Home Contact Us  
   

US & South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5163, 2 November 2016
 

IPCS US Election Special

Hillary's Nuclear Policy: A Time of Change, Dithering, or Sameness?
Vijay Shankar
Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
 

An Inexpedient Second

The last time a Democrat President was elected to office after two terms of a Democratic presidency was 180 years ago. A certain Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1836. Coincidentally he was a former Secretary of State. The occurrence is unique in an unflattering way for a variety of reasons which has little to do with the candidate’s merits but more with the ballotter’s disposition. Significant of these fancies are: exaction for change, anti-incumbency, voter fatigue, absence of choice and the resigned philosophical knowledge that this would be a one-off, destined to enter office as a ‘lame-duck'.

In the current presidential race, two candidates have been thrust on the electorate who under circumstances of choice would have been spurned. Donald Trump comes with dangerous impetuousness while Hillary carries a baggage of alleged chicanery and unimaginativeness. However reality and opinion polls suggests that Hillary would enter the oval office as US' 45th President (this assumption is central to the narrative).

The 1837 inauguration of Van Buren proved less of a celebration and more of banality. His inaugural address took melancholy note of it: "In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my illustrious predecessor…I know that I cannot expect to perform the task with equal ability and success. But, I may hope that somewhat of the same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path." And Van Buren pledged to "tread generally in the footsteps of President Jackson." Needless to state that Buren lasted just one term, his presidency was troubled, weak and had little success to legate; the economy collapsed, there was hostility to Native Americans and compromises in securing the frontiers with Canada and Mexico. On leaving office he was re-baptised ‘Martin Van Ruin’. Clearly if history is to prevail and Hillary elected, then ‘continuity’ is her only deliverance.

Survival of Obama’s Nuclear Policy
In addition to his ‘Global Zero’ initiative, one of the most significant promises Obama made in his now less-than-lustrous, 2009 Prague speech was to "put an end to Cold War thinking" by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy. The Cold War had ended decades earlier and while the US nuclear arsenal had decreased, little else had changed in US nuclear weapons policy. As the Commander-in-Chief he could have made meaningful changes without the agreement of Russia or Congress. He did not. Changing the deeply entrenched status quo and overcoming inertia in the US security establishment, however, demanded more than a vision; it required statesmanship, profoundly lacking, it would now seem. In some areas his administration has made nuclear matters worse. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review considered "making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or allies and partners the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons." However, it did not take this step. Instead, US policy still allows the US to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. This suggests that nuclear weapons have legitimate uses in warfighting. In addition to this, Obama announced a US$1 trillion plan to rebuild and upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Whatever became of the resolve to bemoan the Cold War nuclear paradigm? With such a distracted policy inheritance, Hillary’s by now well acknowledged dawdling on nuclear matters is more than likely to return to Cold War beliefs.

The No First Use Non-Starter

Obama, towards the last few months of his term in office, toyed with the idea of unilaterally declaring a No First Use (NFU) nuclear weapons policy to impel a first step towards goals of global zero. It would have been a landmark change in the US nuclear posture. America’s overwhelming conventional weapon superiority provided the logic for such a step and the probable dividend was that the other nuclear weapon states would follow suit. This, notwithstanding protests from allies who believe that “extended first use deterrence” works, despite convincing arguments of the “first use illusion” (after all, first use not only suggests a break down in deterrence but also brings with it an assurance of retaliation). To declare that the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons is to deter and if necessary only respond to the use of nuclear weapons by other countries would not only conform to the Nuclear Posture Review of 2010, but would also provide incentive for Hillary to veer away from Cold War nuclear theology and set the NFU agenda to give fresh meaning to the idea of continuity. Nevertheless, the question is really not of rationality but of whether the Hillary administration will have the resolve to take on a Republican-dominated Congress. Clearly if Cold War thinking were to prevail, then such a transformative change in posture is destined to collapse.

Test Ban and START

Seeking a UN Security Council resolution affirming a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons was Obama’s scheme to enshrine the US' pledge not to test without having to seek the Senate’s unlikely ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Then again, this runs contrary to the one trillion dollar upgrade of the nuclear arsenal. Could the state really contemplate warhead and vector enhancements without testing was the conundrum. Hillary will have to juggle this very complex issue of making large investments without a corresponding assurance of reliability, but will the nuclear establishment give her the leeway to make such compromises? Time will of course tell, but the prospect of such an event transpiring is stacked against her.

The Obama administration had noted that offering Russia a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty’s limits on deployed nuclear weapons (even though those limits do not expire until 2021) would pave the way for his successor to not let the treaty lapse. Hillary undoubtedly would have recognised this and it is reasonable that she will take steps to give legitimacy to the proposition provided Russia ‘plays ball’.

Long Range Stand Off Weapon (LRSOW)

The development of a new LRSOW nuclear cruise missile may have held logic for a limited nuclear strike but it also suggests a warped rationality that can only push the risk of nuclear weapon proliferation. In the circumstance of it being used against a nuclear weapon state, then, the risk of retaliation and a nuclear exchange spinning out of control is very real. It is a capability Obama does not believe the US needs and by any wisdom, is worthy of cancellation. It would also fulfil his campaign promise to take US land-based missile off hair-trigger alert. Discarding the option of launching weapons-on-warning was his way of rejecting the very Cold War thinking he was calling the world to cast off. It will remain an awkward irony that Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his vision of a world without nuclear weapons if he is unable to pass down such a legacy to his successor. Yet, robust opposition to such a dramatic remodelling of the nuclear doctrine can, with some certainty, be expected to come from the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex.

US Nuclear Arsenal

There are two issues related to US' nuclear arsenal that the establishment has never really attempted to resolve. These are: firstly, why is the Pentagon embarking upon a trillion-dollar programme to modernise the Triad? Is the programme necessary (remember Hillary, in January 2016, had already dismissed the expenditure as meaningless)? And secondly, how do advances in non-nuclear weaponry affect theories of nuclear deterrence devised during the 1950s and 1960s? Does the logic of those early theories still hold, particularly in the light of overwhelming conventional and technological superiority? And will a Hillary administration be resolute enough to put ‘actions where their mouth is’ and review the trillion-dollar proposed outlay in addition to challenging the ‘word’ of Washington’s nuclear ayatollahs? The matter seems dubious given the current relationship with Russia and China’s modernisation of its nuclear arsenal. This will imply more Cold War rationality rather than less.

Future of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal

On the successful conclusion of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal on 10 October 2008, the late K Subrahmanyam, one of the early proponents of India’s independent nuclear deterrent and an architect of its nuclear doctrine, argued that the convergence of strategic interests between the two nations made such a remarkable agreement a reality, overcoming decades-long US stand on non-proliferation. What he did not mention was that it also put an end to an equally long antagonism between the two establishments. While much of the world’s approach to India in the past had been to limit its access to nuclear technology, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratories (a leading institution for nuclear weapons design during the Cold War) in a Senate hearing in 2008 put the matter in perspective. He suggested, "...it may well be that today we limit ourselves by not having full access to India’s nuclear technology developments." Given this technical standpoint and not for a moment losing sight of the commercial prospects, the element of mutuality must come as no surprise and neither must the contract for 6 Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear reactors.

While the full potential of the civil nuclear deal is yet to be realised, there can be no two opinions on changes in bilateral strategic orientation since the deal was struck. The extent to which transformation has occurred may be judged by several episodes in the relationship which include the deletion of many high technology sanctions imposed on India since 1974. Enhancing nuclear power generation through imported uranium and purchase of new reactors is an example, while convergence of strategic perspectives holds great promise for the future. These could be measures to bring about strategic equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific or whole hearted support to India’s admission into the UN Security Council as a permanent member and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), as a steps to buttress stability in global security and nuclear politics and commerce.

The US has become India’s largest trading partner in goods and services and the two sides have set an ambitious goal of half a trillion dollars for future trade; cooperation on counter-terrorism, information-sharing and intelligence-partnership have expanded rapidly in recent years. In military cooperation the US has become one of India’s major suppliers of arms, and the two sides have on the table agreements that were improbable a few years ago, such as the Logistic Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) or entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) or even rejecting the idea of mediating between India and Pakistan, especially on the Kashmir question. All these advances are direct dividends of the nuclear deal for it provided the strategic ambience that facilitated partnership.

About the UNSC and NSG membership, Hillary has made it amply clear that her backing for India’s full membership is comprehensive. It includes the three nuclear/chemical  and biological weapon export control regimes; the NSG, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.

Continuity and a Retreat to Cold War Thinking: A Forecast

Much like the hapless Buren, the 45th presidency is more than likely to face an unsympathetic Congress, a hostile Pentagon and the prospect of a near certain ‘lame duck’ term. The only virtue that history may remember Hillary for is that she stayed the course laid by her predecessor. And yet even here it cannot be easy, for the geopolitical script has changed. There is, today, a far more assertive Russia than in the first decade and a more forceful China set on rewriting the rule book. In the nuclear field, the early flirtation with ending Cold War thinking is a pipe dream. So for Hillary, continuity may prove an arduous abstraction that could boomerang with more recoil than forward momentum. Perhaps her only redemption may come from building an entente cordiale with India as a balancing power.

 

 

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Forecast 2017: Carnage Ahead?

Perils of Nuclear Paranoia

The Catechism of a Minister

The Misshapen Pivot

The Blind Men of Hindostan

Rewarding Thugs

South China Sea: China’s Double Speak and Verdict at The Hague

There is a New Symphony at Play

Barbarism and the Smell of Cordite

To Steer the Stream of Time: The Crisis of Verge Powers

Forecast 2016: Pakistan, Aberrated Strategies and Strategic Stability

What is Strategic Stability?

Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence

Falun Gong: The Fear Within

China: The January Storm

State of Play: Non-Proliferation, Fissile Material Cut-Offs and Nuclear Transparency

Swabbing the Bleakness of Subcontinental Nuclear Instability

The Af-Pak Entity: Seduction to Armageddon?

Maritime Combat Power in the Indo-Pacific

Of Lawrence, Sykes-Picot and al-Baghdadi

Strategic Estrangement: An Odd Bedfellow to Economic Engagement

The Islamic State Caliphate: A Mirage of Resurrection

A Covenant Sans Sword

Strife on the Global Commons

The Perils of Strategic Narcissism

ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.