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Sunday, July 19, 2009

2892, 12 June 2009
From ‘No First Use’ to ‘No Nuclear Use’ Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail: ‘Resolve’ is cardinal to ensure nuclear deterrence. If the ‘will’ to use nuclear weapons is seen to be lacking, this would impact adversely on deterrence. The Draft Nuclear Doctrine encapsulated this principle thus, “2.6. Deterrence requires that India maintain:…(e) the will to employ nuclear forces and weapons.” The other pillars of deterrence are ‘capability’ and ‘communication’ of the capability and will to the opponent. India is seen as doing well in capability building, even if its peer competitor, China, is way ahead. Recent reports suggest that Pakistan is doing equally well. The lament is on the limitations in India’s ‘will.’ India, being a democracy, is at a disadvantage with respect to centrally-administered potential adversaries. Pakistan has the military taking decisions, while in China it is the Communist Party. Presumably, these entities have greater capacity to display ‘resolve’ since they are less concerned about their citizens and internal politics. Besides, India is seen as a ‘soft state.’ The spate of terror attacks, culminating in 26/11, is advanced as evidence. Its historical restraint in using force is seen as amounting to dithering, which could be fatal if push comes to shove. This explains how the Indian decision maker has tied himself down in using nuclear weapons through the nuclear doctrine, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in January 2004. The then CCS expressed its approval of this formulation after a review that included the targeting strategy of a retaliatory strike. The manner of retaliation is incorporated in the doctrine as, “(iii) Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.” The introduction of the term “massive” was perhaps to compensate for India’s self-perceived weakness. A doctrine is only a guide; as acknowledged in the Draft, “Details of policy and strategy concerning force structures, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will flow from this framework and will be laid down separately and kept under constant review.” Therefore, departures from the doctrine can be expected in execution of the nuclear strategy appreciating the dictates of the conflict situation. Besides, the intent of the doctrine is deterrence. In the case of its breakdown, the manifestly new physical and psychological situation that emerges has its own drivers and compulsions. Therefore, even if Assured Retaliation makes sense in the logic of deterrence, scope must exist in a conflict for responding with non-nuclear means if the situation so warrants.In case, India chooses a limited offensive in response to a 26/11-like situation, the ‘Surprised Pakistan’ scenario may emerge. In this case a stampeded Pakistan, possibly under grave provocation from an Indian conventional attack, and under pressure from Islamists both outside and inside the military, may reach the nuclear level against its strategic judgment. Pakistan would have in this case have disregarded a critical formulation of India’s nuclear doctrine, “Credibility: Any adversary must know that India can and will retaliate with sufficient nuclear weapons to inflict destruction and punishment that the aggressor will find unacceptable if nuclear weapons are used against India and its forces.” However, if such nuclear first use is not overly provocative, damaging or disruptive of its military thrusts, while India “can” retaliate with nuclear weapons, there is a case for thinking through whether it should. Nuclear punishment is not a persuasive reason to persist with this doctrinal tenet, particularly since it would expose Indian forces and cities to a heightened nuclear threat. The only rational reason for nuclear retaliation would be to deter nuclear attack by Pakistan. Would in-conflict deterrence break down in case of non-retaliation? This is less likely since Pakistan’s nuclear assets would be severely degraded by a conventional attack. Deterrence would continue to operate with the decision maker knowing that Pakistan could expect an all-out Indian nuclear attack in case the Indian nuclear restraint goes unheeded. India would have acquired the moral high ground thereafter. It could also press home its conventional advantages to their logical conclusion. On account of its restraint in not indulging in a nuclear exchange, the international community would support it in punishing Pakistan for breaking the nuclear taboo. A democratic government’s primary responsibility in a war turning nuclear is to ensure the least damage to its population.The nuclear doctrine, though not a binding document, does appear to cater for the possibility of restraint in face of nuclear use by stating, “Highly effective conventional military capabilities shall be maintained to raise the threshold of outbreak both of conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons.” India would do well to keep the No Nuclear Use option open; even if it is not discussed publicly, so as to not dilute deterrence.

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