The Nuclear Doctrine

24 Aug, 1999    ·   252

P. R. Chari concludes that that Draft Report on India's Nuclear Doctrine is a hasty document and has been announced at this final stage of the caretaker government's life

Haste is written all over the document enunciating the BJP's nuclear doctrine. A preamble describes its underlying premises. This is followed by an enunciation of objectives, a general description of the nuclear forces required to establish the deterrent stressing the need for credibility, survivability, command and control, security and safety. The jargon closely resembles that in other nuclear doctrines with references to "unacceptable damage", "triad", and "weight of nuclear attack". Even the slightest reflection would inform that this nuclear doctrine closely resembles that of the other nuclear weapon powers. This is unsurprising since nuclear weapons impose a logic of their own, although the official strategists were arguing for years that India 's nuclear deterrent and the doctrine for sustaining it would be unique, and reflect India 's ancient wisdom.



Further, the doctrine reassures the nuclear/defence scientists that no restraints would be placed on building up further R & D capabilities to improve India 's nuclear forces. In other words, these important supporters of the BJP's worldview will continue to have access to large budgets, and primacy in national security decision-making. A genuflection is also made to arms control, nuclear disarmament, besides the need for risk reduction/confidence building measures.



It would trivialize the issue to speak of errors in grammar or syntax in the nuclear doctrine, but three assertions therein reflect its confused thinking.



·                     First, the purpose of India 's nuclear forces is declared to be deterring the use/threat of use of nuclear weapons " by any State or entity against India and its forces". There is growing global fears that "non-State actors", more plainly "terrorists", might acquire or manufacture fissile materials and nuclear weapons. The doctrine suggests that India could use its nuclear weapons against an "entity", which begs the question how this would be effected without attacking the country in which the "entity" is located.


·                     Second, the doctrine states that India will not use/threaten the use of nuclear weapons "against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers." The distinction between non-nuclear weapon States and countries that are not aligned with nuclear weapon States is wholly incomprehensible, and needs urgent clarification.


·                     Third, an "assured capability to shift from peacetime deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time" is to be sought. Does this imply a "launch-on-attack" capability being established? In other words, is India prepared to suffer a nuclear strike, indeed to "endure repetitive attrition attempts", in the hope that the certainty of its retaliatory attack would deter the attacker. In this scenario, would anything be left to defend after multiple nuclear attacks? Does the adversary share these perceptions?


The banal question of costs also intrudes here. The nuclear doctrine requires "highly effective conventional military capabilities" being maintained to ensure that nuclear weapons are only contemplated as a last resort. Further, the nuclear doctrine requires the establishment of a triad of nuclear weapon systems comprising aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based "assets"; an  "effective and survivable command and control system", "space-based and other assets" for providing early warning of attack, and so on. None of this can be acquired cheaply. Hopefully, the government will detail the costs of these nuclear forces for public debate. What they will deter is something the government must urgently clarify, since Kargil was not deterred, and militancy continues unabated in Kashmir and the Northeast despite India 's proclaimed nuclear status.



The question does arise why the nuclear doctrine has been announced at this final stage of the caretaker government's life. This should not bewilder. Its declaration is plainly intended to derive electoral advantage. Nation-in-danger and the BJP's especial concern with national security are its main election planks; hence, announcement of the nuclear doctrine at this time was wholly in character to press this point. Besides, the voters' minds have to be diverted from asking the awkward question why the Kargil intrusions occurred in the first place, which required their eviction at such great cost. The government's 'transparency' in this matter has been self-lauded. The country is also being beseeched to discuss the nuclear doctrine; this is designed to lure the national debate into the security arena to cash the mood of patriotism that Kargil has stirred up.



There are instances, finally, of unconscious humor in the nuclear doctrine. A "disaster control system" is to be established for handling "potential incidents involving nuclear weapons and materials." Given our accident record this is very unreassuring. Then, again, one of the requirements of deterrence is listed to be "the will to employ nuclear forces and weapons." Given its frequent use of the nuclear threat, this is a qualification the government does possess.