Nuclear India Faces Tough Questions: Nation Must Define Purpose of Its Arsenal
Chellaney, Brahma, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
NEW DELHI - India's emergence as a declared nuclear weapons state has only sharpened its challenges to build an effective and credible nuclear deterrent.
India can build only a very small deterrent force because its stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium and its financial resources are limited. With its current plutonium stocks, it can build no more than 60 nuclear warheads.
Its tests in May do not translate into an instant deterrent. It still has important challenges to meet.
New Delhi will need to have a high level of confidence in the reliability and survivability of its arsenal so that the smallness of the deterrent is not a handicap. Such confidence can come about only by rigorously meeting the technical and policy requirements of a deterrent. Potential adversaries will have to be left in no doubt about the retaliatory prowess of India if it were to come under attack.
The key challenge for India is to adequately deter two hand-in-glove nuclear adversaries, China and Pakistan. India is the only nuclear state sharing disputed borders with two closely aligned foes.
The gravity of that challenge is underscored by the possibility that one of those neighbors could act as a proxy of the other and that the two would in any case closely cooperate in a situation in which one seeks to take on India militarily.
India is still some distance from acquiring the technical capacity to end China's nuclear threat. It will have to plug this vulnerability at the earliest opportunity.
India's decade-old policy of rapprochement with China has not won it Chinese friendship. But it enabled China both to engage and to contain India, with engagement serving as a front for accelerated containment.
Covert Chinese transfers have neutralized India's technological advantages over Pakistan. China also has sought to bring India under strategic pressure on another flank by building listening posts on Burmese islands and deepening collaboration with the military junta in Rangoon.
Without being able to stand up to China, India will never be able to persuade China to halt its containment of India or its clandestine nuclear and missile transfers to Pakistan.
India's nuclear doctrine will determine how it copes with its main security and technological challenges.
Given that its scientists have worked on nuclear weapons designs for at least a quarter century and that its recent series of tests only unveiled capabilities it already had, the country should have followed Israel and developed a nuclear doctrine long ago. It is no surprise, however, that it has not done so.
India has no strategic doctrine or long-term national security planning, lacks institutional mechanisms to develop a strategic vision or to mold its various policies into a coherent whole and has yet to enunciate well-defined vital interests.
Like much else in India, developing a nuclear doctrine is likely to be a slow, laborious process. After all, it took India 34 years after establishing a plutonium production capability to make up its mind on a nuclear military posture.
Nearly six months after claiming that it can terminate any nuclear threat, India still has not integrated nuclear weapons into its defense structure or made its "deterrent" operational.
Building a long-term nuclear doctrine demands broad political consensus on nuclear deterrence and the political will to strongly punish an aggressor, as well as the technical capacity. Developing this broad consensus could, however, be hamstrung by India's raucous and splintered politics and the shaky coalition governments it has produced.
The military's exclusion so far from nuclear planning has resulted in India still being vague about its nuclear doctrine. All that India has said is that it will practice "minimum deterrence" and not be the first to use nuclear weapons.
Similarly, the only discernible aspect of India's command-and-control system is that it will be firmly in civilian hands, with the prime minister as the ultimate decision-maker.
The declaration of an unconditional no-first-use nuclear posture is an attempt by India to present itself as a model.
The United States, Russia, France and Britain maintain first-use nuclear doctrines. China dropped the word "unconditional" from its no-first-use posture in 1995 and added a condition - membership in the 1970 nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) - to exclude India.
India's failure to bring the military into the nuclear picture, however, is a reminder of how it surprised its own armed forces last year by declaring that it has some chemical weapons.
The military became aware of the stockpile only when the government, as part of its legal obligation under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), submitted an international declaration on its holdings.
India never explained why crude chemical arms of dubious military utility, such as poison gas mortars, were built and stashed away or what could be the security benefits of weapons the military did not know about and had not trained to handle and use.
Nor was the Indian public told why the country did not destroy its tiny chemical armory before formally acceding to the CWC, in the same manner that South Africa dismantled its stockpile of six nuclear bombs before joining the NPT. Now India has to find money to pay for international inspectors to come and supervise the destruction of its chemical arms.
Over the decades, India's mammoth and Byzantine bureaucracy has pushed the military out of the policymaking loop.
The paradox of a country proclaiming that it has a nuclear deterrent but without its necessary military underpinnings can only create a dangerous situation and expose the state to serious risks.
India has to define the purpose of its nuclear arsenal. Is it to deter nuclear threats and blackmail, or aggression in general, including conventional aggression of the kind India has suffered in the past? If it is the latter, French nuclear structure and doctrine based on "proportional deterrence" will be more appropriate for India.
Indian security planners will also have to decide whether the country should have "tactical," or battlefield nuclear arms, or only "strategic" (long-range) weapons. According to Pakistan, its nuclear tests involved tactical weapons. China is believed to have such weapons in its nuclear arsenal.
A credible Indian doctrine must take three issues into account.
First, the potential vulnerability of India's tiny nuclear force. Proper dispersal, storage and mobility techniques will have to be developed. India's command-and-control system, which is not even in the embryonic form as yet, will have to ensure that the country would be in a position to retaliate after an enemy strike incapacitated its principal command centers.
Second, the hazards posed by a troubled Pakistan, which is beginning to look like a dangerously failing state. If central political authority starts to slip away, there will be a risk that renegade military elements or Afghan-type Islamic militias may try to gain control of nuclear weapons.
Even if Pakistan's internal situation improves, its narrow strategic waistline, high vulnerability to a disabling Indian first strike, volatile political system and feeble civilian control over the military all suggest that the "use-them-or-lose-them" approach to nuclear weapons could be attractive to Pakistani decision makers should war break out.
To reduce this danger, Indian nuclear doctrine would have to credibly convey to Pakistan that such action would be tantamount to national suicide. The doctrine will have to recognize that strategic weapons can have no role when renegade or terrorist elements threaten to use tactical arms.
Third, China's containment of India.
A robust Indian nuclear doctrine could dissuade China, by seeking to raise its strategic costs, from continuing to contain India and to covertly transfer sensitive technologies to Pakistan.
China's strategic costs could be raised through innovative diplomacy, which seeks to build international pressure on China to embrace arms control and stop or slow down its ongoing nuclear buildup, and through strategic assistance to places that share Indian concerns over China, such as Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The basic reality is that India, with its modest capabilities and resources, can only pursue the modest path of building a petite, affordable but survivable nuclear force, with a doctrine that eschews both a war-fighting approach and the course of recessed or non-deployed deterrence. For years, India agonized over whether to build and test nuclear weapons. Having built and tested such weapons, it may now agonize over their deployment and the doctrine.
* Brahma Chellaney is professor of security studies at the privately-funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Nuclear India Faces Tough Questions: Nation Must Define Purpose of Its Arsenal. Contributors: Chellaney, Brahma - Author. Newspaper title: The Washington Times (Washington, DC). Publication date: November 14, 1998. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Washington Times LLC. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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