Nuclear India Faces Tough Questions: Nation Must Define Purpose of Its Arsenal

Article excerpt

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. …