Opinion » Lead

Updated: May 4, 2013 01:21 IST

Weapon that has more than symbolic value

Shyam Saran
Comment (21)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

While India needs to make its nuclear deterrent more robust, it is misleading to spread the notion that it is dysfunctional or non-existent

Since India became a declared nuclear weapon state in May 1998, there has been a concerted campaign, particularly by non-proliferation lobbies in western countries, echoed by analysts in China and Pakistan, to spread the notion that India’s strategic programme has been driven by considerations of prestige and propaganda, rather than by any real security threats. Lately such assessments have also begun to emerge from some Indian commentators, who argue that “India’s dominant objective was political and technological prestige, while for every other nuclear weapon state it was deterrence.”

Security environment

These assessments conveniently ignore the steadily worsening regional and global security environment India has confronted right since its birth as an independent nation. With the advent of the atomic age, India became conscious of the fact that possession of nuclear weapons by a country or a group of countries created an asymmetrical international order which would limit India’s strategic space and independence. India’s preference was and remains a world from which nuclear weapons have been eliminated. It is the only state with nuclear weapons to profess that its security would be enhanced, not diminished, in a world free of nuclear weapons. However, India has also been categorical in rejecting the division of the world in perpetuity into nuclear-haves and have-nots.

After the end of the Cold War, a determined attempt was made to legitimise precisely such a division, firstly by making the discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty permanent through an amendment adopted in 1995. Then a similar discriminatory Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 was foisted without any link to the goal of nuclear disarmament, a link that India had consistently insisted upon. These moves would have permanently foreclosed India’s option to acquire a fully tested nuclear weapon arsenal, while those already in possession of nuclear weapons would enjoy an asymmetrical advantage in perpetuity. This would have severely undermined India’s security, making it vulnerable to nuclear threat and blackmail.

If we add to this the regional dimension as it unfolded over the years, India’s compelling security dilemma becomes even more apparent. In 1964, China exploded its first nuclear bomb and this came only two years after the 1962 border war, in which India suffered a humiliating defeat. One can well imagine the sense of vulnerability this would have created in the country. A serious quest for a nuclear capability may be traced to this period, culminating in the 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion. Thereafter, the clandestine acquisition of nuclear weapons and missile delivery capabilities by Pakistan, fully supported and assisted by China, created a heightened security threat to India. That China actually supplied a fully tested nuclear weapon design to Pakistan in 1983 and may have even tested a Pakistani weapon at its test site in Lop Nor in 1990, confronted India with a hostile Sino-Pakistan nuclear nexus, which continues to operate even today. (There are recent indications that China may be revising its no-first use policy.) It is this evolving regional and global security landscape which precipitated India’s decision to carry out a series of tests in May 1998 and declare its status as a nuclear weapon state. It was the quest for security in a hostile and threatening environment that drove the country’s strategic programme, neither prestige nor propaganda.

A more recent argument is that since the May 1998 tests, India has not taken credible steps to operationalise its nuclear deterrent. And this demonstrates, it is claimed, that India looks upon its nuclear weapons as a political instrument, a source of prestige, rather than as a deterrent.

In fact, since January 2003, when India adopted its nuclear doctrine formally at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, it has taken a series of graduated steps to put in place a triad of land-based, air-delivered and submarine-based nuclear forces to conform to its declared doctrine of no-first use and retaliation only. Currently, at least two legs of the triad are fully operational. These include a modest arsenal, nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles, both in fixed underground silos and those mounted on mobile rail and road-based platforms. Land-based missiles include both Agni-II (1500 km) as well as Agni-III (2500 km). The range and accuracy of further versions for example, Agni V (5000 km) which was tested successfully only recently, will improve with the further acquisition of technological capability and experience.

The third leg of the triad is admittedly a work in progress. We need a minimum of three Arihant class nuclear submarines so that at least one will always be at sea. The submarine-based Sagarika missiles have been developed and tested but are still relatively short in range. It is expected that a modest sea-based deterrent will be in place by 2015 or 2016.

The National Command Authority (NCA) is in charge of India’s nuclear deterrent. At its apex is the Political Council which is headed by the Prime Minister and includes all the ministerial members of the Cabinet Committee on Security such as the Ministers of Defence, Home and External Affairs. At the next level is the Executive Council which is headed by the National Security Advisor and includes the Chiefs of the three armed forces, the Commander-in-Chief of India’s Strategic Forces Command, a three star officer, among others. There is an alternate NCA which would take up the functions of the nuclear command in case of any contingency that renders the established hierarchy dysfunctional. The NCA has access to radiation hardened and fully secured communication systems, and redundancies have been put in place as back-up facilities.

In order to support the NCA, a Strategy Programme Staff has been created in the National Security Council Secretariat to carry out general staff work for the NCA. This unit is charged with looking at the reliability and quality of our weapons and delivery systems, collate intelligence on other nuclear weapon states, particularly those in the category of potential adversaries, and work on a perspective plan for India's nuclear deterrent in accordance with a 10-year cycle. The Strategy Programme Staff has representatives from the three services, from our Science and Technology establishment and other experts from related domains, including External Affairs. A Strategic Armament Safety Authority has been set up to review and update storage and transfer procedures for all categories of nuclear armaments. It will be responsible for all matters relating to the safety and security of our nuclear and delivery assets at all locations.

The NCA works on a two-person rule for access to armaments and delivery systems.

Regular drills are conducted to examine possible escalatory scenarios, surprise attack scenarios and the efficiency of our response systems under the no first use limitation. Thanks to such repeated and regular drills, the level of confidence in our nuclear deterrent has been strengthened. Specialised units have also been trained and deployed for operation in a nuclearised environment.

This is clearly not the record of a state which regards its nuclear arsenal as having only symbolic value. While further steps may be required to make our deterrent more robust, it is misleading to spread the notion that it is dysfunctional or worse, that it is non-existent.

Recently, there have been claims by Pakistan that it has developed theatre nuclear weapons which could be used to meet a conventional armed thrust across the border by Indian forces. By seeking to lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use, Pakistan’s motivation is to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation against sub-conventional but highly destructive and disruptive cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack in Mumbai.

Massive retaliation

India’s nuclear doctrine declares that while India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the perspective of its doctrine. The security of both India and Pakistan would be enhanced if Pakistan abandoned cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy and instead joined India in the pursuit of nuclear and conventional confidence building measures which are already on our bilateral agenda. An agreement on non-first use of nuclear weapons would be a significant follow-up to the existing bilateral commitment to maintain a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing.

India and Pakistan should take the lead in promoting multilateral negotiations to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. That is a better future for which to aspire.

(Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary. He is currently Chairman, National Security Advisory Board, Chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, and Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research. This article reflects his personal views)

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The abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent humanitarian necessity. Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences. No effective humanitarian response would be possible, and the effects of radiation on human beings would cause suffering and death many years after the initial explosion. Eliminating nuclear weapons – via comprehensive treaty – is the only guarantee against their use.
it is a shame for a developing country like India to spend billions of US$ on nuclear weapons. This money should be used for health care, education, eradication of poverty, investing in infrastructure, steady jobs and to create a clean environment.

from:  kurt waschnig
Posted on: May 6, 2013 at 21:18 IST

It baffles me to the extent that the change of guard at the NSAB can be so drastic. Naresh Chandra hardly articulated with the candor that Sham saran has embarked on especially by first delivering a talk at Habitat Centre and now by the piece in Hindu which for the first time enumerates the role of NCA at two levels to bring out the notion of redundancy in case one level of NCA becomes non functional

Many years back, we were taught at graduate school the concept of Credibility and understanding the meaning of playing the game of chicken. I think for a change the NSAB and the powers that be have started re-reading the classics that guide the notions of nuclear credibility. Better late than never.

By enumerating the type of support staff that has been created for the NCA, there seems to be some avenue to bridge the gap between the realm of ideas and the domain of public policy making ie. involvement of experts of non governmental nature - failure to do so will be myopic.

from:  Gautam Sen
Posted on: May 5, 2013 at 18:22 IST

The analysis raises two questions why Indian nuclear experts are still positioned vis-à-vis the Pakistan when talking about nuclear power?The second issue is related to the development of countries with nuclear weapons since 1945.We see countries that today are unable to finance their spending.Should India follow the path followed by other states, which are near bankruptcy?This should encourage practitioners to reflect on their categorical conclusion.There is at least one state that has nuclear weapons Israel who said nothing about its use or its modernization.The problem with experts is that they think in drawing behavior from elsewhere.They ignore the past of each country and each civilization.This is the missing dimension to those who speak on the choice made by India which is not a State like others States according to the western concept see his history past and present border attacks.India must learn to anticipate and must also be defended by its representatives.

from:  Mayoura Sougoumar
Posted on: May 5, 2013 at 17:22 IST

1. India as it seems from the functioning of its seat of democracy the parliament is definitely a picture of everything going wrong.
2. The nuclear option in such scenarios will be top in the list as other options will be out of the purview of the generally mentally retarded and corrupted public and govt.
3. As a part of the public appeasement policy like many other actions by the govt this option has the potential to be exercised for a public sensationalism which may start a destruction cascade.

from:  Dr Haricharan
Posted on: May 5, 2013 at 15:14 IST

the thing which we lack is the " a security strategic culture " in the country which emboldens us for centuries. we never lack the resources or the will to lead the world but only thing is that our attitude of "letting things happen first" is hurting us a lot.

from:  jojo
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 18:47 IST

Very qualitative and quantitative piece of writing.On the nuclear front India has to move a lot for an identity of a strong nuclear deterrent.Not for merely a political prestige.But also for its pragmatic execution on real time war conditions.This is indeed an imperative on account of specific political terrain of South Asia.

India too needs to be obliged to the objectives of non-proliferation measures undertaken by the member countries.Anyway, that should not be impediments to our right for the possession of potential nuclear arsenals as well as technical know-how.

Siju V

from:  siju vasudevan
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 15:48 IST

Hope somebody in the government is taking this seriously.

from:  Sundar
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 12:51 IST

The thing that stopped chinese after intruding 12 kms into India is nuclear weapon, if havent had any way to defend our way, we would have been another Tibet by this time. To all those who are concerned about being number 1 importer of arms, it would have been better if you have said that we need to build indigenious weapons instead of saying stop buying weapons. If we cant defend ourselves every one will make fun out of us.

from:  Raju
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 12:50 IST

The casualness in India's decision making process on urgent security matters, the shameful delays in weapon acquisitions, a complete lack of enthusiasm in using our lead in space technology puts India at a serious disadvantage. Why are not our satellites orbiting the globe to view the Chinese troop movements, Pakistani incursions and provide early warnings of impending security issues. It makes Chinese happy to know that India is extremely vulnerable because of a lack of any serious strategic discourse and planning. The West is also comfortable in that the sluggishness in India's nuclear ambition causes them one less problem. India wants to be a world power, has the means to do it but our politicians lack a real sense of purpose and are high on rhetoric.'Massive retaliation' is meaningless if the enemy attacks massively. The deterrence lies in advising the adversary through demonstration of technological and force projection capabilities. An unknown weapon system is no weapon system.

from:  Manjit Sahota
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 11:50 IST

This is a very informative and illuminative piece of writing by Shyam Saran.Compliments to
Hindu on this writing and the readers would welcome more such writing

from:  Ashok Prabhu
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 10:46 IST

Wisdom lies in maintaining secrecy over the nation's security-related matters. What purpose does this article serve? Was it necessary to inform the world about our strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis nuclear policy, production and delivery? That said, our no-first-use nuclear doctrine is fallacious as it prevents us from using against those who inflict incremental damages through incursions and terrorism. Let us introduce a rider to this policy that it will be applicable only to those who have never attacked us in the past.

from:  VMN
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 09:51 IST

... by current US defence secretary Mr. Hagel. India should
not create chaos in Pakistan using Afghan and Iranian soil killing
innocent Pakistani's. Once India proves its sincere in resolving all
disputes peacefully, both Pakistan and India will prosper. I do agree
Pakistan should not create any problems in India if she is creating
any, because as a civilian the facts are never known to me or a common
Pakistani or Indian, and no way of knowing them. Peace is the way to
go, war is not acceptable will destroy both Pakistan and India so lets
hope it never occures.

from:  akash
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 09:09 IST

Dear Mr. Shayam,

You are a career diplomat who has written this article as a pure Indian
position based on today's needs. It is factual to a point and rest is
far from reality.

An Indian is always taught that India's destiny is to be a global power
and earn respect by power, your president Mr. Mukherjee always insists
on might is right.

Since the nuclear bombardment on Japan in the world war II, no nuclear
device has been ever used in a war. Even superpowers used there nuclear
might as a deterrence. India however likes to threaten Pakistan with
massive nuclear retaliation in case of a nuclear attack with a
reference to China, fact is Pakistan only acquired the nuclear
capability to restrain India from adventurism, this is a fact accepted
by the world and India was blamed for nuclear arms race after 90's
tests. India needs to learn the best way to have peace and not war is
by respecting her smaller neighbors. India interferes and export terror
in Pakistan a fact even acknowledged .. contd.

from:  akash
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 09:03 IST

Shyam Saran ought to know that no country will be recognized by the world as a nuclear
weapons state based on a mere five tests with questionable yields. It only reinforces the
well established perception that India is a nation of half measures. We should either
renounce nuclear weapons or conduct more tests in a transparent manner so that everyone
is clear about the maturity and reliability of our nuclear weapons. At present it is doubtful
whether our armed forces have any confidence in our weapons even after spending
enormous amounts of tax payer money.

from:  Viswanath
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 08:57 IST

The writer does not mention that Reagan helped destroy the Soviet Union by scaling up the arms race through his Star Wars program. This combined with oppressive domestic policies proved too much for the Russians despite their enormous historical ability to withstand pain. Indian hawks, from Raja Ramanna to the present-day security advisers, are forcing India towards self-destruction. India is already the greatest arms buyer in the world. An expanded nuclear weapons program will add another intolerable burden on people, the great majority of whom are in grinding poverty. Since the American Civil War, it is the strongest economy that has won in a conflict, not military superiority. The Chinese road to world dominance is through economic power. To survive India needs to build a strong self-sustaining economic base by focusing on removing poverty. Indian settlement with China will leave Pakistan without any international backer, guiding it towards commercial rapprochement with India.

from:  vithal rajan
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 08:19 IST

It is an appropriate response to the dysefunctional theorists of this subject. Nuclear deterrence is too serious a business to be talked about in such loose terms such as symbols of politics or prestige. It has happened in the past too that muddiness of India's political scene has made our adversaries believe that they can mess up with country's security. Significant are the post-1962 political and security situation in India, leading to a Pakistani misadventure in 1965, then the prevailing political uncertainty of late 1990s, leading to Pakistani misadventure in Kargil. Outsiders need to understand that behind an outwardly muddy political landscape, there is strong core of professionals managing their security, economics, and even technological apparatus. At the same time our politicians need to do an image building excercise so that situations of perceived dysifunctionality of India's entire sytem leading to recurring crisis situations could be avoided.

from:  S Rana
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 06:16 IST

Thanks to Mr. Saran for this article which clarifies India's NCA to
certain extent. Until now there has been alarming level of lack of
clarity in India's nuclear posture and thus conveying the impression
of a non-existent or dysfunctional NCA as acknowledged by Mr. Saran
himself. Indian govt has been remarkably lackadaisical and ham-handed
in establishing a credible NCA, at least that is what the impression
we get until now. This only emboldens potential adversaries in mis-
judging India's potential response in the event of a nuclear or a
devastating conventional attack, in other words raises the potential
of a war due to miscalculations about India's resolve or preparedness
in dealing with a nuclear contingency. I hope more such articles would
be published to make clear of India's determination to respond in kind
and thus raise deterrence value of the strategic weapons.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 06:06 IST

This article has missed a key fact - the 1 Mega ton payload. India has not tested a big enough warhead to really be a threat to an adversary like China which has 3 MT warheads mounted on DongFengs pointed at India. It is a shame that India has not even fully tested a thermonuclear weapon, where other nuclear countries have done it over a dozen times. India needs to test, re-test and miniaturize her warheads and integrate them with its proven delivery systems. If that is not done as a matter of priority, we can say goodby to Ladkhak and probably even Arunachal Pradesh in a few years.

from:  Ashish
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 05:29 IST

One does not need a massive amount of nuclear weapons to do another country or nation-state a lot of concrete damage or destruction. One kiloton will do the trick in some cases, mounted on some type of delivery system such as a surface to air missile, even a bazooka could do the trick. Yields and designs are improving all the time along with physical means to guide the bombs, in addition to minimizing size and weight, making way to more multiple warheads on one delivery system. But the day californium is tapped for its neutron source, since it delivers more neutrons per fission, than either plutonium-239 or uranium-235, will be the day when bombs will become superior for total annihilation of a large city by anyone who possesses such incredible atomic power. Fortunately Californium can be found naturally on earth.

from:  MuckrakerW
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 04:00 IST

Pakistan has no known Uranium deposits, so who gave it a couple of Uranium based nuclear weapons? Surely China. India must expand her conventional and nuclear arsenal since she must always have the capability to take on China, and Pakistan militarily at the same time. Do not ignore the Chinese-Jewish links either.

from:  Dr. Tripta Singh
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 02:43 IST

An excellent article at the right time. I believe this is India sending a veiled warning that we are not averse to use the weapons at our disposal.Though Nuclear weapons are a curse for humanity,removing the curtain on our operational readiness will definitely sends a strong message to the relevant parties not to test the water.This article will also help to boost the morality of the common citizens.It is ok to be belligerent and act like a fool sometimes to deter the hostile neighbors.For sometime, some how we have created an image of soft country to the world countries.

from:  Siva
Posted on: May 4, 2013 at 02:17 IST
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