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Don’t fear the MIRVs!

India’s induction of MIRVs can enhance nuclear stability in Asia.

Yesterday’s Times of India carries excerpts from the Federation of American Scientists’ report entitled “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013.” It’s co-author, Hans Kristensen, spoke to the Times of India on reports that future enhancements to India’s strategic missiles would carry multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs):

Kristensen told TOI that MIRVs are not in keeping with New Delhi’s policy of minimum deterrence and that Indian officials needed to explain why they want to develop the technology because it could lead to a buildup with China. “MIRV is developed for a particular strategic objective, normally to quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on missiles or to be able to hit a lot of targets in a single attack. Both of those objectives are incompatible with India’s policy of minimum deterrence because they would significantly increase the size of the arsenal and signal a shift to a nuclear counterforce war-fighting doctrine,” Kristensen told TOI.

The report says that such moves by India and China could set off an increased and more intense nuclear arms race in Asia. “The United States, Russia, and the international arms control community should discourage this competition by significantly curtailing their own MIRVed weapon systems and ballistic missile defense programs,” it says. [Times of India]

Mr. Kristensen’s statements defy logic because the development and deployment of MIRVs is not only in keeping with India’s nuclear weapons doctrine, they are an essential component of it.  India’s policy of No First Use (NFU) means that it must necessarily ensure both the survivability of its nuclear assets in the event of a preemptive attack by an adversary, as well as maintain the ability to respond in a manner that will impose unacceptable costs on the enemy.

Both components of the NFU (i.e., survivability of its arsenal and assured imposition of unacceptable costs) will be enhanced through the induction of MIRVs.  This better assures the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, which, in turn, also enhances nuclear stability between India and China.

India has quite lucidly articulated its position in its Nuclear Doctrine (emphasis added):

2.3. India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that :

(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat: and (b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor

4.3(i):  India’s nuclear forces and their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response. They shall be designed and deployed to ensure survival against a first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor. [Federation of American Scientists] (1999 Draft)

The nuclear programs of both China and India continue to evolve today, thereby contributing to a more competitive nuclear dynamic in the region, whether one side would acknowledge it or not.  A legitimate question for us to ask here is whether both countries (and the region) would be better served and stability enhanced if India and China were to engage each other in nuclear confidence building measures.

The answer, of course, is yes.  India for its part has indicated an interest in entering into a strategic dialog on nuclear issues with China.  However, not only does China continue to refuse to engage India in talks over nuclear CBMs, it remains unwilling to even acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons power.

India’s options are indeed limited if China simply refuses to talk. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between India and China remain unresolved, China’s clandestine assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — brazenly flouting all non-proliferation norms — continues, and its belligerence towards India and other neighbors has increased in proportion to its growing global clout. Under such circumstances, efforts to enhance the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent are both necessary and entirely in keeping with India’s national security interests.

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…and then there was fire

What Agni-V’s success means to India.

Yesterday, India conducted a successful test of the much-awaited Agni-V nuclear-capable missile off Wheeler Island, Orissa.  Agni-V incorporates advanced technologies including composite rocket motors and micro-navigation systems, and has a range of over 5,000 km. The test itself is the most significant technological demonstrator of India’s evolving nuclear capability since the Pokhran tests of 1998.

By all standards, yesterday’s test was a long time coming.  Hindered by high-technology denial regimes led primarily by the U.S., India’s strategic missiles program has experienced delays and setbacks over the course of the last 15 years.  However, the absence of criticism from the U.S. on yesterday’s test is a testament to how far the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship has come since Pokhran.  As Shashank Joshi notes, “[i]f this had happened 15 years ago, it would have been condemned by the U.S.”

However, it is important to exercise caution and not get unduly carried away with yesterday’s successful test.  Unfortunately, India’s mainstream media has displayed misguided, almost vulgar bellicosity in its reporting of the success of Agni-V.  The same mainstream media that claimed that India wasn’t even prepared for war against Pakistan just two weeks ago, was all set to launch a punitive nuclear attack against China yesterday.  Some TV news channels also featured animated videos of Agni-V hitting targets in China!  This shrillness, rhetoric and lack of credible analysis does a tremendous disservice to the profession of journalism and to the people of India.

Yes, Agni-V was an important step, but India has many more significant challenges to overcome in the evolution of its nuclear capability.  The significance of Agni-V ties directly with India’s “No First Use” (NFU) nuclear doctrine, which requires a mature secondary-strike capability for any NFU position to be credible.  Effectively, a secondary-strike capability means having the ability to retaliate in an imposed nuclear war via land (typically, missiles), air (strategic bombers) and sea (submarines) — the so-called “nuclear triad.”

However, two of the three legs of India’s nuclear triad  are only just evolving.  Agni-V’s successful launch notwithstanding, it will take several years before it can be fully inducted into India’s armed forces.  Further, as India’s stature and interests on the global stage grow, there will be a need in the future to adequately consider and account for threats beyond its shores and neighborhood.  This will mean the development of missiles with ranges longer than Agni-V, which will take not only advanced technological expertise to achieve, but also considerable political will.

India’s sea-based deterrent is also lagging.  Since India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant, was revealed about two years ago, its operationalization has been significantly impacted by delays in its sea trials.  It is unlikely therefore, that it can be inducted into the armed forces before 2014.  Moreover, India’s submarine-based ballistic missile program is at a nascent stage.  While the short-range SLBM Sagarika (K-15) has undergone some trials, the longer-range K-4 is still under development and is unlikely to be ready for tests in the next 4-5 years, going by previous record.  This means that India is unlikely to realistically achieve credible sea-based deterrence before 2020.

India’s avowed position of never employing a nuclear weapon first in combat means that it must develop its secondary-strike capability with purpose.  It can ill-afford to go through additional iterations of lethargy and ineffectual decision-making in operationalizing and maturing its nuclear triad.  Naturally, India’s nuclear arsenal must also quantitatively and qualitatively evolve to reflect current and emerging threats.  The value of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems lies in convincing adversaries of their credibility and ability to inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation, should the need arise. The need of the hour therefore is to focus on these aspects rather than engage in injudicious and myopic chest-thumping.

 

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On Pakistan’s Hatf-IX tests

Should you buy what Pakistan is selling?

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations organization has been trying to sell its citizens, and more importantly, India, on the implications of the country’s successful testing of Hatf-IX/NASR, a nuclear-capable battlefield range ballistic missile.  Dr. Shireen Mazari, formerly Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, proclaimed that the reality of a tactical weapons capability in Pakistan has effectively check-mated India’s so-called “Cold Start” doctrine.

The argument is that the threat of employing low-yield nuclear weapons against the army will be sufficient to deter India from a conventional military attack.  The Pakistanis are apparently betting that their use of tactical nuclear weapons against advancing Indian forces — possibly, even on Pakistani soil — will not lead to a rapid escalation nor result in massive nuclear retaliation by India because of the relative magnitude and damage caused by the attack.  These are both absurd assumptions.

Under such a scenario, the very fact that the Indian army chose to attack Pakistan, despite its large nuclear arsenal, means that India was calling Pakistan’s bluff and that deterrence had failed.  What is the point of threatening the Indian army with tactical nuclear weapons at such a juncture?  Further, India’s Nuclear Doctrine specifically calls for a “punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor” in the event of “any nuclear attack against India and its forces” (emphasis added).  The Pakistanis, of course, are welcome to interpret the phrase “punitive retaliation” any way they see fit, but I doubt that their curiosity for greater clarity on the term would lead them to provoke India into giving a practical demonstration.

On Hatf-IX/NASR,  a brilliant op-ed by Ejaz Haider in today’s The Express Tribune (LT @d_jaishankar):

In our case, will we be using this weapon system for war fighting against an attacking Indian force on our soil? There can be no other use for such a weapon. If it does come to that, our deterrence would already have failed and I cannot see how use of TNWs will constitute a climb on the escalatory ladder to resurrect it. We are, of course, not even considering how our own troops and population would be exposed to the fallout from a TNW. Neither am I even touching upon the hair-raising issue of command and control of this system dispersed right down to the units and sub-units by the very logic of its deployment and employment.

Meanwhile, why would an adversary not raise the bar after its force is struck with a TNW? This was precisely the folly of strategies that led to the development of sophisticated and more accurate missiles. It was thought that striking and degrading only the enemy’s hard targets would prevent him from an all-out nuclear strike. Someone realised that it was stupid to determine the enemy’s response for him!

Moreover, our deterrence is pegged on NOT fighting a war, i.e., ensuring prevention of war by denying India its conventional advantage. This weapon system is about fighting a war, or supposed employment in case hostilities break out. That makes a mockery of our basic strategic requirement. Are we now going to frame and put the old deterrence on a wall in a drawing room? At the minimum, going for this kind of system reflects a mindset, one of paranoia, which ends up signalling to the adversary the exact opposite of what needs to be signalled — ie we are confident of our deterrent. Instead, we are happily embarked on diluting our deterrent and consider it an outstanding achievement.

But this is not all. There are other troubling questions related to the civil-military imbalance and flawed decision-making to which I shall return in the follow-up. [The Express Tribune]

 

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India debates the nuclear bomb (1991)

A discussion with K Subrahmanyam, Gen. Sundarji, Jaswant Singh, Praful Bidwai, and others.

Rummaging through Indian Express’ archives has unearthed an interesting discussion in India in January 1991, on the merits and demerits of going nuclear and costs associated with such a decision.  Interestingly, the discourse in India at the time was motivated by accounts of Pakistan already possessing a nuclear stockpile;  not the other way around, as some commentators would like the world to believe.  Clearly, AQ Khan’s admission to Kuldip Nayar in at the height of the Brasstacks crisis played a critical role in shaping Indian perceptions of the regional security environment, post 1987.

The seminar, entitled “Nuclear Pakistan and Indian Response,” was sponsored by IDSA and included commentary from K Subrahmanyam, Gen. Sundarji, Jaswant Singh, Gen. Vohra and Praful Bidwai.  Excerpts from Manvendra Singh’s op-ed follow:

Mr. Praful Bidwai expressed doubts as to whether Pakistan was in fact capable of producing nuclear weapons.  He called it a bogey used by many in Delhi, for the sole purpose of justifying India going nuclear.  David Albright’s article in the June (1987) issue of “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” was heavily quoted by him for the technical aspects of his arguments.

Albright’s article was full of uncertainties, as Mr. RR Subramaniam pointed out in his vociferous rebuttals of Mr. Bidwai, whose claim that Pakistan’s nuclear policy was a response to the 1974 Pokhran test was historically incorrect.  And in fact none of the other participants pointed out to him that ZA Bhutto’s famous (we will eat grass but make a bomb) speech was made in January, 1972 in Multan.

Gen. Sundarji, with his quick-draw tongue, was at his articulately hawkish best.  A specialist in “Deterrence theories,” Gen. Sundarji made a very pertinent point when he stated that simple deterrence, without political engagement leads to overkill, as it did for the Soviet Union.  This was in response to the argument that desire for nuclear weapons in the belief of acting as deterrents can never be satiated, as stockpiles go on rising.  While unequivocally calling for India to go nuclear, he was of the view that diplomatic dialogue has to be encouraged if an overkill situation is to be avoided.

Mr. K Subrahmanyam, the doyen amongst defense specialists, was characteristically blunt and sharp in his analysis. Debunking the argument put forward that an active nuclear policy is grossly expensive, Mr. Subrahmanyam convincingly backed his  thesis that in terms of the value of returns for investments, a nuclear weapons programme is the most effective.  The total amount, he clarified, spent on our nuclear weapons programme is minuscule compared to the overall defence outlay.  Lamenting on the absence of direction and purpose in our nuclear policy, he grimly reminded the participants about the period post-1962, when India went, prostrate before Britain and the United States, desperate for a nuclear umbrella vis-a-vis China, backing Gen. Sundarji’s statement that “weakness is not a virtue.”

Mr. Jaswant Singh, the only active participant from the ranks of politicians (Mr. IK Gujral was largely an observer), created a bit of a ripple amongst the participants when he declared that India had lost the strategic initiative to Pakistan.  He declined to elaborate, saying that it was vital for all to ponder over it.  In all probability, his thesis revolved around the fact that primarily out of our inaction, the internal and external range of India’s maneuverability has shrunk to levels incompatible to India’s status and role in the world.  This is the sum total loss arising out of an absence of clear long-term policy formulation and implementation.

And taking this setback into account, he said, makes it all the more necessary to have permanent bodies like the National Security Council Secretariat.  Active during the period of the National Front government in the formation of the NSC, Mr. Singh stated convincingly that it was imperative for India to have such a specialized decision-making body, given the circumstances that it finds itself in. The shortage of active politicians participating in seminars of such importance is a phenomenon for all Indians to seriously think about.

The decision to go nuclear, or not, rests entirely on the political leadership of India, and which is to a large extent, totally unacquainted with this and related subjects.  In Pakistan,however, it is the military brass that is in control of defence policy-making.  A military in power, directly or indirectly, will always enlarge its arsenal to keep the internal balance of power, psychologically or otherwise, in its favour.  It is therefore natural, no matter how much static exists between Washington and Islamabad, that Gen. [Aslam] Baig will go ahead with increasing and improving Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

In the unlikely event of Pakistani civil leadership initiating moves towards a nuclear treaty with India, Gen. Baig could very easily torpedo the whole process with some populist gimmickry.  A nuclear capability will be an enormous psychological boost for Pakistan’s aims in Afghanistan, Punjab and Kashmir. [Indian Express]

 

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