The Value of a Declared No First Use Nuclear Policy

This article was first published on the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies site.

Can it be a nation’s case to destroy the very purpose that polity sets out to attain; or as Milton put it “Our Cure, To Be No More; Sad Cure!”

by

Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar (Ret.)

 

The sensibility of negotiated agreements to assuage friction between nations during the ‘Time of Troubles’ (as Toynbee so sagely suggested) is well recognised. This dynamic in turn sets into motion a search for a deeper concord that establishes and maintains order, however stormy the process may be (the fact of continued endurance of the ‘Westphalian’ state being the basis of international relations is a case in point). Lessons of history have persistently refuted the idea of non-violence and altruism as guiding instrumentalities of relations between nations for at best, non-violence and altruism are a state of mind and higher principles of behaviour. The concord, however, is in favour of ‘real politik’ and seeks mutuality. The latter affects its beneficiaries in varying degrees as it brings about a levelling between the dominant power and the lesser. The relative incapacity to generate conditions that favour the dominant power has at times been at the cost of longevity of the concord while at others the dominant power has paid of its political legacy. But in cases when the concord determines inhibition or non-use of a weapon of war that can potentially destroy political intent, then it becomes an instrument of balance.

India’s declared policy of No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons makes for such an instrument of balance. Credibility of its deterrent at a minimal level is sought through periodic technological intrusions. The form of India’s doctrine has remained unchanged since 2003. It is ironic that among the remaining eight nuclear weapon states (barring China), their doctrine has not been declared with any clarity while their nuclear weapons postures and policies remain, at best, ambiguous.

The United Kingdom, since 1958, has had deep nuclear links with the USA, so much so that its arsenal of Trident II D5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (it has since 1998 retired other vectors) along with its doctrine and nuclear policy is pooled with that of the US. Yet it subscribes to the idea of “sub-strategic tasks” (no explanation) and an independent nuclear deterrent with neither transparent command and control organisation nor coded control devices.

France also maintains an independent nuclear deterrent; its doctrine is a little less enigmatic and is characterised by “nonemployment” within the framework of a conflict which does not threaten “vital interests” (what these interests are, is never made clear). General understanding is that nuclear weapons are not intended for the battlefield. Contrary to the American doctrine which once envisaged graduated response, the French doctrine refutes nuclear warfighting “up an escalatory ladder.”

In the meantime Russia, without declaring so, has increased reliance on nuclear weapons since 1993, when it formally dropped the Soviet NFU policy and discarded its defensive nuclear posture of the cold war era. Today its doctrine is more Orwellian: “To escalate in order to de-escalate.”[i] The stated rationales for emergence of their new nuclear doctrine are: sensitivity to external threat, particularly so after the invasion of Crimea, eastern Ukraine and involvement in Syria; and perceived weakness of Russia’s conventional forces. The idea to be first to go nuclear in order to deescalate a conventional conflict is an unprecedented awareness, for it suggests two contrarieties that not only can a nuclear tit-for-tat be controlled, but also that a nuclear war was winnable.

China’s nuclear doctrine embraces two concepts of contemporary nuclear thought: the doctrine of NFU and the maintenance of a credible minimum nuclear deterrent. In form, the doctrine has been consistent since 1964. These two tenets have, in turn, sculpted the nature and size of their arsenal. China’s efforts to modernize nuclear forces have, in some quarters, been seen as a transformation of the basis of their doctrine. This however, would appear a misperception since technological updates primarily improve survivability, lethality and precision of their arsenal, with a view to enhance credibility of the deterrent. So far it would appear that China’s nuclear policy has been predictable and undeviating over the years. It is also where the benign nature of China’s nuclear policy ends. A significant feature of the nuclear correlations in the region is China’s proliferatory activities which has given an antagonistic tri-polar character to matters. This applies equally to both North Korea and Pakistan. As is well known today, it is the collusive nature of the Sino-Pak nuclear relationship which created and sustains the latter’s nuclear weapons programme. Therefore it is logical to conclude that there also exists doctrinal links between the two which permits duality in China’s nuclear policy; a declared NFU policy masks the First Use intent of Pakistan that the former has so assiduously nurtured from development of the weapons programme to the supply of tactical nuclear weapons. China’s proliferation policy may have been driven by a balance-of-power logic but it would appear to have forgotten the actuality in the Pakistan case; of a much weakened civilian leadership incapable of action to remove the military finger from the nuclear trigger, the active involvement of non-state actors in military strategy and an alarming posture of intention-to-use. Indeed, the Pak proxy gives to China doctrinal flexibility vis-à-vis India, but involvement of Jihadis and world repugnance to nuclear proliferation, even China must know, can boomerang on its aspirations. The same would apply to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and doctrine of which very little is known particularly after the failure of the “1994 Agreed Framework”.. While academics have ruminated over several possible North Korean nuclear strategies ranging from political, catalytic (meaning threat of use to provoke international intervention), retaliatory to war fighting, what is apparent is that China has taken centre stage and has been elevated to the unlikely role of an ‘honest’ broker in the matter. Somewhere over the years since the Korean War of 1950, China’s unwavering support of Pyong Yang has been consigned to a “memory warp.” China and North Korea signed a mutual aid and arms treaty in 1961. The treaty obliges the allies to provide immediate assistance should either come under armed attack. What we are currently witness to is on-going history when China continues to provide economic and high-tech support to North Korea’s arms programme. There is also no movement towards abrogating or even watering down the 1961 Treaty . The next episode of history is a nuclear-armed North Korea as China’s only formal ally in the region. The strategic complications for the East and South China Sea and the region at large have just begun.

Pakistan has no declared doctrine. Its collaborative nuclear programme with China drives its nuclear policy. It espouses an opaque deterrent under military control steered by precepts obscure in form, seeped in ambiguity and guided by a military strategy that not only finds unity with non-state actors, but also perceives conventional and nuclear weapons as one continuum. The introduction of tactical nuclear weapons exacerbates credibility of control. It has periodically professed four thresholds each of which, if transgressed, may trigger a nuclear response; these are geographic, economic, military and political. It does not take a great deal of intellectual exertion to declare whose case lowering of the nuclear threshold promotes.

Israel does not officially confirm or deny having nuclear weapons. Its ambiguous stance puts it in a difficult position since to issue a statement pledging NFU would confirm possession. Israel has however declared that it “would not be the first in region to introduce nuclear weapons.”

The United States has refused to adopt a NFU policy, saying that it “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first.” Yet the doctrine reduces the role of U.S. nuclear weapons to deter nuclear attack on the United States, allies, and partners. The Nuclear Posture Review of 2010 notes, a less abstruse long term vision: “it is in the U.S. interest and that of all other nations that the nearly 65-year record of nuclear non-use be extended forever.”

We have argued earlier that nuclear weapons are instruments of state that can potentially destroy political intent, indeed when a nuclear exchange occurs then it is survival of the protagonists that is threatened. And if survival is an enduring feature of every nation’s interest then it is logical that incipient combatants desist from escalating to a nuclear exchange. This logic provides the determinate sensibility for a NFU policy. A compact appraisal of doctrines of nations in possession of nuclear weapons was done here primarily to highlight the intrinsic hypocrisy or should we say realpolitik that drives them. But if realpolitik is taken to mean politics that strives to secure practical national interests rather than higher ideals, then even in this frame of reference NFU advances an irrefutable case. There is another awkward irony, these nations recognise two central attributes of policy; first, the inability to control escalation of a nuclear exchange and second, the value of nuclear disarmament. 72 years since the last use of nuclear weapons, neither has proliferation occurred en masse nor have nuclear weapons found tactical favour. The world’s ontogeny in nuclear realpolitik now suggests that the first step towards the negation of nuclear weapons is to find value in a universal declaration of No First Use.

[i]V. Levshin, A. Nedelin, M. Sosnovskiy, “O primenenii yadernogo oruzhiya dlya deeskalatsii voennykh deystviy,” (Use of Nuclear Weapons for Deescalating Conflicts- authors transalation) Voennaya Mysl Vol. 3, May-June 1999, pp. 34-37.

The CPEC: Corridor to Chinese Coffers

This article was first published on the Institute for Peace and Conflict website. 

Is it to China that the economic benefits from CPEC are destined and is this another lease-for-debt deal?

By

Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

Misshapen Marshall Analogy

Deceptive arguments are current that urge that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) finds historic equivalence in the Marshall Plan. The Plan was an American Congressional Act legislated on April 3rd 1948, in the immediate depredations of post-World War II Europe. It sought “to promote world peace (?)…, national interests, and foreign policy of the United States through economic, financial, and other measures necessary for…free institutions to survive consistent with the promotion of the strength and stability of the US.” The key phrases of the Plan were “strength, stability and national interests of the US.” Underlying it was the clash of two opposing ideologies, Communism versus Western Capitalism.

By 1946–1947, the fear of the spread of Communism among the collapsed economies of Europe, spurred the US Congress to approve funding of $13 billion ($189.35b in 2016) over a period of four years for the rebuilding of Western Europe. This life-saving transfusion generated a resurgence of West European industrialization and opened extensive markets that in turn stimulated the American economy. The strategic economic recovery programme quite deliberately precluded any involvement of either the East European economies or the Soviet Union. It resulted in a re-structured economic order that promoted European integration; it also created a vast system of commerce that complimented the domestic economy of the United States. The assertion that the Plan represented American altruism has long been debunked, as the investment in Europe not only kept the United States from regressing into depression, but also set the stage in 1949 for the creation of the mother-of-all military alliances, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The gargantuan nature of NATO may be gauged by the fact that it’s combined military spending even today accounts for over 70% of global aggregate.

China: No Altruist

In this context, the CPEC is not a bulwark against an ideology; neither does it presage the threat of global armed confrontation between competing blocs, nor does China have the economic muscle to promise rapid materialization of a dominant economic confederacy. So then what is it all about? Pakistan, given the precarious internal security situation that prevails, teamed with venal politics and crumbling infrastructure, hardly provides the inducement for long term massive investment. The Wold Bank’s current economic outlook concludes that Pakistan faces,

“significant economic, governance and security challenges to achieve durable            development outcomes. The persistence of conflict in the border areas and security challenges throughout the country is a reality that affects all aspects of life in Pakistan and impedes development. A range of governance and business environment indicators suggest that deep improvements in governance are needed to unleash Pakistan’s growth potential.”[1]

While short term forecast have registered growth in the region of 4.2 per cent; given the scale, magnitude and expanse of the project the financial hazard of plunging into a debt trap is real, while falling victim to fugacious investors riding sub-sets of the project already appear to be an actuality. After all, the Chinese in their financial dealings have not shown themselves to be altruists. Several contemporary China driven international projects illustrate their covetousness:

Woes of the non-performing Hambantota port project in Sri Lanka, built with a Chinese loan of US$ 1.4 billion, have not come to an end. Even after 80 per cent stake being appropriated by China, a lease charter leading to erosion of ownership of the seaport and loss of ‘sovereignty’ over 15,000 acres of land, neither dividends nor revenues are apparent. It would be interesting to establish how ‘win-win’ the Lankans feel about the project.

Mozambique was promised more than $5 billion from China in two years 2016-18. Loans were funnelled to big construction projects. However, economists point out “projects financed by China do not contribute towards growth. Highways, power projects and railway tracks are built by mandated Chinese firms who bring own workers and materials down to the nails and hammers; credits thus flow directly back to China.” This model that neither invites local participation nor generates wealth within has left the country crippled by a debt payment crisis compounded by economic slowdown, renewed violent conflict and drop in commodity prices (main source of revenue).

Lease-for-Debt

And what of debt repayment? In both cases there appears to be a lease-for-debt deal afoot. The story of China railroading Kenya into arrears and the floundering fate of Tanzania’s $10bn Bagamoyo Port follows the same pattern.

In form, the $50bn CPEC is not just a transportation network. Comprising a portfolio of projects, the physical “corridor” consists of highways, railways, and pipeline systems running along energy nodes driving special economic zones (SEZ) intended to attract investors and entrepreneurs. The North East-South West orientation from Gwadar to Kashgar spans near 3000 kilometres. Three transportation arteries are planned for the project: a western route through Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; an eastern route through Sindh and Punjab and a central route crisscrossing the other two. A northern highway route connects to Kashgar, via the Karakoram. Implementation is in four parts which include: development of Gwadar Port, investment in road infrastructure, rail and air hook-ups to service the corridor and the creation of energy nodes and SEZs. $35bn is allocated for energy projects while $15bn for the other three elements. The entire portfolio is to be completed by 2030. Here again Chinese companies enjoy priority of mandate in all projects. Infrastructure and energy sectors, the backbone of the project, are government-led initiatives. They are characterised with numerous procrastinations: persistent terrorist attacks in Baluchistan, Sindh and Punjab inspire little confidence in investors while, partisan federal control is making for discord among provinces. Opposition parties suggest, with some veracity, that the government neglects the Western and Central Routes and are focused on the Punjab province.

A Conclusion: China’s Blueprint

For China, the project grants, a much hankered for, 40 years operation rights to Gwadar port, assuring a long-term strategic base in the Arabian Sea that reduces Chinese dependence on the Malacca Straits while addressing the imperative to stimulate pace of development in their restive western region (largely subsidised by the project). Availability of ‘exclusive’ zones for Chinese companies along the corridor may even suggest arrogation of prime economic spaces in what can only be termed as “neoteric mercantilism”. Financially, as suggested by columnist Khurram Husain, the $50bn investment (75% loan and 25% equity) demands debt servicing to the tune of $3.5 to 4bn annually which in turn urges an improbable 7% year on year growth. Already China, exercised by Pakistan’s inability to attract investments, has fashioned a consortium of Chinese companies that has bought out 40 per cent ownership of Pakistan’s only stock exchange. This is possibly the first big price Pakistan is paying in return for investments.

Considering all this, the question then becomes: is it to China’s coffers that the economic benefits from CPEC are destined and is this another lease-for-debt deal? Time will very soon tell.

[1] http://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2013/04/26/pakistan-achieving-results-in-a-challenging-environment

Carnage Ahead?

By

Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar

(This article was first published on the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies website)

With the quickening of changed power relations, already apparent in the larger context of Brexit and the growing bonhomie between the US and Russia; the pulling away from multi-lateral alliances and the potential for new strategic orientation would appear to be the new norm. And lurking in the shadows is the real possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists which along with the only comparable danger, in terms of scale of destruction, is environmental catastrophe; both must be seen for what they are, and perhaps, provide the imperative for unified response. All the while what appeared to be an accepted ‘post-internet globalized world view’ is rapidly confronted by an absolutist conception of national sovereignty.

Donald Trump in his inaugural speech, vowed “…this American carnage must stop here.” What preceded his vow suggested, with more intensity and less clarity, what the carnage was. Presumably he implied a host of current circumstances whose balm included the advent of an era marked by mass mobilisation,  bellicism, end of idealism, a blow out of the liberal left, abrogation of the spoils of the political and power elites, imposition of a draconian immigration policy, discarding multilateral alliances in favour of the bi-lateral, a baleful threat to eradicate radical Islamic terror and a promise to ease the agonizing ‘reality of the citizen’s state.’ His prescriptive mantra was simplistic; Nationalism, protectionism, a menacing portent of a war on radical Islam and the nebulous abstraction of “America First” (an odd declaration, were not American interests always first?!) And yet coming from the mouth of a democratically elected leader of the planet’s sole super power, it must indeed set the stage for serious debate of what foreshadows the immediate future. It is his mantra that will disproportionately influence any strategic prognostication. Global events such as Brexit and the rise of the far right in Europe, Russia and other parts of the world are symptomatic and a precursor of the geopolitical trends that Donald Trump articulated.

Clearly the challenges are complex and in an intertwined world of global economic and security networks the need for reconciling competing and often conflicting perspectives through empathy and compromise is on a collision course with insular politics. Given events that disparage (often correctly) established leadership as corrupt and the quest for mutuality involving far reaching alliances as acknowledgement of frailty; nationalism has been ignited to mould malevolent distinctiveness that threatens to derange the integrative forces that have brought North and South together in a beneficial embrace. All this has been fuelled by the rapidity of technological changes and the inability of leadership to fully come to grips with the reach of the individual which extends far beyond the ambit of the nation state. And yet, at a point in the evolution of a world order which begs for robust international institutions that manage and regulate current global shifts, we are faced with forces that unhinge existing systems.

Nationalism, as one such unhinging force, conventionally, snatches control from the ‘gilt edged’ and sets into motion undercurrents that progressively redistributes power. However, nationalism in the context of the masses damning-ruling-elites and challenging the beneficiaries-of-privilege has historically been double edged. While being a powerful dynamic of change, the history of the twentieth century has shown, it invariably is accompanied by anarchy in the absence of systems that serve to provide social solidity. Russia, China and Europe in the run-up to the First World War and in the frenzied interregnum between the two wars are all precedents that cannot be easily set aside. But 21st century citizens’ voluntary and non-violent electing for chauvinistic administration is different. It is, not only an indication of deep seated frustration that targets the status-quo, but is also an expression of “disruptive discontent” that is, a conception of the crisis without either the competence or the wherewithal to direct events. Paradoxically, it remains at odds with the gains of order, inclusive economics and globalisation. And because of the unique temper of contemporary times dominated by a cult of popular power laced liberally with nationalism; collaborative structures, both economic and security, that were hitherto evolving are severely undermined.

A quick geo-political scan will be helpful in putting the dangerous pall of instability in perspective. Russia, over the last quarter of a century since the end of the cold war and disintegration of the Soviet Union, has emerged out of strategic limbo and again transformed to a major global player. It is today expanding and assimilating the western confines of what was the erstwhile Czarist Empire and has, with relatively more success than USA and NATO, established its influence in West Asia. Eastward it is building bridges with Communist China. While, China on a winning march of influence over East Asia and the South China Sea, is yet to reconcile its autocratic rule with the aspirations of its people, leaving it a trifle inadequate to don the mantle of global or even regional leadership. Unfortunately, the tide of history is turning towards these authoritarian states. In the meantime, the promise of an Arab awakening in West Asia and North Africa has been belied. The stalled transformation has given way to implosions within and the rise of a host of medieval ‘jihadist ideologies’ bent on re-establishing a Caliphate through the instruments of terror and radical Islam. In what is historically an awkward irony, the very destruction of Saddam’s Iraq has paved the way for fragmentation of the Sykes-Picot borders and the tri-furcation of Iraq into a Kurdish enclave in the northeast, a Shia enclave in the south and the Islamic State running riot in the centre and in Syria. The delusion that a new West Asia was in the build flies in the face of the current situation. In the interim radical Islam has spread its tentacles from Pakistan through Afghanistan, into the Levant, Yemen, Somalia and all of the Maghreb. The Islamic State (IS) has swept from Syria into Iraq in a maelstrom of destruction. No political Islam or civilizational impulse here, just rabid intolerance. In its wake it has disrupted the correlation of political forces in the region as the US seek a quick blocking entente with Iran; Syria sees in the situation an opportunity to settle scores with the insurgency raging within; Shia organisations find common cause to offset the IS; Sunni States carry a cloaked bias towards the IS to the extent that recent reports suggest funding by Turkey, Saudi and Qatar; terror organisations in Afghanistan and Pakistan welcome the new leadership that has displaced al-Qaeda. As the fanatical outburst of xenophobia stretches south, west and eastward the IS’ influence has manifested in the fertile Jihadist breeding grounds of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many perceptive analysts have noted that Pakistan today, represents a very dangerous condition as its establishment nurtures fundamentalist and terrorist organizations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir; the essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably seduce the IS, underscoring the distressing probability of extending its reach into a nuclear arsenal. These anarchic conditions have set into motion a refugee crisis that, unfortunately, no nation is willing to provide permanent relief to or even recognise.

The linkage between extreme nationalism, protectionism and authoritarian government is historically unassailable and its impact on the world as a rising force of global disarray is unmistakable. Civil society in Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere is in retreat, greatly pressured by governments fearful of an empowered citizenry and liberal thinking amongst them (the question is will the US take a slant in this direction?)  Disinformation is now galvanized by the use of social media and international relations are marred by large scale cyber-attacks. States, quite openly, “loan” tens of millions of dollars to nationalist parties in countries such as France, Hungary, Romania, etc. to dislocate politics through electoral means. Arbitrary laws constrain foreign entities into narrower channels of activity under increasing pressure. Misperceptions commonly provide the controllable framework not only for public discourse but also for, as recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated, intelligence services to weave “alternate facts.”

With the quickening of changed power relations, already apparent in the larger context of Brexit and the growing bonhomie between the US and Russia; the pulling away from multi-lateral alliances and the potential for new strategic orientation would appear to be the new norm. The strategic unleashing of Japan and its ramifications for stability in the Asia-Pacific could well re-define the power balance in the region. And lurking in the shadows is the real possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists which along with the only comparable danger, in terms of scale of destruction, is environmental catastrophe; both must be seen for what they are, and perhaps, provide the imperative for unified response.

All the while what appeared to be an accepted ‘post-internet globalized world view’ is rapidly confronted by an absolutist conception of national sovereignty. The shaping influence of this complex of events that we have so far deliberated has just begun to loom large over the new century. More than anything else, it separates the world of the twentieth century from the twenty first. Efforts to cope with this globe splitting xenophobic embrace, particularly for a large developing nation such as India is not just to rapidly advance its internal pattern of growth, development, demand and consumption but also to ensure that its security is in no way jeopardised through either appeasement or due lack of preparation. This will remain an abiding balancing act to master in the remaining years of this century.