Saturday, 26 September 2020


Part I



Ali Ahmed, PhD (JNU), has been an infantryman, an academic and a UN official. His second doctorate, a PhD under Special Regulations from Cambridge University, was awarded based on his publications - inter-alia - on nuclear doctrine. This book is a compilation of his writings on nuclear doctrinal issues in South Asia.




For nuclear skeptics, who have kept us safe



Nuclear Heresies is an apt title for this book. Being a nuclear skeptic but with a seat on the margins of New Delhi’s strategic community, I have been unable to come to terms with the prevalent notions on nuclear doctrine and strategy. Though within the room, I have had a seat in the back bench and along the walls of seminar rooms. From that vantage, the vacuity of what passes for informed discussion on nuclear deterrence was pretty much evident, which I proceeded to record.

In this book, I have tried to convey my skepticism on nuclear doctrinal thinking in India over the past twenty years. During the period, the doctrinal field was bubbly, though rather monochromatic. The pundits associated with nuclear doctrine formulation held forth, while their hangers-on mouthed the virtues of an imbecile doctrine, in part, for access to the high table.

The alternative strategic community was as usual alert to this from its marginalized perch on the sidelines of the strategic circuit. It lost one stalwart early on and its other leading lights were caught up with other equally salient matters as India lurched towards the Right in the period. Thus, vigour was at an ebb in the critique, even if rigour was not.

In any case, the alternative strategic community lacked the resources which the state liberally used for the information war on its people, that India is a responsible nuclear power. There is no such thing as a responsible nuclear power.

I persevered in pointing out the emperor had no clothes on, as was the case with most other issues of national security and strategy. This was inevitable from my perspective liberal-rationalist perspective since the mainstream was realist dominated, one taken over in the last decade by closet cultural nationalists who finally shed their pretenses in the Modi era.

Essentially, the book makes the case that nuclear assets, ignoble in themselves, are in unsafe hands. The Hindutva brigade cannot be trusted with the crown jewels. Just as they have muddied the rest of national security, they can be relied on to do this with nuclear strategy too. By then, realization would be too late. Therefore, this book is intended as a timely reminder to voters to rethink who they have handed over the nuclear suitcase to and withdraw the same urgently and unequivocally.

I thank my examiners for the PhD by Special Regulations for reading through this extensive work and showing their confidence in the ideas in it. This emboldens me to pass on the work here, mainly to students who can make up their own minds on what’s right for this country and region. This is the primary motivation of the book. I hope it serves the purpose of getting citizens to junk nuclear weapons, which their governments want them to think as necessary to keep safe. 

The book is in two parts, since a single volume would be rather bulky. The two parts comprise chapters, commentaries and articles penned so far this century. The major published works comprising the more thoughtful pieces are in Part I, whereas Part II comprises commentaries on the debates through these years. The two together should prove a useful trove for strategic and peace studies enthusiasts, regional specialists and military affairs afficionados. 



Political decision making and nuclear retaliation   5

The political factor in nuclear retaliation             21

Nuclear retaliation options                                 36

No first use nuclear policy                                 39                               

Pakistani nuclear use and implications for India  42

TNW in nuclear first use: The legal counter        56

Cold Start and the Sehjra Option                        64

Furthering NFU in the India-Pakistan context      72

A conflict strategy for India in the TNW era       80

Indian Army’s flagship doctrines                       88

India’s nuclear doctrine: Stasis or dynamism?     105

Extract from India’s Doctrine Puzzle: India’s nuclear doctrine  127

Limited War: The strategic conundrum               133

Airing the Sundarji Doctrine                              135

Limited War: An Assessment                            139

Reflection on the threat of nuclear war               142

India: Dissonance on the doctrinal front              150

Extract from IDSA Monograph No. 3: Reconciling Doctrines - Limiting Conflict 165


In tribute: Recalling the Sundarji Doctrine          175


Extract from the PhD under Special Regulations  183