Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar
An expanded version of this article is due to appear in a forthcoming book titled “Waging Peace in South Asia: Essays on the Chaophraya Dialogue and Beyond,” an initiative of the Chaophraya Dialogue, jointly organized by the Australia India Institute and Jinnah Institute and facilitated by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo.
In declaring its nuclear doctrine and operationalzing the deterrent, India pledged voluntary renunciation of the First Use of Nuclear Weapons. On the face of it such a disavowal defies conventional wisdom. To deliberately temper a sword and then to abjure its first use would appear to contradict sovereign morality. However, intrinsic to the logic of non use is a three fold endowment: the Sword’s unprecedented destructive promise; its influence and coercive potential; and lastly, its ability to deter conflict beyond the conventional. If there is belief in the changed nature of warfare that nuclear weapons have wrought that has morphed political objectives from war winning to war avoidance then, humanity’s moral weight would be on the side of the Covenant sans Sword.
Key words: India Nuclear Doctrine, Deterrent relationships, No First Use of Nuclear Weapons, Indo-Pak Nuclear relations, Sino-Pak nuclear weapons program.
Power and Self Preservation
Writing on the foresight of self preservation, the 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, underscored the need to establish an aura of awe and visible power in order that men do not degenerate to their natural anarchic passions. He said “For the laws of nature as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge and the like. And covenants without the sword are but words and are of no strength to secure a man at all.” Yet, comes a nuclear ‘Sword’ today whose utility, India believes, lies in its non use. However, intrinsic to the logic of non use is a three fold endowment – the Sword’s unprecedented destructive promise, its influence and coercive potential and lastly its ability to deter conflict beyond the conventional.
The Cold War Paradigm
In 1950 a curious document materialized from the American Strategic firmament which put in place a blueprint for a new world order and redefined logic for the use of power. The report titled NSC 68 came in response to a Presidential directive that Truman had articulated when wrestling with the impending nuclear confrontation with the USSR. The dilemma was: What would be the determinants that would influence and control the use of power in general and nuclear weapons in particular?
The motivation for this report was the violent history of the previous half a century which included two world wars; two revolutions; collapse of five empires; the rapid degeneration of two imperial powers; galloping pace of technology; drastic changes in global power distribution now (1950) gravitated to the USA and USSR; and lastly, the looming clash of ideologies. In this scheme of things the logic of an impending Armageddon became self-fulfilling; it included the implied savagery of a surprise massed nuclear attack and the unremitting brinkmanship strategies which were practised in the Cold War. The strategic logic for nuclear force was that even low level threats could invite a nuclear response through rapid field level nuclear escalation. The reader cannot fail to wonder if any thought had been given to how the nuclear armed adversary would respond and where the escalatory ladder was leading to.
Evolution of a Distinctive Nuclear Theology
Stirred more from the desire not to repeat the Super Power experience of the Cold War and an innate belief in Brodie’s maxim that nuclear weapons had changed the very nature of warfare with war avoidance being the political objective, the genesis of India’s nuclear doctrine was rooted in three principles: first, that the nation would not be the first to use nuclear weapons; second, that a nuclear first strike would invite an assured massive retaliation; third, deterrence would be credible. There was a fourth unwritten faith and that was, under no condition would the weapon be conventionalised. The last principle, it is significant to note, developed in the time of the Cold War and yet remained divorced from the one tenet that characterized that war, the belief that a nuclear war was not only fightable, but was also winnable.
Not to conventionalise was founded on a very odd set of conditions peculiar to the Indian State. India’s nuclear programme was driven by a techno-politico-bureaucratic nexus. This state of affairs was a direct consequence of a post partition aberration in higher defence management best summarized by Vice Admiral Carlill, the last British Chief of the Indian Navy, when he observed that “the Ministry of Defence had power but little responsibility while the Services had responsibility but little power”.
It was not till 1999 when the Kargil Review Committee and the consequent Group of Ministers was constituted to review the national security system that substantial changes were made to higher defence management in India. It included the institution of the Strategic Forces Command and its Commander-in-Chief along with a nuclear doctrine to plan, guide and control the operationalising of the deterrent. 
Whether this strategic orientation was by instinct, by design, by tradition or a deep seated misplaced trepidation of the power of the military is really not germane to our study; what it did do was to create a muddled approach to the entire process of operationalising the deterrent. At the same time, it created an astute separation between conventional and nuclear weapons and a distinction between the Controller of nuclear weapons and its Custodian. Also, there was no recognition of the idea of proportionality of response or controlled escalation of use of nuclear weapons in the Doctrine. It underscored the conviction that the use of nuclear weapons sets into motion an uncontrollable chain of mass destruction that defies manipulation and obliterates the very purpose of polity and war.
Another perspicacious divergence from the norm was an understanding of the changed nature of nuclear equations of the day when no individual correlation can operate without external constraints. Nuclear multilateralism introduces dynamics that are vastly dissimilar from the two-state confrontation of the past. Motivations of one state have an effect on the other and therefore the need for exceptional faith in a nuclear calculus where ‘intentions’ rather than ‘capability’ alone, weighs in with greater influence. This perception remained a common theme in the evolution of India’s Doctrine. So much so that Sundarji was convinced (alas, misguidedly) that if India declared herself a nuclear weapon state and proclaimed a doctrine founded on No First Use (NFU) then Pakistan would follow suit.
Underlying the changed nature of the new nuclear multilateralism is the need to redefine how best to achieve a stable deterrent relationship. In this altered plurality, the exchange between the Executive Officer and the Commanding Officer of the USS Alabama, in the 1995 Hollywood production ‘Crimson Tide’ is most apt; questioned on his will to destroy the enemy the Executive Officer responds “in the nuclear world the true enemy can’t be destroyed”… on being mocked to explain who the true enemy was he adds “In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world the true enemy is war itself”.
India’s Nuclear Doctrine
India’s nuclear doctrine was made public on 4th January, 2003. The doctrine presents two perspectives; the first part deals with ‘Form’ with nuclear war avoidance as the leitmotif and NFU develops into a natural choice. The logic of self preservation and of power equations demanded that relations not be held to ransom on account of an inability to respond in a manner to deter convincingly and therefore the arsenal had to be palpably credible at a minimum level. It also included certain philosophical goals which underscore belief in the ultimate humanity of things.
The second part of the doctrine deals with ‘Substance’, with operationalising the deterrent and Command and Control as the main themes. Command and Control was arranged in a manner that there existed clear division between Control and Custodian with multiple redundancy and dual-rule release authorization at every level.
China and its Aggressive Proliferation Policy
In the meantime, China’s Premier Deng Xiaoping through the 1980s into the 1990s promoted and executed an aggressive policy of direct transfer, of nuclear weapon technology and launch vectors to reprobate States (Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia) using North Korea as a clearing house for the deals. The policy has been continued by his successors unrelentingly.
The reasons for this profligate orientation are a matter of conjecture and may have originally reflected balance of power logic in the subcontinental context; to offset and contain India’s comprehensive superiority. While in North Korea’s case to keep the USA and the Pacific allies embroiled in a snare of insecurities. However the ramifications of proliferation in the Islamic world may have motivations that are far more sinister in purpose and perilous in fallout. Radical Islam perceives nuclear weapons as a means to destroy and dislocate an order that has so wilfully kept the faithful under political, economic and spiritual subjugation. In this frame of reference, nations that have been singled out for retribution are the USA, India and Israel. It is here in these countries that the probability of a nuclear device being detonated by radical Islamists looms large. It also gives to China a heft up the power ladder.
A deterrent relationship is founded entirely on rationality. On the part of the ‘deterree’ there is rationality in the conviction of disproportionate risks of hostile action; and on the part of the deterrer rationality of purpose and transparency in confirming the reality of the risks involved in a manner that strategic miscalculations are avoided . The exceptional feature of this transaction is that the roles are reversible provided it is in the common interest to maintain stability in the relationship.
Acceptance that destruction would be on a mass scale and would be mutual is the crux of the logic. As we shall see the supposition of rationality when dealing with military states can be dangerously nuanced for there is a major ‘what if’ here; and that is, what if the notion of rationality itself is irrational? For if it were as universal as assumed, then by stretching the logic a deterrent relationship based on assured mass destruction might not have been necessary at all. However, security anxieties that plague the region are fed on a staple of historical suspicions, absence of trust and a stultifying and obsessive paranoia. It places before the planner a lopsided and imbalanced ‘failure conundrum,’ having the potential to spur ‘speculative bulges’ in stockpile of fissile material and in the arsenal all in search of an answer to that open ended inscrutable question of ‘how much is enough?’
The test of a durable deterrent relationship is its ability to withstand three dynamics that are common to contemporary politics, significantly so in the sub-continent. The first of these is that the Deterrent itself must be stable; by which is implied its command, control and doctrinaire underpinnings must be unwavering and transparent. Inconsistencies of any nature on these counts will result in a veil of unpredictability, opacity and increase the temptation to take pre-emptive action. The hazards of such a state of affairs are apparent. The second is that even in a crisis, either conventional or sub-conventional, the propensity to ‘reach-for-the-nuclear-trigger’ must be restrained. In this context the decision-time in terms of mechanisms, two- way surveillance, signaling and transparency must give adequate leeway for recognition of having arrived at a threshold. The final dynamic is the predicament that is caused by technology. The intrusion of technology into the nuclear calculus and its impact on the arsenal and command and control qualitatively in terms of compressing readiness and alert times and of overall effectiveness, is inevitable. But what is undesirable is its covert introduction which serves to upset the equilibrium either inadvertently or by design. An imbalance so created has the latent characteristic of providing incentive for a first strike or even provoking pre-emptive action. A common thread that appears in each of the three dynamic discussed thus far is the need for transparency. In the Cold War the two super powers managed these dynamics through brute magnitude of the arsenal, gargantuan yields, dangerous trip-wire readiness, incessant and provocative deployment. A similar solution from a contemporary point of view ludicrous. If the eventual aim is to enhance stability and to carry it forward to its logical end, then transparency provides an opportunity to develop and solidify correlation.
The Unhinged Tri-Polar Deterrent Relationship
A deterrent relationship is founded entirely on rationality. On the part of the ‘deterree’ there is rationality in the conviction of disproportionate risks of hostile action; and on the part of the deterrer rationality of purpose and transparency in confirming the reality of the risks involved in a manner that strategic miscalculations are avoided . The exceptional feature of this transaction is that the roles are reversible provided it is in the common interest to maintain stability in the relationship. The test of a durable deterrent relationship is its ability to withstand three dynamics that are common to contemporary politics, significantly so in the sub-continent. First: the deterrent itself must be stable; by which is implied its command, control and doctrinaire underpinnings must be unwavering and transparent. Inconsistencies increase the temptation to take pre-emptive action. Second: in a crisis, either conventional or sub-conventional, the propensity to ‘reach-for-the-nuclear-trigger’ must be restrained. Third: the predicament that intrusion of technology into the nuclear calculus causes for it invites covertness but its impact demands transparency. Unique to the deterrent relationship in the region is the tri-polar nature of the playing field, with China and Pakistan at ‘the collusive base’ and India on the vertex. Ever since the 1960’s it was amply clear and comprehensively demonstrated that China would use all means at its disposal to not just embarrass India in the international arena but also to ensure that it never posed a challenge of any nature to its larger design. Continued nuclear and missile technology proliferation in-region remains an abiding symptom.
Of a far more intriguing nature is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program – a complicit blueprint that was conceived, designed and tested by Beijing from the mid 1970’s onwards. In conjunction with all this is the rapid pace at which the means to stockpile fissile material has developed. Weapon grade plutonium is being extracted with active and persistent Chinese collaboration. With such provocative incidents of proliferation to which the world at large has turned a Nelson’s eye, it is remarkable that the ‘concerned’ nations have continued with their sham quest of arriving at proliferation controls. Under these vexed circumstances any scheme that proposes to stabilize the situation must first address the duality in the nature of the Sino-Pak nuclear weapons programme. The persistent collaboration, technological updates and the breakneck build up of fissile material, production and extraction facilities may even suggest a doctrinal co-relation which any deterrent relationship overlooks at the peril of losing objectivity.
The Internals of Pakistan
No meaningful scrutiny of the sub-continental nuclear situation can avoid looking at the internals of Pakistan. The country, today, represents a very dangerous condition. What has caused this perilous pass is the precarious cocktail that the establishment have brewed in nurturing fundamentalist and terrorist organizations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This policy has blown back to an extent when it is more than plausible that elements of the arsenal could fall into extremist hands aided by sympathetic rogue elements in the military. Fears of just such an eventuality have been voiced by world leaders on various occasions in the past. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, cast a long shadow on attempts to enhance stability of a deterrent relationship.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine-an Imprecise Deduction
Post the 1971 War which created the State of Bangladesh, the Sino-Pak relationship took a new and decisive turn as far as nuclear cooperation went. Pakistani planners have emphasized that “with the disparity of size and resource (sic) now established, and national salvation and pride deeply dented, there was only one way to go: the nuclear way.” This it overtly announced to the world in 1998. Pakistan does not have a declared doctrine and neither has there been any clear articulation of its guiding principles. As early as 2001, Lt. General Khalid Kidwai, in a statement that was widely reported underscored Pakistan’s thresholds for the use of nuclear weapons. These he identified as military, economic, political and survival. While these verges were some indication of Pakistan’s tolerance levels, the statement was quickly revoked and officially there remains no policy declaration on the grounds that any stated doctrine would create space for the conventional conflict. In another statement, former Army Chief, General Aslam Beg, stated, “An attack by any nation on our nuclear arsenal will automatically trigger a nuclear strike on India”. However strange this may sound it is apparent that Pakistan retains a certain irrational ambiguity in their policy to use nuclear weapons.
Pakistani planners suggest that there is a possibility of nuclear weapons having an “inalienable” place in military strategy and therefore, to adopt an operational strategy of flexible response is a natural graduation from the conventional to the nuclear. The second suggestion is that nuclear weapons are to be used as devices of last resort. The third is that nuclear weapons are political weapons and “on the matrix of a larger power smaller power equation, such a capability provides to the smaller an unreserved strategic equivalence.” The fourth is a combination of the previous three which sees the nuclear weapon as a means to avoid conflict of any nature. Through ambiguities and a threat of first use, the absence of a declaratory policy is justified. In all this, it is the war fighting abilities of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal that remains the central theme of the various possibilities listed in the quoted report.
The Dangerous Briskness of Pakistan’s Nuclear Decision Making
India must not be blind to the speed with which Pakistan’s tactical nuclear capability has been generated (a feature of a strategic proliferatory process) and can be released. The second unsaid characteristic of the arsenal is the absence of a clear demarcation between the custodian of the weapon and the controller. This allows for briskness in nuclear decision making. At the same time, it does not provide the necessary checks and balances that come into play when there exists separation between the steward of the weapon and the decision maker.
Making Sense of Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy-The Nuclear Nightmare
Given the opacity of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear underpinnings, descent to TNWs and duplicity of policies, it has become increasingly prickly for India to either understand nuclear thinking in Islamabad or to find coherence between a mania for parity, the rush for stockpiling fissile material and the loosening of controls over nuclear weapons. More puzzling is the strategic notion that the conventional imbalance between the two countries may be countered by Pakistan exercising one of two options: either, secure an assured second-strike capability; or, place the arsenal on ‘hair trigger alert’ and then, the argument goes, introduce TNWs as “another layer of deterrence” designed to apply brakes on India’s conventional superiority (ala NATO’s discredited formulation). As Feroz Khan posits, “Pakistan’s flight-testing of the short-range, nuclear-capable rocket system Hatf-9 (Nasr), was introduced to add ‘deterrence value’ to Pakistan’s force posture.” The author in a bizarre contradictory temper adds “due to the proximity of targets, short flight times and the technical challenges of assuring information accuracy, the likelihood of inadvertence is high.” He further holds that “…central command and control will become untenable and the ‘Nasr’ with its marked footprint will attract punishing pre-emptive conventional attack. Thus, battlefield nuclear weapons such as Hatf-9 will pose a ‘use it or lose it’ choice, precipitating a nuclear exchange that may not be intended.”
No meaningful scrutiny of the sub-continental nuclear situation can avoid looking at the internals of Pakistan. The country, today, represents a very dangerous condition. What has caused this perilous pass is the precarious cocktail that the establishment have brewed in nurturing fundamentalist and terrorist organizations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, cast a long shadow on attempts to enhance stability of a deterrent relationship.
The unbiased political examiner is left bewildered that if such be the imbalance in the power matrix, then why does Pakistan not seek rapprochement as a priority of their military, economic and political policies? However strange this may sound it is apparent that Pakistan retains a certain irrational ambiguity in their policy to use nuclear weapons. The larger consequence of the considerations discussed so far makes the status-quo untenable for the nuclear nightmare as a hair trigger, opaque deterrent embracing tactical use under single military control steered by an obscure doctrine seeped in ambiguity and guided by a military strategy that carouses and finds unity with non state actors is upon us.
In declaring its nuclear doctrine, India struck a covenant not just with her own citizens but with the global community at large. At the heart of this pledge was the voluntary renunciation of the First Use of Nuclear Weapons. On the face of it such a disavowal defied conventional wisdom. To deliberately temper a sword and then to abjure its first use would even appear to contradict sovereign morality, after all if the first duty of the State is to protect its citizens, then to open itself to the First Strike by design would be a dangerous failing. And yet if there is belief in the changed nature of warfare that nuclear weapons have wrought that has morphed political objectives from war winning to war avoidance then, humanity’s moral weight would be on the side of the covenant sans sword.
 Hobbes, Thomas. Of Commonwealth Chap 17. Political Philosophers Random House, 1947, pp.3-4
 NSC 68. A report submitted by the Secy of Defense and the Secy of State in response to a US Presidential directive of 31 Jan 1950.
 Chomsky, Noam. Failed States, Metropolitan Books 2006, pp 125.
 Hilsman, Roger. From Nuclear Military Strategy to a World Without War Praeger Publishers Westport CT 1999, pp 28 to 38. The then Vice President Richard Nixon in a March 14 , 1954 interview to the New York Times stated “…rather than let the Communists nibble us to death in little wars we would rely in the future primarily on the massive mobile retaliatory (nuclear) power…”
 Recommendations of the Group of Ministers Report on reforming the national security system, tabled in Parliament (India) on 23 may, 2001.
 Sundarji K. Blind Men of Hindoostan, UBS Publishers’ Distributors; 1993, pp 84.
 In 1982 Deng’s government began the deliberate direct/proxy proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies into the Islamic and Marxist worlds. China signed a covert nuclear reactor deal with Algeria; provided to North Korea comprehensive material and technological support to their nuclear weapons programme; sold CSS-2 missiles to Saudi Arabia and gave logistic, material, technological, intellectual assistance and doctrinal sustenance to the Pakistan nuclear weapons programme to ‘redress’ the nuclear imbalance on the sub-continent. See Proliferation: Threat and Response, Office of the US Secretary for Defence January 2001.
 Source: “Chinese Assistance to the Pakistani Nuclear and Missile Programs,” The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, The Monterey Institute for International Studies, November 25, 2009, <http://cns.miis.edu/archive/country_india/china/prcpak.pdf
 US President Obama in a press conference on 29 April 2009, replying to a question by NBC’ Chuck Todd whether he could reassure the American people that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could be kept away from terrorists said “he was gravely concerned…Their biggest threat right now comes internally…We have huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and you don’t end up having a nuclear armed militant state”. Article ‘Defending the Arsenal’ by Hersh, Seymour in ‘The New Yorker’, 16 Nov 2009.
 Chaudhary, Shahzad, “The Matter of Nuclear Doctrine,” presented at The Ottawa Dialogue, 19 Jun 2010, Copenhagen. See report on proceedings online.
 Iqbal, Nadeem “Economic Threat may push Pakistan to go Nuclear” Asia Times Online, 6 Feb 2002, Accessed 2 Jul 2010, <http://www.atimes.com/ind-pak/DB06Df02.html.> In quoting General Kidwai, Nadeem Iqbal cites a report on Pakistan’s nuclear policy, released in January 2002, prepared by nuclear physicists Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Maurizio Martellini of Landau Network, Italy, an arms-control institution regularly consulted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 General Aslam Beg in an interview to Cathy Gannon of the Associated Press, 14 May 2006. Quoted in “Pak Nukes Meant Only for India,” Times of India, 14 May 2006. Accessed 1 Jul 2010. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Pak-nukes-meant-only-for-India-/articleshow/1528897.cms> The article states: “It doesn’t matter who attempts to take out Pakistan’s nuclear assets the US, Israel or any other country Pakistan will attack India in retaliation. This bizarre, hair-trigger nuclear stance is central to Pakistan’s deterrence theory and was conveyed to New Delhi by Islamabad when it suspected India and Israel of collaborating to take out its nuclear assets, a top retired Pakistani general has revealed.”
 Chaudhary, Shahzad, “The Matter of Nuclear Doctrine,” presented at The Ottawa Dialogue. 19 Jun 2010, Copenhagen. See report on proceedings.
 Etzioni Amitai. Hot Spots American Foreign Policy in a post human rights world Part III Hottest Spot, Pakistan nuclear poker bet by Rodney W. Jones. Transaction Publishers 2012, New Jersey p95-108.
 Khan, Feroz Ibid p 48-49.
 Chaudhary, Shahzad, “The Matter of Nuclear Doctrine,” presented at The Ottawa Dialogue. 19 Jun 2010, Copenhagen. See report on proceedings.