Reviewing India’s Nuclear Doctrine

Apr 13, 2014 9:22 pm 1 comment

The BJP manifesto on nuclear doctrine has raised a lot of eyebrows, from domestic to foreign commentators. All of them commenting on possible review of the No First Use policy of India.

Richard Boucher,former assistant secretary if state for South and Central Asia of US said scrapping the no first use policy would not be a smart move by the BJP. He says

What does it do for India? Nothing really,although it would introduce a small probably destabilizing element in the calculations of nuclear adversaries.
In fact the threats to India-terrorists and conventional border disputes can’t be dealt nuclear threats. India’s nuclear strategy ain’t broke,so don’t fix it.

However Ashley Tellis a former official of the US National. Security Council said it was still unclear what the revision of the doctrine would entail.

The new government should review the doctrine for all sorts of reasons,including the fact that much has happened regionally since it was promulgated. But I cannot convince myself that India actually comes our ahead by giving up its not first use policy if that is what revision entails.

Let us see what the BJP manifesto has to say exactly.

Our (BJP) emphasis was and remains on beginning a new thrust on framing policies that would serve India’s national interests in the 21st century.
BJP will
* Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine and revise and update it to make it relevant to challenges of current times.
* Maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent that is in tune with changing geostrategic realities.
* Invest in India’s indigenous thorium technology program.

There is nothing in the manifesto that warrants raising alarm.

Let us to through India’s current nuclear doctrine. In fact first go back a bit to General Sundarji who was one of the finest thinkers on nuclear deterrence and war fighting.

He wrote on nuclear deterrence and I quote a few excerpts here

*In war-fighting, whether conventional or nuclear, whilst calculating relative strengths, more is always better. But for deterrence, more is not better if less is adequate.
*Dreams of ‘disarming first strikes’ leading to the temptation to ‘go first’ and the consequent instability of Small Nuclear Power equations are think-tank myths.
*I strongly suspect that the genie has already escaped from the bottle, and proliferation has already occurred, making it too late to keep the area nuclear weapon-free. I believe that the emphasis must now shift to keeping the area nuclear weapon-safe.
*If a minimum nuclear deterrent is in place, it will act as a stabilizing factor… Why all this fuss about India and Pakistan, while not much is heard about the Israeli nuclear arsenal?
*For a sober, mature status quo power like India, a unilateral declaration of no first use should be axiomatic.
*India has to maintain a minimum deterrence in respect of both China and Pakistan; the result of this might lead to some apparent imbalance in nuclear weapons and delivery means between Pakistan and India. The fears that this might engender in Pakistan are natural, and India must handle the issue sensibly and with sensitivity.

Gen Sundarji says more is not required if less is enough when it comes to nuclear deterrence. A country doesnt have to match another bomb for bomb and only has to maintain enough that can inflict unacceptable damage on the enemy.

Sunjdarji doctrine as its called found its way to the nuclear doctrine released by India in 2003.

I quote a few excerpts from the Indian nuclear doctrine

OBJECTIVES
*Protecting the Indian state, from the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state or entity, is the raison d’être of India’s nuclear deterrent.
*The Indian deterrent shall remain credible against all categories of weapons of mass destruction.
*India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against states that do not possess nuclear weapons, but such states shall be deemed nuclear weapons states if they ally with or assist nuclear-armed states against India, and/or assist them during hostilities

THE DETERRENT
*India shall maintain a credible minimal deterrent, where credibility comprises three specific components – leadership credibility, force credibility, and technological credibility.
*The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) shall advise the Prime Minister on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of credible minimal deterrence, which shall have to be determined by him/her from time to time.
*In adherence to a policy of no first use, India will not initiate a nuclear strike (This was changed to no first use against non nuclear weaoons state in a statement ny NSA Shivshanker Menon in 2010)

COMMAND AND CONTROL
*Survival of the chain of command shall be ensured to provide leadership continuity in all eventualities.
*Should the chain of command fail the SFC will carry out the last attack plan approved by the Prime Minister.
*The SFC shall maintain viable, survivable, dispersed and sheltered communications with multiple redundancies.
*All appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of nuclear weapons will be taken.
*The SFC shall periodically update its target list and maintain launch solutions.
*India will continue research on developing both delivery systems and warheads in the light of global technological advancements

REVIEW
*India will be prepared to meet new challenges in ballistic missile defence, chemical, biological and radiological weapons that may have a bearing on its nuclear doctrine.
*The nuclear doctrine shall be revisited every five year

From the nuclear doctrine postulated, it calls for a revisit every five years. Its been eleven years since this doctrine has been adopted. The BJP is not wrong in callimg for a review. It is about time India reviews its doctrine as the geostrategic realities of today are different from 2003.

Let us look at the deterrent aspect of the doctrine.
It calls for a credible minimum deterrent which consists of credibility of leadership, credibility of force amd credibility of technology.
The question arises, what constitutes a credible number of nuclear weapons? How much is enough? More is not required when less is enough as Gen Sundarji has said. India has to take into consideration current and future threat perception for the same. For example, Back in 2003, Pakistan had very few bombs. Today it has surpassed India’s and is growing at a rapid pace that will take if past Britain (192) and France (300) in due course. Chinese warheads are thought to be around 240 but given the lack of transparency in China, the figure could be much larger. China has the fissile material for it and a large inventory of missiles to deliver them. China has based its DF-21 missiles in Tibet pointed at India. India is thought to have 80-100 warheads.

So how many bombs does India require to feel safe from an enemy nuclear strike? This has to take into account that India might lose many of its nukes and delivery systems to an enemy first strike. Enemy surviving a counter strike by India and again striking India which would require another strike by India to make the enemy stop. The enemy having ballistic missile defence which can shoot down our missiles, air defence shooting down our aircrafts carrying nuclear weapoms. Possible degradation or malfunction of warheads which is where the technology credibility comes in.

Credibility of our ability to retaliate also comes from our force posture. India adopted the policy of keeping its nuclear weapoms demated from the delivery systems like missiles and aircrafts. India also employed the policy of keeping the nuclear core separate from the non nuclear trigger. The bombs are in the custody of DAE and DROD while the delivery systems under the armed forces. This systems assures safety of the bomb. Its in part to keep civilian control over the nuclear weapons. It can be argued that its probably because of the trust deficit in civilian-military relations. In the event of an order to ready a retaliatory strike being given, the scientists from DRDO will first assemble the nuclear warhead and then take it to the missile site site to mate it so that it can be launched.

There are many issues with this. If India is struck first in a massive strike that takes out nuclear installations across the country for example BARC, what will be the impact on the ability to assemble the bomb? What will be the affect of a first strike on the mental ability of the scientists to get the job done? There are many dynamics involved and the failure of anyone will mean India will not be able to effectively retaliate. Since the tests of 1998, India has moved to sealed pit design of warheads which means the bomb will be in an assembled state with codes to prevent unauthorised use. Still these are in the custody on the scientists and not the armed forces.

In the finer guidelines of the nuclear doctrine, the forces shoule be ready within 30 minutes of the order to launch retaliatory strikes. Is it possible to do that? Worse still, there is no indication of regular exercises to test the eficacy of the current system between scientists and the armed forces so that they can iron out any flaws in the system that might hinder an effective and credible mechanism for weapons launch. Partly due to the arrogance of the scientists.

Talking about the credibility of technology, India has to be certain of its warhead designs. Doubts were raised about the success of the thermonuclear tests in 1998 although DRDO has shown proof of its success. Not only this, over a perior of time, the warheads design has to be testsd for its performance. Since we have called for a moratorium on testing, we have to rely on computer simulations. As the warheads age, it presents another problem. Is India fully equipped to meet these challenges? If not then the credibility of our nuclear weapons comes under question. With only one round of tests in 1998, its not known if we have enough data to simulate and also undertake non critical tests.

India is close to operationalizing its nuclear powered submarine also known as SSBN. Former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma declared that once the Arihant class submarine becomes operational, it will go on deterrent patrol. This means India will have submarines going to sea with nuclear tipped submarine launched ballistic missiles. This represents a dramatic change of posture for India needing its own SOPs, command, control and communication systems in place.

India is also moving towards operationalizing Agni V ICBMs. These are going to be cannister launched road mobile missiles. These missiles too will have to be mated with warheads and stored the cannisters ready for launch on order. Entire system of command and control to prevent accidental or unauthorised launch, SOPs to launch and more importantly stealth to hide them from enemy eyes that will track them to take out in a first strike. All future missiles will be cannister launched like the Shaurya 700 km range missile which will likely replace the older Agni 1s. This will take out the threat of scientists being taken out in a first strike and putting the entire arsenal in control of the armed forces.The SFC, DRDO, leadership will need to understake repeated exercises to make sure desired level of operational readiness is achieved.

To take into consideration the above and the prevailing threats, review of the Indian nuclear doctrine is most urgent.

*We have already changed our doctrine to no first use against non nuclear weapons state. But this was only via a statement issued by the former NSA. India will have to put it down in the revised doctrine or even totally do away with no first use as speculated although there is no need if NFU against NNWS is declared.
*Use of any other form of weapons of mass destruction like chemical or biological weapons by nuclear or non nuclear weapons state against India to be retaliated with nuclear weapons
* Article 2.3 of the nuclear doctrine states that such states shall be deemed nuclear weapons states if they ally with or assist nuclear-armed states against India, and/or assist them during hostilities. India can be more clear and explicit about this especially because of the threat the China-Pakistsn nexus poses for India, China’s proliferation to Pakistan and continues supoort to Pak nuclear program. India can declare that any nuclear weapons use by Pakistan against India will be seen as an attack by China and will be dealt with accordingly. This will force China to make Pakistan stand down from its reckless stand on nuclear weapons.
*Pakistan has started making battlefield nuclear weapons also known as tactical nuclear weapons. These weapons are aimed at stopping an armoured thrust into Pakistan by Indian Army in response to a terror attack like 26/11. Under current doctrine, it calls for a massive retaliation which means a counter value strike on its population center which will invite a similar strike by Pakistan on Indian cities. India will need to adopt a caliberated approach in this regard.
*There is a clear danger of nuclear weapons or radioactive weapons falling into the hands of Jihadis in the context of Pakistan or terrorists at large. This could be with active connivance of state actors wanting to maintain deniability. While that is uncertain to establish, it does not absolve state actors for explicit, implicit or negligent actions. Such actions should be punishable including punitive nuclear strikes on the enemy’s nuclear,terror and military infrastructure that aided these terrorists.
*India should shed its ambiguity about numbers and weapons yield and announce what it considers as a minimum credible number of nuclear weapons and its yield. This will let the enemy what it faces if it dared to strike India with nuclear weapons instead of a vague “unacceptable damage” postulation. It also serves to assure the Indian people about the credibility of Indian nucelar weapons. The number of nukes considered minimum credible is subject to review based on threat perception.
*Regular exercises by SFC, leadership and others involved to maintain operational readiness of the nuclear strike force under all circumstsnces including the breakdown of leadership and command structure in the event of a crippling first strike on India that wipes out its civil and military leadership.
*To keep the nuclear forces in a ready state by mating the warheads with the missiles and dispersing it across the country and on sea/undersea platforms.
*Preparing SOPs, command, control, communication systems for launch of nuclear weapons when India starts to keep its nuclear forces in a ready state.
*To continuously strive to create new weapoms designs and maintain the efficacy of warheads and missiles.
*Strive to strengthen the underwater arm of the nuclear triad with development and induction of intercontinental range submarine launched ballistic missiles and more numbers of nuclear powered submarines.
* In the event of deterrence breakdown, look to quickly terminate the nuclear exchange. While India may be in a position to impose unacceptable damage on the enemy, but any crippling strike that takes out India’s major population centers will set India back in a major way with implications that may last well beyond the nuke exchange and affect the very foundation of the country with respect to its unity, integrity and sovereignty.

Yusuf Administrator www.defenceforumindia.com
On twitter as @YusufDFI

About Yusuf Unjhawala

Businessman by profession but always fascinated with defence and strategic affairs. Editor, India Defence Analysis. Admin, www.defenceforumindia.com/forum

1 Comment

  • Refreshing to see a link between our nuclear doctrine and Sunderji’s thoughts.
    Quite superb assertions toward the end Yusuf.
    However, isn’t “unacceptable damage to enemy” itself a variable in the long run. How will we guard against that once we’ve quantified our deterrence openly?

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