India's Draft Nuclear Doctrine

31 Aug, 1999    ·   255

Mallika Joseph A. reports the IPCS panel discussion on the "Draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine"

Speakers:   Dr. Amitabh Mattoo, Lt. Gen V. K. Sood, Mr. P. R. Chari



The focus of the seminar was the "Indian Nuclear Doctrine" released by the caretaker BJP Government. Whether it was a 'draft' or a final document formed a part of the discussions.



Dr. Amitabh Mattoo commended the release of the doctrine, which was a "good thing" as it signaled a break with our secrecy obsession. Secondly, the release of the doctrine displayed an overall consensus among the members of the National Security Advisory Board. However, what Dr. Mattoo was apprehensive about was statements in the doctrine itself. It portended that India would be a major global player in future rather than consider its present situation. This would put additional pressure on India to achieve what was laid down in the doctrine. Also there is no mention of costs in this endeavour. Presuming that economic growth continues at the current pace, India can only afford Rs. 7000 crores more towards defence, which is 3% of the GDP. Whether the current doctrine has taken cognizance of this needs to be explained. Dr. Mattoo also pointed out that a deeper analysis highlighted several inherent contradictions and tensions in the doctrine that  weakened the doctrine. These were:



·                     No First Use


·                     India 's position on No First Use has been explicitly dealt with in paras 1.5, 2.3, 2.4 and 8.2 of the nuclear doctrine. It suggests measures being taken like de-mating of the warheads and delivery systems. This would assure others that a first strike is not possible. However, this position becomes ambiguous on reading  paras 2.5 and 3.2., especially the latter, wherein the doctrine "envisages assured capability to shift from peacetime deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time…". The use of the phrase "shortest possible time" suggests an alert deployment  which cannot be maintained if the No First Use declaration is to be taken seriously.  Thus No First Use will become a political statement sans any operational commitment.


·                     Minimum Nuclear Deterrent


·                     In attempting to increase the credibility and effectiveness of the deterrent the doctrine refrains from limiting itself to a 'minimum nuclear deterrent'. How the stated maximum credibility can be achieved without becoming a maximum deterrent is left unclear.


·                     Command and Control


·                     Whilst a greater focus on command and control structures would have been desirable, the doctrine's mention of "an integrated operational plan, or a series of sequential plans" adds to the ambiguity.


·                     Survivability


·                     Tactical Nuclear Weapons form an integral part of flexible response in nuclear war fighting. This has been left unmentioned, which points to an "open option".  Left unexplained also is the type of command and control arrangements with respect to different forces.




Dr. Mattoo concluded his remarks by emphasising that the inherent tensions in the doctrine must be resolved for the doctrine to be taken seriously by anyone.



Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Sood appreciated the consensus reached by  the doctrine. In all probability it was a final document and not a 'draft'. He emphasised that the entire document needs to be seen in the light of para 1.6 which states that it only 'outlines broad principles'. Apart from serving as a "road map" for India 's weaponisation, the document cannot be dissected for discovering any concrete measures. On the question of the timing of its release, he wished to differ from the common perception that it was linked to the elections. He felt that the doctrine was a natural evolution after Pokharan II and must be viewed as a guide to the future of India 's nuclear policy. His view was that the doctrine had totally "rubbished"  theories of 'recessed' and 'existential' deterrence. However, identifying the shortcomings of the doctrine, Gen. Sood highlighted the inadequacy of details regarding tactical weapons and command and control structures.  He also felt that with regard to "survivability", the focus could have been on the nuclear submarine technology, the deployment of submarines and response times. He wondered whether due thought had been given to technological capabilities that are currently available, and what the doctrine expects in this regard.



Mr. Chari was very "sceptical' of the entire doctrine.  He felt that on both grounds of arms control and strategic perspective, the doctrine was weak. Probably the consensus that was forced out of a disparate group was more out of no disagreement rather than agreement, which finally resulted in a diluted and vague doctrine. He also felt that the doctrine was in continuity with the  BJP commitment that if it came to power, it would see the nuclear policy through to its logical conclusion. He noted that two myths earlier propounded by the bomb supporters had become redundant with the release of the doctrine. The first myth was the Indian route to nuclear deterrence would be different. The doctrine, with its insistence on 'triad', credibility and survivability has proved the universality of  nuclear weapon logic and eroded any 'Indianness' claimed by its supporters. The second myth shattered is that reduction of conventional forces would occur after nuclearisation. The doctrine places great emphasis on strengthening conventional forces to raise the threshold 0in a nuclearised situation.



Focusing then on arms control and strategic perspectives, Mr. Chari highlighted the inadequacies of the doctrine. The doctrine's emphasis on the triad and other communications and early warning systems for deterrence is sure to spiral an arms race, unless care is taken to communicate with Pakistan and China . In this regard commencement of a dialogue with Pakistan at the earliest is imperative. On strategic perspective, he focussed on weakness in three distinct areas.



·                     Further nuclear tests


·                     While it is doubtful whether deployment of triad based nuclear forces will be feasible without further testing, no mention has been made of the implications underlying India 's unilateral moratorium on further nuclear tests.


·                     No First Use


·                     With China 's commitment to No First Use already declared 0and Pakistan refusing to accept any commitment to No First Use, the Indian insistence on No First Use, especially with a doubtful second strike capability, is dangerous.


·                     Credible Minimum Deterrent


·                     The doctrine is deficient in defining the minimum deterrent in terms of quality or quantity of forces. Unless an understanding is reached with the states against whom it is intended to serve as a deterrent, India 's "minimum" nuclear deterrent could spiral an arms race and lead to insecurity in the region.


In conclusion, he observed that the contradictions in the doctrine remain to be resolved and loose statements on disaster management and the need for the will to employ nuclear weapons, are humourous, but also highly dangerous.



The discussion that followed could be classified under the following heads -



·                     Timing: The timing of the report was raised be all the participants. Despite acknowledgement of it being an election gimmick, there was consensus that the doctrine was not an isolated event. It was the logical fallout of the Pokharan tests conducted last May.


·                     "Draft": A substantial amount of discussion was focussed on whether the doctrine was a draft or final document. While most believed it was the final doctrine which the party will implement on its return to power, views were expressed that it was only as a working paper that needed refinement. It was also noted that the word 'draft' did not appear in the copies of the doctrine released by the National Security Advisory Board.


·                     Reduction of Conventional Forces: All were in agreement that there can be no reduction of the conventional forces was possible despite nuclearisation, especially after the Kargil crisis. This support Mr. Chari's observation on the myth propagated by the supporters of nuclear weapons that conventional forces could be reduced after nuclearisation.


·                     Cost:  There were difference of views on whether costs should have been included in the doctrine. The cost estimate was also disparate ranging from 7000 to 10,000 crores per annum. However, there was unanimity in beliefs that India had the capability to afford these costs, provided strong economic policies are formulated to generate the extra income.


·                     Command and Control: There was unanimity that the doctrine was unclear on command and control structures, as it left ambiguous who had the control of the weapons. It was pointed out that in addition to the struggle within the armed forces for their control, there were tensions between the scientists and the armed forces on controlling the weapons. With C3I forming an integral part of deterrence, the discussants felt this section of the doctrine was inadequate.


·                     Technological Capability: With the doctrine referring to the triad forming the basis of the nuclear forces, the discussion was focussed on two issues - further testing and the question of acquiring nuclear submarines. Most were in agreement with Mr. Chari's view that it was doubtful whether the triad based force can be realised without further testing.  On the question of the nuclear submarine it was pointed out that work was underway with "active Russian support within the NPT limitations" to miniaturise the reactors for equipping the submarine, and this could be achieved within a period of ten years. However with regard to the nuclear missiles that need to be assembled "out board" for being attached to the body of the submarine, India currently lacked the expertise.


Comparison of the Indian nuclear doctrine with the American nuclear doctrine formed an interesting part of the discussions. Here, the ambiguity in the Indian doctrine towards its response to conventional and nuclear attacks was highlighted. The seminar concluded with more than one participant pointing out that India is currently the only country to have released a nuclear doctrine without a national security doctrine.