Dr. Zachary Davis leading a team of academicians from the Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, California, expressed his group’s desire to get an Indian perspective on the issues related to study undertaken by the group on Track 2 Endeavors on Decade of Nuclear Learning in South Asia and on building a legacy of strong Indo-US nuclear programme.
Dr. Neil Joeck mentioned his quest to understand the following four broad issues relating to India and Pakistan’s reflection of nuclear policy after a decade of nuclear testing: nuclear doctrine, nuclear management, nuclear decision making, and nuclear deterrence.
Maj Gen Ramesh Chopra talked about India’s Nuclear Decision Making and how it has evolved over the decade. He mentioned the fact of civilian supremacy with regard to nuclear decision making. The armed forces can only spell out the threats and present their recommendations. He mentioned that India is working on nuclear risk reduction measures. He also talked about India having an informal nuclear doctrine. The main points he highlighted were: - emphasis on non-proliferation, no first use and “universal nuclear disarmament” as spelled out by Rajiv Gandhi. He concluded that India also does not stand for exclusive privilege of the P5 regarding the nuclear issues.
Brig Gurmeet Kanwal talked about nuclear management. He mentioned that training is on need-to-know basis for example selected defence officers are detailed to undergo courses at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on a regular basis and tour of defence personnel are organized at Bharat Dynamic Limited. Regarding nuclear storage sites, he mentioned that adequate measures concerning safety and security have been put in place. Storage of nuclear arsenals is done at various places that are well guarded. Sufficient rehearsals have been carried out for move from the storage site to the place of deployment.
Brig Kanwal mentioned that presently the interaction between the civilian and military decision makers is much greater than it was in 1998. Regarding India’s defence policy he emphasised that it is balanced and designed to promote strategic stability. There are a number of Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan to prevent any nuclear exchange between the two countries. China does not recognize India as a nuclear power. Hence no nuclear CBMs have been discussed with China.
In India there is no conceivable scenario that may lead to first use of nuclear weapons. Brig Kanwal put forth that in a hypothetical situation even when there is credible intelligence to suggest an impeding enemy strike, history has shown that it is better to wait and if necessary preempt with conventional arsenal. He also pointed out that the US Ballistic Missile Defence (BMW) and Reliable Replacement Warheads (RRW) increase the level of uncertainty and lead to the adversary increase its missile arsenals.
He concluded that India should neither be the first nor the last to take up complete disarmament and should follow the theory of “zero sum game” for complete disarmament of all nuclear weapons. In addition, he suggested that India and US need a showpiece project that involves joint research and development thus going beyond mere license protection and transfer of technology. Such projects will enhance the strategic partnership.
Dr. Manpreet Sethi talked about the nuclear decision making process in India. She clarified that there is an institutionalised and organised structure for this purpose. The nuclear command and control organisation comprises the Political Council that consists of Prime Minister and four other ministers and the Executive Council that is headed by the National Security Advisor, and includes the heads of Department of Atomic Energy, Department of Defence Research and Development, National Technical Research Organisation, Intelligence Organisations, and the three Chiefs of the armed forces. They meet on regular basis to work out the details of nuclear weapons related issues and policies for credible nuclear deterrence. However, the decision of nuclear use remains with the political establishment.
Dr. Sethi stated that Pakistan presents a low nuclear threshold in order to deter India from using its conventional superiority in response to its sub-conventional conflict against India. Gen Khalid Ahmed Kidwai of the Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division has identified four thresholds -- territorial, military, political and economic – in order to caution that if India breaches any of these, then Pakistan will be compelled to use its nuclear weapons against India. However, the manner in which the Kargil conflict was conducted by India turned out to a eye opener for Pakistan and made it realise the limits of sub-conventional conflict. She also pointed out that Operation Parakram was an exercise in compliance by India, but New Delhi realised that coercive diplomacy is more difficult to achieve than nuclear deterrence.
On the issue of nuclear doctrine, Dr Sethi pointed out that the 1999 draft nuclear doctrine was operationalised by the notification issued by the Cabinet Committee on Security on January 4, 2003. The 1999 draft doctrine had come under criticism, both domestically and internationally. Domestically it was criticised for its acceptance of “minimum deterrence” and "no first use" as also for not specifying any number of warheads. Internationally, the doctrine was regarded as being too ambitious as it talked about a nuclear triad which would lead to an arms race in South Asia. However, she opined that the draft doctrine had been a wise and well worded document. In fact, the 2003 document had diluted the credibility of deterrence by replacing the term “assured, punitive retaliation” with “massive retaliation” and by suggesting the use of nuclear weapons against the use of biological and chemical weapons. Dr. Sethi concluded by highlighting that the aspiration of universal nuclear disarmament in the Indian nuclear doctrine was a valid one since it suited India's national security interests.
Dr. R. R. Subramanian talked about India’s nuclear deterrence. He mentioned that it is only the Indian army that does not appear to want tactical nuclear weapons because India believes in massive retaliation. He further added that tactical nuclear weapons are required against China as we still do not have sea launch capability so we still have to depend on Agni III. Thus with regard to China, deterrence is neither minimal nor non-existent.
Dr. Subramanian pointed out that both 1999 and 2003 nuclear doctrines were made under the National Democratic Alliance government. He concluded that India will not agree for BMD on Indian territory as it will restrain India’s independence.
(Report prepared by Mansi Mehrotra, Associate Fellow, CLAWS)