India's Nuclear Doctrine

27 Aug, 1999    ·   254

Dr. G. Balachandran argues that the Draft Report on India's Nuclear Doctrine is a totally harmless document that is of little or no use to anyone involved in translating a doctrine into a workable operational plan

Nuclear weapons are great equalisers. Nuclear doctrines are great equalisers too. To be a nuclear, doctrinist, one need not know much. Unlike conventional strategy where civilians,  need to defer to the experience of military officers, in nuclear matters there is no such need. In fact you need not have anything about any nuclear related subject at all. We have a situation where it is impossible for any group of persons, to put together a nuclear doctrine that would not attract criticism from the other experts.



An objective critique of the Doctrine should therefore be confined to an examination of only the following elements:



1) reasonableness or soundness of the assumptions made;



2) lapses or gaps in the doctrine;



3) ambiguities in the stated doctrine that might be a cause misreading by potential adversaries;



4) whether the doctrine allows for further elaboration,



5) redundancies and irrelevant material. The two major assumptions made in document are





·                     India ’s strategic interests require effective nuclear deterrence and


·                     India must follow a policy of No First Use (NFU).


Considering the fact that only three years ago, the then Foreign Secretary made a statement  that India did not need nuclear weapons, it is necessary to justify this change in India ’s perceptions. The nuclear doctrine has clearly jumped the gun on the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review that is under preparation. Similarly the NFU must be justified on national security grounds and not provide a starting point. The NSAB was previously required to evolve a doctrine with these assumptions.



What are its major lapses? The document does not make clear how the nuclear weapons will be stored? In a constant state of readiness with the delivery systems and weapons integrated? Or in a partially disassembled form with the delivery systems and weapons held separately?  Will the warhead also be in a disassembled form with the nuclear and non-nuclear components held separately? What sort of response time is envisaged for the nuclear response to a nuclear attack? Minutes? Hours or days?



Beyond these assumptions and lapses, what are the ambiguities in the doctrine that (may) cause confusion. The first is the requirement that “any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat” What exactly does this mean? What sort of nuclear response is being considered? Does it mean that the weapons and delivery systems will be mated and kept in a state of readiness? In the absence of a threat will they continue to be maintained in a disassembled form even when there is an ongoing war?



The second is the reference to “use of nuclear weapons against India by an entity” How will India respond to a nuclear attack by a non-state entity. Where will India ’s retaliatory strike be targeted? What happens if a rogue entity is spread over a number of states a number of states?



Third, what does it mean to state that “ India will not resort to use of nuclear weapons against states that do not possess nuclear weapons? If a state does not possess a nuclear weapon, obviously it cannot initiate a nuclear attack against India . And given India ’s doctrine of “retaliatory only”, obviously there can be no Indian use of nuclear weapon against such a state. So what does this mean?



Four, Why does deterrence based on “retaliation only” require early warning capabilities? How does the doctrine get modified if the event it is judged that an adversary has intention to use nuclear weapons against India ? Does it get modified to one of “strike on warning”?



Five, what is meant by “dual capable delivery systems”?  Systems capable of both conventional and nuclear delivery? If so, what relevance does this have for a nuclear doctrine? How does the presence of absence of such dual capable systems affect the doctrine?



Finally, what is the relevance of  “space based assets to provide early warning and damage detonation assessment” Does the reference to damage assessment mean that India ’s doctrine calls for graded responses to a nuclear attack? Does it mean that India will have a menu of “damage unacceptable to the aggressor” varying according to the damage inflicted upon it? One of the objectives of the doctrine is that “Details of policy and strategy concerning force structures, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will flow this framework” There is nothing in the document to help anybody conduct such an exercise. Statement or phrases such as “effective, credible deterrent, “The efficacy of India ’s nuclear deterrent be maximised through synergy” that Credibility, Effectiveness and Survivability “are central to India ’s nuclear deterrent” are meaningless devoid of any operational significance. These are applicable to all deterrent instruments and all countries. There is nothing India specific about these. The document is full of such shibboleths and platitudes.



Hence it is a totally harmless document that is of little or no use to anyone involved in translating a doctrine into a workable operational plan. Its only virtue is that nothing in it went very strongly against the sentiment of any member of the NSAB and conversely all members could identify themselves with some portions of it.



There is, however, an interesting side element in the document, which relates to conventional military capabilities. Prior to May 1998, many nuclear experts in India advocated nuclear weaponisation to contain/reduce defence expenditure. Now, the dominant theme is that nuclearisation requires greater conventional defence capabilities and expenditure.