There is a need to revisit India’s nuclear doctrine because the circumstances that prevailed when it was issued in 2003 have changed. Perhaps not dramatically, but enough for our national security options to be degraded, if we don’t alter the doctrine.
Those who advocated making the bomb were clear thinkers. They were ahead of their time while pushing for a nuclear India, but at the same time they were careful not to repeat the bad experiences of the cold war. They avoided a first strike doctrine, which would necessarily have been counter – force and predicated on a hair-trigger alert. It would also have led inevitability to an arms race.
The fact that both China and India avoided the cold war traps has led to a more relaxed nuclear environment in Asia, as compared to Europe and the US during the cold war. There is however, a problem with Pakistan, the roots of which go back to their training and arming jehadis to be pushed into Afghanistan and Kashmir. As predicted at the time, there was a blow back effect, when many jehadis went out of control of their mentor and patron – the ISI.
Today, there is a fair consensus that the jehadis and militants are divided into two groups – broadly speaking. There are those who attack the Pakistani state, as their primary target and those who are apparently under the control of the ISI, and maintained as a second line of defence against India.
This division is arbitrary and perhaps notional, according to Carlotta Gall, who believes that both the jehadi and the ISI can be found on both sides of the dividing line. David Headley, for instance, gave evidence in a US court that the Mumbai attackers were ‘linked’ to serving members of the ISI.
So what does India do, if faced with another successful and major terrorist strike? To not use India’s superior conventional military power to punish Pakistan, and turn the other cheek, would destroy the credibility of the state and the government, besides enraging India’s people. This was the dilemma faced by Prime Minister Vajpayee in 2002 and by Manmohan Singh in 2008.
Indian strategic thinkers believe that, in response to a major strike, there is space below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold to punish the state, particularly if the action is taken swiftly in the aftermath of the terrorist strike. Hence the cold start doctrine as articulated by Army Headquarters, but never confirmed by the civilian leadership.
In other words, India believes that there is ‘space’ for conventional war, below Pakistan’s doctrine of First Use of nuclear weapons. The erstwhile head of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division has now launched that country into making tactical nuclear weapons, like the Nasr. What is implicit in fielding the Nasr, is that Pakistan does not think that limited nuclear use on an advancing Indian Tank column, within Pakistan, would lead to India’s Massive Retaliation (MR) as promised in the Indian doctrine.
Those Indians who shelter behind India’s Massive Retaliation doctrine fail to understand that MR was found to have failed during the cold war too – as evidenced by the US’ loss in Vietnam and the USSR’s loss in The important idea, to understand, is that the use of a small and limited tactical use by Pakistan has to be deterred by a credible response. Will India destroy all Pakistan’s cities and cause five million casualties in response to losing, say, 12 tanks? This issue needs to be discussed, and since the earlier BJP government issued the nuclear doctrine, it has the full authority to ‘revisit’ it.
Pakistan’s Nasr and other tactical weapons were developed after Islamabad’s adherence to the CTBT and therefore these are untested new designs, which normally would have reduced credibility. All the same, they are a factor to be included in discussions by a committee that should be tasked to revise the doctrine, if found necessary.
– ET Bureau