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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Second Strike and false security In Second Strike: Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia, Rajesh Rajagopalan articulates that ‘the probability of nuclear weapons use is less in the India-Pakistan feud'. This is comforting, and perhaps on that account, dangerous, because of the false sense of security its conclusions give rise to, says Firdaus Ahmed. 31 August 2005 -

See for balance article -

Second strike, the term: In nuclear strategy, second strike capability is a country's assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker. It counters a first strike nuclear threat and can support a no first use nuclear strategy.
An illusory battleground Rajagopalan's logic is that the risks of nuclear war are commensurate with the kind of nuclear doctrine adopted by the states in a conflict pair (India and Pakistan). Nuclear doctrine provides the conceptual tools determining the development and employment of nuclear weapons. Aggressive doctrines are more dangerous, while those more relaxed are relatively safer. His argument is that the nuclear doctrines of Pakistan and India are based on 'existential deterrence' theory. In this approach, there exists the threat of nuclear war in the mere possession of nuclear weapons by the adversary. This knowledge is enough to build in prudence and restraint into wartime or crisis decision-making. He notes approvingly that despite the rhetoric, the actual crisis behaviour of both states has been of war avoidance character. This outcome he attributes to successful deterrence within the existential deterrence framework.
Second Strike: Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia, Rajesh Rajagopalan. Penguin Viking, New Delhi, July 2005.
That Rajagopalan is the bearer of glad tidings is not adequate reason to let his argument of a 'stable nuclear deterrent relationship' existing in South Asia off the hook of critical scrutiny. His very first footnote refers patronisingly to ‘writer-activists’ as Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy and N Ram and their ‘polemics’. His position to the contrary that ‘South Asia is somewhat more stable than generally thought’ is obvious. However, an implication of this Freudian slip is that the nature of his effort must be non-polemical, i.e. better researched, academic, referenced, rational and therefore more credible if not downright appropriate. This is surprisingly the terrain on which the writer slips despite his power packed CV recounted earlier.
First, the term ‘existential deterrence’ has been around long enough for it's meaning to be well known. In Indian strategic literature it is now about a decade and a half old dating to 1987, when in the wake of the infamous Ex Brasstacks-Op Trident crisis, Pakistan let on that it had the Bomb in an interview of the father of their Bomb, the now notorious nuclear entrepreneur, Dr A Q Khan, by India's leading dove, Kuldip Nayar. The term ‘existential deterrence’ has been used to convey the deterrence related outcome of a covert nuclear capability, along with other terms coined during the decade prior to the Shakti tests of 1998 such as non-weaponised deterrence, recessed deterrence, etc.
The term continues to be used in the same context elsewhere and even today. This is evident from current reports of Iran opting for the ‘existential deterrent’ option - characterized as such by none else than Strobe Talbott, the India friendly counter proliferationist of the Clinton administration. The term is also most frequently used in describing the Israeli nuclear deterrent.
In deterrence theory, the competing approaches to 'existential deterrence' are 'deterrence by punishment' and 'deterrence by denial'. From its very formulation that the Indian nuclear doctrine is based on the former approach – “nuclear retaliation to be massive so as to inflict ‘unacceptable damage’”. Rajagopalan on the other hand believes that ‘Indian nuclear forces are expected to deter by their capacity to retaliate with certainty rather than because of their capacity to destroy the adversary in a retaliatory attack…’, thereby making the doctrine fall within the logic of existential deterrence. Admittedly, the mere fact that retaliation will ensue would cause an opponent to pause. However, India has set itself a wider aim, not relying solely on the deterrence impact of mere possession of a retaliatory capability. India also has to reckon with the presence of China that had served to legitimise it going nuclear – recall the Vajpayee letter to Clinton in the wake of Pokhran II. Interestingly, China does not even merit a mention in the index of the book. There is no escaping the impression that Rajagopalan has been self-serving in his argumentation.
Likewise, the Pakistani doctrine lends itself to inclusion in the latter approach -- 'deterrence by denial'. While Pakistan has made no explicit declaration on nuclear policy so far, its rejection of the No First Use principle and that its nuclear capability is also serving to deter conventional Indian attack, indicates that nuclear use is contemplated in armed conflict. This may indeed be as a last resort and in a later time frame as reckoned by Rajagopalan. Nevertheless, that they aim to deny India any gains and exact a price for its aggression through nuclear first use, albeit in extreme circumstances, indicates that they profess ‘deterrence by denial’. For Rajagopalan to say that "Pakistan’s view of nuclear deterrence fall(s) more within the existential deterrence framework, rather than the nuclear war fighting framework represented by ‘deterrence by denial’" would therefore call for greater academic rigour than has been on display on his part in this attempt at standing well recognised and widely accepted positions on their head.
An equally glaring omission as that of China from Rajagopalan's radar screen has been the evolution in India's ‘proactive’ conventional doctrine -- one that posits limited war under nuclear conditions, dubbed by Pakistan as 'cold start'.
A spirit of generosity may concede that the approaches of deterrence by punishment and denial can be subsumed in the doctrine of existential deterrence. Both states can be said to be in a state of existential deterrence with respect to the USA, in that their nuclear possession is a factor that even the hyper-power cannot discount from its strategic calculus. However, nuclear evolution in both states with respect to their regional security environment has been such that it has outpaced Rajagopalan. He does well to let the reader know that material from some of his chapters have appeared in publications earlier. He would do better to make these more contemporaneous for any future edition.
An equally glaring omission as that of China from Rajagopalan's radar screen has been the evolution in India's conventional doctrine in his study. While Rajagopalan devotes a chapter to lessons from the Kargil crisis and Op Parakram episodes, he ignores the chief outcome of these in terms of India's revised conventional war doctrine. India has adopted a ‘proactive’ conventional doctrine that posits limited war under nuclear conditions, dubbed by Pakistan as Since Pakistan maintains a nuclear force also for redressing the conventional imbalance, it follows that any change in India’s conventional war doctrine would impact on Pakistan’s nuclear thinking. In this case, it can be taken as serving to reinforce Pakistan's doctrine of deterrence by denial.
Rajagopalan’s error in delinking conventional from nuclear doctrine then begs the question: ‘Why?’
Perhaps a return to his brief biography may provide the clue. Having served in the NSC Secretariat, Rajagopalan is hardly likely to represent the nuclear danger in its true colours. His is an apologist's agenda. His conclusion that ‘the probability of nuclear weapons use is less in the India-Pakistan feud’ is comforting, and perhaps on that account, dangerous. He would have been right if the nuclear doctrines of the two states were indeed of the existential deterrence variant. While agreeing with him that the ‘nuclear taboo is not about to be violated in South Asia’, his reasoning requires refutation not only because of its faults but because of the false sense of security it gives rise to. Complacently accepting his thesis on this could prove disastrous in the light of evolution of security doctrines, both nuclear and conventional, in South Asia. ⊕
31 Aug 2005

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