith in deterrence. This should not hold up the initiative since when and if this faith is on the rocks, it may prove too late. However, in case of hesitance the two States as part of doctrinal exchange can cater for the contingency and materialise the mechanism in case a sub-conventional push comes to a conventional shove.
Any impending review must therefore cast its net wider and look beyond the two mainstream models – ‘massive’ and ‘flexible’ – at play. The Sundarji model is also a candidate for consideration in the review. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

kashmir and the bomb

Kashmir and the bomb
By Ali Ahmed

Mr. Modi has put a temporary halt to a promising discussion prompted by his party's manifesto reference to a revision of nuclear doctrine by decreeing that India will abide by NFU. Even so, it was altogether a good thing that the nuclear issues found mention in the media. However, the nuclear issue will at best end up a footnote to any recounting of the campaign. The good part is that the nuclear issue was not dragged into the mud as have been the other weighty issues that have figured in the elections campaign. 

It is the unfortunate phenomenon in strategic affairs generally, that when it is easier to discuss issues, in times of relative peace, they tend to recede to the background as less urgent and undemanding. The problem is that discussion, particularly sober discussion within one's own side and more so with the adversary, is impossible under the circumstance of crisis and impending conflict. Consequently, it would appear that an opportunity has been missed to engage equably with the nuclear factor in India-Pakistan relations. Hopefully, it would not be an opportunity rued after some future calamity.

Since Kashmir is central to any such possibility, here a view is taken of the nuclear factor in relation to Kashmir. In the recent discussion, Kashmir found mention in an oblique manner. The votaries for rescinding NFU opined that in light of Pakistani fragility, its nuclear weapons could find their way into jihadist handswith or without state complicity. The jihadists, in league with Kashmiri extremists ensconced in Pakistan, may use this for blackmailing India to make concessions on Kashmir. Such scaremongering was used to advance their view that India may require to go nuclear to smash such a contingency. If NFU is made history, then it would enable suitable response, besides being a suitable deterrence to negative forces for taking over Pakistan's crown jewels. 

The nuclear blackmail narrative has been there since the very beginning of nuclear thinking. In the early eighties, Stephen Cohen reports of an interview he had in Pakistan in which his bemedelled interlocutor suggested that one utility of the bomb, then in Pakistan's basement, was to blackmail India politically for concessions on Kashmir. Militarily, he described its utility as plugging India's reinforcement routes into Kashmir from Jammu and slicing off the Valley in the melee. 

The story was duly picked up by Subramanyam, leading advocate for India's nuclearisation. He justified redressing India's nuclear asymmetry, highlighting that just as Pakistan could plug the Valley from an Indian military surge in case of conflict by dropping the Bomb at Banihal or thereabouts, India could also do so by sealing off the other end of the Valley at Jhelum's exit. A nuclear symmetry would put paid to Pakistan's ambition to gain an upper hand in conflict and wrest Kashmir. A Pakistan brought to its strategic senses by the nuclear balance, would then reconcile to the status quo. To Subramanyam, acceptance of the status quo by Pakistan was the solution to the Kashmir conflict and at one remove to the hostility between the two countries. By the end of that decade, Kashmir was on the boil, hardly in sight of the solution, though India had nuclearised by then. 

What Subramanyam failed to mention, not because of lazy strategic thinking but surely so as not to complicate his nuclear advocacy, was that Pakistan could choose other options under the cover of the Bomb. In the event, Pakistan chose the route described by analysts as the 'stability/instability' paradox that has it that stability brought on by mutual deterrence at the nuclear level opens up strategic space below for exploitation. Pakistan let loose a proxy war, no doubt emboldened and eased by Kashmiri alienation and angst. 

It was able to exploit the subconventional level by neutralising India's conventional might by the threat of nuclearisation of conflict in case of India wanting to teach it a military lesson conventionally. Though India studiously denies it, Pakistan prefers to believe that it has deterred India's conventional hand on occasion, testifying to the deterrence regime in the subcontinent even at a time when recessed deterrence prevailed prior to the May 1998 landmark events. 

After the 'Smiling Buddha' tests, LK Advani threw down the gauntlet. Though rationalised later as India's way to smoke out Pakistan's capability and have it join India in the doghouse, his call could well have been prompted by what some regard as a millennial 'jung' between 'two' civilisations. Nawaz Sharif was left with little choice. Both ruling parties assuming that the nuclear stalemate enabled rapprochement took the leap of faith at Lahore. However, in the case of Pakistan, Sharif was ahead of his security establishment that sprung a Kargil on him and Pakistan.

To Pakistanis it was an extension of the undeclared war along the Line of Control, unmindful of the changed security environment post Pokhran II and Chagai. Intended to divert Indian attention, it extended the life of mayhem in Kashmir. While India's army chief then, who might well have been outside India's nuclear loop, says nuclear weapons had no part in the conflict, a nuclear chronicler, Raj Chengappa, let on breathlessly that India had upped its nuclear readiness levels. Bruce Reidel recounts Clinton's ambush of Nawaz Sharif on Pakistani military's nuclear readiness during his visit to Martha's Vineyard. Both sides claim that nuclear weapons were not in the reckoning during the subsequent crisis of 2001-02. While Musharraf said that India's restraint owed to deterrence success, India's president Abdul Kalam in a notable faux pas acknowledged as much. 

This brief recounting suggests that nuclear weapons have been a factor in past crises and therefore can be expected to figure in future ones. They would also be a feature in case a crisis turns out the real thing, since Pakistan has unveiled a tactical nuclear weapon. Though its employment is expected to be in the plains sector against Indian columns advancing in keeping with its newly minted doctrine of proactive offensive, Indian commentary suggests that the plains sector is, on this count, unlikely to be site of Indian offensives

Instead, these may well be in the mountains sector where gains made can be kept and where Pakistan cannot readily use nuclear threats. Not only has the area Muslim population; but Pakistan also lies downstream. Nevertheless, in case there is a breakout in the mountain sector, it would place Indian troops within sight of Pakistan's national capital region, thus bringing nuclear weapons into the reckoning. Since India is giving itself a mountain strike corps, ostensibly for use on the China front, its use elsewhere cannot be guaranteed against. Gains it makes can prove nuclear provocations and would lie within fallout distance of Kashmir. 

Therefore, while The Bomb may not directly and readily figure in the military calculation in Kashmir for either side, it can be hazarded that in case of nuclear use, self-restraint and regulation may also be a casualty in a post nuclear environment. Kashmir could well find itself at the rough end of an Indian stick. It is a separate issue that it would also face environmental consequences of a regional nuclear war, which even if of a threshold that does not provoke nuclear winter, can be expected to impact contiguous areas direly. Also, indirectly, once the nuclear genii is out of the bottle, motivated rationale can be manufactured, such as a need to interdict Pakistani supply lines to China under the 'twofront' concept, for Kashmir to also get a dose of the nuclear medicine closer home. 

Deterrence optimists, who seem to people nuclear establishments on both sides, would be averse to such prognosis. It is for this reason that the problems that could provoke such a denouement are allowed to persist. Since Kashmir cannot expect to escape being signed by nuclear incidence, both politically and physically, it may require exerting to ensure that it does not provide the proverbial spark to the nuclear tinder in South Asia. In the nuclear era, destiny of communities and societies cannot be left entirely in the hands of nuclear armed states, since they have to face the consequence in case deterrence optimists are found wanting at the crunch. 

(The author blogs at

News Updated at : Tuesday, April 29, 2014

nuclear doctrinal revision for the china front

Nuclear Doctrinal Revision For The China Front
Col Ali Ahmed*
Missing in the ongoing debate on NFU, prompted by reference in the BJP manifesto to a revision of the nuclear doctrine, are the implications of any shift in doctrine for the China front. Nuclear analyst, WPS Sidhu, of Brookings India has indicated that the China factor is one among three factors that prompts revision. The other two are Pakistan’s induction of Nasr and the reconfiguration of the demated and dealerted status in light of nuclear submarines due to make their advent soon as the invulnerable leg of the triad.
The recent debate has alighted on two issues areas: one is the NFU and second is credibility of deterrence. While the discussion has confined itself mostly to the Pakistan front, no doubt with good reason, such as the volatility of relations with that state in light of long standing instability there, the China front has figured if at all in passing. Given that India has consistently privileged the China factor as motivating India’s nuclear developments, there appears a gap in analyses that this article will attempt to fill.
To Sidhu, the presence of DF 25, with a range of 3200km in Tibet and China’s surveillance capabilities together with increased border incidents must prompt rethinking in both conventional and nuclear dimensions. Conventional rethinking has already been initiated over half a decade ago and has resulted in the raising of two divisions in a defensive role and forming of a mountain strike corps. However, implications of the same on conventional-nuclear interface and on nuclear plane are of consequence for any impending revision of nuclear doctrine.
As a prelude to the discussion here, there are some mitigating factors on the China front that need noting. Firstly, China is embarked on an economy-first national endeavour that can do without buffeting by military distractions on a remote border that is not central to its more Pacific Ocean centered primary interests. Secondly, China is more attuned to global power play in which it is seen as a challenger. This means that in any stand-off with India it would only be able to muster and employ a proportion of its comprehensive national power since it would require to keep an eye out for the US and a post conflict rebalancing. Therefore, the seeming power asymmetry against India both conventional and nuclear needs moderating.
Thirdly, it is the sole nuclear power other than India that has an NFU in place. While some Indian analysts question whether this NFU is applicable to Chinese interpretation of its territory, that includes Arunachal Pradesh, to others this NFU is just as credible as any other unilateral declaration that a sovereign state can step away from at any time. Nevertheless, an NFU is in place, even if India were to take it for its planning purposes with a pinch of salt. Lastly, China and India are in a dialogue process that has gone through fifteen iterations so far. This indicates that an interface process is in place with potential for non-military conflict resolution.
With this in the background, what are implications of prospective areas of rethink, namely, NFU and credibility, for the China front? 
NFU is relatively easy to tackle. In keeping with the dictates of the Draft Nuclear Doctrine of 1999, India has taken care to build up its conventional capability in order to lift upwards any nuclear threshold or need to go nuclear in a conflict. In the nuclear field, a full-fledged second strike capability resting on nuclear powered submarines packing a ballistic missile punch is still half a decade away. Agni V is yet to get operational status and into production. Therefore, since, firstly, conventionally India can do without nuclear reinforcement, and, secondly, the nuclear capability is yet to mature, there is little reason for India to go nuclear first.
Sticking with NFU at least till end decade may be militarily necessary. The strategic sense in this is that NFU keeps the nuclear factor at bay and, furthermore, provides a buffer in the form of rescinding the NFU in crisis or conflict itself serving as a telling message of India’s stakes and commitment. Politically, there is little reason to heighten tensions with China and thereby falling into line with a side role in the ongoing ‘pivot’ towards Asia of the US.
As for the second aspect, credibility, there is a case to be made for movement. India’s leading nuclear analysts, Bharat Karnad and Vipin Narang, have both pointed out that ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation that is current Indian declaratory nuclear doctrine, is untenable in respect of China. In case of China’s introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict in a higher order mode such as against India’s heartland, then India is fully justified in having the doctrine inform its nuclear strategy. However, in case of nuclear first use by China in India’s periphery or in Tibet, India could have an operational nuclear doctrine also countenancing limited nuclear operations. This would be necessary at least over the remainder of this decade till the capability to strike China’s eastern seaboard with equal impunity as it can target Indian heartland is built up by the operationalization of the triad, IRBMs and MIRV technology.
A shift from a declaratory doctrine that in this case lacks credibility to ‘flexible’ nuclear retaliation may be necessary. The question that needs answering is: Which serves deterrence better: a doctrine that cannot be worked, or a doctrine that envisages nuclear war-fighting at lower order levels of nuclear exchange in order to deter better? After all, given the stakes involved in a border dispute, lower order levels of nuclear first use are more likely in the hypothetical case of Chinese first use.
In case of a shift to flexible nuclear retaliation on the China front, what does it imply for India’s nuclear doctrine on the Pakistan front? Does it mean that India’s atypical strategic location lends itself to a ‘differentiated’ (B. Karnad) nuclear doctrine: one for each front? Any rethinking would require answering such questions. Consequently, the China front cannot possibly be ‘missing in action’.

Col Ali Ahmed is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge, 2014). He blogs at
(Article uploaded on Apr. 29, 2014).

Monday, 21 April 2014

book review india

Ali Ahmed

Ali Ahmed is Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
Tensions Between Security and Reconstruction
Alternative Perspectives
Lessons in How Not to Fight a War
A Contemporary Record
Games Nations Play
Transnational Consequences of Conflict

storm in india's nuclear teacup

The storm in India’s nuclear teacup

India’s Nuclear Doctrine: The storm in India’s nuclear teacup
Date : 21 Apr , 2014

The reference to India’s nuclear doctrine in the BJP’s manifesto has resulted in a virtual storm in the strategic community. While the manifesto only makes the point that the BJP will seek to review the nuclear doctrine, there has been a rash of commentary with pre-emptive intent in favour No First Use (NFU). Setting up a straw man, most strategists have taken pot shots at the BJP’s intent to abandon NFU, even though the BJP has reiterated that they are not averse to NFU.
To strategists concerned with the possibility of jettisoning of the NFU, it is necessary to retain into the foreseeable future at least until India’s credible second strike capability is ready against China. Since the Agni V and the nuclear submarine are as yet under trials, there is little need for India to go about resetting the central pillar of its nuclear doctrine. Assuring the adversaries of having no intent to go first with nuclear weapons, India will prevent nuclear pre-emption in a first strike mode on their part. Politically, it continues to convey that India, a late entrant into the nuclear club, is a mature and responsible nuclear weapons state.
The fear is that known nuclear hawks in the strategic community, who may have the nationalist party’s ear, may influence it by riding their favourite hobby horses. Rescinding the NFU would be an easy initiative since the commitment has been under considerable criticism lately. Strategic cover is with the argument that Pakistan’s projecting a low nuclear threshold with its Nasr tactical nuclear missile system and the danger of its nuclear weapons falling to Islamists. An NFU would tie India down at the crunch.
It may make political sense to the BJP wanting to embellish its difference with the preceding dispensation widely taken as ‘soft’ on defence. The BJP has already indicated its disinterest in being tied down by the prime minister’s initiative late last month of attempting the impossible of elevating the NFU to a new global nuclear norm.
However, critics have alongside suggested that BJP should instead concentrate on other aspects of the doctrine. In their sights has been the introduction of the term ‘massive’ into India’s nuclear doctrine in relation to the quantum of nuclear retribution India intends to visit on an adversary introducing nuclear weapons into a conflict in any manner. The recommendation made is to water this down by reverting to the earlier formulation of ‘assured retaliation’ with sufficient quantum to impose punitive and unacceptable damage.
Movement away from massive nuclear retaliation is useful in light of Pakistan having crossed the three figure mark in number of warheads. This implies it can well hurt India back grievously; in effect, the numbers give it second strike capability. Further, for India to take out this retaliatory capability, with its marginally lesser number of warheads, is impossible and risks nuclear winter, as a recent study on affects on global climate of a hypothetical nuclear exchanges of up to half the India-Pakistan arsenal taken together, has pointed out.
Therefore, while jettisoning the intent to go ‘massive’ is necessary, going about it requires ensuring that deterrence is not endangered. Taking care of this implies buttressing deterrence by other measures such as withdrawing the NFU without necessarily going down the first use route.
By no means does stepping back from the pledge imply a first use intent. India can yet choose to wait out the other nuclear power since it can afford to do so. With respect to Pakistan, it has marginal conventional advantage that can translate as local ascendance. Against China, it has raised two divisions in a defensive role and is forming a mountain strike corps to address any conventional asymmetry. Therefore, since India does not need nuclear first use to be militarily on even keel, it does not need to resort to nuclear weapons other than in a retaliatory role.
Therefore, even if there is no NFU pledge, India’s nuclear posture does not need to change. Removing NFU does not necessarily imply a first use posture. Such a posture is rightly feared by critics since it conjures up a Cold War picture of ever expanding nuclear forces on hair trigger alert. However, a posture aligned with NFU can yet be retained without an NFU pledge. India does not need to say it out loud but to just do it.
Moving away from NFU is seemingly at little cost.The danger is in mistaking the lack of an NFU pledge as implying a first use posture. Technological advances impelled by institutional interests of the nuclear establishment already amount to pressure on this score. Pursuit of a missile shield in league with advances on the surveillance front in terms of military and remote sensing satellites, sea leg of nuclear triad, MIRV technology based on multiple satellite launch capability etc are some pointers to the potential direction towards first use. Adversaries wary of India’s word watch its actions. They are already less than persuaded, in particular Pakistan for it fears that India could at will move to first use once the pieces are in place or in case push comes to nuclear shove. Its nuclear second strike capability based on warhead numbers could be offset by India’s missile shield after an Indian first strike renders its retaliation a broken backed one. Therefore, India would need to be more watchful, as Vipin Narang warns that its technological demonstrations are sending a message contrary to its declaratory nuclear doctrine. This makes the adversary suspect an operational doctrine that is quiet at variance with the declaratory nuclear doctrine.
Therefore, a move away from NFU for bolstering deterrence in order to create the conditions for a step back from ‘massive nuclear retaliation’ to flexible nuclear retaliation should not result in adoption of a ‘first use’ doctrine instead. While the recommendation here is for declaratory doctrine to be adjusted to match the operational nuclear doctrine, that is surely already cognizant of the need for limited nuclear strike options, this does not imply that NFU needs being abandoned. NFU should instead be retained in the operational doctrine even if for political reasons it is felt that India can do without an NFU pledge in its declaratory nuclear doctrine.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

IDR Flexible nuclear retaliation

India-Pakistan: Distancing the spark from the nuclear tinderbox

IDR Blog

In a speech for the Subbu Forum Society for Policy Studies at the India International Center last April, Ambassador Shyam Saran, currently chair of India’s National Security Advisory Board, reiterated India’s nuclear doctrine stating: “…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.”[1]
There are two ways to take Shyam Saran’s views. One is that his public reinforcing of the official nuclear doctrine owed to his possible frustration with his views voiced in his advisory capacity not gaining the desired resonance within government. The second could be that his public voicing of the doctrine ten years after its first formulation was to remind putative adversaries, read Pakistan, of the nuclear worst case possibilities, and thereby reinforce deterrence. In either case it appears that there is movement in India’s operational nuclear doctrine, even as Shyam Saran’s speech maintains that there is little shift in the declaratory one.
The seeming divergence between operational and declaratory doctrine owes perhaps to the misconception that only massive punitive retaliation deters. Firstly, this is not so, owing to lack of credibility, and secondly, India risks a commitment trap that could deliver the worst case. Therefore, refurbishing Indian deterrence requires India to bring about a convergence between its operational and declaratory doctrine through a movement in its official doctrine.
What Saran wants is the obliteration of Pakistan and its people – massive punitive retaliation implies little else – in case it has the temerity to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. It is not understood how he insists on this in light of Pakistani nuclear inventory having crossed into three digits over the turn of the decade. India cannot hope to remain unscathed in fatally wounding Pakistan, not least because of the environmental catastrophe close at hand. Given this inevitability, the threat lacks credibility.
Realising the escalatory potential and genocidal/suicidal implications of ‘massive’ punitive retaliation, India may have quietly moved to a more appropriate operational nuclear doctrine. This can only be one that keeps the inherent impetus to escalation in any nuclear exchange under maximum check. The manner that this can be best done is in having a proportionate nuclear retaliation doctrine in which every nuclear blow is responded to by a like blow, at least in the initial few iterations.
The message conveyed would be that India has no interest in escalating, even though it can, but would exact a like nuclear price of Pakistan for each nuclear blow it receives. Pakistan, hurting proportionately more, would likely get the message that would also be piped in by other channels too such as diplomatic, political and media alongside.
Saran reasons that there is an inevitability to nuclear escalation. This was the position of the doyen of Indian strategists, K. Subrahmanyam, the one in whose honour Saran was speaking. Once the nuclear genii is released, it is impossible to put back into the bottle.  Therefore, in this reasoning it is best for India to go for the jugular right away. In any case threatening to do so would keep Pakistan’s nuclear finger off the nuclear button since it cannot be certain that India would not do as promised, even if in the process India will suffer dire consequences.
Stating alongside that India would nevertheless survive while Pakistan would be finished, as George Fernandes once famously, did is good strategy in the ‘irrational’ strategic actor mode. Projecting irrational behaviour, as once done by Ronald Reagan and sometimes a role subscribed to by Pakistan, is in theory expected to strengthen deterrence. Given this, it is not impossible that Saran is role playing, projecting an incredible and, therefore, irrational strategy.
His voicing this could be meant to indicate to Pakistan that there are divergences in opinion on nuclear strategy in India that could come to a head in case of Pakistani nuclear first use. Pakistan cannot thereafter be comfortable that India would only behave rationally and persist with proportionate nuclear retaliation instead. Indian hawks might just prevail leading to Pakistan being wiped off the map, even as India copes with the consequences of a Pakistani nuclear last gasp as a broken backed counter strike. Knowing that Indian hawks have commandeered the strategic space in India, Pakistan could in the event be reduced to being more circumspect in its nuclear moves.
If this is the case, then it is strategy of sorts, but rather a dangerous one. It pushes India into a commitment trap. Not following up with its promise detracts from Indian credibility. Pursuit of credibility, in such a case for in-conflict deterrence, may push India down the worst case road, in addition to the advocacy of the irrational by Indian hawks. If the chair person of the NSAB is itself of such persuasion then their stridency will be at a peak.
India can underplay the costs of such irrationality only for deterrence purposes, as Saran may well be doing. However, when push comes to shove, it would not do to believe India will survive, even as Pakistan bites the dust. Not only will India be subject to direct nuclear attack of indeterminate proportions, but the environmental and human aftermath in both India and in Pakistan, will overwhelm the leadership as it emerges from its nuclear command bunker. India as we know it will have ceased to exist as it has many times before in its history.
The problem with persisting with the ‘Subbu doctrine’ is that it does not take into account the water down the Yamuna in terms of India’s conventional doctrinal movement and is oblivious to the water down the Indus in terms of vertical proliferation. Together they compel a revision, not restatement as Saran does. Nuclear hawks are more interested in clobbering Pakistan than preserving India.
Saran’s could well be a preemptive attack on a policy shift underway. He lets on that there is a new Strategy Programmes Staff in the Nuclear Command Authority (that he erroneously refers to as National Command Authority, the term Pakistan uses for its nuclear decision making body). This Staff works on the operational doctrine and the nuclear strategy that emerges there from. Given the irrationality inherent in the official, declaratory doctrine, India can be expected to have moved to a more ‘rational’ nuclear doctrine over the decade since it was adopted in 2004. This movement need not be kept secret but released into the public domain; a call Saran makes in ending his speech possibly to help mobilise support against the shift that appears underway. However, going public helps with transparency, a requirement for healthy deterrence. Pakistan realising that India is not without options can be expected to take the appropriate nuclear counsel.
However, Pakistan’s problem is compounded by the inherent threat in Saran’s parting advice:
A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level. Pakistan would be prudent not to assume otherwise as it sometimes appears to do, most recently by developing and perhaps deploying theatre nuclear weapons. It would be far better for Pakistan to finally and irreversibly abandon the long-standing policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy…[2]
This suggests that India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine along with its conventional doctrine of proactive offensive designed to coerce a change in Pakistan’s offensive posture at the subconventional level. The threat of being wiped off the map for this continuing with the temerity of periodic terrorist provocations is held out in the formulation that limited nuclear war, forced by Pakistani introduction of nuclear weapons in a non-strategic way into a conventional conflict, is impossible. Even if this proposition is found in the event to be true; it would be somewhat late for India too since it too would be grievously, if not fatally, wounded. Therefore, if the threat is taken credibly then it puts India in nuclear harms’ way.
The next steps suggested by Saran that Pakistan ‘pursue nuclear and conventional confidence building measures’ and ‘an agreement on no first use of nuclear weapons’ are simply not enough, since Pakistan, seeing the incredibility of Indian threat in light of its capability to inflict nuclear harm on India (something it best knows), will not oblige. Therefore, the logic of ‘mutual assured destruction’ that India and Pakistan are in, when not defined in the Cold War terms but in terms more appropriate to the regional predicament, brings up the option of a doctrinal turn away from ‘massive nuclear retaliation’, as currently, to towards ‘flexible nuclear retaliation’.
In case India wishes to remain on the conventional and nuclear track it is on, then it needs to ensure limitation not only in conventional doctrine, that it is already apparently pursuing, but also in attempting to limit nuclear war in case, in the event of conventional conflict, it does not succeed in preventing its going nuclear. It has to in this case abandon the understanding that nuclear use inevitably triggers a spasmic nuclear exchange. Its belief that a ‘limited nuclear war’ is a contradiction in terms only plays into Pakistani hands in that it promotes self-deterrence. With flexible nuclear retaliation made possible operationally through an appropriate doctrine, Pakistan will be more suitably deterred. On the China front, there is little nuclear incentive and there is a mutual commitment to NFU.
A flexible nuclear retaliation declaratory and operational doctrine and a nuclear strategy in the event of nuclear first use by the adversary will be in India’s supreme national interest of national survival. The supreme national interest then will be to ensure that the nuclear war is brought to a speedy close at the lowest levels of nuclear use by either side, as posited by the wise thinking general, Sundarji. India needs moving beyond the ‘Subrahmanyam doctrine’, something the strategist in Subrahmanyam himself would no doubt have approved. He would have recognised that Saran’s answer to the question he poses himself and goes on to answer – ‘Is India’s nuclear deterrent credible?’ – cannot have deterrence orthodoxy cripple its continuous evaluation.

[1] Shyam Saran, ‘Is India’s nuclear deterrent credible?’, Lecture for the Subbu Forum Society for Policy Studies at India International Center on 24 April 2014, (accessed 15 March 2014)
[2] Ibid, pp. 16-17