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Sunday, July 19, 2009

2592, 10 June 2008
The Myth of 'Weapons of Peace' Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail: firdyahmed@yahoo.com
Celebrations attending the tenth anniversary of Pokhran II were unsurprisingly muted. This projected India as a responsible nuclear power, while having internal political utility of denying credit to the current opposition party for tests conducted in its earlier tenure at the helm. The commentary attending the anniversary, however, has generally been along two lines. The first is on how nuclearization has contributed to India's security while the second is on how India is lagging behind in relation to its adversaries. Along the latter direction, there is even motivated talk of a 'missile gap' opening up with Pakistan!
Celebratory anniversaries are not the appropriate time for sober reflection. Instead their aftermath provides a better vantage point. A critical look here reveals the obverse side of nuclearization, lost in the official - strategist-purveyed - point of view.
India's expansive Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND), adopted in wake of the Kargil war, gained partial official endorsement by the Cabinet Committee on Security in January 2003. India has promised that "(N)uclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage." This is certainly an improvement on the earlier formulation of the DND: "any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor."
There appears to be a move away from massive retaliation in case of "any nuclear attack" to one only in case of "first strike." There is doubt over whether the distinction between the "first strike" and "first use" is sufficiently appreciated. Taking the press release of the National Security Council Secretariat at face value, it may be conceded that the security establishment prefers obfuscation to enhance deterrence of first use by the adversary.
The reformulation of January 2003 is important in that it brings India's case for use of nuclear weapons generally in line with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of nuclear weapons of 1996. The ICJ had pronounced that "it cannot reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons by a State in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which its very survival would be at stake." The Wikipedia definition of 'first strike' has it that it is "a preemptive surprise attack employing overwhelming force" aimed at depriving the victim of the ability to strike back. A 'first strike' is by definition one disarming nuclear retaliatory capability, making it a combination of counter-force and decapitating strike. This would be of the order constituting threat to existence of the state, enabling the response deemed permissible by ICJ. A befitting reply with nuclear weapons would not be illegal.
However, the manner of retaliation promised as "massive" enough to result in "unacceptable damage" is believed to be "counter value" or of city-busting nature. This would run India's case afoul of the requirement of "proportionality" that governs self-defence under Charter Article 51. It is also questionable under international humanitarian law that prohibits indiscriminate effects on combatants and civilians or causes unnecessary suffering, and harm greater than unavoidable to achieve legitimate military objectives. This, incidentally, was a point in India's written submission to the ICJ in its consideration of the case. Lastly, it would be within the prohibited methods or means of warfare intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.
While targeting details may remain outside the public domain, legal considerations must inform them in order that the moral high-ground - critical to the political outcome of the conflict - is not lost sight of. That this has not been done is evident from the comfortable advocacy witnessed of targeting nine to ten cities in retaliation. This would bring the genocide convention into consideration.
Ongoing improvements in accuracy of delivery systems, miniaturization of warheads and missile defence make a wider menu of options possible, including nuclear war-fighting aimed at terminating any exchange at the lowest level of escalation. The possibility of pre-emption entering the reckoning and an arms race, provoked by missile defence, is on the cards in future. The American logic of preventive war and preemption has already found echo in Indian strategic thinking. Having earlier followed the Americans in including the possibility of nuclear resort against chemical and biological weapons, future evolution of Indian thinking along this direction cannot be ruled out.
A future arms race, provoked by developments in missile defence, cannot be discounted. India and Pakistan, not being signatories to the NPT, are not even bound by the strictures of the ICJ that the "obligation" of negotiations in good faith towards nuclear disarmament goes beyond that of a mere "obligation of conduct" but is one "to achieve a precise result." On this account, India's recourse to advocacy of universal nuclear disarmament is naive, and on that count, appears Machiavellian.
So long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat these pose needs foregrounding, lest these be mistaken as 'weapons of peace' by default

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