Does India’s nuclear doctrine need a revision?

    Site of India's first nuclear test in 1974 called smiling Buddha in Pokhran desert
    Site of India's first nuclear test in 1974 called smiling Buddha in Pokhran desert

    India’s first nuclear test in 1974 called smiling Buddha in Pokhran desert was, for tactical reasons, characterized as “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion”. The second series of five nuclear tests in 1998 (Pokhran II) was again accompanied by a statement from the then PM Vajpayee attesting to lack of aggressive intent. The 2003 Indian nuclear doctrine went a step forward and made a written unilateral concession about India’s adherence to “No First Use” Doctrine. Since then a lot of debate has gone into the rationale, the need and the necessity for India to revise her Nuclear Doctrine and posture. Some foreign policy mandarins have tried to argue that India does not need to make any changes in the 2003 version of the doctrine. Though the election manifesto of the BJP prior to May 2014 Lok Sabha election noted the need to take a relook at India’s nuclear doctrine, subsequent statements by the PM nipped it in the bud.

    Site of India's first nuclear test in 1974 called smiling Buddha in Pokhran desert
    Site of India’s first nuclear test in 1974 called smiling Buddha in Pokhran desert

    While looking at the nuclear scenario, India has to take the contemporary threat perception and other geo-political factors into account while revising her strategic nuclear policy. It will be a good idea for India to periodically revise her nuclear doctrine every 10-15 years based on the geo-political situation. A lot has already changed since 2003. There is nothing sacrosanct about revising a document that was essentially tactical in nature. Newer nuclear threats have emerged from both the nuclear neighbors, China and Pakistan that mandate that India revise her nuclear doctrine and posture in order to avoid future nuclear blackmail.

    China has significantly diluted its “No first use” nuclear doctrine over the years. China has no intention of exercising restraint in the growth of its nuclear weapons program till the other two nuclear weapons superpowers (US and Russia) have brought down their number of nuclear weapons to China’s level. China has started deploying its nuclear powered submarines in the Indian Ocean region.

    Pakistani Nuclear program was initiated in 1970s by ZA Bhutto after Pakistan’s defeat in Bangladesh war of independence in 1971. His famous statement in 1965 in UNSC was about waging a thousand years war against India. Later on he talked about eating grass and obtaining Nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program has been, is and will remain an India-centric nuclear toy in the hands of ISI/GHQ/Pakistani military as the civilians do not control the program. From the beginning Pakistani nuclear program has had Chinese footprints all over.

    While Pakistan’s economy goes south, it remains a rentier state having extorted $31 billion from the US since 9/11. Pakistan keeps on getting tranches of money from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under an all-weather Sunni Alliance. Pakistan and ZA Bhutto had proudly proclaimed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as “Islamic bomb” having been financed by Islamic money from KSA. Last year, Pakistani PM was able to obtain $ one billion from Saudi Arabia at a time when Pakistan’s economy took a hit. Money will never be a problem for Pakistani nuclear establishment as it grows at a disproportionate rate.

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    Pakistani ballistic missile program has also heavily borrowed from China and North Korea since the 1990s. Hate IX (Vengeance-IV) Nasr was purpose built to carry tactical nuclear weapons (sub kiloton yield) over short range of 60-90 kilometers. On March 9 2015, Pakistan successfully tested the Shaheen-III surface-to-surface ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads to a range of 2,750 km. Shaheen III nuclear capable missiles increase the range of Pakistani nuclear missiles to include the entire Indian land mass and the Indian Eastern naval command based in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Pakistani has recently become the beneficiary of Chinese nuclear powered submarines that definitely pose a threat to India for her second strike capabilities.

    General Khalid Kidwai who was the director of Pakistani Army’s Strategic Planning Division (SPD) for a period of 15 years, in an open meeting in March 2015 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington DC aggressively articulated Pakistan’s new offensive nuclear doctrine and posture. He brazenly threatened India with the first use nuclear attack threats painting a new picture. From the initial posture of credible minimum deterrence, Pakistan has moved to the concept of “Full Spectrum Deterrence” which envisages aggressive and offensive use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan against India in a number of scenarios. Not only Pakistan has linked its full spectrum nuclear deterrence doctrine with resolution of J&K dispute in its favor, Pakistan has threatened to use nuclear weapons against India if its tentacles in Afghanistan are cut off. Extra-territorial linkage with loss of its assets in Afghanistan widens the role for nuclear weapons under the new Pakistani doctrine.

    Pakistan has already developed tactical nuclear weapons to be used in the war theater on the mechanized divisions of Indian armed forces. Ostensibly, Pakistan has justified use of tactical nuclear weapons as a policy against Indian Army’s imaginary “Cold start doctrine” which was never officially promulgated.

    Pakistan is the only country that has single-handedly blocked an international agreement on FMCT while feverishly increasing its fissile material production. While traditionally cited figure is Pakistan has 90-110 nuclear weapons, reality has changed during last few years. The Pakistani nuclear armada is the fasted growing in the entire world with production of 10-20 new nuclear weapons every year.

    Pakistani state has brazenly and repeatedly indulged in nuclear blackmail and rent collection over the last several decades. This Pakistani behavior will NOT change only the sponsors and the rent-payers will change over time.

    There is NO reason for India to remain complacent while the nuclear threat perception changes. The PM will do a yeoman’s service to long-term strategic security of Indian nation if he revisits the Indian nuclear doctrine and allows it to grow some teeth. A number of remedial steps can be taken including discarding the meaningless no-first use doctrine to safe-guard nation’s security. Victors always write the history and India has lost repeatedly in history making.

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