Arrogant nuclearism

Print edition : October 09, 1999

What India needs is an urgent Strategic Defence Review to determine its security needs. Instead of this it now has a dangerous doctrine for nuclear weaponisation.

However, in the last seven years, whilst much larger number of terrorists have infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley, inflicting tens of thousands of casualties on civilians, servicemen and police personnel, there is no suggestion that the Indian Army s hould follow the precedent of 1965. Here comes the nuclear factor. Since both India and Pakistan perceive each other as having nuclear weapons capability, the covert war waged by Pakistan has not escalated to a high intensity inter-state war because of t he implied risk of a possible nuclear exchange. While Pakistan's nuclear capability has enabled it to launch a covert war against India, the perception of mutual deterrence has ensured that the situation does not escalate further. This has resulted in a no inter-state war situation between India and Pakistan for almost twenty-five years.

- K. Subrahmanyam in World Affairs Journal, October-December 1997.

YES, this is the same K. Subrahmanyam, the Convener of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), who in a 1997 article titled "Covert Operations pose new challenges for Indian Security" said that there was already a minimum nuclear deterrent working. The only change in the political and security firmament since then has been that a new coalition government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, came to office in March 1998 and went on full speed ahead to conduct the nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998. For its splendid contribution, the BJP-led government was rewarded with the limited war in Kargil, which accounted for the loss of nearly 500 precious lives. We must thank the "Good Shepherd" for his early warning. In our hi-tech post-nuclear profile th is was the reality of our command, control and communications readiness. We came very close to losing Ladakh and the northern parts of Kashmir. Without trying to sound too alarmist, there was a real possibility of this conflict escalating into an all-out war, including a nuclear exchange with all its disastrous consequences.

Just as the country was recovering from this traumatic experience came yet another bombshell from the caretaker government - the announcement of the draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine on August 17, 1999. Many observers have stated that the NSAB's draft had be en with the government for nearly two months

(John Cherian in Frontline, September 10, 1999 and Achin Vanaik in The Hindu, September 4, 1999) but the government thought it fit to release it a fortnight before the first round of the general elections on September 5. Predictably, the Op position parties were furious, and rightly so. A matter of such importance should not have been made public by a caretaker government. Having carefully stowed it away for two months, it could have waited until the next government took office after the el ections. There is little doubt that the announcement was intended to influence voter opinion in the Government's favour. If ever there was a pre-emptive strike, this was it. There was no question of 'no first use' in this launch. Should a non-BJP governm ent come to office, it may well have a different approach altogether.

Of late we are seeing a lot of this kind of unilateralism. Take the telecom dispensation, which resulted in a loss of over Rs. 50,000 crores to the exchequer, or the hurry with which certain appointments of senior civil servants and Governors were made q uite arbitrarily. Or for that matter the utter disregard shown to the presidential advice on convening a Rajya Sabha session on the Kargil issue, which also demonstrated this arrogant and defiant attitude. The same government dismissed a Chief of the Nav al Staff on the specious grounds of defiance when he was only trying to call its attention to the regulations that governed the Navy.

This government has specialised in putting the cart before the horse. It did so with the nuclear tests of May last year and now with the Nuclear Doctrine. At the time of the announcement of the latter, NSAB Convener Subrahmanyam mentioned three things, a ll of which not only are worthy of mention but warrant some discussion. First: "The NSAB was working very hard at undertaking a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) and its report would be finalised in the next few months." Second: "No estimates on costs to ma intain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent have been worked out." Third, in response to a question from a mediaperson whether the nuclear button would be in a briefcase with the Prime Minister, he replied: "We are far more advanced than those with the b lack box with the button." This remark exudes technical superiority.

The first thing that the NSAB should have undertaken was the SDR. Had this been done before Pokhran-II, probably there may have been no need for the nuclear tests at all. Likewise, there would have been no need to evolve an elaborate nuclear doctrine to follow up the mistake of Pokhran-II. Finally, to support both these decisions, we have to do an SDR. The announcement has certainly not triggered any great enthusiasm as expected. No one even talks about the bomb or the doctrine. In an article in The Times of India dated September 6, Subrahmanyam laments "that the nuclear doctrine has not generated any worthwhile popular debate so far, but only criticism and endorsements from a very limited number of commentators. They reflect by and large the di vide between those who consider a nuclear deterrent necessary for Indian security and those who oppose it. The real debate has to be among different parties, all of which had over the years sustained the nuclear weapon and missile programmes." If Subrahm anyam himself felt in 1997 that the "Existential Deterrence" was working, how can he fault these political parties for not being fired by this great release? If anything, they have been angered by the release of this doctrine just prior to the elections. Presumably, by 'popular' Subrahmanyam means political parties and not the people. People are more concerned with basic necessities such as water, food, health care, schools, sanitation and jobs. If we see the print and electronic media, the complaint th at comes through loud and clear is that people's issues are not being discussed at all. Regrettably for the caretaker government, the release of the nuclear doctrine has, if anything, misfired.

What should the SDR address? It should:

* Identify national and strategic interests, clarify the bottom line for border management.

* Assess the overall strategic environment in the short-, medium- and long-term perspectives.

* Evaluate threats to "human security" and "national security" in the short-, medium- and long-term.

* Evolve plans and strategies to combat these threats. These should include a broad assessment of the priorities for both human security and other needs and the allocation of resources.

* Given the present capabilities, determine additional weapons/equipment that need to be inducted.

* Carry out scenario studies to identify force level and weapon requirements.

* Assess whether nuclear weapons are needed or whether the present level of nuclear capability will suffice (see note on Subrahmanyam's statement made in 1997).

* Conduct a cost-benefit analysis, keeping in mind both "human and national security" needs.

* Evolve suitable foreign and defence policies to match the above requirements.

* Examine the existing structure of the Ministry of Defence and suggest a more responsive architecture.

* If the nuclear answer is for the weapon, announce the doctrine, which should be brief and concise. Leave the strategic and tactical details to be evolved by appropriate agencies. The current doctrine is a three-in-one package. It contains doctrine, str ategy and even some tactics.

As this strategic review had not been carried out before jumping into the deep end with Pokhran-II, there is an elaborate justification to achieve maximum credibility with the launching of a grandiose nuclear doctrine. This is based on a 'triad' of air, land-based and sea-launched weapons. The doctrine goes on to say in paragraph 2.4: "The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state or entity against India and its forces. Ind ia will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail." This must be read in conjunction with paragraph 2.5, which states: "India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuc lear weapons against states which do not possess nuclear weapons or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers." We have suddenly become so powerful that we are going to take on not only the nuclear weapon powers but also virtually half this world! T his smacks of irrational and xenophobic thinking. Surely this is not the kind of credible minimum nuclear deterrent that was originally advocated. This is bound to create the demand for a very large and varied nuclear arsenal that would give us such a ca pability. The trouble is that the people are made to believe that we have it already - "but it is only in the head".

In view of the heavy commitment already made through the two mega decisions, one to go overt as a nuclear weapon state and the other to publicise our nuclear doctrine, which in short is our nuclear wish list, one can foresee the SDR ending up with 'Situa ting the Appreciation' instead of 'Appreciating the Situation'. Many of us have the habit of taking decisions guided more by instinct, desire or some preconditioned thinking rather than by mature and careful analysis of the pros and cons of the situation . Here we have a classic example of the former approach, adopted by the BJP-led government. The NSAB on its part is busy doing gymnastics to justify these decisions, which were made by leaving the SDR to the very end. Needless to say, this end product wi ll be tailored to be a perfect fit to make it look as "The Complete Plan".

When one reads paragraph 2.1 in conjunction with paragraph 4.1 of the doctrine, two things become clear.

* First, deterrence can fail, which is what most of us have been saying all along.

* Second, the level and weight of punitive retaliation must be such that it inflicts "destruction and punishment" that the aggressor will find unacceptable if nuclear weapons are used against India and its forces.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with R. Chidambaram, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Brajesh Mishra, National Security Adviser.-ANU PUSHKARNA

This concept amounts to a tacit acceptance of the failure of the "deterrent theory". The approach of no first use and punitive retaliatory strike gives one the justification to have a much larger arsenal of nuclear weapons. The number of weapons could go up even further to cater for "adequate retaliatory capabilities after enduring repetitive attrition attempts" (see paragraph 4.3). These, when viewed in the context of taking on the U.S. and half the world - the sky is the limit. This is a doctrine for maximum credible deterrence.

A few words on "Unacceptable Damage". It is perhaps best illustrated by quoting Gen. Thomas S. Power, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC), who stated in February 1960: "The closest to one man who would know what the minimum dete rrent is would be (Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev, and frankly I don't think he knows from one week to another. He might be able to absorb more punishment next week than he wants to absorb today. Therefore Deterrent is not a concrete or finite amount" (Atomic Audit, edited by Stephen I. Schwartz and brought out by the Brookings Institute, page 22). Nor for that matter is how much is acceptable or unacceptable damage. If this be so, we can easily expect more and more demands to raise your inventory and therefore stockpile weapons to achieve these conjured-up desires of making the adversary think the way you do. This nuclear doctrine has shaped the course of an inescapable arms race and is therefore unacceptable. We have not come to t he cost factor yet, which will say much more.

With a concept of multiple adversaries, we will certainly face a very serious problem identifying the source of the attack, especially if it comes from a submarine. Are we to understand that we will retaliate by attacking all nations which possess missil e-carrying submarines? There seems to be no clarity as to how we propose to deal with ballistic-missile-carrying submarines of the nuclear weapon states. Is it our intention to have a large nuclear attack submarine fleet, to 'tag and tail' all ballistic- missile-carrying submarines operating in the Indian Ocean? Hopefully we are not visualising a replication of the "the hunt for Red/ Blue/ Green/ Pink October". We must get our sights trained properly and not get carried away by "it is only in the head" t heory. It is extremely dangerous, silly and clearly beyond our reach financially for a long time to come. The U.S. Navy has recently commissioned the "Seawolf" class attack submarine to 'tag and tail' the Russian "Typhoons" and "Deltas". The cost of one Seawolf is $9 billion, or Rs.38,000 crores, equal almost to the entire defence budget of India for one year. Do we really want to join this league? We were well served by "Existential Deterrence" as stated by Subrahmanyam in 1997. Instead of this the BJP has gifted the nation the P3I system (Perennial Penury for the People of India).

The command, control, communication, information and intelligence (C4 I2) systems are going to be "robust". Presumably that means that the Command Post will be in a hardened site with back-up alternative locations elsewhere. The chain of command after th e Prime Minister will also be designated. In the U.S. this is very clearly indicated. It is enacted by Congress and is a public document. Strange was the reaction of National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra when he was asked to specify the chain of comma nd after the Prime Minister: "They have to be kept a secret and could not be revealed for security reasons" (The Times of India, August 18, 1999). For lending credibility to paragraph 4.3 (sub para 2) of the doctrine, "for the continuity of nuclear command and control, read in conjunction para 2.6 (e)," regarding the 'will' to employ nuclear forces, it is necessary to identify the chain of command, including all the successors as for the U.S. practice. The U.S. lists a total of 17 people a fter the President who shall exercise this command (Atomic Audit, Note 42, page 220). Secrecy in this regard is therefore a misplaced concept.

The 'robustness' also envisages excellent communications systems, which must survive a first strike by an adversary. The state of the national communications system today is pitiable. This is borne out by the fact that the Prime Minister remained unaware of the news of Pakistan's nuclear tests at Chagai even after the rest of the world had learned about it through the electronic media. The Prime Minister's embarrassment was writ all over his face as he came to learn about the event on the floor of Parli ament. There ended the great strategic gulf which lasted for precisely 14 days. We do not have radio communications even to guide drivers of fast trains on the Indian Railways, in order to avert accidents. Many incidents which could have been avoided had such a facility been available, have not yet led to technology upgradation. We see many accidents on the roads; disasters are frequent - floods, quakes, gas leaks, the capsizing of boats, and much more. Each time the platitudes are repeated and inquirie s conducted, more as a yardarm clearing exercise. The reason is simple - because the elites in India have ceased to have a soul. All that the political leaderships is busy doing at the moment is to hurl cheap and vulgar epithets at one another; they do n ot care at all for the people's needs.

Rear-Admiral Raja Menon, in an article in The Times of India on August 26, states: "There is a serious dysfunction between minimum deterrence and a tri-service arsenal. The two cannot go together, and is akin to yoking a horse and a camel together ." Clearly, this is our problem. The entire doctrine, based on no first use and the acceptance of a significant first strike and punitive retaliation, is dependent on survivability capacity for retaliation.

Aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons and land-based missile systems suffer from high vulnerability and therefore poor survivability in the context of a no-first-use doctrine. The least vulnerable platform - both for detection and for destruction - is the m issile-carrying submarine. General K. Sundarji, former Chief of the Army Staff, had proposed an arsenal of 40 atom bombs and a couple of submarines as being enough to meet India's requirements. Even missiles on surface ships have a much greater survivabi lity factor than land-based systems. This form of vectoring need not be ruled out.

Let us examine the cost factor which has conveniently been overlooked by the NSAB.

The book Atomic Audit has many interesting features which are worth noting. Although it has carried out an audit of the U.S. nuclear programme, the parameters and concepts used apply equally to the Indian programme. The outgo has been listed and a nalysed under several headings. Only the proportion of costs under each heading is shown, as these are likely to remain the same for the Indian programme, notwithstanding the numbers of nuclear weapons involved. The breakdown is as follows:

* Building the bomb - 7 per cent * Deploying the bomb - 55.7 per cent

* Targeting and controlling the bomb - 14. 3 per cent

* Defending against the bomb - 16.1 per cent * Dismantling the bomb - 0.5 per cent * Nuclear waste management - 6.3 per cent

* Victims of U.S. nuclear weapons - 0.04 per cent

* Nuclear secrecy - 0.05 per cent * Congressional oversight - 0.02 per cent

C.Rammanohar Reddy, with his modest assumptions of the nuclear arsenal, worked out a figure Rs.50,000 crores over a 10-year period. In view of the rather ambitious plan outlined in the nuclear doctrine we can easily double that figure, in which case we s hall end up with a demand for a sum of Rs.100,000 crores to be spent over the next 10 years exclusively for the nuclear deterrent. In other words, Rs.10,000 crores a year. This amounts to an addition of 25 per cent per annum to the already burgeoning def ence expenditure. With Rs.1 crore we can have 10 primary schools, each for about 50 children, or 10 primary health centres, or water supply for at least 100 villages with five borewells per village - there are several other options. A sum of Rs.10,000 cr ores would help provide primary education to all children in the country.

The Kargil experience has thrown up strange and irrational deductions and consequently avoidable demands. The situation requires a management of both diplomacy and defence. We need to look at these kinds of options as well.

* Defence spending has been inadequate.

* We need to raise another corps to defend Kargil.

* The Air Force needs more aircraft.

* The Navy needs more ships and submarines and aircraft carriers.

Defence Minister George Fernandes.-SHANKER CHAKARAVARTY

Had the government and the Army been alert and listened to the commanders at the scene of action, Pakistani forces would never have reached where they did and the entire activity would have been nipped in the bud. These hasty and ill-advised demands woul d never have arisen. We need to do the SDR fast and come up with a composite and integrated plan. We will otherwise end up making the same mistake of trying to please everybody and at some cost. We certainly need to be far more pragmatic and realistic th an that. What about opportunity costs?

The allocation of resources to ensure deterrence and the associated infrastructure have a penalty in terms of opportunity costs, efficiency versus effectiveness, capital costs, resource consumption and so on. Even in the U.S., the huge expenditure incurr ed in the nuclear weapons programme has staggered many Americans. General Lee Butler says: "Atomic Audit lays bare the staggering price exacted upon the most technologically proficient of the Cold War antagonists. More important, it begins to expo se the policy, planning, and other operational flaws that undercut both the logic and implementation of deterrence as perceived by its American practitioners." Maybe there is a lesson here for the Indian nuclear hierarchy. If a correct appraisal is made of the requirements for human security needs in the SDR, we shall arrive at the correct balance to be maintained between that and other national security requirements.

A POTENTIALLY rich country like India, with nearly one billion people - 38 per cent of them are below the poverty line as per the government's own statistics, but other estimates put the number of poor people at 750 million - is poised to enter an era of arrogant nuclearism so well articulated by the Indian Nuclear Doctrine. The architects of this document in the NSAB have not even addressed the cost factor to study the economic impact of such far-reaching recommendations. Instead of starting with an SD R to determine what was required by way of both human and national security needs, we are now left with the Hobson's choice of evolving and supporting a nuclear weaponisation programme and its doctrine. Hopefully our countrymen will put some saner leader ship in place to manage our strategic environment better. Even now it is not too late to disengage from this useless, costly and totally unnecessary 'evil'. Let us try and craft a whole new strategic initiative and evolve an India-China-Pakistan peace an d security agreement for the next century. This 'Triad' would be far more effective and much cheaper in the long run. We need to usher in the new millennium with a new vision and mission if we are not to go down in history as the failed gen eration.

Admiral L. Ramdas (retd) is a former Chief of the Naval Staff.

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