NUCLEAR DETERRENCE : Why Separate Rules for the U.S.?

By Pfaff, William | Commonweal, October 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

NUCLEAR DETERRENCE : Why Separate Rules for the U.S.?


Pfaff, William, Commonweal


India has officially published its nuclear strategy, which it describes as that of minimum credible deterrence. This, in theory, is a reasonable policy, if any nuclear-weapons doctrine can be said to be reasonable. However, the details of the Indian policy, as set forth by India's National Security Council last August 17, merit the opposition Congress party's criticism that India is inviting escalation of the nuclear arms race with Pakistan.

Neither country can afford this, and neither needs it. The communal and territorial quarrels between them are unworthy of two intelligent nations. With respect to its Chinese neighbor, whose future is distinctly unpredictable, India has a more plausible rationale for a nuclear deterrent.

India's nuclear force will consist of submarine-launched missiles; air- launched missiles from low-level penetration aircraft; and mobile ground- launched ballistic missiles. Its employment will be governed by an "evolving concept tied to the strategic environment" and to technological developments. The prime minister "or his designated successor" will control it. (How the successor is to be designated is a security secret.)

Such a force sets India's threshold of "minimum credible" deterrence pretty high. This sea-land-air deterrent sounds like a miniature-or not-so miniature-nuclear triad resembling that of the United States. America's nuclear force, however, was not developed for minimum deterrence, but for second-strike deterrence, a vastly different thing. ("We can strike you, but you will be afraid to strike back at us because of the further horrors we can commit against you.")

India's program was made public in response to a request from the U.S. government, which for years has tried to prevent nuclear proliferation. The problem has been that the United States exempts itself from the nonproliferation it presses upon others. As the New York Times Magazine reported in March 1998, the United States continues to modernize its own nuclear forces, as permitted under existing strategic arms-reduction treaties with Russia. Last year the Clinton administration programmed more money for modernization and simulated testing than, on annual average, the United States spent during the cold war to create America's nuclear force.

Today, at any given moment, the United States has on alert some 2,300 warheads, with explosive power equivalent to 44,000 Hiroshimas. In these circumstances, U.S. pressure on newly nuclear nations to give up their weapons has neither a generally accepted rationale nor logical weight. The U.S. position is that the United States is entitled to possess and continually improve nuclear forces beyond all rational connection to existing or foreseeable threats.

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NUCLEAR DETERRENCE : Why Separate Rules for the U.S.?
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