India’s Strategic Nuclear Doctrine

06 Aug, 1998    ·   130

Lt. Gen. A. M. Vohra (Retd.) lists the basic elements of India's nuclear doctrine

The strategic nuclear doctrines of India and Pakistan become significant in the interests of predictability and stability in the nuclear weapon environment post Pokhran 2 and Chagai.



Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated on 8 June at Dubai that Pakistan would hold nuclear stabilization talks with India . Its Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmed, formally proposed a ‘No test’ agreement to the Indian High Commissioner, Mr Satish Chandra, on 11 June, whilst announcing a unilateral moratorium. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had also announced a moratorium on testing in his statement in the Parliament on 8 June and offered to making this a de jure commitment. In this statement he also claimed that India ’s non-proliferation record was impeccable in regard to transfer or sale of sensitive technology. He also stated that India will participate in the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) negotiations. Significantly, Mr Vajpayee asserted that the nuclear and missile programmes of India would be based on national security requirements.



No Roll Back



Recent statements made by US officials have taken cognisance of the security compulsions in South Asia . Emphasis is laid on not conducting further tests, signing the CTBT, halting fissile material production, formalising policies not to export nuclear weapon and missile technology or equipment and to refrain from deploying nuclear weapons or missile systems. One does not have a clear picture of the weaponisation already achieved but there is no talk of rolling this back.



Waiver authority for all sanctions against India and Pakistan has formally been requested and received from the Congress except those relating to nuclear and missile technology transfers. This authority would be used depending upon the progress on conditions outlined above.






India ’s nuclear strategy is evident from the statements made by Prime Minister Vajpayee. He has categorically stated that India has acquired nuclear capability for deterrence only and has offered to make a “no first use” (NFU) declaration. He has differentiated between a ‘War deterring’ and ‘War fighting’ nuclear weapon capability, and declared that India visualised their use for retaliation only. So the first element of the Indian doctrine is deterrence cum-retaliation. The offer of NFU is an assurance contributing to stability.



The second element of the Indian doctrine is a “minimum deterrent”, which implies that India is not joining an arms race to build up a large arsenal. Irrespective of the arsenals of other nuclear weapon states, India will limit its arsenal to meet the requirements of the first element of its doctrine viz. deterrence-cum-retaliation based on the Kenneth Waltz maxim that more is not better if less is enough.’



Some analyst raise the issue that a “minimum deterrent’ is a vague statement and means different things to different people. After all, it is stated, the arsenals of France and Britain are small. The USA has 7000 warheads plus 800 nuclear cruise missiles and nearly 1000 strategic delivery systems while China has a stockpile of about 350 nuclear warheads. The British strategic arms entirely submarine based and SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) are a category by themselves; floating islands as it were able to target any part of the world. In any case there is little that is vague about “minimum deterrence”. The Kenneth Waltz quotation just about sums it up very clearly, and the size of the Indian arsenal works out to less than 150 on the basis of two third of this number being catered for to absorb the first strike and one third to retaliate.






Within this overall doctrine of deterrence-cum-retaliation and downsizing the arsenal for establishing a “minimum deterrent”, there are the important issues that remain about the status of the weapon systems, targeting and deployment which have a bearing on predictability and stability. NFU implies a de-alerted status and no targeting. However, the actual location of the devices is also a relevant issue. Obviously, even dis-armed devices cannot be stockpiled together and will have to be located in various parts of the country to ensure their survivability. In the strict military sense deployment implies positioning for war. Within the scope of the Indian doctrine outlined earlier, nuclear devices would not be targeted, would be de-alerted and located in various parts of the country. This does not amount to a war posture by any stretch of imagination.



Nuclear Weapon Convention



Giving the NPT a permanent status in 1995 without any agreement on the implementation or article VI relating to disarmament, and making CTBT primarily an arms control measure has forced India to exercise its nuclear option. As declared by Mr Vajpayee, India ’s preferred course is universal disarmament. Towards this course, he has called for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) on the lines of the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC). India must, in the meantime, open a dialogue with Pakistan as well as China to ensure clarity of perceptions, stability and predictability. Steps should also be taken to inform the people of the facts obtaining and mitigate the panic caused by loose talk regarding the possibility of a nuclear exchange.