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Strategic Space

Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
New NPR: Can It Break New Ground?
US-North Korea Military Swashbuckling and China's Role
Nuclear Ban Treaty Conference and Universal Nuclear Disarmament
Forecast 2017: Unclear Nuclear Pathways
Limits of Practising Nuclear Brinksmanship
Presidential Elections and US Nuclear Policy: Clinton Vs Trump
Preparing for Radiological Emergencies and Terrorism
Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross–Border Terrorism: With a Little Help from Friends
JCPOA’s First Anniversary: Significance and Future Challenges
Entry into the NSG: Getting Past the Doorman
Same Age, Different Behaviour: Nuclear India and Nuclear Pakistan
Nuclear Security Summit Process: Progress and Prognosis
Pak's Nuclear 'Normality' through External Deals: Chasing a Chimera
Forecast 2016: Nuclear Issues That Will Dominate the Year
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
Uranium and Nuclear Power: Three Indian Stories
A Strategic Review for India
Indian Ratification of the Additional Protocol: Mischievous Reports Miss its Significance
Time for India-China Nuclear-speak
India and No First Use: Preventing Deterrence Breakdown
Nuclear Security Summit 2014: Shared Risk, Shared Responsibility
US, China and the South Asian Nuclear Construct
Responding to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Strategy for India
#5285, 16 May 2017
New NPR: Can It Break New Ground?
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

As was expected with the arrival of President Trump to the White House, he put all US foreign policy issues under review. He has also called for a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that is likely to be announced in 2018. The last NPR was brought out under the watch of former President Barack Obama in 2010 and much has changed since then, particularly in US-Russia relations. The last NPR had downgraded the threat from near peers such as Russia, reducing the need for retaining the kind of deterrence strategies that had been pursued during the Cold War years. Instead, the challenge of securing available nuclear material and technology worldwide in order to minimise, if not obviate, the risk of nuclear terrorism had been upgraded to the highest level.

Accordingly, President Obama invested in Nuclear Security Summits even as he reduced the role of nuclear weapons in his national security strategy. In doing so, Obama had reversed some of the recommendations of the earlier NPR brought out by his predecessor in 2002. Drafted under President Bush, the previous NPR had promoted a unilateralist US posture premised on the idea of nuclear pre-emption, support for development of new types of nuclear weapons, retention of the option of nuclear testing, and pursuit of missile defence. While it had reduced the number of US nuclear weapons, it had contributed significantly to increasing the salience of these weapons. President Trump might end up taking the US down that path again as he has mandated the Pentagon to get him a nuclear arsenal that is “safe, secure, effective, reliable and aptly tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure allies.”

While presidential preferences reflect significantly in the nature of the NPR, it is also influenced by the opposing pulls and pushes arising from the interests and concerns of the many stakeholders in the US nuclear arsenal. Concluded after several rounds of inter-agency deliberations, the NPR encapsulates many interests. Prima facie it appears that the Trump NPR will not draw away from the modernisation of the US arsenal that President Obama had approved before demitting office. It is likely to retain a strong focus on US nuclear weapons in order to handle the new threats that have emerged in the form of a more muscular Russia, a more assertive China, a more unpredictable DPRK and an Iran whose long-term intentions the US is still worried about. Given his own proclivity for military might, Trump is unlikely to change course unless some real breakthroughs become possible in the relationships with Russia, China and DPRK. Such possibilities look absolutely bleak at this time. Rather, all indications are that nuclear weapons states are moving towards modernising their arsenals and showcasing nuclear capabilities - in military parades and through cavalier statements. Not surprising then that several analysts are arguing in favour of retaining nuclear capability as a means of credible deterrence and dissuasion against proliferation. Amassing unlimited nuclear power is seen as being more effective to deter enemies, reassure allies, and to dissuade potential proliferators by giving them no hope “of ever achieving nuclear parity with the US.” Trump has made it clear that he is willing to race anyone on nuclear weapons and remain “on top of the pack.”

While such bluster appears to be the order of the day, these arguments certainly have an adverse impact on international security. As officials prepare the NPR, it may help to remember three things. One, enemies are definitely deterred by the other side's military might but there is no proof that the promise of unlimited nuclear power deters more. Deterrence is a function of many sources and influences including, most importantly, the value at stake. Therefore, when a country attaches a great value to something – territory, survival, or stature – it is unlikely to be deterred even by the threat of nuclear devastation. The desire to possess unlimited nuclear power is a meaningless exercise since for those who want to be deterred, even a few would be enough; and for those who cannot be deterred, even an unlimited nuclear arsenal would be futile.

Two, nuclear parity is hardly a pre-requisite for credible nuclear deterrence. Deterrence is based on the ability to inflict 'unacceptable damage' and hence is dependent on the unacceptability threshold of a country. There can never be symmetry in these thresholds and some countries could be willing to allow more damage to themselves - including accepting visions of more ‘dying beautifully’ - than others. Equivalence is not required in the nuclear game; not between US and Russia, or US and China. Therefore, an arms race in nuclear warheads is not only unnecessary but also damaging.

Three, far from dissuading proliferation, a commitment to hold on to nuclear weapons infinitely is certain to fuel more proliferation. History illustrates that in order to deter nuclear weapons, a rival has but to acquire the same class of weapons. How then can proliferation be stopped? This is especially so when countries like DPRK have demonstrated that very few weapons are actually needed to achieve a range of objectives such as guarding against regime change, driving a hard bargain, or altering even a big nuclear power’s foreign policy.  Did the US not say early in 2006 that the “US would never live” with a nuclear DPRK? In fact, it has been doing so for the last decade and more.

The dangers arising from the presence of nuclear weapons are many: the risk of nuclear exchange, inadvertent escalation, miscalculation, unauthorised use, the threat of loose nukes, and above all, nuclear proliferation with its attendant risks. Moving to nuclear infinity means living with them in perpetuity.

The US would do well to heed these risks and recognise the need for accepting and imposing certain mutual limits on weapons and testing. President Obama's dictum was no new nuclear warheads, capabilities, or missions. Retaining this basic thought would not only indicate fiscal prudence, which should appeal to the business-minded Trump, but also lead to better international security. Even if the international climate is averse to the idea of the elimination of nuclear weapons right now, attempts at reducing their salience through a number of bilateral and multilateral initiatives should be the priority. Moving towards more and more advanced capabilities to counter the adversary’s actions could only lead to more security dilemmas. Political dialogue coupled with downplaying military might can be the only win-win solution for the current slew of challenges.

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#5273, 19 April 2017
US-North Korea Military Swashbuckling and China's Role
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

Temperatures are high all across India, but this is a normal seasonal phenomenon. Far more worrisome is the soaring of temperatures between the US, North Korea and China. The military swashbuckling currently under way between the US and North Korea is of a kind that has not been seen in a long time. President Trump has indicated the end of his “strategic patience” with the North Korean actions that he sees as provocations. But not one to be cowed down, Kim Jong-un has had Choe Ryong Hae, his close military associate, boldly state, “We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack.” To put adequate punch into his bluster, he celebrated the 105th anniversary of his grandfather by putting on parade a panoply of the country’s missile force. Thankfully, he did not conduct a sixth nuclear weapon test, and the missile test that he did choose to conduct, failed.

Every time US-North Korea relations flare up (and it happens regularly at this time of year since the US and South Korea hold their joint annual military drills in the region that are perceived as provocative by Pyongyang and which it responds to with its own actions), it draws attention to the role of China. The US has long expressed its belief that China can and must play a key role in counselling North Korea since Beijing is the only major economic underwriter and diplomatic supporter of Pyongyang. It is surprising though that Washington reposes such faith in China to resolve the issue for the US given that their own rivalry provides little incentive for Beijing to undertake tasks that smoothen the ride for the US in Asia. In fact, till such time as China felt it could effectively use Pyongyang to calibrate tensions with the US, it was all good. But Kim Jong-un has managed to cock a snook at Beijing through some of his recent actions that have shown up the limits of Chinese influence on the state. This has been disconcerting for China. Meanwhile, President Trump has taken a more hard-line position on North Korea that appears far less sensitive to the implications that his actions, including military ones, might have for China.

Consequently, for a change, China appears to be in the hot seat in this muddle, trying to settle frayed tempers on both sides. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged both parties to “refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean peninsula.” The fact that President Trump chose to send nearly five dozen Tomahawk missiles to Syria while Premier Xi Jinping was his guest was certainly an action with messages for many quarters. His resolve to take hard, military decisions was well evident, even if the actual damage on the ground was, intentionally or unintentionally, quite limited. China has expressed its support for dialogue and has called upon both sides to stop provoking and threatening each other. It has also shown greater inclination to use some of the leverages it still has with the country especially on coal imports. President Trump’s resolve to do something about the situation, whether with Chinese support or not, appears to have shaken up Beijing to become more proactive so as to avoid a situation that could be severely adverse to it.

Undoubtedly, it would be in the interest of all stakeholders if a political solution could be found to the problem with some sort of negotiation in the Six-party talks format. The experience of multilateral diplomacy with Iran has been a positive one. But then, North Korea is a different kettle of fish and all other parties too do not have particularly cordial relations with one another. From one perspective, the talks could provide a common platform to address some of the misgivings and also build mutual trust and confidence amongst the parties. From another perspective, however, to get the process going, given the political reality of the moment, will be a huge task in itself.

One major problem appears to be the precondition of North Korean denuclearisation that US has set for negotiations. This is unrealistic and unrealisable. It may be an outcome, if at all ever, that might come about after a process of mutual trust and security-building. However, it cannot be the starting point to get Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table. Given the bitter history of hostility between Washington and Pyongyang, this may be the moment for China to rise to the occasion and play a constructive role. Having been an active party in the creation of a nuclear North Korea, which seems to have now acquired a mind of its own, it would be equally important for China’s own security to rein it in through a web of measures acceptable to all sides.

For the moment though, two unpredictable leaders appear to be engaged in a game of chicken. This certainly has its risks, not least from inadvertent escalation as a result of incidents or accidents between any of the parties involved. It rests upon all the stakeholders to explore possible solutions to a problem that has persisted for nearly a quarter of a century.

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#5247, 20 March 2017
Nuclear Ban Treaty Conference and Universal Nuclear Disarmament
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

A nuclear weapons free world (NWFW) has been on the global agenda since 1945. Only, it has never been a global priority. In 2009, when the president of the militarily most powerful country talked about it in Prague, there was a brief upsurge of hope. But, the moment passed all too quickly and by the time President Obama demitted office, he had been persuaded to approve an unprecedented modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal and infrastructure. President Trump is likely to stay the course. Not surprisingly, Russia is keeping nuclear pace. And, China is keeping them company with the induction of new conventional, nuclear and dual-use capabilities. All three are also experimenting with newer technologies ranging from hypersonics to underwater nuclear drones.

Ironically, it is at this juncture that a conference to negotiate a treaty prohibiting the possession, use, development, deployment and transfer of nuclear weapons is scheduled to be held in the last week of March 2017. Engaged as all the nine nuclear-armed states are in nuclear modernisation, it is not surprising that this initiative is being led by a set of non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS), mostly from Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and some from Europe. The conference is the outcome of the UNGA resolution 71/258 that was adopted on 23 December 2016. The Resolution itself arose out of three meetings in 2016 of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on disarmament. The OEWG was the result of the three conferences that were held as part of the Humanitarian Initiative (HI) since 2013. The HI brought focus to the fact that any nuclear detonation would be a catastrophic disaster beyond human handling capability. It also highlighted the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons given that the NPT itself does not delegitimise these weapons, certainly not for the five recognised NWS. It only prohibits their possession by the NNWS parties to the treaty. The nuclear ban treaty plans to plug this gap.

While the organisation of a conference to conclude such a treaty is by no means a trivial event, there are still many a slip between the lip and the cup of disarmament. For one, except for North Korea, none of the other eight nuclear-armed states has accepted the idea of the treaty. While China, India and Pakistan abstained on the UNGA resolution, France, Russia, UK, US (as also NATO allies and other states under the nuclear umbrella) opposed the Resolution. One of their major reservations arises from what such a ban would mean for extended deterrence. How will NNWS that join such a treaty but are in alliance with NWS reconcile both sides? Will the treaty restrict such an arrangement? Will states enjoying the benefit of extended deterrence be forced to choose between remaining in the alliance or joining the treaty? But, for them to join the treaty and abandon the nuclear umbrella without resolving their security concerns from nuclear weapons of adversaries would not be feasible. Japan and ROK face this dilemma. North Korea may have supported the Resolution, but whether it will join the treaty that outlaws its strategic assets appears unrealistic for now. So, what do Japan and ROK, and others like them, do?

A second limitation of the treaty is that it pitches itself as a normative treaty, rather than one that is able to enforce dismantlement of nuclear stockpiles in a verifiable manner. It only prohibits nuclear weapons without worrying about what happens to the existing stockpiles. This then is a less than optimal approach and certainly of a much lesser order than the more comprehensive, proposed model Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC). The NWC obliges NWS to destroy their nuclear arsenals in five phases – take the weapons off alert; remove them from deployment; de-mate them from the delivery vehicles; disable warheads; remove and disfigure pits and place fissile material under international control, besides prohibiting production of weapon-grade fissile material. It also envisages a dedicated agency to oversee the process and ensure compliance.

A third related problem comes up on how the nuclear-armed states themselves join the treaty. The treaty makes their nuclear holdings illegal, but the possessors are under no obligation to dismantle and destroy them. To have a treaty without verified dismantlement cannot be a serious move towards disarmament since it will not provide the requisite confidence to the nuclear possessors to downgrade nuclear weapons in their national security strategies. Banning the weapon without resolving these issues of insecurity will have its limitations. In contrast to this, in fact, is a far more practical Indian proposition that calls for a ban on the use or threat of use of the weapon. So, while the possession remains legal, the weapon serves no useful purpose since its use is illegal. Such an approach undercuts the salience of nuclear weapons and can be far more effective a step towards disarmament.

Given the above limitations of the proposed instrument, India has reservations about its ability to achieve the objective of an NWFW. While India wholeheartedly supports the cause of universal nuclear disarmament, it is not convinced that this is the way to do it. In fact, India believes that the means are as important as the end and this kind of a sledgehammer approach might not be the optimal way of doing so.

Nevertheless, India is maintaining an open mind on the issue, as was evident from its participation in the organisational meeting of the conference in February. It might not be a bad idea for India to sit in on the conference too. This would not only showcase India’s credentials regarding its steadfastness in exploring all avenues that can lead to an NWFW, but also provide it with a platform to voice its own concerns about the treaty, instead of the instrument being presented as a fait accompli. Disarmament is too important a matter to either be left alone, or be left to only a few.

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#5225, 27 January 2017
Forecast 2017: Unclear Nuclear Pathways
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the US has just taken place. A lot of what happens in the nuclear domain in the coming 12 months will be dependent on the direction that is adopted by the new president as he settles in. Every fresh incoming administration normally brings in its own policies, and hence changes in economic, political, foreign policy and nuclear issues are always expected. But, the uncertainties being felt this time are more than usual. The statements and tweets made by Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and later as president-elect indicate a reversal of many of the previous administration's nuclear-related policies and actions. For the moment then, Trump looks like the proverbial bull in the nuclear china shop, and all are closely watching to see what all breaks, or not, under his nuclear watch. A few of the issues that will vie for his attention fairly quickly can be highlighted amid an as yet unclear nuclear path for 2017.

The first of the issues that can be expected to be handled by President Trump is the resetting of US relations with Russia. There is no doubt that this particular relationship has been left in a sorry state by the outgoing administration. Trump will most likely act quickly to arrest the trend and mend the situation. Will he do this by making compromises on sanctions, as he has indicated earlier? Will he link these actions to Russian concessions on nuclear arms control? Does the US itself have an inclination to undertake arms control given that it is looking to upgrade its own nuclear arsenal? After having been in a nuclear weapons reduction mode for some time, the US now appears to have moved in favour of modernisation. Before demitting office, Barack Obama approved a budget of US$ 1 trillion to be spent over three decades for this purpose. President Donald Trump has indicated the intention to stay the course and even tweeted that the US would not shy away from an arms race if his rivals so desired. While neither Russia nor China may rise to the bait, both are nevertheless engaged in modernising or building their own nuclear capabilities as per their visions of credible deterrence. 

As the US, Russia, and China proceed with their nuclear weapons programmes with an eye on one another, their behaviour and actions will have an impact on the global nuclear picture with ripples being felt in India and Pakistan too. Better US-Russia relations can be expected to have a positive fallout on the overall atmospherics. They may even help revive some of the bilateral US-Russia arms control agreements that have recently fallen by the wayside owing to lack of communication from both sides. But unless they specifically target arms control, a mere thawing of relations is unlikely to arrest the ongoing nuclear modernisation currently underway across all nuclear-armed states.

A second issue sure to grab Trump’s attention is the nuclear agreement with Iran. In January 2017, international diplomacy should have been celebrating the first anniversary of the Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that brought a negotiated halt to the suspected military oriented activities of Iran’s nuclear programme. 2016 saw Iran living up to its promises under the agreement. It dismantled centrifuges that could have led it to enrich uranium, shipped out of the country enriched uranium in excess of what the JCPOA allows it to keep, removed the core from the Arak reactor that could have helped it build plutonium, and met the necessary requirements of IAEA inspections. In return, the country gained from a lifting of a majority of the sanctions imposed upon it. There was an upsurge in its oil production and exports, and many international leaders made a beeline to Tehran to establish new political and economic relations.

However, instead of celebrating the successful conclusion of the first year of the JCPOA, the past few months have been spent in trying to read the tea leaves on how President Trump (and the Republicans now dominating Congress) would treat the Iran deal on assuming office. Trump has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the JCPOA, and even let it be known that he intended to “rip open the deal” once elected. Now that he is the elected president, will he go through with the threat? Would he find it in US interest to do so, thereby destroying years of negotiations? Iranian leaders have signalled that any such act would mean the end of the agreement for Iran. They have been reminding the international community that the JCPOA involved multiple parties and that it cannot be for the US to kill it unilaterally. The other major powers - Russia, China and the European Union - too have invested heavily in the deal. The Iranian appeal, therefore, is to the rest of the actors to use their good offices to make good sense prevail on the new US administration.

A third thorny nuclear issue that will seek Trump’s attention pertains to North Korea's provocative nuclear actions and behaviour. It may be recalled that in 2016, the country not only conducted two nuclear tests – in January and May – but also announced that it had miniaturised its nuclear weapons enough to be able to deliver them atop a ballistic missile. These actions and announcements were attention-seeking gestures, hoping to get the US to agree to conduct some kind of direct negotiation with Kim Jong-un, along the lines of those with Iran. However, the US was hesitant to be seen as negotiating with Pyongyang with the latter apparently holding a gun to it.  President Obama appeared content to leave the issue to be resolved by China, which nevertheless had little initiative to do so since it kept the US unsettled. China also claimed that its leverage upon North Korea was diminishing. With the change in administration, there is once again a window of opportunity for the US to take a serious relook at the issue. President Trump’s long experience as a successful businessman and his behaviour now as a politician show him to be a risk-taker. North Korea is obviously keen to engage directly with the US and there may be a deal here to look out for.

The North Korean issue also has special significance since it is tied up with relations between the US and its allies in Northeast Asia. Given that Donald Trump, during his campaign speeches, had mentioned that Japan and South Korea must bear a greater burden of the nuclear umbrella extended to them, including the BMD deployments, the two countries are anxious about how the North Korean imbroglio would be resolved.

As President Trump grants some clarity on his nuclear policies towards Russia, Iran, North Korea, and by extension, towards Japan and South Korea, he will be shaping the nuclear discourse that will dominate this year and beyond. Interestingly, amid this flux, a conference to negotiate a nuclear ban treaty is planned for 2017. The UN First Committee Resolution passed in October 2016 that calls for negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, has not yet caught the attention of President Trump. Of course, it may be recalled that the Obama administration had not succumbed to its charms either. But as the momentum for the conference builds up, it could catch Trump's fancy. After all, former President Reagan immortalised himself through the sanity he brought to the nuclear arms race when he and Soviet Premier Gorbachev pronounced in 1988 at Reykjavik that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. Who knows if Trump might grow to like the idea of disarmament and does something about it - after all, he is a risk-taker.

Meanwhile, it can only be hoped that President Trump understands the significance of the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) that concluded last year. While the usual politics can be expected to get in the way of a Republican president acknowledging merit in a former Democrat president's initiative, there is no doubt that the NSS process achieved success in raising awareness and political action on nuclear security at the highest level in countries across the globe. The consensus so built and momentum acquired in setting international benchmarks for national efforts must not be lost. While Trump has not paid much attention to this issue, nuclear terrorism remains a palpable threat and the world cannot afford to lose out on efforts towards securing nuclear material and technologies from non-state actors.

The nuclear pathways that the US adopts will become clear in the coming months. Undoubtedly, their impact will be felt worldwide as the fashion on the nuclear ramp is set by Washington. President Trump may believe in “America First” for many of his policy decisions, but on the nuclear front, one hopes he realises that he carries the burden of international security, too.

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#5208, 21 December 2016
Limits of Practising Nuclear Brinksmanship
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

Thomas Schelling, a noted nuclear strategist who passed away recently, explained brinkmanship as a strategy that “means manipulating the shared risk of war. It means exploiting the danger that somebody may inadvertently go over the brink, dragging the other with him” (Arms and Influence, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, pp. 98-99). He graphically described this with the analogy of two cars heading towards an intersection from different directions. As one of the drivers accelerates his vehicle, he gives a signal to the other of his determination to cross first. By doing so, he has placed the onus of the decision on the other side to either slow down to let him pass, or to ignore his signal and carry on at the same speed even at the risk of a collision that would be equally harmful to both. If the second driver slows down, the first has successfully managed to use brinksmanship to deter the second driver by the threat of an accident.

It is easy to apply this example to the Pakistan-India equation in order to understand the strategy of nuclear brinksmanship as used by Pakistan to buttress its deterrence. Pakistan may be compared to the first driver who accelerates his speed (or indulges in provocative acts of terrorism) and then seeks to deter India from crossing the intersection (or launching a military response) by suggesting the possibility of collision (or the threat of an all-out nuclear war).
Besides India, Pak strategy of brinksmanship is also meant to magnify the fears of the international community. Pakistan's military works on the assumption that a ‘concerned’ international community (especially the US) would restrain India from using military force. This then, in Pakistan's perception, gives it the immunity to execute its strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts, while constraining India’s response to merely dressing its wounds without being able to strike at the hand making the injuries.

India has faced this behaviour for at least two decades by now and has understood the compulsions for Pakistan's behaviour, as well as its limitations. The response to Uri through a surgical strike was a move to explore other by-lanes that could be taken instead of being cowed down by the threat of collision on the main intersection. Meanwhile, Pakistan's  propensity to cry nuclear wolf every now and then is now well understood by India and the international community.

Another subscriber to the strategy of nuclear brinksmanship that has been well known to the international community is the DPRK. Since the conduct of its first nuclear test in 2006, it has paced its provocative acts of nuclear and missile testing in order to garner attention through the negative route of raising risks. The tests are aimed at not just perfecting technologies but more importantly at creating the dread of growing risks in the region as a way of drawing attention. However, Kim Jong-un’s nuclear brinksmanship has not elicited the desired response from the US. In fact, the Obama administration was wary of giving the impression that it was having to engage with DPRK with a nuclear gun to its head and hence refused to do so on terms set by Kim.

Meanwhile, more recently, another country seems to have joined the ranks of those exercising nuclear brinksmanship for deterrence. President Putin has been making extremely overt noises about Russian nuclear weapons capability since the annexation of Crimea, and ostensibly, to deter interference over Ukraine. In October 2016, Russia moved its nuclear-capable missiles close to Poland and Lithuania in a clear signal to NATO and the US.  A little earlier, Russian media held out stories on bomb shelters and conduct of exercises with nuclear weapons. Russian bombers have flown across and close to US borders often. Russia has also chosen to abandon the long held practice of keeping nuclear arms control issues independent of the overall political relations between Russia and the US. Its decision to walk out of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement for political reasons is only one example of the display of its willingness to take nuclear chances.

With the new presidency about to be inaugurated in the US and going by the not-so-encouraging utterances of President-elect Donald Trump, one is not sure about how the US would deal with Russian behaviour. Would Putin be met with Trump’s version of nuclear brinksmanship? Would that cancel out each other’s moves? Or raise the nuclear temperature?
While the purpose of brinksmanship strategies is essentially deterrence, the dangers of a cavalier acceptance of risks are well known. If anything, Cold War nuclear politics brought home the need for strategic stability between two nuclear nations. In contemporary times, when nuclear dyads have proliferated, the need for stability is even greater.

Brinksmanship strategies that appear to be working raise the salience of nuclear weapons and increase their attraction for proliferation. None of this is good for international stability and security. It is therefore imperative that responsible nuclear powers around the world use every opportunity to drive home the limitations and uselessness of nuclear brinksmanship by exposing the hollowness of the threats to use nuclear weapons.

Ironically, it would be better also for the countries playing the game of nuclear brinksmanship that the nuclear emperor is not exposed for not wearing any clothes.

 

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#5162, 2 November 2016
Presidential Elections and US Nuclear Policy: Clinton Vs Trump
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

When the second largest democracy and the most powerful country of the world begins the process of choosing a new leader for itself, it is automatically a matter of global concern. Obviously then, for the last year or so, the twists and turns in the complicated US presidential elections have been on the watch of every government and international analyst across the world. It is now only a matter of weeks before the new occupant of the White House will be decided between Senator Hillary Clinton and billionaire business tycoon Donald Trump. However, neither of them has particularly impressed, nor emerged as a discerning student of nuclear issues.

Given that the US holds a formidable nuclear arsenal that can destroy the Earth several times over, it is normally expected of US presidential candidates to display a reasonably sophisticated understanding of relevant issues. It should, at the least, be enough to inspire confidence in their capability to be stable and able commanders of thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles. In the 2016 presidential race, however, it is disconcerting that a group of US air force officers in the nuclear command and control structures have signed an open letter expressing reservation on the idea of entrusting nuclear launch codes to Donald Trump. Even more distressing is the fact that the letter does not repose faith in the other candidate either!

Meanwhile, at a more tangible level, the stance of the two candidates on significant nuclear issues is peppered with vague articulations and evasive statements to even direct questions posed to them at various instances. Of course, nuclear matters are complex and one cannot expect a deep understanding of all dimensions. But what has emerged so far has not been very reassuring on whether and how the incoming President would seek to address the many complicated issues that he/she would inevitably confront on the contemporary nuclear landscape.

Amongst the early contenders for attention would be North Korea’s nuclear behaviour. Both candidates seem to believe that China holds the key to the problem and that it could/would be pressurised to use its leverages with Pyongyang to get Kim Jong-un to mend his ways. However, it is not clear what leverages the US itself has over China, and even more importantly, as to why Beijing should be inclined to do US bidding when it enjoys the benefits of North Korean heckling of its largest rival. Trump has expressed readiness to directly engage with Kim and that might be a direction worth exploring. Hopefully, he would realise the folly of his other idea of finding a solution to the problem through further nuclear proliferation into US allies in the region. Clinton, meanwhile, is likely to continue with more or less the same approach as that of the Obama administration – more sanctions and international consensus building on dealing with the delinquent state – the limits of which have long been upon us.

Another nuclear issue on which Trump and Clinton have diametrically opposite views is on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded with Iran in 2015 and which began being implemented earlier this year. The Republicans have been strident critics of the agreement. Trump and his running mate have mentioned their intention to “rip up the Iran deal” and re-open negotiations to extract greater concessions from Tehran. It is quite likely though that he would end up unravelling the fragile arrangement currently in place. Clinton, meanwhile, has been a supporter of the agreement and is likely to continue with implementation of the agreement while keeping a close watch on Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.

On nuclear security, Clinton has clearly rated the threat of nuclear terrorism as an urgent priority and expressed the desire to find ways of getting nations to secure their nuclear material since Obama wound down his Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) initiative in March 2016. She has been candid in expressing great concern over the threat of a jihadist takeover of the Pakistani government, thereby gaining control over the country’s nuclear weapons and posing a danger to international security. Trump too has rated the threat of access by non-state actors to nuclear material high on his list of nuclear priorities, but has not articulated any roadmap to address the issue. It can be expected that the next US President will keep his/her focus on the issue.

The outgoing administration of President Obama has set into motion a very expensive process of nuclear modernisation. A trillion dollars have been pledged towards making the ‘ageing’ US nuclear warheads and delivery systems safe, secure and reliable. This includes investing in systems such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which have been criticised for their adverse impact on strategic stability. Acknowledging this, Clinton has, in some of her pronouncements on the subject, expressed a willingness to re-look at the decision for its wider implications on triggering a new arms race and vitiating nuclear stability. Having been part of arms control negotiations with the Russians on the New Start treaty as Secretary of State, Clinton can be expected to have been sensitised on strategic stability issues. Trump, however, is likely to hold a more puritan Republican line on this subject setting into motion an action-reaction cycle with other near nuclear peers.

There is no doubt that the manner in which these four issues are handled would have direct and indirect implications for India. Stemming further proliferation, enhancing nuclear security, as well as steps towards nuclear modernisation that add salience to nuclear weapons and compel the country to respond with measures to redress its own deterrence, are all consequential matters. It can be largely expected however, that the next US administration, irrespective of who heads it, will continue to honour India’s nuclear accommodation into the non-proliferation regime. As a nuclear technology proficient nation with a large nuclear energy market potential, and as a nuclear armed nation with a reasonably modest arsenal, India is too large to be ignored by any US President. By now, New Delhi has the experience of dealing successfully with both Republican and Democrat Presidents and it must continue to develop this relationship further on basis of common nuclear interests and concerns.

Meanwhile, it needs to be highlighted that irrespective of the personal predilections of US Presidents, the administration has a tendency to mould him/her into positions that are largely acceptable and conventional. Fortunately or unfortunately, the system does not allow its Presidents to stray too far. President Obama started his White House journey with an inspiring and radical speech at Prague that described a new nuclear agenda for the US. But myriad vested interests and lobbies at work constantly tugged at his coattails to bring him back into line with traditionalist positions. It is indeed ironical that the President who put the weight of his personal conviction behind a nuclear weapons free world is leaving office having approved a major modernisation of the country’s nuclear weapons.

The next few weeks are going to be extremely interesting and it is certain that Trump and Clinton will be monitored incessantly. In fact, every time they utter the word nuclear, it will be scrutinised for its national and international implications. And, once one of them is the President of the US, their nuclear pronouncements will hopefully acquire greater depth and maturity. The world cannot afford anything less.

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#5134, 23 September 2016
Preparing for Radiological Emergencies and Terrorism
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi
 

India is still coming to terms with the aftermath of the terrorist attack on an army camp at Uri. More names have been added to the long list of Indians who have died in incidents that have been conceived and executed with the support of elements in the ‘deep state’ of Pakistan. Given that Rawalpindi shows no inclination to abandon its strategy of inflicting terror on India, one cannot but be prepared to handle acts of terrorism that may breach new thresholds in the future. Preparedness and response for a radiological emergency is, therefore, a task that the country must plan for.

A news item in the Times of India of 22 August 2016 reported the conduct of a mock drill to rehearse Indian preparedness for a radiological emergency at an airport. The news was welcome for two reasons. Firstly, reportage of such exercises helps reassure the public that the relevant agencies are duly practicing preparedness to handle such emergencies. This also has an impact on restoring public confidence in nuclear power in general, which was badly shaken by the Fukushima episode of 2011. Secondly, the handling of an off-site radiological emergency involves the coordinated participation of a number of stakeholders. 20 agencies reportedly participated in the exercise. It is only through periodically repeated drills that requisite rapport and confidence in joint operations of this nature can be built.

It is natural that emergency preparedness and response strategies (EPRs) are relatively better evolved and comparatively easier to execute when a nuclear emergency is confined to the nuclear plant or site. Such crises primarily involve quick handling by the operating staff who are better equipped with technical knowledge and also more familiar with and better trained to abide by stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) that must be followed in crisis. It is only in case of a severe accident at plant site that other civilian agencies need to be included in consequence management.

In contrast, in case of off-site, radiological emergencies that could happen anywhere, the involvement of the public necessarily requires the participation of many governmental and non-governmental agencies for crisis management. Some places likely to face such events are predictable, such as where radiological sources are in use – hospitals, industries, etc. But, discovery of stolen or maliciously use of orphan sources or acts of radiological terrorism through dirty bombs could occur anywhere. Emergency preparedness in such cases requires a very high level of quick detection, assessment and response from both nuclear and non-nuclear administrations.

Cooperation among many national and international stakeholders is a necessity in case of a radiological emergency. Law and order agencies, fire fighting and medical services, traffic officials and first responders designated by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) must all be part of the team to quickly bring the situation under control. Above all, an effective public communication strategy must be available to use the media as a friend rather than letting it give its own spin to the crisis. Relationships built with press and local populace during moments of quiet would go a long way in communicating credibly and with confidence in times of crisis.

Over the years, India has judiciously invested in building organisational and technological expertise in EPR. The NDMA has published elaborate and precise guidelines for dealing with such emergencies. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed and employs sophisticated tools to cater for quick detection, impact assessment and response. BARC has developed special mobile and fixed monitoring equipment that can be used for detection of radioactivity and identification of contaminated areas which can assist in correct movement of the responders and evacuees. At the second level, integrated assessment software is able to predict a rapid evaluation of damage from blast, fires etc and thereby help allocate medical, fire-fighting facilities etc. Most importantly, a software tool such as the geographical information system (GIS) provides maps of areas with location of roads, buildings, hospitals, etc in order to help plan routes of evacuation or influx of responders.

However, even the best laid out plans and available technological tools can be stymied if a few common-sense issues are not adequately addressed. The first of these is the prime requirement of inter-agency cooperation. Given the involvement of varied types of responders, not all of whom have radiological emergency as their daily top-most priority, it is quite likely that each would have a different understanding or level of commitment to participation in collaborative mock drills. Caught with usual manpower and resource shortages, over-burdened services are likely to accord less priority to an event that is seen as of low probability. However, the high consequence potential of such an occurrence is the precise reason that demands the highest attention. Conduct of mock drills must be undertaken in the spirit of joint planning for an operation and there should be adequate mechanisms for feedback assimilation to effectuate improvements.

2016 has seen a rise in terrorist incidents across the world. Vulnerabilities of regions once thought to be immune to such risks stand exposed as the US and countries in Europe and Asia have undergone such strikes. Each has struggled to minimise risks as well as improve consequence mitigation. Fortunately, no act of nuclear or radiological terrorism has yet been experienced. But there is no doubt that a radiological emergency would be a mammoth operation of managing not only the physical safety and movement of the public but also involve dealing with many psychosomatic issues.

The psychological impact of an act of radiological terrorism would in fact invoke greater damage than any real threat from radioactivity. It is for this reason that dirty bombs are described as weapons of mass disruption since they would cause greater panic, at the physical, socio-economic and psychological levels. Being neighbours with a country which is not only the fountainhead of terrorism but is also flush with fissile material, a radiological emergency is a threat for India. Well planned and regularly rehearsed EPR strategies, which include education of the public, must be accorded due priority as one important plank of addressing this threat perception.

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#5106, 16 August 2016
Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross–Border Terrorism: With a Little Help from Friends
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Not War, Not Peace is a recent publication from the prolific authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book seeks to help India find ways of ‘motivating’ Pakistan to give up its cross-border terrorism. As they have correctly inferred, and as Indians have long fretted, “good and ready options for retaliation” are difficult to come by. Undoubtedly, India faces a unique security dilemma in the existence of a nuclear-armed, terrorism-supporting, dissatisfied-with-self nation as its western neighbour. In fact, the predicament is exacerbated by the fact that this challenge encompasses four levels of threats: from the state of Pakistan, from non-state actors backed by the state (Pakistan’ Army and ISI), from non-state actors not under state control, and from the state backed politically and strategically by another state (China).

It is heartening to finally hear some Western scholars join the search with India for the right answers to deal with these issues. In fact, the first happy aspect of the book is the admittance of the fact that Pakistan uses cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy. This was never a secret. But, the West had been chary of publicly accepting the reality. So, the good news for India is that what was essentially considered only an Indian problem for decades is now being accepted as a security challenge at a wider international level.

It is also an implicit assumption of the authors that Pakistan is unlikely to give up its support for terrorism, and hence India will face such incidents in the future. Indeed, this is inevitable if Pakistan continues to maintain a strategy that seeks to decimate one kind of terrorist – those that threaten its own interests - while holding onto another that have been cultivated to trouble India. This is an unsustainable strategy. Terrorist organisations have exhibited deep and complex cross-institutional and cross-sectoral linkages and it is not feasible to annihilate some and allow others to proliferate. In fact, today Pakistan is infested with highly motivated terrorist organisations that are as anti-West and anti-India, as they are anti-Pakistan. The country has seen attacks on sensitive high security zones/installations despite all assurances of security.

In such a situation, it is not surprising that Perkovich and Dalton caution India against more attacks and offer assistance by undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of the four possible options before India. These include an Indian response through the use of a proactive strategy led by the Army, response through use of punitive air power, use of covert operations, and use of non-violent compellence through economic and diplomatic means. Their recommendation is for the use of the last approach since it is seen as least escalatory.

To be fair, the Indian response, traditionally, has been largely defensive – better border fencing and better intelligence gathering to foil infiltration, picking up pieces after an attack, and banking on the resilience of the Indian economy and society to carry on. As a nation and a civilisation, India tends to lean towards strategic restraint and does not believe in easy or quick use of force. Since Operation Parakram, military responses were further seen as offering lesser dividends and the focus was clearly on economic growth and development. So it was that even the Mumbai attack in 2011 did not elicit a forceful military response that would have overtly appeared to punish Pakistan. However, one can sense a loss of patience and tolerance with Pakistan’s duplicity, as well as the international community’s loss of patience and tolerance to be taken in by Pakistan’s duplicity.

It is in this context that the book is a welcome change. However, its recommendation that India should follow a calibrated, synergistic diplomatic and economic response to motivate Pakistan’s change of behaviour can only be useful if simultaneously supported by the international community. If influential powers opt to turn a blind eye, continue to pander to Pakistan’s tantrums, or seek to offer it status of ‘normal’ from outside, it would only tempt Pakistan to further exploit the virtues of terrorism shielded by nuclear brinkmanship.

The following set of multi-pronged and multi-directional international responses could serve as a corollary to the option that the book recommends for India. It is imperative that the US and other friends who understand the security challenge posed by Pakistan contribute their bit through the following steps:

a. Reassuring Pakistan that India has no designs on its sovereignty or territorial integrity. Its threat perceptions from India are of its own making. Unfortunately, they serve the purpose of propping up the Army in the domestic power structure. If the Army were to reduce the sense of ‘existential threat’ from India, it would also lose some of its relevance and power. This will not be easy. But if the influential major powers were to question Pakistan’s threat perceptions, it might have some impact by and by

b. Using all leverages to subtly influence the Army mindset into becoming a regular Army servicing a state rather than treating the state as its appendage

c. Reducing military and financial support for Pakistan’s armed forces

d. Reassuring Pakistan that neither India nor the US have the intention nor the capability to disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons

e. Communicating to Pakistan that the state will have to take responsibility for acts of terrorism emanating from its soil. Therefore, dealing with all terrorists uniformly is in its own interest. In any case, under UNSCR 1373, the international community is legally bound to respond to acts of terrorism through united action. Sending this message may help to prevent a future act of terrorism

f. Greater sharing of intelligence and coordination of crackdown on terrorist financing, communications etc

g. Assisting constituencies in Pakistan that cherish a different future for the country

h. Refusing to buy into Pakistan’s low projection of its nuclear threshold. Rather, using every opportunity to highlight the lack of military utility of nuclear weapons, and the long lasting impact of a nuclear exchange could motivate Pakistan to adopt a more responsible nuclear strategy.

Pakistan is too complex a case for any one set of responses to work. It is a happy development that two serious Carnegie scholars have discussed Indian responses in a constructive manner. While there would be some differences of opinion on how Indians undertake their own capability appreciation and adversary’s intention analysis, there is no doubt that it is only through a collective churning of thoughts that a problem as vexed as Pakistan can be managed.

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#5083, 18 July 2016
JCPOA’s First Anniversary: Significance and Future Challenges
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Provocations, sobered by abundant caution, were the hallmark of the first year of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), simply called the Iran deal. For now, the supporters of the agreement can breathe easy that it has lived to celebrate its first anniversary. Given that it took the international community 13 long years of difficult negotiations peppered with allegations and counter-allegations to resolve the ‘Iranian nuclear issue’, it is heartening that all parties managed to stay the course despite distractions.

President Obama, who provided dogged support during the negotiations in face of strong opposition from the Republicans and even some influential Democrats, besides a very vocal Israel, displayed his commitment to the deal in the last 12 months. President Rouhani too showed a personal conviction in its implementation. Luckily, he has also had the backing of the Supreme Leader. Meanwhile, proactive diplomacy by the EU, China’s economic interest in mainstreaming Iran, and Russian desire to be seen as playing a constructive role at the international high table have also been equally critical in making the JCPOA endure.

The Iran deal is an interesting agreement that has been subject to many interpretations. Western countries value it for its ability to remove the near-time risk of Iran’s nuclear weapons breakout. Iran considers it a tool to remove the sanctions pressure that was adversely impacting its economy, besides using it also to showcase the country’s strength to stand up to major powers by having managed to retain the right to enrichment, even if to low levels. Thus, the country vindicated its pride and position.

Over the last year, the JCPOA has provided a useful framework for Iran to resume meaningful relations with the international community. The most immediate benefits have been in the upsurge in its oil exports. By April 2016, Iran had begun exporting oil to the tune of 1.7 million barrels per day (mpbd), up from 700,000 mbpd during the period of the sanctions. Meanwhile some of the formerly blacklisted Iranian banks have reconnected to SWIFT and inflation is down to 12 per cent compared to 40 per cent in mid-2013. However, the quick economic gains that the public was expecting are yet to materialise, leading to impatience and disenchantment. This is partly because Iran itself has yet to get its institutions and entrepreneurial skills ready to exploit the opening. Besides an opaque banking system, it also suffers from corruption, an inflexible labour market, traditional dominance of the public sector, and multiple political power centres often in conflict with each other.

While resolution of the structural issues will take time, the sense of disappointment in public given the slow trickledown effect could be utilised by deal naysayers, particularly the hardliners in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council (IRGC), to fan nationalism and hostility. It may be recalled that the IRGC had described the deal as ‘nuclear sedition’, and tried to scuttle it, including by undertaking missile launches in March. More such attempts could put Iran’s engagement with the world again under a cloud. For the moment though, President Rouhani seems relatively better placed after the recent elections in March 2016. The vote was seen as a sort of a referendum on the nuclear agreement, indicating a desire of the Iranian people to support leaders who could get them out of political and economic isolation.

Meanwhile, there are chances of things going wrong at the US end particularly as the domestic political situation heats up in the run up to the presidential elections later this year. Already, not many Americans, in the Congress or out of it, have solidly put their weight behind the deal. A Gallup poll in mid-Feb 2016 showed 57 per cent of the Americans as being opposed to the agreement and only 30 per cent approving it. President Obama is doing his best to kill any legislative action that could jeopardise the JCPOA, but its future would seriously depend on the next occupant of the White House.

Given the volatility in Iran and the US, other stakeholders such as the EU, China, and Russia will have to remain constructively engaged with the implementation process and watch out for any drastic action by either Iran or the US that could rock the JCPOA. For now, Russia has already started receiving enriched uranium that Iran must remove from its territory and China has started work on re-designing the Arak reactor. Slowly, as all sides build confidence in each other and as benefits flow into Iran start to make a difference, the deal would acquire surer footing. There would develop a vested interest of each to avoid violation of the agreement.

The next helpful step in this direction would now be to initiate measures that could help resolve regional issues to make all players more secure. Of particular relevance in this context is the need to find a way of establishing a Middle East WMD Free Zone. This has been a long-standing objective of the NPT. In fact the NPT RevCon 1995 had secured an unconditional and indefinite extension of the treaty on the promise of resolving the Middle East nuclear conundrum, particularly with reference to Israel's undeclared but well-known nuclear weapons capability. The Iranian nuclear issue would receive a more secure sense of resolution if regional security issues could be addressed through the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the region. The task will certainly not be easy. In fact, even a conference of the regional powers to discuss the issues under the aegis of the special authority appointed in the form of an ambassador from Finland in 2010 has not yet been possible. Nevertheless, work must be started on this next step after the JCPOA. It will be a long journey but one that must get started.

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#5052, 2 June 2016
Entry into the NSG: Getting Past the Doorman
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Doormen – big, burly individuals – at entrances of exclusive clubs impose entry regulations. They could deny you entry for not carrying the correct identity card, or for not entering as a couple. One particular country has assigned itself this role at the NSG door. Set and resolute, it has declared that you are not carrying the required NPT identity card and worse still, you are not ready to enter with a partner. So, China insists that India cannot be allowed entry into NSG, certainly not without Pakistan.

For a few NSG plenary meetings now, India has been hopeful that a decision on its membership would be taken, nearly eight years after the exceptionalisation was made for it to engage in international nuclear commerce. This task yet remains pending though the US agrees that India has the requisite credentials to join the NSG. Standing up to the US on its position, China thinks otherwise. Interesting insights can be gleaned from the Chinese position.

Firstly, this is a rare occasion that China has openly declared its objection to India’s entry and has dared to stand alone on this. Beijing has traditionally been shy of taking a position where it would have to stand singly. It prefers instead to hide behind objections being made by others, giving them tacit support without being identified itself as the primary obstructionist. It consciously avoids being called a spoiler. This seems to have changed, perhaps for two reasons. One, China has perceived that the bulwark of states that it was banking upon to stop India’s entry into the NSG is about to give up. So, it feels the need to step up itself. The other reason is that China’s confidence in its own clout and influence has grown. Having amassed economic and military strength with the accompanying political weight, it believes it can afford to assert its position and get away with it. Consequently, it is no longer chary of standing alone.

Secondly, China’s sense of assertiveness rises from the knowledge that its economic power is far above that of most of the NSG members. In fact, neither US, nor Russia can afford to offend the new China, and certainly not on the nuclear issue. Undertaking simultaneous construction of 22 nuclear power plants (accounting for more than one third of all reactors being built globally), China has deep nuclear pockets. Nearly every major nuclear supplier has a hand in it. China is importing from, as well as co-developing nuclear reactors with France, Russia, and the US. It is building nuclear reactors in the UK and Argentina. The nuclear industry of each of these states is invested in China, currently the largest nuclear market. Given the downturn in the fortunes of the nuclear industry after Fukushima, the nuclear marketplace today belongs to the buyer, not the seller. And China is the biggest buyer on the block. Who then can afford to upset it?

Thirdly, China’s objection to India’s entry into the NSG is because of India, and not because it necessarily wants its all-weather friend to be an NSG member too. It is only using Pakistan as a proxy, as China always has, to box India in. What China finds difficult to digest is the accommodation of India that would, in its eyes, make it its nuclear equal. Given that Beijing still insists on UNSCR 1172 of 1998 that called for a roll back and elimination of an ‘illegitimate’ nuclear weapons programme, it cannot brook the idea of any semblance of ‘legitimacy’ being granted to India. Sharing space as a nuclear rule-maker with India is anathema to China.

So, what should India do to get past the self-appointed doorman? For one, Indian nuclear diplomacy will have to work harder to chip away at the objections being raised by China or its proxies. Secondly, the Indian nuclear market must once again appear to look lucrative. When it did so in the mid-2000s, President Bush (actively supported by the nuclear industry) managed to engineer the huge transformation in the US’ nuclear relationship with India, including convincing others to make the NSG exceptionalisation possible. Since then, and especially after Fukushima, the Indian nuclear market has started to look dull.

The nuclear liability law perceptibly weighed against the supplier, public acceptance stalemates etc have taken the sheen off India’s nuclear ambitions. Of the two poster boys of the nuclear industry, China is shining, while India appears to be falling behind. Thirdly, India should seriously consider entering the nuclear market as a supplier itself. It has the capability and the capacity to do so. And once that happens, it would change India's de facto position. Fourthly, for China, its ‘face’ is very important. India needs to look for concessions that it can make to provide China the face saving to back off from its strident position. One idea here could be to take up China’s offer of nuclear cooperation made by Premier Xi Jinping on a visit to India. This cooperation could take many forms - R&D on new generation of reactors, between their nuclear Centres of Excellence, nuclear safety and security, etc. Such collaborative ventures could be one way of subtly introducing it to India's strengths in the nuclear power sector.

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#5029, 16 May 2016
Same Age, Different Behaviour: Nuclear India and Nuclear Pakistan
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

On 11 and 13 May, India completed 18 years as a nuclear-armed state. A couple of weeks from now Pakistan will do so too. And yet despite sharing the same age as overt nuclear weapons states, the two countries are far apart in their understanding of nuclear issues and behaviours. Both have chosen dissimilar objectives for their nuclear weapons, are pursuing diverse capability trajectories, and projecting deterrence in disparate ways. As China continues to block India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and seeks the same treatment for its 'all weather friend' Pakistan, it would be a good idea to understand some of these stark differences that undercut the very demand for uniform treatment.

The first and most evident difference lies in the purpose of the nuclear weapon in the national security strategies of the two countries. For India, the nuclear weapon performs a narrow, limited role of nuclear deterrence - to deter only the nuclear weapons of the other side. It is for this reason that acceptance of universal nuclear disarmament also comes naturally to India since if there were no nuclear weapons with the adversary India would not need such weapons either. For Pakistan, on the other hand, nuclear weapons serve the purpose of deterring India's conventional superiority. The Indian conventional strength bothers Pakistan because it fears its coming into play in response to its continued support for terrorism on Indian territory. In one sense then, the objective of Pakistan's nuclear weapons is to provide it with the space and the immunity to continue its policy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts while shielding itself against a conventional Indian response.

With the purpose of nuclear weapons being what it is, the second difference shows up in the approach of the two to establish credible deterrence. Seeking to deter only the use of nuclear weapons, India has a strategy of deterrence by punishment whereby it eschews the first use of such weapons but promises punitive retaliation in case of their use by the adversary. No first use (NFU) supported by massive retaliation is, therefore, the bedrock of Indian nuclear strategy. In contrast, the Pakistani nuclear strategy is premised on brinksmanship. It projects first use of nuclear weapons including their battlefield use, thereby threatening to take a conventional conflict to the nuclear level. This brinksmanship is projected through build up of 'full spectrum' deterrence - weapons of all yields, spread across all platforms, and from the tactical to the strategic type.

Given that Pakistan's deterrence strategy is premised on uncertainty and projection of quick nuclear escalation to deter an Indian conventional response to an act of terrorism traced back to the Pakistan deep state, the country believes in keeping the adversary unsettled. In its thinking, arriving at a modus vivendi with strategic stability is not desirable because the more stable the relationship, the more constrained is its policy of support to acts of terrorism. Stability at the nuclear level will concede space to India to conduct conventional war without the risk of nuclear escalation. So, while India desires strategic stability in order to rule out the possibility of inadvertent or mistaken nuclear escalation in case of crisis, Pakistan would rather raise this risk to have India cowering.

While Pakistan considers such a nuclear strategy justified given its threat perception of India as its foremost enemy, the problem lies in the risks it thence creates for regional and international security. The requirements of full spectrum deterrence and credible first use with TNWs will lead to larger and larger requirements of fissile material and delegation of nuclear command and control. While there are currently no international treaties or regional/bilateral measures that hold Pakistan's hands on this, the fact of the matter is that a country as severely infested with terrorist networks as it is, the situation threatens to spill beyond the control of its own commanders, as much as beyond the region.

It would therefore behove China as also the rest of the supporters of granting equal treatment to Pakistan, to not encourage irresponsible nuclear behaviour and its attendant risks. India can manage without an NSG membership till such time as the members realise the futility of keeping a major nuclear player out of the arrangement, but do regional and international security have the luxury of repeatedly condoning dangerous behaviour and still expect consequences to turn out less dangerous?

18 is the age when youth become eligible to vote in both India and Pakistan. Will Pakistan now like to vote for a different future for itself? One in which it can shed its self-created paranoia against India, and one in which it has not handed over the reins of the future of the country to nuclear weapons? The potential of Pakistan as a middle level power is immense. If only it would allow its nuclear adolescence to transition into a mature and responsible adulthood.

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#5002, 21 March 2016
Nuclear Security Summit Process: Progress and Prognosis
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

In less than two weeks from now, the Heads of Governments of over 50 countries will once again gather to discuss the knotty issues of nuclear security. Having met three times earlier in the last six years, this congregation in Washington will bring the Nuclear Security Summit process to a close. President Obama had started this initiative from the US capital in 2010. It had been his aspiration then to use the forum to get nations to secure all nuclear material on their territories over the next four years. That was an underestimation of the task and even six years hence, the Security Summit will sign off without being able to claim that all has been well-secured. However, what has certainly been achieved is the accordance of a highest level of attention across the world to the issue of nuclear security in order to minimise, if not obviate, chances of nuclear terrorism. Of course, there can be no guarantees in this business. And yet, the coming together of national heads has ensured that actions leading up to the cause of nuclear security have received due attention amongst national priorities.

The Summit process also inspired nations into action since they came with report cards in hand to showcase the highlights of all they had done at the national and regional levels towards nuclear security. These came to be known as 'house gifts' when brought by individual nations, or 'gift baskets' when they came as part of a regional initiative. The actions have taken many forms, creating national legislation to handle unauthorised access to nuclear and radiological materials, strengthening of the national nuclear security culture, tightening of export controls, outreach to national industry, regional efforts, or the signing/ratifying of nuclear security specific treaties. Indeed, over the last few years adherence to such international treaties has increased. Ten additional countries, for instance, have ratified the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Terrorism since the last Summit in 2014, leading the total ratifications to about 100. Similarly some of the major nations that have accepted Amendment 2005 of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials in the last two years have been the US, South Korea, Turkey, Japan and Singapore. Of course, the DPRK, Iran, Israel and Pakistan remain notable holdouts of both Conventions. But interestingly, there have been murmurs that Pakistan might carry their ratification as a house gift to Washington later this month.

In another task undertaken under the aegis of the NSS, progress has been made in ensuring security of highly enriched uranium through either the conversion of research reactors running on HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU), or its repatriation and elimination. Given that HEU is relatively easier to smuggle out of facilities and also somewhat more amenable to being used by terrorists, the focus over the last couple of Summits has been to get nations to give up its use for civilian purposes such as in research reactors. While the US has led an international effort in this direction called the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors from 1978 onwards, and some 44 reactors outside of the US were converted to using LEU by the 1990s, interest and resources into this initiative dwindled over time. It is only post 9/11 that the realisation of the dangers of nuclear terrorism revived interest and the Summits have brought it into sharper focus. So it is that if 50 countries had an HEU stockpile of more than 1 kg in 1992, it is now down to half the number. Since 2010 when the first Nuclear Security Summit was held, HEU has been removed from 13 countries. Of course, military stockpiles of HEU remain and so does the right of nations to use this for naval propulsion in the case of nuclear-powered submarines. But then the Nuclear Security Summit process has steered clear of bringing any sort of nuclear weapons-related activity within its ambit. Its objective has been to spur national action on securing nuclear and radiological material (including better accounting of orphan sources) with the broad understanding that military-related material is likely to be anyway better secured. While this may or may not be the case in all nuclear-armed nations, there is no doubt that acceptance of best practices in nuclear security in one aspect of national nuclear activities would have spill-over benefits too.  

With curtains coming down on the Summit process in April 2016, what will keep the focus and momentum on nuclear security alive? Several think-tanks across the world have thrown up ideas on this. Some have suggested holding ministerial-level summits every two years with the heads of government convening only every four years. Others have recommended holding periodic nuclear security issue-specific conferences. Some have even offered the NPT Review Conferences which are held every five years as a platform to focus on nuclear security. However, the most popular and likely to be accepted idea is that of the IAEA taking a lead on this.

Traditionally, the IAEA has been an organisation tasked essentially with promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to prevent clandestine development of nuclear weapons through an elaborate verification regime. Nuclear safety and security have largely been peripheral and not primary responsibilities. But given the large membership of the organisation, its experience in the nuclear domain since 1957 and a deep expertise built over years, IAEA does seem the best equipped to carry the mantle of the Summits into the future. In any case, the IAEA has periodically issued guidelines, albeit of an advisory nature, on aspects of nuclear security. For instance, in 2003 the IAEA brought out a Code of Conduct on Safety and Security of Radiological Material, in 2009 in an initiative to support efforts at nuclear security it issued INFCIRC/225/Rev 5 that provided implementation guidance on Amendment 2005 of the CPPNM with respect to security of domestic transportation of nuclear materials. In July 2013, the IAEA orgnaised an international conference on nuclear security that was attended by 125 states and 21 organisations. By comparison, the NSS have been attended by only about 50 odd countries and 4 organisations. This itself provides a sense of the reach and influence of the IAEA. The Conference has already tasked the IAEA to undertake International Physical Protection Advisory Services (IPPAS) to nations that want to seek help on nuclear security.

For the moment, the IAEA does suffer from the limitation of availability of monetary sources for the tasks of nuclear security. Financing is available only by way of voluntary contributions by nations, such as India's pledge for a US$ 1 million in 2012-13. But there is no regular nuclear security budget that can allow the Agency to do long term activity planning on nuclear security. Another limitation it faces is that of enforcement since it has an advisory role, by way of offering guidance that is non-binding and only for voluntary acceptance. It can levy no penalties for non-compliance and nor does it extend its diktat over the military-related nuclear programmes. However, if nations agree to provide the mandate of nuclear security to the IAEA then some of these limitations can be overcome.

It is imperative that the momentum achieved on nuclear security outlasts the Summit process. In fact, the four exercises can hope to be called a success only if they would have imbibed the 'habit' of constant vigilance and effort at nuclear security. Therefore, it is equally necessary that the right mechanisms and procedures are found to carry the process forward. The Summit process would dissolve into failure if the momentum was to be lost due to souring of inter-state relations. Some of this is already evident in US-Russia relations. Russia has refused to participate in the Summit at Washington and has spurned offers of collaboration over the still pending conversion of about 63 civilian Russian reactors still using HEU. Russia has the largest stockpile of HEU at approximately 700 tonnes and the non-participation of a nation of such capability and stature does deal a blow to the Summit process.

Nuclear security is a global concern. It is the responsibility of each nation to ensure that no terrorist organisation is able to find a weak link within its territory. But securing nuclear materials is also a journey and can never be a destination. Unfortunately, none can ever claim that a state of perfect nuclear security has been attained. Nations will have to persist with their efforts and hope to stay ahead of the non-state actors. While the NSS ensured a high level of national commitment, time bound follow-up, targeted focus areas and inclusion of new countries and constituencies, it is signing off at a note of political discordance between the US and Russia. The future of nuclear security will depend on the new mechanisms found to carry the process forward. But even more important would be the need to hold on to the political consensus on the subject. It is in India’s interest to find ways of keeping interest and actions on the issue active and alive. 

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#4992, 22 February 2016
Pak's Nuclear 'Normality' through External Deals: Chasing a Chimera
Manpreet Sethi
 

Several recent writings have recommended how Pakistan could and should be accommodated into the nuclear mainstream. Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation analyst at the IISS, London, had advocated this through his Adelphi paper entitled “Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers” in 2014. More recently in 2015, Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon made a similar case in a Carnegie publication entitled "A Normal Nuclear Pakistan."

Interestingly, Pakistan’s military and diplomatic elite have been demanding the same ever since India earned itself a nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA and an exceptionalisation from the NSG. This din reached a crescendo in October 2015 just before PM Sharif was to visit Washington. US newspapers hinted at the possibility of a US-Pak nuclear deal as a means to get Pakistan to limit expansion of its nuclear arsenal. Though nothing came out of this then, Pakistan continues to voice the demand. On 12 February 2016, Pak foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, lamented that a "discriminatory approach has impacted strategic stability" and argued that as a "legitimate and normal nuclear power with legitimate needs for nuclear energy," Pakistan too was entitled to a deal with US.

 As is evident from the expressions used by Western analysts and Pakistani officials, both seem to emphasise the adjective "normal" nuclear state for Pakistan. But there is a huge difference in how they use it. While Pakistan claims that it already is one, writings from US think-tanks suggest that the country could and should be offered some external inducements to change its nuclear behaviour into becoming normal. This dichotomy in approach of both is where the dilemma lies. Pakistan believes it deserves a deal while the West contends that it is offering a favour in exchange for a set of conditions.

Dalton and Krepon have identified five conditions for such an offer. These include shifting declaratory policy from “full spectrum” to “strategic” deterrence; committing to a recessed deterrence posture and limiting production of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons; lifting Pakistan’s veto on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations and reducing or stopping fissile material production; separating civilian and military nuclear facilities; and signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without waiting for India. The basic argument behind these demands is to put a halt to the Pakistani slide towards operationalisation of tactical nuclear weapons that, the West fears, would lead to a command and control nightmare, raising the dangers of nuclear terrorism, which are not lost on the US.

Keeping the above in mind, the US is protecting its national interest by trying to find ways of curtailing the expansion of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. But the questions that need to be answered from a wider perspective are whether a Pakistan that believes all is fine with its nuclear behaviour and strategy can indeed be amenable to change through external inducements in the nuclear arena? Would an offer from the West change the basic drivers of Pakistan’s nuclear policy? Is it at all possible to 'positively shape' Pakistan’s nuclear posture by offering incentives from outside?

The answer to each of these questions is in the negative because Pakistan’s nuclear posture is driven by exaggerated threat perceptions and a self-created paranoia, largely by the Army. Its nuclear strategy is premised on the projection of easy and early use of nuclear weapons, or nuclear brinksmanship or a sense of instability, including through show of battlefield use of nuclear weapons. At every opportunity, Pakistan officials do not forget to remind India and the 'concerned' West of its nuclear-armed status. All this, while Rawalpindi continues to uphold its support for terrorism beyond its own borders. Unless these drivers change, and that can only happen from within Pakistan, no influence from the outside can alter the country's nuclear posture. Therefore, to believe that offering a nuclear deal would placate Pakistan into becoming ‘normal’, is taking a rather shallow view of Pakistan’s deep-rooted security psyche.

In fact, to do so is not even desirable since it is only likely to further postpone a much needed introspection by Pakistan's strategic community of the dangers created by its self-generated threat perceptions and sponsorship of terrorism. It could well embolden Pakistan, even make it more adventurous, seeking to push the envelope of its demands even further. The inability and unwillingness of the international community to deal with Pakistan’s past proliferation and ongoing nuclear brinkmanship with a firm hand, and instead consider offering it nuclear cooperation, contributes to the impression that countries with nuclear weapons can ‘get away with’ activities that may otherwise be considered unacceptable. International security will have to bear the consequences of this in the years to come as Pakistani behaviour is copied by others to brandish nuclear weapons as a potent bargaining chip to seek political concessions.

Of course, the 'West' has the prerogative to grant or deny nuclear cooperation to a country based on its assessment of how this would serve its interest without violating own guidelines and international obligations. But to believe that such an offer could reorient Pakistan’s fast evolving force posture that boasts of a capability to build tactical nuclear weapons and refuses to allow negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, is certainly naive. Such a concession could most likely be interpreted and projected by Pakistani military elite as a victory of sorts and make them more risk prone, not less. This would only sustain the Army's predominance over its national security policy, including continued support to terror groups that in their mind serve a purpose. But as has been seen in the last few years, terrorists are quick to switch loyalties and cannot be straitjacketed into clear cut categories. The nuclear dangers, consequently, will only multiply.

The only long-term solution lies in Pakistan’s reconsideration of its own threat perceptions. This propensity for harboring terrorism and using it to feed a paranoia from India cannot be changed from the outside. Pakistan has opted for a nuclear strategy that its Army considers best suited to its national interest. Therefore, its definition of national interests must change for its nuclear posture to be different. Outside inducements cannot influence this.

To be fair, it is up to the people of Pakistan to choose their ‘normal’. It is their right and responsibility to understand the nuclear dangers they face and plan their own course correction. It has to be Pakistan’s choice to want to become a normal state, not a status that can be conferred or a condition that can be imposed from the outside by offering a nuclear deal. The West, or the rest, can only help Pakistan by offering to assist in building capacities to handle its myriad political, social and economic challenges. These are far bigger millstones around Islamabad’s neck than the imaginary phantoms that Rawalpindi conjures, essentially to sustain its own authority and influence in the domestic power structure.

Pakistan’s well-wishers, within the country and beyond, must help reorient the national security discourse toward a broader normalisation of the state and its polity. Keeping it in good humour by bestowing goodies such as the nuclear deal or more F-16s and other conventional arms is not going to be helpful, neither to the people of Pakistan and nor to its neighbours. The only beneficiaries would be the small nuclear elite within Pakistan that has a narrow, warped view of the nation and its future.

It is ironic that the country that was held out by the Harvard Development Advisory Group in the 1960s as a ‘model developing country’ with an average annual economic growth of 6 per cent has today degenerated into such a sad economic state. Much of this has to do with the country’s obsession with parity with India that leads to an over spending on defence, including on its nuclear weapons programme, while ignoring domestic economic growth and development.

If things have to change, Pakistan will have to alter, first of all, its own sense of threat perceptions. It is a bit far-fetched to assume that a state that has shown such irresponsible behaviour and that yet refuses to accept its irresponsibility, nor change its behaviour, can be made normal by inducements. It is certainly like chasing a chimera of Pakistan's nuclear normality. And 'bestowing normalcy' through external sops in the absence of change will only make the prospect of real change dimmer, not brighter.

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#4962, 18 January 2016
Forecast 2016: Nuclear Issues That Will Dominate the Year
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Ever since the power and potential of nuclear energy first entered human consciousness and inter-state relations, nuclear issues have always remained at the centre stage. Expansion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and risks of nuclear weapons and their proliferation are twin dimensions that engage national and international strategists year after year. None of this is likely to change in 2016. In fact, one can safely predict some of the issues that will certainly hit headlines in the coming  12 months.

North Korea and its periodic demonstration of nuclear machismo was the first to grab eyeballs in 2016 when Pyongyang rather cockily claimed the detonation of a ‘miniaturised hydrogen bomb’ on 06 January, 2016. Conducting its fourth nuclear test over the last decade, the DPRK has been steadily ‘improving’ its nuclear deterrent capability, including via regular testing of its delivery systems.

Every nuclear act of North Korea brings immediate attention to China, its protector. Many strategic analysts have urged Beijing to rein in its 'dear friend', and despite all Chinese voices of condemnation and exasperation, the reality is that North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship serves to keep China's rivals such as Japan, South Korea and the US unnerved even as its own stature as an important, influential international actor rises. The danger, however, is that a proxy that it has long built and sustained might already be beyond its control, much like what has happened in Pakistan and its relationship with terrorist organisations.  Sale of nuclear technology, material or even a ready made weapon to terrorist organisations by a cash-strapped DPRK is not unthinkable , and is indeed a matter of international concern.

The most recent North Korean action sought to draw attention to itself, perhaps in the hope that if 2015 was the year of the nuclear deal with Iran, 2016 will bring some bargaining benefits for Pyongyang. Washington will be working overtime to crack this issue. But the US election process will not allow any serious action on the matter. Kim Jong-un may have to continue to make nuclear noises this year for it to be heard by the new US president soon after he/she takes office.

While lack of transparency hampers a clear assessment of North Korea's exact nuclear weapons capability, the fact that South Korea and Japan, and the US by extension, are concerned is evident. Their focus immediately shifts to protecting themselves through deployment of ballistic missile defences. Tokyo has also debated a reconsideration of its ‘no nuclear’ policy even as Seoul has hinted that the US should bring back tactical nuclear weapons to buttress deterrence. Whether or not such measures enhance national defence, they do add new value to nuclear weapons and take away from the possibility of their elimination. In fact, if anything, the current trends in all nuclear armed states indicate an increase in reliance on these weapons in their security strategies.

The latest development in this context is the news that the US has tested small, smart nuclear weapons to address a new class of threats. Previously, micro-nukes were considered during former US President George Bush's tenure, but the idea was abandoned for the adverse impact it could have on international security. Indeed, no nuclear weapon, however micro in yield, could avert a disaster with huge repercussions in space and time.

However, on 11 January 2016, the New York Times reported the test of the "nation's first precision guided atom bomb" by the US Energy Department and Pentagon. Russia and China are bound to move in the same direction. 2016 may then well prove to be the year to herald a cascade towards the so called low yield nuclear weapons with 'low' collateral damage. But this could also increase temptation for their use, thereby blurring the lines between conventional and nuclear, and adversely impacting the taboo against nuclear use.

The implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran will be another issue that will dominate 2016. The conclusion of the agreement has initiated a long journey that will be closely monitored in many capitals. Iran-Saudi tensions that broke out early in the year will pose a challenge to the smooth implementation process, since there will be a tendency to politicise everything in Tehran and in Washington. As it is, critics of the agreement abound, and it will be a struggle to stay the course. Nuclear concerns around Iran, and by extension, around the West Asian region, are unlikely to fade in 2016 despite a ground breaking deal in 2015.

Nuclear security will be the flavor of the Spring season this year given the scheduled Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Over the last six years, these meetings of over 50 heads of governments and over 100 organisations have travelled across two nations before returning to the US capital for the last of such Summits. The initiative was kick-started by incumbent US President Barack Obama, whose 2010 Nuclear Posture Review had identified nuclear terrorism as the most potent threat to the US. He also realised that this was not a problem that he could tackle just by securing national borders. Weak links had to be removed worldwide, by getting every nation possessing nuclear and radiological material to do the needful on its own territory.

Since the first Summit, there has been a tremendous increase in the awareness of nuclear security concerns. Enactment of national legislations that criminalise unauthorised possession of such materials and memberships of international conventions that provide best practices on nuclear security has evidently grown. At every Summit, country heads have presented national or regional gift baskets comprising actions taken to secure nuclear materials. The April 2016 Summit, one hopes, will not mark the end of focus and attention to a matter that must remain a topmost national and international priority in order to minimise chances of nuclear terrorism.

It is likely that participants will put their weight behind the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry this process forward. However it remains to be seen as to how much human and material resources will be additionally proffered to the IAEA to be able to fulfill a new task.

Nuclear energy programmes that had suffered from a public perception issue in the immediate aftermath of Fukushima in 2011 are likely to gain lost ground in 2016.

Over the past five years, nuclear establishments across the globe have proactively engaged with the public to address concerns, reinforce safety and security at nuclear reactors, and invest in research and development to devise new designs and technologies to make risk free nuclear energy a viable option. Meanwhile, growing concerns about the adverse environmental impact of fossil fuels on climate change has also drawn attention to nuclear energy as a sustainable source of base-load electricity. While huge energy deficient countries such as India and China never gave up the nuclear option despite Fukushima, and are today witnessing the largest amount of nuclear construction, others that had suspended their programmes for a while seem to be returning to the option. Vietnam, the UAE, and Bangladesh are likely to be some of the new nuclear kids on the block whose programmes will see greater activity in this year.

From the Indian perspective,  2016 will be an important year for at least two reasons – the first relates to the implementation of the many peaceful nuclear energy agreements that the country has signed with a number of countries after its exceptionalisation in 2008. Australia, Japan and Canada are three of the newer nations that have agreed to support India’s nuclear energy ambitions and some of the pending wrinkles might get sorted out during this year. On the indigenous front, it is expected that the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor would go critical later this year. Long delayed, the operationalisation of this reactor at Kalpakkam will mark a step into the second phase of India’s three stage nuclear programme.

Secondly, India’s full accommodation into the nuclear non-proliferation regime with its membership into the four export control groups is also likely to dominate the work and discourse of Indian nuclear diplomacy. High level inter-state politics prevented the Missile Technology Control Regime from granting India membership to the body that controls transfer of missiles and related technologies in 2015.

Since all the groupings work on the principle of consensus, the process will not be easy. And despite India fulfilling basic criteria for membership of the groups, it will be the political lay of the land that will determine whether the task is completed this year. However, India will have to maintain a high octane nuclear diplomacy to continue to make its case and undercut any attempts to hyphenate it with a similar deal for Pakistan.

Alongside its efforts towards building a credible nuclear deterrent, while regular testing of missiles shall continue to achieve operational readiness for Agni V and the conduct of user trials for other missiles, the major development that can be expected in 2016 is the formal induction of INS Arihant into the Indian Navy after a series of successful sea trials through 2015. Though this first nuclear submarine does not provide an operational sea-based deterrent for India yet, it nevertheless marks a huge step in technology demonstration that the country should well be proud of.

In a nutshell, 2016 promises to be another busy year for nuclear watchers. Happy new year!!

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#4775, 15 December 2014
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

As expected, Russian President Valdimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi covered all the usual areas of cooperation during the former’s visit to New Delhi on 11 December, 2014. Russia has been India’ close partner over decades and the latter has reiterated the importance of the relationship in contemporary times too. The Druzhba Dosti Vision Statement (VS) covers the period of the next decade, anchored in a special strategic partnership.

Obviously, the nuclear component of this relationship, which traverses the entire range of activities from fuel fabrication to plant decommissioning, is especially noteworthy. Building on the agreements signed by both in 2008 and 2010, the 2014 Strategic Vision for Strengthening Atomic Energy Cooperation envisages the construction of a dozen nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. It may be recalled that Kudankulam (KK) 1, India's first Russian reactor, attained full-rated power in 2014, and KK 2 is nearly ready too. Meanwhile, a General Framework Agreement was signed in April 2014 for the construction of KK 3 and 4 at the same site.

The next tranche of Russian nuclear reactors will require fresh site(s). The 2014 nuclear cooperation VS mentions that the construction of future nuclear plants would take into account “India’s demand for power, the then available nuclear technologies including those that may be developed jointly, mutually acceptable technical and commercial terms, and the prevalent electricity tariffs.” Evidently and wisely, a lot has been left to the consideration of factors prevalent in the future.

The Agreement also emphasises the involvement of Indian suppliers of manufacturing equipment, fuel assemblies and spares for Russian reactors to be constructed in India. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of India's decision to import reactors from the international nuclear market has been the insistence on including a large local component into their construction. Even before Modi vocalised ‘Make in India’, the nuclear sector has always been bound by this dictum. In fact, until 2008, it did not have the option of foreign material, technology or components. Retaining that focus while realising the ambitious national nuclear expansion plans would certainly open employment opportunities for the millions of young engineers and technicians passing out of the Indian education system annually. In fact, another important aspect of the VS in this context is the prospect of exploring “opportunities for sourcing materials, equipment and services from Indian industry for the construction of the Russian-designed nuclear power plants in third countries.”

Given that the Russian nuclear industry is keen on exports, this would enhance the capability and capacity of the Indian nuclear industry through necessary transfer of technology.

The Statement also mentions joint extraction of natural uranium through technical cooperation in mining activities, “within their own territories and in third countries.” This would be significant for India if it is to fulfill its nuclear expansion ambitions without having to worry about the availability of fuel.  At the same time, collaboration on radioactive waste management, research and development on fusion reactors etc. are all forward-looking aspects of the VS.

So, what stands in the way of realising the potential of the vision of the statement? A few issues must be given due consideration. First, the identification of fresh site(s) for the new Russian reactors may not be as easy as it sounds. Given that public acceptance issues have acquired a worrisome dimension in the post-Fukushima environment, the acquisition of necessary land will call for much greater investment, and not just monetary, by the nuclear establishment to reach out to the constituencies to inform and educate them with the objective of winning them over.

Second, the Indian nuclear liability law will require amendments to become palatable to the nuclear industry anywhere, at home or abroad. While rather cryptically, Russian government officials have “in principle” agreed to the Indian nuclear liability law, this has been done after factoring in the costs involved in the process. According to some reports, the first and second units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plants had cost India $1 billion each, but new units will cost triple the amount in view of India's nuclear liability law. Even if this may be an exaggeration, it must not be forgotten that any nuclear industry, including Russian, is in the business of doing business. The cost will be handed down to India only.

In such a situation, critics of nuclear power will jump at the opportunity to drum up opposition to construction of new nuclear plants on the ground of the high costs. Economics of nuclear reactors has always been a matter of concern. In the past, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. has contended that its Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors have been comparable in cost to other sources of electricity. But, a high cost of imported reactors, owing to the nuclear liability law imposing a huge burden on any nuclear industry, would put a black mark against nuclear power.

Therefore, it would be a good idea to take a fresh look at the issue so as to be able to make use of the opportunities that have opened up for India in the field of international nuclear commerce. Amendment of the law is not to appease outsiders but to make nuclear power an implementable viable option for India itself.

A VS may be crafted when the decision-makers see potential, but it can only be realised when they also see and address the challenges that stand in the way.

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#4738, 17 November 2014
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

The tenacity of nuclear weapons to continue to exist is evident. At the end of the Cold War, many wrote obituaries claiming that these weapons would soon be the “detritus of the Cold War.” Nothing however, could have been further from the truth. Half a century later, the weapons are still around in large enough numbers to pose dangerous risks to humanity.

It is in this context that it is interesting to examine a two-year old development that has taken a new approach to the challenge of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. This is the initiative that was primarily spearheaded by Norway, Mexico, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and New Zealand. It hit headlines in March 2013 when the first conference on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons was held in Oslo. It focused on the impact of nuclear weapons on human life. Based on testimonies of the hibakushas (survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and presentations from factual studies on effects of nuclear explosions, 128 countries reached the conclusion that effects of the use of nuclear weapons were not constrained by borders and that no single nation or international body had the resources or the capability to deal with the consequences. Interestingly, India and Pakistan were the only nuclear-armed states that chose to participate in the conference. The five NPT nuclear weapon states, and Israel and North Korea, ignored the congregation.

Eleven months later, in March 2014, an even larger number of nations, 146 this time (though still not the NWS) came together in Mexico to further highlight the humanitarian challenges of nuclear weapon explosions. More and detailed studies were presented on the long term socio-economic impact of use of nuclear weapons. It was established that reconstruction of infrastructure and regeneration of the socio-economic parameters on which we today measure quality of life would take decades to rebuild if the world were to witness a nuclear exchange. However, the only possessors in the Conference were from India and Pakistan. Seven other nuclear-armed states, two of which own more than 90 per cent of the global nuclear stockpile, evinced no interest in the subject!

Ten months from then, on 8-9 December this year, a third Conference on the subject is being hosted by the government of Austria in Vienna. It proposes to specifically focus on the impact of nuclear explosions on human health, climate, food security and infrastructure. Also included are sessions on inadvertent nuclear use as a result of human and technical factors such as error, negligence, miscalculations, miscommunications, cyber interference, technical faults etc.

The US has expressed a willingness to participate in this third conference, though none of the other nuclear weapon states has yet joined in. The presence of the US would be welcome, but it is likely that the decision has been made with an eye on the forthcoming NPT RevCon which is less than six months away now. The three preparatory committee meetings over the last three years have not made any major breakthroughs that herald well for the outcome in 2015. Rather, the RevCon will have to bear the additional burden of vitiated US-Russia relations. Though the two have traditionally made common cause in upholding non-proliferation through the NPT (which was crafted at the height of the Cold War in 1967), the present day dynamics will make it interesting to track the RevCon.

Compared to the entrenched national positions in the NPT and its divisive nature, the more inclusive humanitarian consequences approach to universal nuclear disarmament is indeed fresh and more appealing. In fact, it is critical that the Conference continues to remain a platform that has the ability to reach across old formulations that box nations into different categories with different rights and responsibilities. It will be a challenge for the Conference to retain this distinctive character from the NPT or it could end up replicating the same divisive national mind-sets. Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, however, would make no such distinctions. It is high time that nations come together as human congregations to address serious and urgent challenges in an inclusive and collective fashion.

Given that India believes that its national security interests are best served in a world free of nuclear weapons, it must remain engaged with the process with an open mind. No quick results are in the offing and neither should these be expected. But to the extent that the Conference can galvanise action that may incrementally lead to universal nuclear disarmament, it would be useful. In this context, the Indian intervention in the last conference for measures that reduce the salience of nuclear weapons should be actively pursued. India has long argued for delegitimisation of nuclear weapons as one way to get to disarmament. Given that Austria, the host country, has a similar view, Vienna should support India’s position for its larger good instead of sticking to its NPT oriented mind-set that has not allowed it, up till now, to accept India’s resolutions on the subject in the UN.

The country has a unique perspective on the issue. Unlike in any other nuclear-armed state, India’s nuclear doctrine, which is meant to operationalise its nuclear strategy, begins and ends with reiterating the country’s desire for nuclear disarmament. India must push for steps that make nuclear weapons lose their perceived utility. Human nature does not permit the discarding of anything that it considers to be of value. Therefore, a devaluation strategy that deprives the weapons of utility coupled with a focus on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences if they ever were to be used can prepare the ground for their eventual elimination.

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#4701, 20 October 2014
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

In April 2011, Pakistan tested a 60 km very short-range ballistic missile called Nasr and claimed it to be nuclear capable. This has since been publicised as the tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) meant to deter India from mounting a conventional military response to any act of terrorism found to be sponsored from Pakistan. By doing so, Rawalpindi has signalled that its nuclear threshold is so low that any military action by India would compel it to escalate straight to the nuclear level since it does not have the capacity to fight a conventional war. The message, therefore, to India is to exercise caution even in the face of provocation since the escalation could quickly spin out of control. This is indeed a well thought out move by Pakistan to reclaim the space that India claims exists for it to undertake punitive action against a Pakistan-abetted proxy war.

However, if Pakistan is to make its TNW a credible component of its first use nuclear strategy, then it must build and deploy them in large enough numbers to have a substantial impact on the battlefield. Whether Pakistan has the fissile material and the technological capacity to do that is immaterial. Even if it does not have this today, it could well acquire it over time since there is no non-proliferation instrument that prohibits it from doing so. But the essential point of concern, not just to India, but to the larger international community as well, should be the existential risks that Pakistan is spreading through its TNW. For these weapons to be militarily meaningful, pre-delegation of their command and control is inevitable. This will bring in issues related to their safety and security. The chances of these weapons being seized by the proliferating and increasingly anti-establishment terrorist organisations are being ignored by Pakistan at its own peril.

Even more alarming are reports that have recently appeared that Pakistan is now moving out into the sea with its short-range nuclear-tipped ballistic and cruise missiles. Late last month a report in The Washington Post claimed that Pakistan was getting ready to operationalise its sea-based deterrent. Considering that China embarked on this path more than three decades ago and is yet to carry out the first patrol of a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear capable missiles, and that India too is yet to send its first SSBN for sea trials, leave alone operational patrols, Pakistan through its trademark jugaad strategy seems to have beaten both with its own version of sea-based deterrence.

It may be recalled that Pakistan had inaugurated its naval SFC (it has one for each one of the wings of the armed forces) in 2012. At the time, it could claim no naval assets in the strategic role. Many in the West dismissed this development as inconsequential since Pakistan's indigenous military capability was perceived as being unable of building and operationalising an SSBN over the next two decades. But, the country has shown that it could achieve ‘sea-based deterrence’ without having to take the beaten path. Instead of waiting for its SSBNs to be acquired/developed, Pakistan has chosen to equip its surface vessels and diesel electric-powered submarines with nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles.

The intention of doing so is to carry the aspect of TNW deterrence out to sea in order to further reduce India's manoeuvrability on the conventional plane. Yet again, Pakistan has displayed nuclear brinkmanship. The message once again to India, and to the Western South Asia watchers, is that the stakes are going to be too high in case of any break-out of hostilities. It assumes that India would be deterred from all action in view of the higher cost that it would suffer from any escalation. This, however, may prove to be a very costly assumption for Pakistan since the current mood in India does not appear to be one to silently absorb a terrorist provocation.

Meanwhile, the move to deploy nuclear-capable missiles on vessels that are not particularly survivable is an extremely destabilising act that leaves itself dangerously open to inadvertent escalation. An encounter of the surface or sub-surface assets of the two countries, which is not unusual, could result in a situation that quickly spins out of control.

Even scarier are scenarios regarding the security of the nuclear assets at sea. Only last month there was a "near successful hijacking" of a Pakistani missile frigate, PNS Aslat, by al Qaeda with the intention of attacking Indian warships. The possibility of a Pakistani warship that is armed with nuclear-tipped missiles falling into jihadi hands is a threat of a new kind with very alarming dimensions. By spreading its strategic assets on relatively vulnerable ships at sea, Pakistan is repeating the mistake it makes with TNWs on land. The dangers of their safety and security are being multiplied manifold. Unfortunately, Pakistan appears blind to the dangers it is creating for itself in the process.

The latest buzzword in Pakistani nuclear strategy is "full spectrum deterrence against all forms of aggression." The deployment of nuclear weapons on surface ships and submarines is being touted as acquisition of second strike capability. But, a second strike capability comes from delivery systems that are survivable because they are exceptionally mobile, hidden or stealthy to escape a first strike and mount a retaliatory strike. Pakistan is claiming second strike capability by distributing its nuclear assets on visible, traceable, dual-use platforms that brings in an ambiguity that could trigger mistaken, unauthorised and inadvertent escalation. This version of sea-based deterrence is certainly not conducive to regional or international stability.

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#4660, 15 September 2014
Uranium and Nuclear Power: Three Indian Stories
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

In one of his short stories entitled "Higher Mathematics", written during the period 1935-1950, R K Narayanan had jocularly written "Any news that mentions the atom becomes suspect these days". Nothing much has changed in the many decades since then. News about the atom still evinces much interest. Three stories related to nuclear energy dominated the Indian media during the first two weeks of September. It is worth examining the import of the three, individually and collectively, to understand the big picture pertaining to the nuclear energy programme in India. 
 
The first news that broke early in September was the decision by Australia to sell uranium to India. This is big deal considering the hard line view that this possessor of nearly 31% of the world's uranium has traditionally taken against supplying uranium to non-NPT countries. Though India was granted a waiver by the NSG (of which Australia is a member) in 2008 itself, it has taken six long years since then, and long-winded bilateral negotiations since 2011, for the domestic politics in Australia to come around to acknowledging that India could be trusted with its uranium. 
 
Meanwhile, for India the good news is not just the availability of uranium for its operational and planned reactors, but even more importantly, the availability of good quality uranium. Dr Kakodkar, former Chairman DAE, once mentioned that the quality of Indian uranium is so poor that it is akin to the tailings that are thrown away by the Australian mining industry. The input of high quality fuel, soon from Australia besides Canada, Mongolia, France and Kazakhstan, would expectedly enhance the capacity factors of Indian reactors. 
 
The second news, on 6 Sept, related to the record established by the indigenous nuclear power plant at Rawatbhatta, Rajasthan, RAPS-5, by operating in an uninterrupted manner over a period of 765 days. This 220 MW plant first became operational in 2010. It is to the credit of the good maintenance of the plant by the operator, NPCIL, that enabled this record performance. According to the DAE, during the period of the continuous operation of the plant, the NPCIL earned a revenue of Rs 1225 crores which practically redeemed the total cost of Rs 1200 crores that had been spent on the construction of the plant. The plant, given proper maintenance and safety checks, yet has a life of nearly 30 - 40 years. And even more importantly, it produces this electricity that lights an estimated 2.5 million homes in Rajasthan and UP without adding any greenhouse gases to the environment. This is no mean achievement and certainly worthy of being emulated so that nuclear energy can meaningfully add to India's energy mix. 
 
However, this can only be possible if there is a favourable public opinion that supports the ambitious nuclear expansion plans of the government. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced a high target of 63,000 MWe of nuclear energy generation by 2030. He did work towards making this possible through obtaining the exceptionalisation of India and thereby enabling its entry into international nuclear commerce. Consequently, India today has nuclear agreements/MoUs with nearly a dozen countries that will bring in uranium, equipment and reactors into the country. 
 
However, the chance of India being able to exploit the promise held in these agreements is adversely impacted by news of the kind that appeared in Indian press on 7 September -- a day after DAE proudly announced its record achievement and less than a week after the Australian decision to supply uranium to India on the basis of its confidence in its nuclear safety and non-proliferation credentials. This story, claimed to be based on an RTI reply obtained by an activist, ascribes 70% of the deaths in India's atomic energy hubs to cancer. A headline of this nature in a prominent national daily calls for a response from the DAE if it is to address public concern in a transparent manner.  Non-availability of credible information from authentic sources, and more importantly in a language that is not easily understandable to the common man, provides room for mischief by opponents of nuclear power. Silence of the DAE on a report such as this does even more harm than the report itself. DAE needs to counter this with credible data provided loud and clear. 
 
It is noteworthy that India is currently in the process of year long celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of the DAE. On his first visit to the DAE in July this year, Prime Minister Modi exhorted the organisation to place special focus on human and developmental dimensions of atomic science, with special outreach to the youth in schools and colleges, in order to present a human face to its achievements. This is indeed the need of the hour. If India is to encash its many years of safe reactor operating experience, build on a record of the kind made by RAPS 5, make use of the opportunity of tapping into the international commercial opportunities, then it must handle domestic public concerns of nuclear safety with transparency, sensitivity and understanding. 

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#4607, 18 August 2014
A Strategic Review for India
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

All major nuclear weapon states periodically issue official statements in the form of a Review or a White Paper to provide a peep into their threat assessments and response priorities. The US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is well known. Russia too periodically announces a military doctrine and has used it to signal change in the circumstances of the use of nuclear weapons. Since 1998, China has been bringing out a White Paper on National Defence (WPND) mostly every two years to indicate how it conceptualises its national defence, threat perceptions and security goals, including in the nuclear domain. So do the UK and France. 

Most such documents provide general indications on the nation’s assessment of its threat environment and the kind of capability that it wishes to build. For instance, the US NPR of 2010 identified nuclear terrorism and proliferation as the topmost threats facing the country. Accordingly, Washington put its focus on global efforts aimed at securing nuclear materials. It also articulated that countries found guilty of sponsoring terrorists could face US military strikes. Since the threat from near nuclear peers was found of a second order, the US downgraded its nuclear readiness posture by removing its nuclear bombers from 24 hour alert and also de-MIRVing its missiles. 

Similarly, the Chinese WPND explains the country’s threat perceptions and national security goals. It provides generic references to the growing advancements in national ability to conduct joint operations with precision, informationised strikes etc. Over the last three White Papers, China has devoted complete sub-sections to explaining the role and capabilities of its nuclear force or the Second Artillery Corps (SAC). While the 2008 Paper had called upon the SAC to “build a streamlined and effective strategic force by raising the informationaisation of its weaponry and equipment systems, build an agile and efficient operational command and control and increase capabilities of land-based strategic nuclear counter-strikes and precision strikes with conventional missiles,” the 2010 Paper stressed modernisation of “capabilities in rapid reaction, penetration, precision strike, damage infliction, protection and survivability.”

Given that the SAC has the responsibility for both conventional and nuclear missiles, the Paper also reveals how China continues to “improve the conditions of on-base, simulated and networked training” including in conduct of “trans-regional manoeuvres” and in “complex electromagnetic environments.” Such disclosures on posture are meant to buttress deterrence. 

Crafted along similar lines, an Indian Strategic Review - ISR (or whatever else it may be called: Strategic Policy Review, or a White Paper) - would be particularly helpful in addressing some of the concerns that have been raised in recent times on the credibility of the Indian nuclear deterrent. Of course, the ISR would traverse a range of security issues. But in the nuclear dimension, besides a reiteration of the basic doctrinal attributes of India’s nuclear deterrence, it could highlight some specific issues. Two examples by way of an illustration could be mentioned. 

The first could be an articulation of the role of ballistic missile defence (BMD) in India’s nuclear strategy. Going by the recent technological developments, India seems to be surely and steadily moving towards the development and eventual deployment of some kind of a BMD capability. However, if India is to ensure that this capability does not destabilise nuclear deterrence equations with Pakistan and China, it is imperative that certain clarity be brought to the nature and type of BMD that India plans to have. It is evident that perceiving it as eroding its deterrence, Islamabad has begun investing in cruise missiles and other counter-measures to defeat an Indian BMD. In case India is to escape being pulled into an offence-defence spiral, it is necessary that the logic and scope of the Indian BMD is explained as a measure for enhancing survivability of its retaliatory capability (warheads, delivery systems and C2) in view of India’s no first use (NFU). Given India’s missile threat environment, it is virtually impossible to protect its cities unless the BMD is technologically of a very high order and that obviously means expending large amounts of money. But, by explaining the rationale of the BMD for protecting India’s counter-strike capability, its destabilising effects can be arrested. And, the ISR could be one means of such communication.

Yet another issue that could do with some clarity is India’s response to an act of nuclear terrorism. Given India’s experience of Pak-sponsored terrorism, this is a threat that looms large. It would be worthwhile for New Delhi to express its assessment of such a threat and its likely responses. This would showcase resolve that no such act would go unpunished. Doing so through the ISR would enhance deterrence.

Opacity and ambiguity in nuclear numbers and postures has been an attribute of the Indian nuclear strategy. However, an ISR can perform the crucial task of clearing misperceptions through a certain amount of transparency without going into specifics of the arsenal. This is critical given that misperceptions and miscalculations can result in an inadvertent nuclear escalation especially between nuclear neighbours that share border disputes and are prone to border skirmishes.  

Such a document would actually be of immense value for two reasons. One, it would aid strategy formulation and action prioritisation within the country while providing assurance to the domestic public. Simultaneously, it would communicate with the adversary, and its content and tenor could create the atmospherics to help stabilise nuclear equations.

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#4568, 21 July 2014
Indian Ratification of the Additional Protocol: Mischievous Reports Miss its Significance
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

On 26-27 June 2014, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) held its plenary meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The discussion on India’s membership was reportedly on the agenda. Meanwhile, on 23 June, India announced its decision to ratify the Protocol Additional to the Agreement between the Government of India and the IAEA for the application of safeguards to Civilian Nuclear Facilities (AP). India has been progressively, and on schedule, been implementing the Separation Plan accepted in 2006 as part of the process of India’s exceptionalisation and conclusion of the India–United States Civil Nuclear Agreement. Ratification of the AP was one of the last few major commitments, even though the document itself had been expeditiously concluded in July 2009. The conclusion of this formality too now marks the end of India’s fulfillment of its promises in exchange for its entry into international nuclear commerce.

The idea and logic of India’s exceptionalisation, however, has still not been accepted by many non-proliferation hardliners in the US and other Western capitals, irrespective of the myriad steps that have been taken by India. Not surprisingly, therefore, mischievous reports on India’s nuclear activities surface at opportune times. Expectedly, just before the NSG meeting that was to consider India’s membership, IHS Jane’s sprung an article alleging that India was “expanding a covert uranium enrichment plant that could potentially support the development of thermonuclear weapons.” 

The timing and content of the report was mischievous on two fronts: first, from the point of view of the impending consideration of India’s NSG membership; and second, from the point of view of drawing attention away from the import of the ratification of the AP by India. 

India's uranium enrichment plant at Rattenhalli, Mysore, is not covert. It has been well known for decades and is meant to meet the low enriched uranium fuel requirements of nuclear powered submarines. India’s nuclear doctrine, based as it is on the threat of assured retaliation, requires a sea-based deterrent capability to support a credible no first use. This, in fact, is a requirement much greater than the need for a large arsenal of thermonuclear weapons. It is the assuredness of retaliation to cause unacceptable damage that is necessary to deter, and even non-thermonuclear weapons can wreak such damage given the density of population in this part of the world. Therefore, India's enriched uranium requirements are of greater criticality for assuring survivability through a credible SSBN fleet, than for building an arsenal of thermonuclear weapons. 

Meanwhile, the Indian ratification of the AP is not an insignificant development. Since 1997, when the AP was first concluded as a tool for strengthening the IAEA safeguards system in the wake of the suspected weapons programmes in states of proliferation concern, the AP has been ratified by 123 countries. It is considered a necessary confidence building measure in providing assurance on the exclusively peaceful nature of a national nuclear programme. The US has been amongst the forerunners seeking its universalisation as a pre-condition for civilian nuclear cooperation. 

There are three types of APs – the Model AP with Non-nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) that accept comprehensive safeguards; Voluntary Offer Agreements with Nuclear Weapon States (NWS); and a version of the Model AP with other States prepared to accept measures provided for in the Model AP. India is the only ‘other State’ that has offered to accept an AP tailored to its specificities but that would pursue safeguards effectiveness and efficiency. 

In the case of India, not only does the AP grant special rights to the IAEA to conduct inspections (such as the right to declare any Agency official as an inspector, grant of multiple entry visas to facilitate short-notice/surprise inspections, and unrestricted unattended monitoring on civilian designated sites), but also reinforces India’s commitment to ensure that its export controls conform to the best international standards. Of course, there are some provisions of the Model AP that are applicable to the NNWS that do not form a part of the Indian AP. But this is hardly surprising given India’s particular circumstances. Critics forget India’s exceptional circumstances which necessitated the exceptionalisation in the first place. This in no way undermines India’s intention of placing its declared facilities under IAEA oversight. Of course, there will be others that remain outside the IAEA purview, just as there are in other states with nuclear weapons. The APs of all NWS have conditioned access on the basis of national security exclusions. 

However, fears that India will use/expand these to indulge in an arms race or for accumulating a large arsenal belie a complete lack of understanding of India’s concept of nuclear deterrence. Credible minimum deterrence and no first use are the basic attributes of the Indian nuclear doctrine. These are alien to most Western analysts who cannot understand that India has no need to indulge in a foolhardy exercise of warhead accumulation seeking parity or superiority. 

As a believer in the security benefits of non-proliferation, even as a Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) non-member, India has displayed more conformity with the letter and spirit of the NPT than many of its subscribers. Its participation in the IAEA safeguards regime by extending enhanced safeguards on an expanding nuclear programme, and committing India to export controls as also international safety and security standards only adds to this. 

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#4513, 16 June 2014
Time for India-China Nuclear-speak
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

It is significant that the first international call that Narendra Modi received soon after taking oath as Prime Minister was from Premier Li Keqiang of China. This has been quickly followed up with the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, within weeks of the new government assuming charge in New Delhi. While there is no denying that such visits are planned well ahead and would have taken place irrespective of the government in power, the tone and tenor of the meeting has been distinct. The nuclear issue did not come up for discussion, but the implications of how India-China relations develop under the new Indian government will be felt in the nuclear domain too.

The installation of every new government provides an opportunity for a productive new beginning in inter-State relations. Of course, India has since independence largely followed a broadly pre-set foreign policy that has never seen major swings or deviations. Changes have largely been confined to shifts in focus and priorities. But, as Mr Wang Yi said during his visit to India, China wanted to "cement our existing friendship and explore further cooperation."

The exploration of this further cooperation must include the nuclear dimension too. Until now China has been closed to this idea on the ground that India is an illegitimate nuclear weapons power. However, over the last sixteen years, now that India has consolidated and operationalised its nuclear strategy, its 'legal' status is really a non-issue. Slowly, India will have to 'chip away' at traditional Chinese objections on this front and convince it of the benefits of starting a nuclear dialogue that can gradually explore the possibilities of nuclear confidence-building measures and even arms control at a later date.

Of course, India would first have to convince itself of the need for these. As a State under denial from Western-crafted arms control regimes, India is itself wary of this concept. However, it would be foolish to eschew the possibility of India being in the driver's seat on nuclear CBMs and arms control. These are effective tools that are used by nuclear-armed countries to stabilise their deterrent relations and avoid situations of crisis and arms race instability. India should find ways of doing the same. Prime Minister Modi made a statement in a completely different context when he said, "If India has to compete with China, the focus should be on skill, scale and speed." The same could be equally applied to the nuclear context too. We need to skilfully find areas of nuclear CBMs and arms control (a joint no-first use agreement, an anti-ballistic missile treaty, control over multiple independently retargetable vehicles could be some ideas worthy of being explored) and do it with speed. It would be in India's interest to find ways of avoiding being sucked into an offence-defence nuclear arms race.

It has been evident for a while that a relatively well-armed and economically powerful China is in an increasingly assertive mood and is looking to play a larger role in Asia. India is well conscious of this. However, it is essential that India shows assertion of its own on issues that are of supreme national interest. Unfortunately, the previous government, despite the many good tasks that it undertook in strengthening India's nuclear capability and position, suffered from the perception of being low in resolve. Modi's personality type is different and it reflects positively on the aspect of political resolve, at least in case of India's foreign policy. China respects this and it is not surprising that the Chinese Foreign Minister praised Prime Minister Modi for showing the world “resolve and courage” by setting an agenda to push reforms and development and for injecting “vigour and vitality” immediately after taking charge.

India has many issues that can serve as useful leverages in its relations with China. The consistent upswing in bilateral trade, totalling close to US$70 billion, is a positive development even though New Delhi has to work towards reducing its trade deficit with China. Terrorist incidents in China have exposed the dangers of extremist radicalism that continue to brew in the country that Beijing claims as its close friend. It would be naïve to believe that China will let go of its special friendship with Pakistan, given that both perceive this relationship as useful to keep India unsettled. But, it would still be in India's interest to try and expose the nuclear dangers for all if Pakistan continues down the path of sponsoring and supporting terrorism and China continues to shield its misbehaviour. China must be 'made to understand' that it cannot escape from existential nuclear dangers such as an unauthorised or mistaken nuclear launch or one caused by miscalculation.

Wang Yi was consistent in reminding India to follow a "one-China" policy. Sushma Swaraj nattily retorted with the need for China to respect a "one-India" policy. Both, however, must equally recognise the fact that nuclear dangers bring another kind of one-ness to the neighbourhood that we would all ignore at our own peril. It behoves the two largest nuclear armed countries of Asia to join hands in reducing nuclear dangers to the extent they can. The new government must seize the opportunity to initiate nuclear-speak with China.

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#4393, 21 April 2014
India and No First Use: Preventing Deterrence Breakdown
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Several recent writings, including in the context of a possible revision of the Indian nuclear doctrine as mentioned in the BJP manifesto, have mentioned the need for a reconsideration of the no first use (NFU) principle. Many argue that India’s ‘retaliation only’ strategy may no longer be an effective deterrent in the wake of the recent developments in nuclear capabilities of its adversaries. The allegations against the NFU are that it is a pacifist, idealist, Gandhian strategy that has no role to play in the modern context.

Is this really true? Is a first use nuclear doctrine more credible and better at deterrence than NFU? Would the adoption of first use doctrine by India deter Pakistan more and better?

Militaries like to function according to standard operating procedures (SOPs) – whether in peace or war. This inclines them towards offensive doctrines where they can stay with a pre-deliberated course of action while denying the adversary the advantage of playing out his moves. With conventional weapons, this may be a prudent approach, since the military can concentrate on the first phase of offense, thereby increasing its chance of victory. But the equation gets skewed with the entry of nuclear weapons.

In a situation where both sides have secure second strike nuclear capabilities, a first use of nuclear weapons, even in the form of a splendid first strike, cannot rule out the possibility of nuclear retaliation. Hence, the calculation of the first user cannot be limited to the damage it causes, but must also factor in the damage it will suffer from the response. Therefore, despite an offensive nuclear strategy, neither can victory be assured, nor the extent of damage (owing to the very nature of the weapon) be considered acceptable. Is it then useful, or even credible, to threaten first use of nuclear weapons?

In fact, even though conventional wisdom has us believe that first use is more liberating than a counter-strike strategy, serious thought to the actual execution of first use reveals the complexities involved in doing so. After all, the purpose of first use should be to deter by communicating that such use would substantially improve the situation of the user, making him emerge from the crisis looking better after use. This can only happen if there is no riposte to his action because if there is, then he can hardly ‘look better’ after suffering nuclear damage. Therefore, the essential question that the first user has to ask and answer is whether in a state of mutual vulnerability, the initiator can ever be in a better position?

An NFU strategy, on the other hand, concedes the onus of escalation to the adversary and surprisingly, becomes more liberating. Firstly, the military is not straining the nuclear leash on hair trigger alert that can easily fall prey to misadventure. Neither is there a need to perfect the logistics of first use, which is not easy considering that it requires coordinating a nuclear attack with speed and surprise to hit the adversary’s forces before they can be launched or dispersed. Secondly, the political leadership is freed from the psychological pressure of having to decide when, at what stage of war, to use the weapon - a decision that is sure to weigh on him/her personally for the damage caused, opprobrium earned, and retaliation invited and suffered. 

First use postures based on projection of nuclear war-fighting require large arsenals of first strike weapons (such as accurate missiles with multiple independently re-targetable vehicles), nuclear superiority to carry out counter-force attacks, elaborate and delegated command and control structures to handle trigger readiness and coordinate simultaneous nuclear attacks from dispersed forces. None of this is easy. It is, rather, dangerous; raising the possibility of an accidental nuclear war based on a miscalculation, and also lowering the threshold of nuclear war in a crisis situation.

If Pakistan is going down this route, it is raising dangers for itself too. The answer to this from India does not have to be adoption of first use, but to enhance the credibility of its NFU, through better communication of survivability measures that ensure retaliation. It will be the threat of punishment that far outweighs any advantages that Pakistan reaps from its first use that will stay its hand on the trigger.

Meanwhile, by continuing with a stabilising posture of NFU, India is only helping itself since such a strategy alleviates the adversary’s insecurity that may tempt him towards a pre-emptive strike. By taking the ‘use or lose’ pressure off the adversary, India is helping its own cause of preventing deterrence breakdown.
By letting the adversary make the difficult decision, while communicating punitive nuclear retaliation, India has wisely steered away from nuclear brinkmanship. And, by establishing the nuclear weapon as an instrument of punishment, it has encouraged the possibility of ‘no use’ instead of ‘sure use’ of the nuclear weapon.

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#4338, 17 March 2014
Nuclear Security Summit 2014: Shared Risk, Shared Responsibility
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

In just a few days, heads of governments of about four dozen nations will assemble in the Hague, Netherlands, for the third Nuclear Security Summit. An initiative started by President Obama in 2010 in Washington, the Summit travelled to Seoul in 2012 and Obama will host the next one again in 2016. What is the significance of this Summit process and has it been of any specific benefit to India?
The most important gain from these Summits is that they have brought global attention to nuclear terrorism. President Obama initiated the effort after having realized that the risk of nuclear terrorism was real and urgent. However, India’s experience with cross-border terrorism well predates the US awakening to the threat. Since the end of 1990s, India has faced terrorism, sponsored and executed from Pakistan. Obviously, the threat of nuclear terrorism has been of utmost concern given that nuclear weapons (and an increasing stockpile of highly enriched uranium and plutonium) and terrorism co-exist in Pakistan.
Given this threat perception, a Summit process that demands national action and responsibility for securing nuclear and radiological materials has universalised a threat that India was fighting a lonely battle against. Attention to these issues at the highest political level has ensured their inclusion in national priorities and the accordance of necessary resources to turn commitments into reality. Heads of governments at the Summits have individually and collectively committed to taking measures to secure nuclear material on their territory according to accepted international benchmarks.
Amongst the international agreements that are relevant to this subject, two are worthy of mention. The Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) was crafted to regulate international transportation of nuclear material. It came into force in 1987. However, through an amendment in 2005, its ambit was expanded to protection of nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport too. It enhanced mechanisms for cooperation to locate and recover stolen/smuggled nuclear material and to mitigate radiological consequences of sabotage. However, the amendment is not yet operative since it awaits ratification by 2/3d of the member states. The other instrument, the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), meanwhile, came into force in 2007 mandating national laws for imposition of punitive action on those involved in nuclear terrorism. Unfortunately, neither of these instruments is universal and in fact, many of the countries that are known to harbor terrorists have not joined in, including Pakistan. However, the presence of political leaders at the Summit does exert political and moral pressure on outliers. Indeed, the number of countries joining the two Conventions has increased over the last six years, and a few more are expected to bring their decision to join in as a ‘house gift’ in 2014 too.
Some positive results notwithstanding, the Summit process does suffer from the shortcoming that it cannot impose uniformity in recognition of threat, or the same rigour in implementation of national efforts. Nations do perceive the threat differently. In any case, there is no punishment for non-compliance and many smaller nations have railed against the increase in need for reporting as burdensome and distracting from other national priorities. 
In order to maintain the momentum on nuclear security and get nations to recognize the enormity of the risk, and hence the responsibility they share, it is necessary that a sense of stake-hood be felt by all. One way of doing so would be to foster greater sharing in two dimensions. The first would be information on best practices, for instance, on how countries practice enforcement such as training of security guards, crafting of personnel reliability programmes, tools used for data storage and mining, including on tracking of orphaned radiological sources, etc. The second would be the sharing of technologies, for instance, on manufacture of detection equipment such as scanners at ports, decontamination materials, medical countermeasures etc.

Transfer of such technologies to countries where these could be manufactured at relatively lesser cost would not only make the manufacturing hubs a stakeholder in nuclear security but also make the detection equipment available at low prices thereby relieving nations of burdensome expenditure to deploy expensive machinery or systems.
Nuclear security is not the requirement or demand of one nation. The fact that a country as militarily capable as the USA has felt the need for collective effort in this direction proves that it is a shared risk and hence a shared responsibility that must be carried by all if we are to minimize, if not obviate, an unfortunate act of nuclear terrorism. India’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit is indeed an opportunity to seek a collective redressal of a threat it faces, and also a contribution to international security – a win-win proposition either way.

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#4311, 17 February 2014
US, China and the South Asian Nuclear Construct
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

Most Western writings/conferences on India-Pakistan nuclear deterrence tend to try and understand this dyad in a narrow regional box of South Asia. This is not only stifling and restricting but also not a useful formulation. Rather, the India-Pakistan nuclear entanglement has roots beyond this geographical construct since no consideration of this relationship is meaningful without bringing China into the picture. China, however, brings along its own set of strategic equations with Russia and the US, thereby making the nuclear issue global.

The reason that the Indo-Pak nuclear entanglement cannot be divorced from China is because Beijing impinges on the region in two ways. The first one pertains to the close relationship that China has had with its all-weather friend, Pakistan. It was with generous Chinese help that Pakistan built its nuclear weapons. The transfer of 50 kg highly enriched uranium, weapon designs, providing delivery vectors, including the setting up of a missile factory, are well known facts today. To quote Gary Milhollin, an American non-proliferation expert, “If you subtract China’s help from Pakistan’s nuclear programme, there is no nuclear programme.” Having created a nuclear weapons state, China uses it effectively as a proxy to complicate India’s security.

The second shadow is cast by China’s ongoing nuclear modernization. While China is doing so with its eyes on US capabilities and their impact on its own nuclear deterrence, India suffers the downstream effect of these developments. Indian responses, in turn, have an impact across its western border. Therefore, strategic deterrence and stability in the 21st century has to be considered in a more global construct. No current dyadic nuclear relationship has the luxury of bipolar equation of the Cold War. Rather, regional deterrence is complicated by the inevitability of each nation’s response to its threat perceptions in a sort of a chain reaction, oblivious to, or perhaps unable to address the fact that its own responses have further implications.

One good illustration of this is the ongoing march of ballistic missile defence (BMD). The US set the tone for this by abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 1972 and expressing a resolve to pursue defence along with deterrence to deal with a range of new threats that could not be deterred and hence had to be defended against. As the US has steadily gone about developing and deploying requisite capabilities over the last decade or so, it has repeatedly tried to reassure Russia and China that its BMD is not meant to upset strategic stability with them. But, that is not how Moscow and Beijing read American intentions. Fearing the worst, both are engaged in developing their own hedging strategies, which include building their own BMD, as well as counter-measures, to address their threat perceptions as emerging from the US BMD.

Chinese efforts in this direction, in turn, raise threat perceptions in India. Even though India harbours a sense of nuclear stability with China owing to a consonance in their nuclear doctrines and the fact that neither brandishes the weapon as a war-fighting tool for easy or early use, and also because neither country is interested in digressing from the trajectory of economic growth and development, there is no denying the existence of a long-term threat perception. This is exacerbated by China’s conventional and nuclear build-up, given that territorial disputes persist between India and China. The possibility of a BMD-protected China subjecting India to nuclear coercion compels India to develop necessary responses of its own. India has demonstrated a limited BMD capability, which, in turn, has raised concerns in Pakistan, who has responded with increasing its own nuclear arsenal and demonstrating a desire to develop tactical nuclear weapons.

So, what started in Washington as the pursuit of the BMD to meet changed American threat perceptions has ended up providing the logic and justification for Pakistan to increase its arsenal. Pakistan’s fast growing stockpile, however, has implications not just for regional but international security. Existential risks from nuclear weapons – that of unauthorised launch, miscalculation, accident – are dangers that accompany nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, the US and USSR, and by extension, the rest of the world, lived with these dangers. But these risks are exacerbated when a country that has nuclear weapons also cohabits with non-state actors – some that it nurtures to meet its foreign policy objectives and others that have slipped beyond its control. In either case, the possibility of a meeting between terrorism and nuclear weapons/material is not a sanguine development. 

Unfortunately, as Pakistan moves further down the road towards tactical nuclear weapons and delegates command and control to maintain a credible first use nuclear doctrine, the existential risks can only increase. This is a matter of global, not just South Asian concern. Therefore, attempts to understand/constrain/resolve the Indo-Pak nuclear deterrence equation through the narrow geographical confines of South Asia are meaningless.

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#4263, 18 January 2014
Responding to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Strategy for India
Manpreet Sethi
ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
 

In Pakistan’s nuclear strategy, the primary task of its nuclear weapons is not to deter India’s nuclear weapons, but to avoid an engagement with a superior military capability. Rawalpindi is aware of the risk of having to confront India till such time as it supports terrorism. But, it believes that its nuclear weapons constrain India from militarily punishing it. India has responded to this strategy by suggesting and illustrating (with Kargil) that there is space to fight a conventional war even in the presence of nuclear weapons. Over time, India has also tweaked its military doctrine to make this viable. This has obviously disturbed Pakistan. If an Indian conventional response could still be tailored to remain below Pakistani redlines, then its nuclear weapons become useless. 
Pakistan cannot afford this. It has to keep its nuclear weapons relevant and in-the-face of India, and the world, if it has to prevent a military offensive provoked by self-sponsored terrorism. It is in this context that the tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) – small yield nuclear weapons delivered by very short range ballistic missiles over military targets -- come in handy. The objective is to reclaim the space that India maintains exists for a conventional war even in the presence of nuclear weapons. 
In playing this game, Pakistan is not seeking to exploit the military utility of the TNW. It has no illusions about the military effectiveness of the weapon on the battlefield. And, it is aware that by using them, it would invoke a nuclear response triggering tragic consequences. But, in its plan, it would not really have to use the TNW because the inherent risk of nuclear escalation would deter. 
The threat implied by Pakistan’s TNWs is based on two assumptions. One, Pakistan believes that the use of TNW would bring about such a material and psychological shift in hostilities as to stun India into a halt. Confronted with the prospect of further escalation, the nature of Indian polity and the ‘softness of the state’ would make India choose war-termination over escalation. So, Pakistan believes that India would be deterred from using its superior military capability since it would not have the will or the motivation to act. He doubts whether India, with a strategic culture of military restraint, would find it prudent to inflict damage (and risk more on itself) in response to a threat that is not itself mortal. Second, Pakistan assumes that the battlefield use of a small nuclear weapon would not be seen as provocation enough by India, or the rest of the world, to merit massive retaliation. It tends to assume that the international community will stop India from continuing its conventional campaign or undertaking nuclear retaliation. Therefore, in Pakistani perception, the TNW is a deterrent at best, and a war termination weapon at worst.
India’s response to Pakistan’s TNW must address these assumptions. In fact, India does not need to develop TNW of its own, but to focus on measures that convince Pakistan of an inevitability of nuclear retaliation to any nuclear use, irrespective of yield, target or damage. Having based its deterrence on the threat of punishment, it is imperative that the certainty of retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage be credibly conveyed. 
This could be achieved by raising the public profile of the nuclear command and control at both the military and the political levels. There is need for greater transparency of knowledge of structures and processes that ensure nuclear retaliation. Measures being taken to guarantee survivability of the chain of command at the primary and secondary levels, as well as of the communication systems, should be more visible. In this context, strengthening the profile of the Strategic Forces Command in public perception is necessary. The knowledge of the existence of the organization and a level of transparency on its role and mandate would send a signal of intent and purpose to the adversary.
Secondly, it should also be widely known that Indian troops have the ability to fight through tactical nuclear use. This would send a message of preparedness to handle battlefield use of nuclear weapons without bringing conventional operations to a halt or even confronting the political leadership with the choice of war termination, as assumed by Rawalpindi.
Thirdly, better evidence and communication of political resolve to undertake retaliation is necessary. Periodic statements from authoritative levels like the National Security Advisor or Commander-in-Chief, SFC, or even occasional news reports about meetings of the National Command Authority would signal the seriousness of government’s attention to the nuclear backdrop that confronts India. 
Pakistan may have introduced a new element with TNW, but India must let it be known that it would play the nuclear game according to its own rules.

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