Transcript of remarks made at the IPCS discussion, 'The Nuclear Future', on 8 August 2017.
Opening Remarks by the Chair
Ambassador (Retd) Salman Haidar
Patron, IPCS, & former Foreign Secretary of India
The event marks the second death anniversary of Mr PR Chari, founder of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. IPCS was founded by Mr Chari as an independent foundation to look into issues of complexity and to try and forge a constructive dialogue around them. Friends and admirers of the IPCS have been fundamental in building this institution and its reputation such that everyone who is associated with the IPCS today is very proud of it. The IPCS is an independent body, guided by experts and has securely established itself in the domain.
IPCS extends a very warm welcome to Mr Michael Krepon. He is a renowned scholar on nuclear issues. In recent years, Mr Krepon has diversified his expertise to issues pertaining to security dynamics in South Asia. Michael Krepon’s expertise in the two domains offer a confluence of the nuclear-related issues in South Asia, which are also the core areas of concern for India. IPCS' association with Michael Krepon dates back to its earliest days - Mr Krepon was present during the inception of the institute. His presence today is an affirmation of the quality that has been achieved by IPCS.
'The Nuclear Future'
Co-founder & Senior Associate, Stimson Centre, Washington, DC
This institute is a part of the lasting memory of Mr PR Chari. Mr Chari was one of my introducers to India. After the Cold War ended, I wandered into the subcontinent. This place offers a widening of perspective to a Western-centric scholar. There are so many layers to unpeel and there is so much to learn about. And PR Chari acted as my one of my introducers. It was a privilege to work with him and set up this institution.
Today, we are living through a jumbled period that can be called the second nuclear age. The first nuclear age was extremely dangerous, but at least it was orderly. Things are different this time around. The global nuclear order is still hierarchical. There are still two countries in the top tier. It is the second tier that is the most interesting. The second tier consists of states with three digit-sized nuclear arsenals. There are two old-timers in the second tier: Great Britain and France, and they have settled into a rather familiar posture. They have the capabilities to protect their interests as they see fit in the event that Moscow and Beijing would threaten them. They have both counterforce and countervalue capabilities with the ability to strike discrete military targets as well as to strike the cities. They have adopted the basic requirements to threaten that which Moscow and Beijing value most and are therefore not really concerned with a new flight test or the development of a new missile by these countries. Both Great Britain and France are also least concerned with North Korea’s development of nuclear capabilities because they have the means to retaliate with assured destruction from sea-based deterrence.
Besides these two old-timers, the second tier also includes newcomers like India and Pakistan. The strategic analysts of the day - dating back to 1998 - in the two countries never thought that there would be a need for three digit-sized nuclear arsenals. It was decided that the two countries would not make the same mistake as the US and Russia, which, during the Cold War, competed to acquire counterforce capabilities and took deterrence to the nth degree. The US and Russia got caught up in the relativity of nuclear capability in seeking advantage or seeking to avoid being placed at a disadvantage. They were completely enthralled by the political and military utility of the weapons that they dared not use. The fear of being placed at a disadvantage in these theoretical exchange ratios, a situation that could provide the other country with a theoretical advantage, and the fear of coming out in an even worse shape in the event of a nuclear exchange drove the arms race between the US and Russia, which eventually led to them acquiring unimaginable destructive capabilities.
As members of the second tier, India, Pakistan and China resolved not to follow the footsteps of the countries in the first tier. However, these three countries are at an inflection point where they might, albeit on a lower scale, get caught up in the business of being placed at a disadvantage and seeking advantage. This is called the counterforce compulsion. China, India and Pakistan have the capability to put more than one warhead atop missiles. They have the capability to refine the accuracy of these warheads. China has begun to deploy multiple warhead missiles and this capability exists not just in the sea but also on land. India certainly has the technology to do MIRV-ing (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle) given that it just recently launched a rocket carrying over a hundred satellites to be placed into precise orbits, a technology that can be successfully used for the process of MIRV-ing. Pakistan has advertised its capabilities on its longest range, India-specific missiles. These three members of the second tier are therefore at an inflection point on how deeply to go down this rabbit hole. There is, however, a strong reluctance in India to buy into these MIRV-ed systems. But in the face of their deployment by China and Pakistan, India is left with little choice. There are two other possible members of the second tier: North Korea and Israel. North Korea, given the rate at which it is going, can soon have a three digit-sized nuclear arsenal, while the size of Israel’s arsenal is still unknown.
There are other elements to the unsettled mess of the second nuclear age. Ballistic missile defence (BMD) is a part of the equation. BMDs still enjoy a substantial amount of support in the US, and it is possible that the US will soon have a third site for its BMDs. There is a great deal of activity with respect to space warfare that relate to ground-based missiles, bombers and submarines. There is a revolution in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and in the capability to seek out and find things on the ground. This revolution in capability is not confined only to the US. New kinds of capabilities on satellites, satellite redundancy, and improvements in sensors strengthen and reinforce counterforce capabilities. Cyber warfare is another aspect of counterforce capabilities that has no ground rules. There are no rules of the road for space warfare. All of this is part of the equation in the second nuclear age, which makes the first nuclear age look more orderly. The competition in the first nuclear age was easy to follow. It is hard to follow the competition now.
An interesting aspect of the second nuclear age, however, is the absence of new nuclear 'wannabes'. The first nuclear age suffered from an nth country problem, where the nth country was the next new country that wanted to acquire nuclear weapons. Proliferation was a major issue in the first nuclear age. One of the successes of the first nuclear age was limiting the number of new nuclear-armed states such that the second nuclear age is not facing the nth country problem anymore. Iran is a special case, where the Obama administration succeeded in negotiating a ten-year time-out in Iran, from developing, producing and stockpiling enriched uranium and plutonium. Countries that are keen on developing the bomb usually do not take a ten-year time-out. This is, however, a very unsettled situation, for a change in regime in the two countries can change the situation on ground. But, Iran's special status aside, there are no new seekers of nuclear weapons. This suggests diplomatic achievement and wisdom on the part of many states. At least for now, the wobbly global nuclear order does not face this problem.
Deterrence is not comforting for the country it is aimed at. The flip-side of deterrence is nuclear war-fighting. Every advancement and additional warhead or capability in space makes the target country less comfortable. Deterrence is all about threat, which is not very reassuring. Deterrence without reassurance is bad news. In the first nuclear age, the means of reassurance was diplomacy. Diplomacy that started out small and then moved more ambitiously. Diplomacy then eventually led to treaties: treaties that first circumscribed and later ended nuclear testing; treaties that first capped and later reduced deployed nuclear forces. Executive agreements provided rules of the road for responsible behaviour of the US and Soviet ground, naval and air forces operating in close proximity. This was an extraordinary accomplishment that has still not received its due. But these accomplishments are now unravelling. A foundational treaty that strictly limited national missile defences has been washed away. The initial agreements trying to cap the strategic arms competition were also washed away. The executive agreements about proper behaviour of armed forces operating in close proximity is being shredded daily between the Russian Federation and the US. A treaty that eliminated the entire class of nuclear weapons has been violated with the deployment of precisely the kind of weapons that were supposed to be eliminated. The accomplishments are therefore either gone or in trouble.
We now have more deterrence around the world and no diplomacy between countries to reduce nuclear dangers and develop sound rules of the road for forces operating in close proximity. This is the work and the challenges that now lie before us. There are two crucial norms that needed to be protected. The most important norm is that nuclear weapons have not been used on a battlefield for seventy odd years. Many people have worked very hard to prevent the third mushroom cloud on a battlefield. If this norm is lost, and if a third mushroom cloud appears, either by conscious decision, or out of desperation, or out of a breakdown of command and control, or out of an accident, something precious will be lost. The second crucial norm that needs to be protected is the norm against testing of nuclear devices. There is one outlier and the reason why it is in this position is because it still tests its nuclear devices. But that is the only outlier. India and Pakistan have not tested in two decades. The US and the former Soviet Union, now Russian Federation, have not tested in over two decades. Every test of a nuclear device is a demonstration of political and military utility, and the absence of testing affirms the lack of this utility.
These norms need to be protected. With these norms, much more can be accomplished, but without these norms there will be a terrible backsliding. These are rough times, but if the world can get through the other rough times in the nuclear age, the world can get through these, too. This is a common challenge for the community of strategic thinkers who can make a difference.
Transcribed by Niharika Tagotra, Researcher, NSP, IPCS