A Degenerating Nuclear Logic
A Degenerating Nuclear Logic
Are our memories so short? Doesn't anyone remember that veritable deluge of voices in Summer 1998 from the ranks of our 'strategic establishment' who assured us that regional stability would be enhanced by first India and then Pakistan going openly nuclear? The wondrous workings of deterrence would usher in greater nuclear security for both countries as well as reduce the likelihood of conventional military conflict and tensions. There
Four-and-a-half years down the line who was right? Can anybody doubt or deny that relations between India and Pakistan are more embittered than in decades? That the presence of nuclear weapons, far from being the soothing balm they were purported to be, have simply added a dangerous, and new, layer of tensions to a situation of already abiding unease? The easy way out to explain this is to assign all the blame to Pakistan - its
Remember, too, the oft-repeated claim that there would be no competitive arms race between India and Pakistan! Yet both countries test, accumulate more weapons-grade material to make more and better warheads, expand the range of their missiles, put in place nuclear command and control systems which they assure us will work and make matters safer, even as both governments spew venom at each other and indulge in a language of
This is the context in which we have to view the latest developments of the setting up of a Nuclear Command Authority in India with its claim of institutionalizing alternative chains of command (should the 'enemy' launch a pre-emptive 'decapitating' strike), and the dilution of its previous No
The obvious follows. An India that has already claimed various virtues for its nuclear arsenal and keen to disabuse Pakistan of its belief that it can hide behind a nuclear shield, had already in the past through the figure of the defense minister, George Fernandes, (and others) declared that India was not deterred by the Pakistan 'bluff' and fully prepared to teach it a lesson, if need be. Not surprisingly, the same George Fernandes (again not
For all the current talk of being able to inflict "unacceptable damage" on the other side, the honest truth is that no can know for sure that after a significant or substantial or massive enemy first strike whether enough would be left over to inflict unacceptable damage in a retaliatory second-strike, besides the fact that such an act is merely irrational revenge. It was the constant search for the always elusive 'credible' second-strike capacity that drove the US and USSR to an arms race that reached truly insane levels, and that will drive India and Pakistan to emulate them on a much lower but still constantly escalating scale. Fear of a decapitating first strike has pushed India into developing "alternative" chains of command. No doubt Pakistan with much less strategic-territorial depth has done the same. Shorn of its euphemistic tone what this means is that both countries are committed to a certain level of dispersion and delegation of authority to use nuclear weapons away from the Prime Minister or even the very topmost layer of political control, since decapitation can itself be very substantial. This dispersion-decentralisation of authority is itself a risk, and furthermore, there is still never going to be any guarantee that such alternative chains of command will not be deeply disrupted or adequately survive a massive first strike.
One should, therefore, expect a new kind of 'infighting' to now emerge within the Indian pro-nuclear lobby itself. There are going to be a number of voices now calling for abandoning the No First Use posture since this might be read by Pakistan as an invitation to launch a massive first strike sometime in the future. Over time one can also expect more voices to be raised about the need to move towards very high levels of preparedness such as provided by a "launch-on-warning" posture. It will then be argued that to make deterrence truly effective it is necessary to do this because only then is a massive second-strike attack against Pakistan virtually guaranteed so that it cannot hope to destroy India's retaliatory capacities through a huge first-strike no matter how decapitating or destructive this might be. So Pakistan will never strike first. Deterrence through a launch-on-warning posture is, of course, yet another level of madness in nuclear strategic thinking but that does not mean it won't come about. From 1982 to 1992 Russia made a No First Use pledge but like the US, it nonetheless in the eighties adopted a launch-on-warning posture.
Even as regional nuclear disarmament is the only genuine assurance against use of nuclear weapons in South Asia, there is also the need for promoting nuclear risk-reduction measures as a transitional measure. It is a striking indication of the deep irresponsibility of the two governments of India and Pakistan and of their respective pro-nuclear strategic establishments that to this date, the only serious efforts at drawing up, publishing and publicly distributing such risk reduction proposals have come from the ranks of the anti-nuclear disarmament movement.
Copyright 2003 The Hindu