May 04, 2013

No First Use Nuclear Doctrine with “Chinese Characteristics”


 
Dr. Adityanjee


Introduction

Like a chameleon, the dragon, very predictably is changing its colors with regards to its often stated nuclear doctrine of "no first use" (NFU). Since 1964 when China conducted its first nuclear weapon test, China has repeatedly and vociferously insisted that it would not be the first nuclear power to use a tactical or strategic nuclear weapon in pursuit of its strategic objectives. This NFU pledge was explicitly and unconditionally included in each of China's defense white papers from the first in 1998 through the seventh one in 2011. Recently, there is some international debate about possible changes in China's NFU doctrine following publication of China's biannual 2013 Defense White Paper. However, it appears that China may have moved beyond its so-called NFU doctrine and its duplicitous pledges do not hold any sincere meaning. Strategic deception has been an important part of China's military DNA since the times of Sun Tzu who wrote in his treatise the Art of War: "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away. Since achieving a great economic success and flush with $ 3.4 trillion foreign exchange reserves, China has increased its list of core national issues and has adopted a more belligerent strategic posture and hegemonic attitude towards international community in general and its neighbors in particular. Disregarding the Deng's advice of lying low and bidding your time, the current (5th) generation of China's leaders are adopting aggressive postures militarily though the transformation into visibly hardened strategic claims started really during the reign of the 4th generation leaders (Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo).

The last time a Chinese paramount leader reaffirmed the so-called NFU pledge was on March 27th 2012 in Seoul Nuclear Conference when Hu Jintao mentioned it in his address. However, in December 2012, the new 5th generation Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping failed to mention about the so-called no first use pledge in a speech given to Second Artillery Force of the PLA which manages China's land-based nuclear weapons. Apparently, he also stated that nuclear weapons create strategic support for China's status as a major world power. This is a significant departure from the previously stated public positions citing Mao Zedong's ideas about the use of nuclear weapons as a taboo and labeling the nuclear weapons essentially as "paper tigers".

Fundamentals of NFU Commitment

Out of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons currently, only two, China and India had explicitly stated "No First Use" as the guiding principle of their strategic nuclear doctrine.

An absolute and unconditional NFU commitment would have four following components:

Not to use nuclear weapons first against countries that possess nuclear weapons
Not to threaten use nuclear weapons first against countries that possess nuclear weapons
Not to use nuclear weapons first against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons
Not to threaten to use nuclear weapons first against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons
NFU policy has been a core feature of the Chinese defense policy having been decided apparently by Chairman Mao himself in 1964. Critics of the Chinese NFU commitment claim that it is completely unverifiable and is mere rhetoric. Self-described "China hawks" in the West have derisively dismissed the Chinese NFU pledge as pure propaganda for the last five decades. Chinese strategists have debated the merits of dropping or altering the NFU policy. This debate was reportedly very intense from mid to late 2000s. There are assertions from Chinese officials that Chinese NFU commitment is not applicable to perceived claims on territories. China has territorial disputes with multiple neighbors including India. Presumably since China continues to claim that Arunachal Pradesh is its own territory, in a hypothetical scenario, it may use tactical nuclear weapons in a war with India in eastern sector because China will consider this use not against any other country but in its own perceived territory. Similarly, China will not be bound by its NFU if the US were to intervene in Taiwan in case of a Sino-Taiwanese war as it considers Taiwan as a renegade province. Chinese NFU is not applicable if it apprehends annihilation of its top leadership by conventional means. Similarly, a conventional attack on strategic target like the Three Gorges Dam would be an exception to the NFU pledge. More recently, Chinese have discussed other possible exceptions from their NFU commitment including a massive precision guided conventional attack on their intercontinental ballistic missile silos or their strategic facilities. As China moves away from minimal credible deterrence to "limited deterrence", a more sophisticated delivery mechanism and an exponential increase in its nuclear stockpile, it has also moved towards greater flexibility and continued opacity in its nuclear operational doctrine. It is pertinent to say that the so-called Chinese NFU commitment has never been taken seriously by both the US and Russia at any time in their policy matrix.

Chinese Nuclear Arsenal

China can be considered the largest nuclear power after the US and Russia. China's nuclear capability is apparently stronger than those of the next six nuclear states combined. According to Russian estimates, since early 1960s China has generated 40 tons of enriched weapons grade uranium and 10 tons of plutonium which would be enough to produce 3,600 nuclear war-heads. It is probable that half of this fissile material is kept in stocks whereas the rest half has been used up to produce 1500-1800 warheads, half of which may be in storage. This would leave 800-900 warheads that could be available for operational deployment on various types of delivery vehicles. Therefore, the real motives for China's complete secrecy about its nuclear forces lie not in their "weakness" and "small size" but in much larger strength of China's actual nuclear arsenal that is much higher than the commonly cited number of 300-400 warheads by the western analysts. There is also a great degree of international uncertainty about the hundreds of tunnels being built in China as their purpose has not yet been officially explained.

Chinese Nuclear Posture and Track II Interactions

Personal interactions with various Chinese academicians and officials during policy conferences suggest that China will continue to add to its nuclear arsenal and will not participate in any nuclear disarmament program till it reaches a certain level. This analyst has interacted with Professor Shen Dingli, Associate Dean of the Institute of International Studies from Fudan University, Shanghai over the last four years with very consistent and candid answers regarding Chinese national nuclear posture. Professor Shen Dingli claims to have independent (but sometimes more hawkish views) from those of the Chinese Government. In 2009 Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, DC, he expressed absolute ignorance about Chinese proliferation activities and the fact that Chinese weapons designs were turned in by Libya to the International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA) when Libya folded up their clandestine nuclear program. He was totally unaware of China's both vertical and horizontal proliferation activities as late as April 2009. During the 2009 Carnegie International Non-proliferation Conference, Washington, DC, he agreed that Chinese government will continue to increase its number of nuclear war-heads. In a more recent Carnegie Endowment meeting on India-China dialogue in Washington DC on January 10th 2013, he again reiterated that China will continue to modernize its nuclear arsenals and the delivery systems till a perceived parity is achieved with the two great powers (US and Russia). China will certainly not agree to cut the number of nuclear arsenals as it wants both the US and Russia to implement further reductions in their respective nuclear arsenals.

Interactions with another Chinese academician Dr. Shulong Chu, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the School of Public Policy and Management and the Deputy Director of the Institute of International Strategic and Development Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China in a session on China-US Strategic Stability on 4/6/2009 during the Carnegie International Non-proliferation Conference, Washington DC revealed very interesting Chinese perspectives. Chu explicitly stated that since China has accepted US supremacy, analogously both India and Japan should accept Chinese supremacy in the Asia-pacific region. China is a bigger country than Japan and India. It has bigger military requirements. Japan, India and other Asian countries should understand that and should be willing to accept China's ongoing modernization of its military and strategic (read nuclear) assets. Chu further went on saying: "Russia and the US have too many nuclear war-heads. They can afford to have deep cuts. China cannot do that because China has too few. China wants more and its agenda is to have more nuclear weapons".

Major-General Yao Yunzhu, Director of the Center on China-America Defense Relations of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, Beijing in a session on Deterrence, Disarmament and Non-proliferation during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, held in Washington, DC on April 8-9th 2013, artfully deflected all the questions on China's growing number of nuclear arsenals with a cute smile, stating again that the onus for nuclear warhead reduction lies on both US and Russia because China has very limited, small number of nuclear weapons. General Yao while doing routine lip-service to the NFU doctrine explicitly admitted that, "A certain amount of opaqueness is an integral part of China's no-first-use policy". She persistently refused to quantify the number of warheads China needed for a credible and effective nuclear deterrence. She officially expressed Chinese Government's serious concern at the US shifting its ballistic missiles interceptors in the Pacific island of Guam to deal with DPRK nuclear threat, thereby degrading the quality of the Chinese nuclear deterrent. She enumerated three essential characteristics for the Chinese nuclear deterrent: it has to be survivable against first strike; it has to be credible enough in numbers and in delivery system, and lastly it has to have an effective and punitive second strike retaliatory capability. She was asked about recent BMD tests by China on January 22nd 2013 and she categorically confirmed that China will, from now on, indeed develop its own BMD system as the US is not willing to commit to cease its BMD system.

Professor Li Bin from the Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing and also a Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC admits formally in his writings that China's non-proliferation posture has evolved over a period of time and now is an important and essential part of its nuclear theology. However, in private discussions he passionately justified Chinese horizontal proliferation activities outside the scope of the Nuclear Suppliers Group by providing Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 nuclear plants to Pakistan on grounds that China had helped India also with nuclear fuel supplies for the Tarapore Atomic Reactor when India was under the US nuclear embargo. He assertively implied that China will continue to provide nuclear materials and technology to its all-weather friend Pakistan analogous to US-India civil nuclear deal though the latter deal was approved by the NSG. Interestingly a younger researcher Zhu Jianyu from the Center for Strategic Studies of the China Academy of Engineering Physics during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, held in Washington, DC on April 8-9th 2013 candidly admitted that Chinese press and academicians usually toe the government line because the government controls their funding and hence independent viewpoints are not possible.

In private discussions with Major General Yao, it became quite clear that China will now vigorously pursue development of its national ballistic missile defense system; something which China had vociferously denounced earlier. She also stated that China will continue to develop its ASAT weapons till a legally binding multi-lateral treaty banning weaponization of the space is signed and ratified. Major General Yao attributed to and categorically linked this shift in Chinese strategic thinking to the recent US decision to deploy 14 long-range ballistic missile interceptor batteries in the Pacific Island of Guam ostensibly in response to threats posed by the DPRK thereby potentially degrading the Chinese nuclear deterrent. Changes in the Chinese nuclear posture are also linked to the US development and deployment of advanced precision guided conventional warheads in the Asian theatre capable of destroying Chinese multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) ballistic missile silos thereby degrading the Chinese minimum nuclear deterrent. China is focused on modernizing and its strategic survivability and beefing up its effective second strike capability and therefore will continue to develop more nuclear warheads and will keep its nuclear capabilities fully opaque.

China's 2013 Defence White Paper

For the first time, the 2013 edition of China's defense white paper entitled: "Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces" conspicuously fails to mention re-adherence to and re-affirmation of China's often-stated "No first use pledge". This is significant departure from the 2011 version of China's Defense White Paper. The absolutely deafening silence in the 2013 version on NFU is deliberate and is very significant for its reverberating eloquence. The new white paper introduces ambiguity as it endorses the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack but does not rule out other uses. In the last few years, Chinese analysts and officials have done an excellent job of qualifying the original Chinese "NFU" pledge with myriads of qualitative exceptions so as to render it effectively meaningless. This carefully contrived departure is strategically significant for the international community.

Following a vigorous international debate on China's departure from the NFU policy, Major General Yao floated a trial balloon in an op-ed piece in Asia Times Online on April 24th 2013 when she called for a legally binding multi-lateral NFU agreement. She wrote a point by point rejoinder while still defending the reasons as to why China should depart from the often stated NFU policy and acknowledged that domestic discussions happening in China regarding junking the NFU policy. She has tried to invoke new exceptions to China's so-called NFU commitment linking it to a new US law (2013 National Defense Authorization Act) that seeks a report from the Commander of the US Strategic Command by August 15th 2013 to describe the Chinese underground tunnel networks and to review the US capability to neutralize such networks with conventional and nuclear forces. Ostensibly, with a view to creating more confusion and more opaqueness about China's intentions, she explicitly states: "To alleviate China's concerns, a constructive approach would be to assure the policy through nuclear policy dialogues, to establish a multilateral NFU agreement among all the nuclear weapon states, and to consider limiting or even prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons in a legally binding international agreement." Li Bin, in bilateral context, has previously suggested that India and China should begin their nuclear engagement with mutual reassurance of NFU and should work together in advocating NFU in global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.

China very well knows such a legally binding international agreement will not be negotiated for several decades owing to US dogmatic postures. The US is already spending $10 billion to upgrade its nuclear weapons despite Obama's initial call for a global zero goal. This gives a window of opportunity for China to increase its nuclear warheads exponentially while keeping its so-called NFU pledge under suspended animation and even junk it de facto. Interestingly, China refuses to enter into an official government to government nuclear weapons dialogue with India on the grounds that India is non-signatory to the NPT. At the same time, China has shrewdly refused to engage in bilateral dialogue with the US on nuclear arms reductions on grounds of asymmetry of nuclear forces of respective countries. China does complain of discrimination and nuclear asymmetry while discussing US-China relations but fails to address genuine Indian concerns on similar grounds.

Implications for India

Western debate on the perceptible change in Chinese nuclear posture has focussed only on its narrow impact on the strategic environment of the US and its allies including Japan. India should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Perhaps, time has come for India to review her own strategic nuclear doctrine revising the no-first use pledge. Robust evidence has come cumulatively over a period of time from multiple sources reflecting the new nuclear reality in our neighborhood. Totality of the evidence available convinces this analyst that China has indeed changed its nuclear posture from defensive to offensive and is on a large-scale nuclear build-up. China is indeed willing to consider first strike capability to preserve its core national issues though vehemently denying such intentions at the moment. Predictably, China will continue to obfuscate this change in nuclear posture using ambiguous, turgid and opaque language while simultaneously blaming the US for failing to negotiate a legally binding multi-lateral agreement on NFU. Indeed, this gives the dragon a fig-leaf of deniability. Certainly, India should not countenance being the only nuclear weapon state pledging "no first use" while the global nuclear posturing has become indeed hardened. One has to take into factor Pakistan's accelerated development of tactical nuclear weapons and its stringent refusal to negotiate and sign a multi-lateral Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and continued Chinese help to Pakistan in and outside the NSG. While Pakistan has never subscribed to an NFU commitment and its nuclear arsenal is specifically India-centric; the recent change in China's nuclear posture is definitely of concern to India. The writing is on the wall as China does not have good track record of strategic comfort and reliability vis-a-vis India. The current incidence of Chinese incursion into Indian territory in Daulat Beg Oldie region in the Ladakh sector should be an eye-opener. While India must focus on its economic, infrastructure and social development and must not waste her meager fiscal resources in a costly nuclear race, she needs to be prepared for all strategic options. Given the aggressive behavior of China in recent years appropriate and credible policies need to be adopted including having a re-look at evolving nuclear posture of China.

Has status quo been altered by the Chinese side?


India-China relations

Are we heading back to a round of 'forward' policy on the India-China border? Is the Depsang incursion an attempt by China to create new ground realities by matching ground positions with its map positions?  

That the India-China border is unresolved is known well enough. That in itself is unlikely to be the cause for the Chinese incursion - and potential settlement - in the Depsang area of the Western Sector in Ladakh since April 15. It is the differing claim lines of the two sides and the lack of clarity regarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that leaves open the possibility of either side altering the status quo by establishing a ground presence which accords with its own claim. The other side is then left with the option of accepting the new ground reality or taking steps to challenge it, if necessary by military means. Hitherto, infringements of the LAC were more of a flag-showing exercise than an attempt to establish lasting ground presence. The patrols, when challenged, withdrew. One exception was Sumdorong Chu in the eastern sector a quarter-of-a-century ago. The lack of self-restraint in this regard creates unpredictability; uncertainty encourages pre-emption. 

Any such action is destabilising for peace and tranquility along the border. It was to avoid eventualities arising from unilateral alteration of the status quo that the task of clarification and confirmation of the LAC was envisaged. It was to be an interim step for purposes of border management pending an agreement on the border. As is known, this exercise got nowhere as the Chinese side was unwilling to share maps setting out its perception of the LAC.

Has the status quo been altered by the Chinese side? The Chinese leadership has made it clear, as Xi Jinping, Secretary General of the Chinese Communist party put it to the Communist Party Politburo on January 28, 2013, that China will not give up its "legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests."  In the instant case, it has firmly denied transgressing the LAC and asserted that it is on its own side of the LAC. In contrast, public statements from the Indian side speak of differences in perception regarding the LAC. There is lack of official confirmation about reports that China has demanded that India should dismantle certain positions elsewhere along the border that it considers as amounting to a change in status quo. All this leaves the Indian public guessing about the extent to which India considers its own stand well-founded. 

China's economic and military power is growing. China's military budget is three times larger than India's; it exceeds that of India and Japan combined. The Chinese may well be comparing themselves with the developed world, in particular the US. But China's differences are all with neighbouring countries and there is no assurance that these will be resolved solely through peaceful means.

 The latest incursion is taking place even as a visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang to India is being planned. Making India his first official stop is intended to signal the importance and priority that China attaches to this relationship. Separately, a visit to China by the External Affairs Minister is imminent.  The leadership on both sides has said that bridging the 'trust deficit' is essential to consolidate and strengthen bilateral relationship. If diplomacy is to have a chance – as it should – then both sides should be willing to take positions that suggest readiness to compromise and find a mutually agreed solution. One can but hope that diplomacy will succeed in obtaining restoration of status quo ante. The soft-speak should not be, nor taken to mean, that India is willing to settle for less. 

Little gain

On the Indian side, there is little to be gained by renewed conflict with China at a time when there are more pressing economic and social problems to deal with. On the Chinese side, the hopes for a qualitatively higher level of ties with India stem also from the desire to wean India away from a closer embrace of the US and Japan. China remains suspicious of US's efforts to co-opt India into its "return" to Asia or Asian "pivot" policy. This objective is not served if China's intentions are seen by the Indian public as hostile and inimical.

China and India need a climate of peace and stability for continued economic growth. Both are faced with a slower growth rate that causes difficulties in attaining the goal of augmenting incomes and employment and creating a more prosperous society. Both have similar problems to address and resolve. There is much to learn from each other's experience. The hopes for cooperation and mutual understanding should not become hostage to a 'forward' policy in pursuance of territorial and other claims.

(The writer is a former diplomat and now Director of the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)
ds.

India-China Relations and the Changing Nature of War

May 3, 2013 by Team SAISA   

Mohan Guruswamy

The nature of war is directly related to the technology of the times and the resources available. But how we can fight and how long we might fight increasingly depends on the willingness of the world as a whole to allow it. War between countries and particularly war between major powers will not be without consequences to the ever increasingly inter-dependent world and hence international pressure to terminate conflicts before they expand and/or spiral out of control is only to be expected, especially when the nations in conflict are armed with nuclear weapons. How many nuclear weapons a country has does not matter, as for the world outside even the use of one will not be without huge collateral consequences? Considering this, this may be a good time and place to ponder over the future nature of war and how this would impact India.
The end of the Cold War has made geo-politics much more complex and the definition of national interest is now extremely blurred. China may have a huge trade surplus with the USA, but when Chinese exports to the USA are disassembled it reveals that much of this merchandise trade originate in countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the rest of ASEAN, and China is only the final aggregator and assembler of material. This implies that the USA's main political and military allies in the region are China's major economic partners, and any reduction of US imports from China will have an adverse effect on its strategic allies. With Europe in decline and languishing, the USA increasing depends on Asia for trade and economic well-being. This is now reflected in its substantially increased trade from its western ports. Yet the USA and China are now engaged in acrimony that while being still much less adversarial than its relationship with the former USSR, is tending to become increasingly inimical
.
Then take the Japan-China relations. They are strained and often tend to get rancorous. Yet Japan is the largest overseas investor in China and has a huge annual trade surplus with China. It is same with case for Taiwan and South Korea. India's relationship with China too is a troubled one, yet China is India's largest trading partner now. China even has a huge trade surplus with India. The new global arrangements have nevertheless worked well for all of us and the global economy has been expanding at a never before pace. This is now a world system without major friendships or enmities, except for the usual local ones such as India and Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Israel and the Arab world.
Take another situation. Suppose push comes to shove and Iran attempts to block the Straits of Hormuz? Will it not be in the interests of the USA, China and even India to co-operate, politically and militarily, to keep that vital international passageway open? Unlike the Iran-Iraq conflict which saw no serious attempt by anybody for mediation, an India-China conflict, particularly if it spills over into the IOR will see active and energetic mediation by all major powers, because such a crisis will threaten world order. An India-China conflict even on the remote land borders will result in an active and even irresistible mediation.

Thus, a long drawn war between two major powers, particularly between two nuclear powers is extremely remote. The time window for such a conflict, if there is one, will be very narrow. Thus at best the two countries can fight a very limited war that does not cause irremediable loss of face to either one. It will be very important for both countries to have their nations believe that they have not emerged worse-off in the conflict. Face then becomes everything. The national mood, not territory or space, is what the next conflict will be about. This kind of a conflict requires quick escalation to high kinetic levels before the conflict is forced to a halt by outside powers. Unlike the Iran-Iraq conflict few were bothered about, an India-China conflict, if it is allowed to happen, won't last long. The illusion of victory has to be created in this very limited space.

In such a world system the chances of any outbreak of general wars are impossibility. Each of the major powers have too much destructive power, and too much of an interest in preserving the global system. Yet the world is fraught with situations that threaten to become violent. India and China too are in such a situation. But how much violence can they afford and how much the world will let them engage in? Both have too many stakes not to let matters spin out of control.
Wars between nuclear powers, if they happen, will be constrained by the need to limit the escalation to short of the use of nuclear weapons, tactical or strategic. Since the war cannot cross this threshold the perception of victory must be created by being dynamic in the use of weapons and tactics. Since time is the other constraint there will be no room for wars of maneuver. Victory will be a matter of perception. There will be no time and place for strategic victories. The sum of tactical victories will be the ultimate perception of victory. We have seen how soon air power came to be deployed over Kargil. The terrain and array of forces on both sides of the India-China border suggests that air power come into play fairly early to score the wins that will influence perceptions.

Kargil was India's first living room war where controlled electronic feeds lit up emotions in homes nationwide that fostered a groundswell of jingoism. While it would be rather difficult to award points like in a boxing match, India clearly emerged as the winner in terms of perceptions, despite greater losses in men and material. Since modern wars are usually militarily indecisive and inconclusive, perceptions are much more important than costs. Nothing illustrates this better than the reported conversation in April 1975 between an American Colonel, visiting Hanoi to finalize modalities of the US withdrawal from Vietnam, and a Vietnamese Colonel. The American said: The NVA colonel replied: "That may be so," he replied, "but it is also irrelevant."

One need not emphasize the interplay of time, technology and perception in our preparations to defend India. India now has no say in the choice of its neighbors. The die was cast when Pakistan came into being in 1947, and when China was given Xinjiang by the USSR in 1948 and when it occupied Tibet in 1951. Pakistan's animosity and China's adversarial attitude is a reality that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Compounding these are troubled conditions within all our neighbors and even within India. Counter insurgency, counter terrorism and combating unconventional warfare are manpower intensive and have potentially debilitating consequences if not acted upon firmly and swiftly. India has been a laboratory for all these forms of warfare and now has well-honed tactics and trained and experienced manpower to deal with them. While we must continue to pay close attention to these threats we must not take our eye off the external challenges that persist in dogging us.

While 1962 will still be the seminal year for Sino-Indian relations, it is in 1967 when Indian and Chinese troops last clashed with each other at Nathu La. Nathu La at 14200 feet is an important pass on the Tibet-Sikkim border through which passes the old Gangtok-Yatung-Lhasa Trade Route. Although the Sikkim-Tibet boundary is well-defined by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 17 March 1890, the Chinese were not comfortable with Sikkim being an Indian protectorate with the deployment of the Indian Army at that time. During the 1965 War between India and Pakistan, the Chinese gave an ultimatum to India to vacate both Nathu La and Jelep La passes on the Sikkim-Tibet border. On October 1, 1967 this event repeated itself at Cho La when 7/11 Gurkha Rifles and 10 JAK Rifles were tested by the PLA and similarly not found wanting. The lesson of 1967 has been well learnt by China, just as the lesson of 1962 has been absorbed by India. Not a single shot has been fired across the border since then and even today the Indian Army and the Peoples Liberation Army stand eye-ball to eye-ball, but the atmosphere now is far more relaxed and the two armies frequently have friendly interactions.

Now we come to the question that still bothers many Indians. Will China provoke a conflict with India or even vice versa? On the face of it, it does not seem so. Both countries are now well settled on the actual positions held. In Ladkah, China is pretty much close to what it desired pre-1962, which is along the old Ardagh Line, which British India hastily abandoned after being spooked by reports of Soviet Russian presence in Xinjiang. This line, long favored by Whitehall, was dispensed with and in 1942 British India reverted back to the more forward Johnson Line that encompassed the Aksai Chin as Indian territory. In the eastern sector, India pretty much holds on to the alignment along the McMahon Line. Thrice in the past the Chinese offered to settle this vexatious issue on this as is where is basis, but India baulked because the dynamics of its domestic politics did not allow it, as they still do. In his last conversation on this with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Chairman Deng suggested freezing it as it is and leaving it to history to resolve. Good and sagacious advice, if the dynamics between the two countries did not change.

In the mid 1980's when the two leaders, Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiao Peng met, China and India's per capita incomes were about the same, as were the GDP's. Since then China has grown to become more than three times as large as India. Its rapid economic ascent has now more or less conferred on it the role of the world's other superpower, the USSR having demised in 1991. China today is also a technology powerhouse and has built a modern military industrial complex, far bigger and superior to India's. India's ascent is a more recent story and there are still some decades to go before it can aspire to be once again on par with China.

Conflicts are generally the result of a serious military asymmetry or by misjudging intentions or by local conflicts spiraling out of control or when domestic failures require a diversion of attention or when domestic dynamics make rational discourse impossible. In 1962 we saw the last two at play. Fifty years later India still hurts with the rankling memory of those dark days never allowing the wound to quite heal. Neither India nor China is now ruled by imperious emperors, like Nehru and Mao were. In their place we have timid bureaucrat politicians, vested with just a little more power than the others in the ruling collegiums. Collegiums are cautious to the point of being bland and extremely chary of taking risks.
As for serious asymmetry, it does not occur now. India's arms build up and preparations make it apparent that a conflict will not be confined to the mountains and valleys of the Himalayas but will swirl into the skies above, on to the Tibetan plateau and the Indian Ocean. It will be logical for India to extend a Himalayan war to the Indian Ocean, particularly the Arabian Sea, as India's geographical location puts it astride the sea-lanes that carry two-thirds of China's oil imports. To pay for this oil, 41% of China's exports are now to the MENA region. Like India, China too is a major remittance nation. In 2012 India received almost $70 billion as remittances, China was not far behind with $66 billion. Over half these remittances are from the MENA region. While China may hold reserves for several months, it still cannot easily afford any likely disruption caused by the Indian Navy's exertions.

The Chinese media has frequently mentioned the demonstrated range of the IAF's SU30MKI fighter, the mainstay of the IAF and how its long-range missiles give it a standoff capability to reach several large industrial centers in the Han heartland. Likewise, the PLA is aware of the strategic advantage India enjoys in the IOR. The IOR has been the worlds oldest trading region, and is now fast emerging as the worlds most important trading region. India has been careful about not semaphoring its capability too overtly, but it is sometimes useful to subtly convey this. There is an old Chinese saying that to scare the monkeys you sometimes have to skin a cat.

In 2013 both countries have sufficient arsenals of nuclear weapons and standoff weapons to deter each other. But above all, both countries have evolved into stable political systems, far less naïve and inclined to be far more cautious in their dealings with each other. This leaves a local conflict rapidly spiraling out of control, or another Gavrilo Princip incident where a single shot at the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, plunged the western world into WW1, highly improbable. After 45 years of not shooting at each other, and not even confronting each other by being at the same contested space at the same time, local commanders have evolved a pattern of ritualistic behavior and local bonhomie that is very different from the rigid formalities of international politics. Both sides have invested enough to have a vested interest in keeping the peace and tranquility of the frontier.

While China has ratcheted up its show of assertiveness in the recent years, India has been quietly preparing for a parity to prevent war. Often parity does not have to be equality in numbers. The fear of pain disproportionate to the possible gains, and the ability of the smaller in numbers side to do so in itself confer parity. There is a certain equilibrium in Sino-Indian affairs that make recourse to force extremely improbable. Both modern states are inheritors of age-old traditions and the wisdom of the ages. Both now read their semaphores well and know how much of the sword must be unsheathed to send a message. This ability will ensure the swords remain recessed and for the plowshares to be out at work.
The author is Chairman, Centre for Policy Alternatives and Distinguished Fellow ORF

No First Use Nuclear Doctrine with “Chinese Characteristics”


 
Dr. Adityanjee


Introduction

Like a chameleon, the dragon, very predictably is changing its colors with regards to its often stated nuclear doctrine of "no first use" (NFU). Since 1964 when China conducted its first nuclear weapon test, China has repeatedly and vociferously insisted that it would not be the first nuclear power to use a tactical or strategic nuclear weapon in pursuit of its strategic objectives. This NFU pledge was explicitly and unconditionally included in each of China's defense white papers from the first in 1998 through the seventh one in 2011. Recently, there is some international debate about possible changes in China's NFU doctrine following publication of China's biannual 2013 Defense White Paper. However, it appears that China may have moved beyond its so-called NFU doctrine and its duplicitous pledges do not hold any sincere meaning. Strategic deception has been an important part of China's military DNA since the times of Sun Tzu who wrote in his treatise the Art of War: "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away. Since achieving a great economic success and flush with $ 3.4 trillion foreign exchange reserves, China has increased its list of core national issues and has adopted a more belligerent strategic posture and hegemonic attitude towards international community in general and its neighbors in particular. Disregarding the Deng's advice of lying low and bidding your time, the current (5th) generation of China's leaders are adopting aggressive postures militarily though the transformation into visibly hardened strategic claims started really during the reign of the 4th generation leaders (Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo).

The last time a Chinese paramount leader reaffirmed the so-called NFU pledge was on March 27th 2012 in Seoul Nuclear Conference when Hu Jintao mentioned it in his address. However, in December 2012, the new 5th generation Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping failed to mention about the so-called no first use pledge in a speech given to Second Artillery Force of the PLA which manages China's land-based nuclear weapons. Apparently, he also stated that nuclear weapons create strategic support for China's status as a major world power. This is a significant departure from the previously stated public positions citing Mao Zedong's ideas about the use of nuclear weapons as a taboo and labeling the nuclear weapons essentially as "paper tigers".

Fundamentals of NFU Commitment

Out of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons currently, only two, China and India had explicitly stated "No First Use" as the guiding principle of their strategic nuclear doctrine.

An absolute and unconditional NFU commitment would have four following components:

Not to use nuclear weapons first against countries that possess nuclear weapons
Not to threaten use nuclear weapons first against countries that possess nuclear weapons
Not to use nuclear weapons first against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons
Not to threaten to use nuclear weapons first against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons
NFU policy has been a core feature of the Chinese defense policy having been decided apparently by Chairman Mao himself in 1964. Critics of the Chinese NFU commitment claim that it is completely unverifiable and is mere rhetoric. Self-described "China hawks" in the West have derisively dismissed the Chinese NFU pledge as pure propaganda for the last five decades. Chinese strategists have debated the merits of dropping or altering the NFU policy. This debate was reportedly very intense from mid to late 2000s. There are assertions from Chinese officials that Chinese NFU commitment is not applicable to perceived claims on territories. China has territorial disputes with multiple neighbors including India. Presumably since China continues to claim that Arunachal Pradesh is its own territory, in a hypothetical scenario, it may use tactical nuclear weapons in a war with India in eastern sector because China will consider this use not against any other country but in its own perceived territory. Similarly, China will not be bound by its NFU if the US were to intervene in Taiwan in case of a Sino-Taiwanese war as it considers Taiwan as a renegade province. Chinese NFU is not applicable if it apprehends annihilation of its top leadership by conventional means. Similarly, a conventional attack on strategic target like the Three Gorges Dam would be an exception to the NFU pledge. More recently, Chinese have discussed other possible exceptions from their NFU commitment including a massive precision guided conventional attack on their intercontinental ballistic missile silos or their strategic facilities. As China moves away from minimal credible deterrence to "limited deterrence", a more sophisticated delivery mechanism and an exponential increase in its nuclear stockpile, it has also moved towards greater flexibility and continued opacity in its nuclear operational doctrine. It is pertinent to say that the so-called Chinese NFU commitment has never been taken seriously by both the US and Russia at any time in their policy matrix.

Chinese Nuclear Arsenal

China can be considered the largest nuclear power after the US and Russia. China's nuclear capability is apparently stronger than those of the next six nuclear states combined. According to Russian estimates, since early 1960s China has generated 40 tons of enriched weapons grade uranium and 10 tons of plutonium which would be enough to produce 3,600 nuclear war-heads. It is probable that half of this fissile material is kept in stocks whereas the rest half has been used up to produce 1500-1800 warheads, half of which may be in storage. This would leave 800-900 warheads that could be available for operational deployment on various types of delivery vehicles. Therefore, the real motives for China's complete secrecy about its nuclear forces lie not in their "weakness" and "small size" but in much larger strength of China's actual nuclear arsenal that is much higher than the commonly cited number of 300-400 warheads by the western analysts. There is also a great degree of international uncertainty about the hundreds of tunnels being built in China as their purpose has not yet been officially explained.

Chinese Nuclear Posture and Track II Interactions

Personal interactions with various Chinese academicians and officials during policy conferences suggest that China will continue to add to its nuclear arsenal and will not participate in any nuclear disarmament program till it reaches a certain level. This analyst has interacted with Professor Shen Dingli, Associate Dean of the Institute of International Studies from Fudan University, Shanghai over the last four years with very consistent and candid answers regarding Chinese national nuclear posture. Professor Shen Dingli claims to have independent (but sometimes more hawkish views) from those of the Chinese Government. In 2009 Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, DC, he expressed absolute ignorance about Chinese proliferation activities and the fact that Chinese weapons designs were turned in by Libya to the International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA) when Libya folded up their clandestine nuclear program. He was totally unaware of China's both vertical and horizontal proliferation activities as late as April 2009. During the 2009 Carnegie International Non-proliferation Conference, Washington, DC, he agreed that Chinese government will continue to increase its number of nuclear war-heads. In a more recent Carnegie Endowment meeting on India-China dialogue in Washington DC on January 10th 2013, he again reiterated that China will continue to modernize its nuclear arsenals and the delivery systems till a perceived parity is achieved with the two great powers (US and Russia). China will certainly not agree to cut the number of nuclear arsenals as it wants both the US and Russia to implement further reductions in their respective nuclear arsenals.

Interactions with another Chinese academician Dr. Shulong Chu, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the School of Public Policy and Management and the Deputy Director of the Institute of International Strategic and Development Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China in a session on China-US Strategic Stability on 4/6/2009 during the Carnegie International Non-proliferation Conference, Washington DC revealed very interesting Chinese perspectives. Chu explicitly stated that since China has accepted US supremacy, analogously both India and Japan should accept Chinese supremacy in the Asia-pacific region. China is a bigger country than Japan and India. It has bigger military requirements. Japan, India and other Asian countries should understand that and should be willing to accept China's ongoing modernization of its military and strategic (read nuclear) assets. Chu further went on saying: "Russia and the US have too many nuclear war-heads. They can afford to have deep cuts. China cannot do that because China has too few. China wants more and its agenda is to have more nuclear weapons".

Major-General Yao Yunzhu, Director of the Center on China-America Defense Relations of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, Beijing in a session on Deterrence, Disarmament and Non-proliferation during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, held in Washington, DC on April 8-9th 2013, artfully deflected all the questions on China's growing number of nuclear arsenals with a cute smile, stating again that the onus for nuclear warhead reduction lies on both US and Russia because China has very limited, small number of nuclear weapons. General Yao while doing routine lip-service to the NFU doctrine explicitly admitted that, "A certain amount of opaqueness is an integral part of China's no-first-use policy". She persistently refused to quantify the number of warheads China needed for a credible and effective nuclear deterrence. She officially expressed Chinese Government's serious concern at the US shifting its ballistic missiles interceptors in the Pacific island of Guam to deal with DPRK nuclear threat, thereby degrading the quality of the Chinese nuclear deterrent. She enumerated three essential characteristics for the Chinese nuclear deterrent: it has to be survivable against first strike; it has to be credible enough in numbers and in delivery system, and lastly it has to have an effective and punitive second strike retaliatory capability. She was asked about recent BMD tests by China on January 22nd 2013 and she categorically confirmed that China will, from now on, indeed develop its own BMD system as the US is not willing to commit to cease its BMD system.

Professor Li Bin from the Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing and also a Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC admits formally in his writings that China's non-proliferation posture has evolved over a period of time and now is an important and essential part of its nuclear theology. However, in private discussions he passionately justified Chinese horizontal proliferation activities outside the scope of the Nuclear Suppliers Group by providing Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 nuclear plants to Pakistan on grounds that China had helped India also with nuclear fuel supplies for the Tarapore Atomic Reactor when India was under the US nuclear embargo. He assertively implied that China will continue to provide nuclear materials and technology to its all-weather friend Pakistan analogous to US-India civil nuclear deal though the latter deal was approved by the NSG. Interestingly a younger researcher Zhu Jianyu from the Center for Strategic Studies of the China Academy of Engineering Physics during the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, held in Washington, DC on April 8-9th 2013 candidly admitted that Chinese press and academicians usually toe the government line because the government controls their funding and hence independent viewpoints are not possible.

In private discussions with Major General Yao, it became quite clear that China will now vigorously pursue development of its national ballistic missile defense system; something which China had vociferously denounced earlier. She also stated that China will continue to develop its ASAT weapons till a legally binding multi-lateral treaty banning weaponization of the space is signed and ratified. Major General Yao attributed to and categorically linked this shift in Chinese strategic thinking to the recent US decision to deploy 14 long-range ballistic missile interceptor batteries in the Pacific Island of Guam ostensibly in response to threats posed by the DPRK thereby potentially degrading the Chinese nuclear deterrent. Changes in the Chinese nuclear posture are also linked to the US development and deployment of advanced precision guided conventional warheads in the Asian theatre capable of destroying Chinese multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) ballistic missile silos thereby degrading the Chinese minimum nuclear deterrent. China is focused on modernizing and its strategic survivability and beefing up its effective second strike capability and therefore will continue to develop more nuclear warheads and will keep its nuclear capabilities fully opaque.

China's 2013 Defence White Paper

For the first time, the 2013 edition of China's defense white paper entitled: "Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces" conspicuously fails to mention re-adherence to and re-affirmation of China's often-stated "No first use pledge". This is significant departure from the 2011 version of China's Defense White Paper. The absolutely deafening silence in the 2013 version on NFU is deliberate and is very significant for its reverberating eloquence. The new white paper introduces ambiguity as it endorses the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack but does not rule out other uses. In the last few years, Chinese analysts and officials have done an excellent job of qualifying the original Chinese "NFU" pledge with myriads of qualitative exceptions so as to render it effectively meaningless. This carefully contrived departure is strategically significant for the international community.

Following a vigorous international debate on China's departure from the NFU policy, Major General Yao floated a trial balloon in an op-ed piece in Asia Times Online on April 24th 2013 when she called for a legally binding multi-lateral NFU agreement. She wrote a point by point rejoinder while still defending the reasons as to why China should depart from the often stated NFU policy and acknowledged that domestic discussions happening in China regarding junking the NFU policy. She has tried to invoke new exceptions to China's so-called NFU commitment linking it to a new US law (2013 National Defense Authorization Act) that seeks a report from the Commander of the US Strategic Command by August 15th 2013 to describe the Chinese underground tunnel networks and to review the US capability to neutralize such networks with conventional and nuclear forces. Ostensibly, with a view to creating more confusion and more opaqueness about China's intentions, she explicitly states: "To alleviate China's concerns, a constructive approach would be to assure the policy through nuclear policy dialogues, to establish a multilateral NFU agreement among all the nuclear weapon states, and to consider limiting or even prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons in a legally binding international agreement." Li Bin, in bilateral context, has previously suggested that India and China should begin their nuclear engagement with mutual reassurance of NFU and should work together in advocating NFU in global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.

China very well knows such a legally binding international agreement will not be negotiated for several decades owing to US dogmatic postures. The US is already spending $10 billion to upgrade its nuclear weapons despite Obama's initial call for a global zero goal. This gives a window of opportunity for China to increase its nuclear warheads exponentially while keeping its so-called NFU pledge under suspended animation and even junk it de facto. Interestingly, China refuses to enter into an official government to government nuclear weapons dialogue with India on the grounds that India is non-signatory to the NPT. At the same time, China has shrewdly refused to engage in bilateral dialogue with the US on nuclear arms reductions on grounds of asymmetry of nuclear forces of respective countries. China does complain of discrimination and nuclear asymmetry while discussing US-China relations but fails to address genuine Indian concerns on similar grounds.

Implications for India

Western debate on the perceptible change in Chinese nuclear posture has focussed only on its narrow impact on the strategic environment of the US and its allies including Japan. India should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Perhaps, time has come for India to review her own strategic nuclear doctrine revising the no-first use pledge. Robust evidence has come cumulatively over a period of time from multiple sources reflecting the new nuclear reality in our neighborhood. Totality of the evidence available convinces this analyst that China has indeed changed its nuclear posture from defensive to offensive and is on a large-scale nuclear build-up. China is indeed willing to consider first strike capability to preserve its core national issues though vehemently denying such intentions at the moment. Predictably, China will continue to obfuscate this change in nuclear posture using ambiguous, turgid and opaque language while simultaneously blaming the US for failing to negotiate a legally binding multi-lateral agreement on NFU. Indeed, this gives the dragon a fig-leaf of deniability. Certainly, India should not countenance being the only nuclear weapon state pledging "no first use" while the global nuclear posturing has become indeed hardened. One has to take into factor Pakistan's accelerated development of tactical nuclear weapons and its stringent refusal to negotiate and sign a multi-lateral Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and continued Chinese help to Pakistan in and outside the NSG. While Pakistan has never subscribed to an NFU commitment and its nuclear arsenal is specifically India-centric; the recent change in China's nuclear posture is definitely of concern to India. The writing is on the wall as China does not have good track record of strategic comfort and reliability vis-a-vis India. The current incidence of Chinese incursion into Indian territory in Daulat Beg Oldie region in the Ladakh sector should be an eye-opener. While India must focus on its economic, infrastructure and social development and must not waste her meager fiscal resources in a costly nuclear race, she needs to be prepared for all strategic options. Given the aggressive behavior of China in recent years appropriate and credible policies need to be adopted including having a re-look at evolving nuclear posture of China.

May 03, 2013

Is India’s Nuclear Deterrent Credible?

By  Shyam Saran
 

I wish to share with you my thoughts on certain issues of contemporary relevance to India's national security. 
While I have been introduced as the Chairman of India's National Security Advisory Board I must hasten to add that the views  I shall be sharing with you today are entirely my own and do not in any way reflect those of the Board or of the government.

These are views that have evolved over a fairly long period of time drawing upon my earlier experience dealing with disarmament and international security issues at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the two year stint I had at the Prime Minister's Office in 1991-92, handling issues relating to External Affairs, Defence and Atomic Energy and more recently my involvement in the Indo-US  negotiations on a Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement, both as Foreign Secretary and later as Prime Minister's Special Envoy. I believe I have a fair sense of how our security perceptions have evolved over the years and how different generations of our political leadership have dealt with the security challenges confronting the country. I make this presentation in the hope that there could be a more informed discourse on the role of India's strategic programme in national security, a discourse that is truly rooted in India's own circumstance rather than influenced by external commentaries.

India became a declared nuclear weapon state in May 1998, although it had maintained a capability to assemble nuclear explosive devices and had developed a delivery capability, both in terms of aircraft as well as missiles, several years previously. In May 1998, this capability was finally translated into an explicit and declared nuclear weapon status through a series of nuclear tests. This is important to recognize because India did not overnight become a nuclear weapon capable state in May 1998, but until then a deliberate choice had been made to defer the acquisition of a nuclear weapon arsenal as long as there was still hope that the world would eventually move towards a complete elimination of these weapons of mass destruction. India's leaders recognised the prudence of developing and maintaining national capability and capacity to develop strategic assets if this became necessary, but the preference remained for realising the objective of a nuclear weapon free world. The events of May 1998 reflected the judgement that nuclear disarmament was no longer on the agenda of the nuclear weapon states. On the contrary, their objective was to make permanent the division of the world into nuclear haves and have-nots, which India had rejected since the very dawn on the atomic age.

India's policy towards nuclear weapons evolved over a period of nearly three decades and this evolution was impacted by several significant developments in the country's security environment. The testing of a nuclear weapon by China in 1964 was the first major driver. There is evidence that both Nehru and Homi Bhabha had not excluded the possibility of India acquiring nuclear weapons even earlier, in case India's security and defence warranted it.  India's first plutonium separation plant came up in 1964 itself at Trombay when both Nehru and Bhabha were still in office.The pursuit of strategic capability took time and each subsequent stage would be linked to certain adverse developments in India's security environment. It would be 10 years before India carried out a peaceful nuclear explosion, in 1974, to signal its capability to design and fabricate a nuclear explosive device. In the background were a series of developments which had heightened India's security concerns and led to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to approve the nuclear test:

i. The conclusion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 which sought to prevent the emergence of any new nuclear weapon states, without a concomitant and credible commitment on the part of the existing nuclear weapon states to achieve nuclear disarmament within a reasonable time frame.  India had to stay out of the treaty in order to maintain its nuclear option.
ii. The NPT was followed by the 1971 Bangladesh war and an unwelcome Sino-US axis targeting India. The appearance of USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal heightened India's sense of vulnerability.
The next phase in the acquisition of capabilities is also linked to certain new developments adversely affecting India's security. Reports began to appear that China had delivered a fully tested nuclear bomb design to Pakistan in 1983. (China may have tested a Pakistani weapon at the Lop Nor test site in 1990). Pakistan emerged as a "front-line state" in the war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the decade of the ninety-eighties, bringing fresh worries to India's security planners. It's feverish and clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons capability also heightened threat perceptions in India, particularly when it became clear that the U.S. was not willing to deter Pakistan from the quest, given its equities in the ongoing war. This also marks the phase when Pakistan's nuclear weapon programme, which was led by its civilian political leaders, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and later Ghulam Ishaaq Khan, passed into the hands of its military establishment, thus acquiring an altogether more sinister dimension. Today, Pakistan is the only nuclear-armed state where it is the military and not the civilian political leadership that is in effective control of its nuclear arsenal. During this period, India's sense of vulnerability increased due to the surge in the violent Khalistan movement, encouraged and supported by Pakistan as also the blow back from the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Despite these developments Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched a major initiative at the United Nations in 1988 to promote a world free of nuclear weapons through the Action Plan on Nuclear Disarmament. This was a serious effort to promote nuclear disarmament which would enable India to avoid the less preferable alternative of itself becoming a nuclear weapon state in order to safeguard its security and its political independence.

The decade of the nineties constitutes the next phase in India's nuclear trajectory, leading up to the "break-out" in May 1998. This phase was marked by a serious debate within the political leadership over whether the time had come to go ahead with a declared nuclear weapon status or whether the likely international political and economic fallout made this a costly choice. As the decade of the nineteen nineties unfolded, it became abundantly clear that the choice was being forced on India as a consequence of several serious geopolitical developments.

 What were the drivers during this phase? One, the U.S. emerged as a hyper-power after the demise of the Soviet Union and this severely narrowed India's strategic space. Two, the nuclear weapon states moved to enforce a permanent status on the NPT in 1995, thereby perpetuating the division between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, with oblique threats to use the U.N. Security Council to sanction and to penalize those countries which resisted the universalization of the NPT. This would have put India in state of permanent strategic vulnerability to nuclear threat and nuclear blackmail. This may have happened during India-Pakistan tensions in 1990 though the record is ambiguous on this score (Yaqub Khan's visit to Delhi in 1990 is said to have been undertaken to convey the threat of nuclear retaliation against India in case the latter moved its conventional military forces to threaten or to attack Pakistan). During 1991-92, one was also witness to a determined attempt by the U.S. to put serious limits on India's civilian space and missile programme by pressuring Russia under President Yeltsin to deny India the cryogenic engine technology that it needed to upgrade its civilian space capabilities. The precipitating factor proved to be the effort in 1996  to push through a discriminatory Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would have permanently foreclosed India's options to develop a credible and fully tested nuclear deterrent. These developments meant that India could no longer have any credible assurance of its security in the absence of its own independent nuclear deterrent. It would confront  increased  vulnerability vis-a-vis its adversaries, its security would have been severely undermined and made its quest for strategic autonomy  a mirage. It is against this background that a decision was taken in May 1998 to breach the narrowing nuclear containment ring around the country and assert India's determination to retain its ability to deter threats from States hostile to it and to ensure an environment in which it could pursue its development priorities without disruption. This is clearly articulated in India's Draft Nuclear Doctrine released in August 1999. The official Doctrine  based mainly on the draft was adopted in January 2003, but its full text has not been shared with the public.

It is important to keep this historical perspective in mind because the nuclear tests carried out in May 1998 were not a mere episode driven by current and largely domestic political compulsions (though this may have influenced the precise timing), but rather the logical and perhaps an even inexorable culmination of a decades-long evolution in strategic thinking, influenced by an increasingly complex and hostile security environment. The timing may have also been influenced by geopolitical developments. The end of the Cold War and the rise of China brought a sense of strategic opportunity to India. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that the U.S. was no longer inimical to Indian interests as it had been during the Cold War years, with India seen as being on the wrong side of the fence. China's emergence as a potential adversary to the U.S. made a more rapidly growing India an attractive countervailing power, quite apart from the opportunities it offered to U.S. business and industry. India's swift emergence as an I.T. power and the rising affluence and influence of the India-American community, reinforced the positive shift in American perceptions about India. Therefore, while fully conscious of the adverse fallout from its decision to undertake a series of nuclear tests and to establish itself as a declared nuclear weapon state, Indian leaders may also have calculated that such fallout would be temporary and India's growing strategic relevance would eventually overcome such impediments. This judgement has proved to be true in most respects. 

There is no doubt that the shift to a declared nuclear weapon state posture confronts India with new and more complex challenges. These challenges involve the nature and structure of the nuclear weapon arsenal as well as delivery assets. India has articulated a nuclear doctrine that is appropriate to the current geopolitical environment, is aligned with its existing and projected levels of technological capabilities and affordability and most importantly, is reflective of India's domestic realities and its value system. The people of India want their leaders to pursue an independent foreign policy, maintain strategic autonomy and safeguard the security of the country and its citizens by having adequate means to deter threats to national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Sustaining democracy within the country is seen as integrally linked to the ability of the State to deliver on these fundamental aspirations. At various stages of India's contemporary history, the Indian state has pursued different strategies to achieve these objectives in a nuclearized, asymmetrical and often hostile regional and global environment. It has had to make difficult choices including embracing a three decades long strategic partnership with the Soviet Union from 1960 to 1990, which helped the country to meet the threat from an implacably hostile and belligerent Pakistan and a China that turned into a threatening and often arrogant adversary, post India's humiliating defeat in the 1962 border war. Those who perennially bemoan India's lack of strategic culture such as the recent Economist article, seem strangely reluctant to acknowledge the difficult choices that governments of every persuasion in the country have made whether in seeking strategic partners, maintaining a nuclear option or eventually exercising that option despite the odds confronting us. That mistakes have been made, that sometimes opportunities have been missed or our judgments were misplaced is undeniable. But if having a strategy means the readiness to make reasoned choices, then India has demonstrated an ability to think and act strategically.

It is against this background that I find somewhat puzzling assertions by some respected security analysts, both Indian and foreign, that India's nuclear weapons programme has been driven by notions of prestige or global standing rather than by considerations of national security. For example, typical of comments from U.S. analysts is the remarkable observation that "India now lacks a credible theory of how nuclear weapons might be used than as an instrument of national pride and propaganda".

India does have a credible theory of how its nuclear weapons may be used and that is spelt out in its nuclear doctrine. One may or may not agree with that doctrine but to claim that India does not have a credible theory about the use of nuclear weapons does not accord with facts. Since January 4, 2003, when India adopted its nuclear doctrine formally at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), it has  moved to put in place, at a measured pace, a triad of land-based, air-delivered and submarine-based nuclear forces and delivery assets to conform to its declared doctrine of no-first use and retaliation only. It has had to create a command and control infrastructure that can survive a first strike and a fully secure communication system that is reliable and hardened against radiation or electronic interference. A number of redundancies have had to be created to strengthen survivability. India today has a long range ballistic missile capability and is on the road to a submarine - based missile capability. These capabilities will be further improved as time goes on and more resources become available. In all these respects, significant progress has been achieved. To expect that these should have emerged overnight after May1998 is a rather naïve expectation. The record since the May 1998 nuclear tests demonstrates  quite clearly a sustained and systematic drive to operationalize the various components of the nuclear deterrent in a manner best suited to India's security environment. This is not the record of a state which considers nuclear weapons as "instrument of national pride and propaganda".

There is a similar refrain in Chinese commentaries on India's nuclear weapons programme. Here is a typical Chinese comment: 

"Unlike China, which was forced to develop its nuclear option under a clear nuclear threat, India has never been faced with an immediate major military or nuclear threat that would require New Delhi to have a nuclear weapon option to ensure its national survival. The acquisition of nuclear weapons appears to have been almost entirely motivated by politics. India seems to have an explicit strategic goal; to be accepted as a world power. And this goal seems to reflect India's deep rooted belief that nuclear weapons constitute an effective physical signature of world power status, and even short-cut to this status". 

And this extraordinary assessment of India's quest for security in a nuclearized regional and global environment comes from an analyst of a country which over the years actively and relentlessly contributed to the clandestine nuclear weapon programme of Pakistan, firstly by providing it with the design of a tested weapon and later by assisting it with developing its missile capabilities, both directly and through its North Korean ally. This is a rare case where a nuclear weapon state has actively promoted the acquisition of nuclear weapon capability by a non-nuclear weapon State, though similar allegations have been made about US and French assistance to Israel. Chinese assistance to Pakistan's strategic programme continues apace.

Could India ignore the implications of this alliance and the role of Pakistan as a most convenient Chinese proxy to pose a nuclear threat to India? The narrative that I have sketched out does not square with the observation that "India has never been faced with an immediate major military or nuclear threat that would require New Delhi to have a nuclear weapon option to ensure its national survival". And it is rather odd that a representative of a country whose iconic leader Mao Zedong called for "politics in command" can now say that India's nuclear programme has been "almost entirely motivated by politics". Of course, it has been, but not the politics of seeking world power status as is claimed, but the politics of keeping India and its citizens safe from nuclear threats. We have long been familiar with the Chinese predilection to dismiss India's role in international affairs as that of a pretender too big for its boots, while China's super power status is, of course, regarded as manifest destiny. One should reject such self-serving assertions.

What is worrying, however, is that this status-seeking argument has been finding an echo among some Indian analysts as well.  One analyst recently claimed:

"During its long and unfocused nuclear weapons quest, India came to develop a highly self-absorbed approach.  This was because India's dominant objective was political and technological prestige, while for every other nuclear weapon state it was deterrence."

Such sweeping statements show a lack of familiarity with the history of India's nuclear weapons programme, set against the broader political and security backdrop. They also serve to diminish the very legitimacy of India's nuclear weapons status though this may not be the intention. For if deterrence was not the reason for which India became a nuclear weapon state, but only for "political and technological prestige", then why should it have nuclear weapons in the first place?

If the argument is that India has and does face threats for which a nuclear deterrent is required, but that these have been ignored by successive generations of India's political and security elite, then obviously it must be a mere fortuitous coincidence that we have strayed into a strategic capability. This elite, it is implied comprehends neither the security threats nor the manner in which this accidental acquisition of nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities, must be operationalized.  This does not square with facts.

The thesis that India's nuclear deterrent is mostly symbolic is, for some, driven by the perception that India's armed forces are not fully part of the strategic decision-making  process and that they play second fiddle to the civilian bureaucracy and the scientific establishment.  Even if this perception was true, and in fact it is not, one cannot accept that the credibility of India's nuclear deterrence demands management by its military.  The very nature of nuclear deterrence as practiced by a civilian democracy dictates that decisions relating to the nature and scope of the arsenal, its deployment and use, be anchored in the larger architecture of democratic governance.  It is the civilian political leadership that must make judgments about domestic political, social and economic priorities as well as the imperatives imposed by a changing regional and global geopolitical environment.  The military must be enabled to provide its own perspectives and inputs, just as other segments of the state must do. Undoubtedly the military's inputs and its advice would have to carry weight, especially in operational matters. But to equate exclusive military management of strategic forces, albeit under the political leadership's overall command, as the sine qua non of deterrence credibility is neither necessary nor desirable.  One should certainly encourage better civil-military relations and coordination. It may also be argued that the military's inputs into strategic planning and execution should be enhanced to make India's nuclear deterrent more effective.  But one should not equate  shortcomings in these respects with the absence of a credible nuclear deterrent.

If we look at the current status of India's nuclear deterrent and its command and control system, it is clear that at least two legs of the triad referred to in our nuclear doctrine are already in place. These include a modest arsenal, nuclear capable aircraft and  missiles both in fixed underground silos as well as those which are mounted on mobile rail and road-based platforms. These land-based missiles include both Agni-II (1500 km) as well as Agni-III (2500 km) missiles. The range and accuracy of further versions for example, Agni V (5000 km) which was tested successfully only recently, will improve with the acquisition of further technological capability and experience. The third leg of the triad which is submarine-based, is admittedly a work in progress. We need at least three Arihant class nuclear submarines so that at least one will always be at sea. Submarine-based missiles systems have been developed and tested in the form of the Sagarika but these are still relatively short in range. It is expected that a modest sea-based deterrence will be in place by 2015 or 2016.There is also a major R&D programme which has been in place since 2005, for the development of a new,longer range and more accurate generation of submarine-based missiles which are likely to ready for deployment around 2020.

The National Command Authority is in charge of India's nuclear deterrent. At its apex is the Political Council which is headed by the Prime Minister and includes all the ministerial members of the Cabinet Committee on Security such as the Ministers of Defence, Home and External Affairs. Below the Political Council is the Executive Council which is headed by the National Security Advisor and includes the Chiefs of the three armed forces, the C-in-C of India's Strategic Forces Command, a three star officer, among others. There is an alternate National Command Authority which would take up the functions of nuclear command in case of any contingency when the established hierarchy is rendered dysfunctional. The NCA has access to radiation hardened and fully secured communications systems where, too, redundancies have been put in place as back-up facilities.

In order to support the NCA, a Strategy Programme Staff has been created in the National Security Council Secretariat to carry out general staff work for the National Command Authority. This unit is charged with looking at the reliability and quality of our weapons and delivery systems, collate intelligence on other nuclear weapon states particularly those in the category of potential adversaries and work on a perspective plan for India's nuclear deterrent in accordance with a ten year cycle. The Strategy Programme Staff has representatives from the three services, from our Science and Technology establishment and other experts from related domains, including External Affairs. A Strategic Armament Safety Authority has been set up to review and to update storage and transfer procedures for nuclear armaments, including the submarine based component. It will be responsible for all matters relating to the safety and security of our nuclear and delivery assets at all locations. This will function under the direct authority of the NCA.

The National Command Authority works on a two-person rule for access to armaments and delivery systems.

Regular drills are conducted to examine possible escalatory scenarios, surprise attack scenarios and the efficiency of our response systems under the no first use limitation. Thanks to such repeated and regular drills, the level of confidence in our nuclear deterrent has been strengthened. Specialized units have also been trained and deployed for operation in a nuclearized environment.

These details may be known but I am highlighting them to make the point that while further steps may be required to make our deterrent more robust, it is unhelpful and misleading to peddle the impression that it is dysfunctional or worse that it is non-existent.

In much of Western literature, one finds frequent comments about the professional manner in which the Strategic Planning Group, in charge of Pakistan's nuclear assets, is run and how effective and transparent measures have been put in place to ensure the safety and security of these weapons.  What is rarely highlighted is that among nuclear-weapon states today, Pakistan is the only country where nuclear assets are under the command and control of the military and it is the military's perceptions and ambitions which govern the development, deployment and use of these weapons.  This is a dangerous situation precisely because the military's perceptions are not fully anchored in a larger national political and economic narrative.  The pursuit of a more powerful, more effective and more sophisticated nuclear arsenal, dictated by the Pakistani military, may run in parallel with a steadily deteriorating political, social and economic environment.  Would it be possible to island an efficiently managed and sophisticated nuclear arsenal amidst an increasingly dysfunctional polity?   There is an air of unreality about the often adulatory remarks about the Pakistani military's stewardship of the country's nuclear assets.  There are anxieties about its continuing build up of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles but these are conveniently ascribed to the threat perceived from India. More recently, Pakistan's relentless build up of its nuclear arsenal, its refusal to allow the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to undertake multilateral negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and its threat to deploy theatre nuclear weapons to meet a so-called Indian conventional armed thrust across the border have all been laid at the door of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement, which it is claimed has upset the "nuclear balance" in South Asia. The votaries of non-proliferation in the West have criticised the Agreement as having  allowed "exceptionalism" in favour of India, which has encouraged a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. Pakistan openly demands that it too be given a nuclear deal like India, otherwise it would continue to produce larger quantities of fissile material and push the nuclear threshold even lower in order to retain the credibility of its nuclear deterrent.  The exception provided to India rests on India's universally acknowledged and exceptional record as a responsible nuclear state with an unblemished history in non-proliferation as contrasted with Pakistan's equally exceptional record as a source of serial proliferation and in possession of a nuclear programme born in deceit and deception. There is no moral equivalence in this respect between the two countries and this point must be driven home every time Pakistan claims parity. We should not allow such an insiduous campaign to affect our proposed membership of the NSG and the MTCR.

In dismissing India's nuclear deterrent as driven by pride and prestige, Pakistani nuclear deterrent is sought to be projected as somehow more understandable, more justified, because unlike India, it is said to be driven by so-called real security threats. The more shrill the articulation of these imaginary threats the more justified the rapidly growing Pakistani nuclear arsenal is seen to be in the eyes of some motivated analysts. The next link in the argument would be that if only India could be persuaded to discard its pride and false sense of prestige and status, a strategic restraint regime, if not a non-nuclear regime, between the two sides would become possible and the world relieved from having to deal with the "most dangerous part of the world."

Pakistan's nuclear weapons are certainly focused in large part on the threat from India, real or imagined. In the present case, the Pakistani motivation is to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to sub-conventional but highly destructive and disruptive cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail, no different from the irresponsible behaviour one witnesses in North Korea. It deserves equal condemnation by the international community because it is not just a threat to India but to international peace and security. Should the international community countenance a license to aid and abet terrorism by a state holding out a threat of nuclear war? 

But today given the evidence available, is it even possible to claim that the so-called Indian threat is the sole motivation which drives Pakistan's nuclear programme?

Let us look at some of the significant shifts that have taken place recently in Pakistan's nuclear posture, taking it from declared "minimum deterrence" to a possible second strike capability:

There is a calculated shift from the earlier generation of enriched uranium nuclear weapons to a newer generation of plutonium weapons.
 Plutonium weapons would enable Pakistan to significantly increase the number of weapons in its arsenal, Pakistan is reported to have overtaken India's nuclear weapon inventory and, in a decade, may well surpass those held by Britain, France and China.
Progress has been claimed in the miniaturization of weapons, enabling their use with cruise missiles and also with a new generation of short range and tactical missiles .This is not yet fully verified but the intent is clear.
Pakistan has steadily pursued the improvement of the range and accuracy of its delivery vehicles, building upon the earlier Chinese models (the Hatf series) and the later North Korean models (the No-dong series). The newer missiles, including the Nasr, are solid-fuelled, which can be launched more speedily than the older liquid fuelled ones.
 Pakistan's nuclear programme brings its scientific and technological accomplishments into the limelight.  Pakistan  repeatedly draws attention to its being the only Islamic country to have a sophisticated nuclear weapons programme. This gives it a special standing in the Islamic world. One should not under-estimate the prestige factor in this regard.
These developments are driven by a mind-set which seeks parity with and even overtaking India, irrespective of the cost this entails.  However, they are also driven by the more recent fear that the U.S. may carry out an operation, like the one mounted in May 2011, to kill Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, to disable, destroy or confiscate, its nuclear weapons. The increase in number of weapons, the planned miniaturization of warheads and their wider dispersal, are all designed to deter the U.S. from undertaking such an operation. This aspect has acquired increasing salience in Pakistani calculations. Recent articles which claim that the US has contingency plans to take out Pakistan's nuclear weapons in case of a jihadi takeover of its government or if the Pakistan Army itself splits into a pro-jihadi and an anti-jihadi faction with the danger that the country's nuclear arsenal is no longer in safe and secure hands, must have heightened the paranoia among Pakistan's military and bureaucratic elite.

Pakistan has, nevertheless, projected its nuclear deterrent as solely targeted at India and its strategic doctrine mimics the binary nuclear equation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union which prevailed during the Cold War. But in a world of multiple nuclear actors, there is pervasive uncertainty about how the nuclear dynamic will play itself out even if a nuclear exchange commenced with only two actors. What may be a zero-sum game with two actors may not be so for a third or a fourth actor.  For example, the long history of Sino-Pakistan nuclear nexus determines that China will be a factor influencing security calculations in New Delhi, Islamabad and Washington. How will a nuclear exchange, often posited between India and Pakistan, impact on China and would India be prudent not to factor that into its nuclear deterrence calculations?  In the context of Japan and South Korea, can the nuclear threat posed by North Korea be delinked from China's strategic posture in the region? How would these calculations affect U.S. nuclear posture?  And how would Russian strategists react ?It is because of this complexity that notions of flexible response and counter-force targeting, which appeared to have a certain logic in a binary US-Soviet context, lose their relevance in the multi-dimensional threat scenario which prevails certainly in our region. It is no longer sufficient to analyse the India-Pakistan or India-China nuclear equation only in the bilateral context. Therefore, Pakistan's nuclear behaviour should be a matter of concern not just to India but to the international community. It obviously is for the US though it is usually made out to be a matter for and related to, Pakistan's relations with India.

It is also this complexity in multiple and interlinked nuclear equations which argues for an early realization of global nuclear disarmament through multilateral negotiations and India's championing of this cause is not all contradictory to its maintenance of a robust nuclear deterrent in the meantime.

The above background must be kept in mind when evaluating India's continued insistence on the central tenet of its nuclear doctrine i.e., that India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but that if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary. As I have pointed out earlier, the label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level. Pakistan would be prudent not to assume otherwise as it sometimes appears to do, most recently by developing and perhaps deploying theatre nuclear weapons. It would be far better for Pakistan to finally and irreversibly abandon the long-standing policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy and pursue nuclear and conventional confidence building measures with India which are already on the bilateral agenda. An agreement on no first use of nuclear weapons would be a notable measure following up on the commitment already made by the two countries to maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing.

As would be apparent, in the case of India, it is the security narrative which is the most significant driver of its strategic nuclear capability though India has consistently followed a cautious and restrained approach. India's nuclear doctrine categorically affirms India's belief that its security would be enhanced not diminished in a world free of nuclear weapons. The elements of pride and prestige are secondary as they always are in the complex basket of elements that influence strategic choices which countries make.

In my view, the mostly self-serving and misconceived notions about India's nuclear deterrent that have found currency in the recent past, have much to do with the failure on the part of both the State as well as India's strategic community to confront and to refute them.  The ease with which motivated assessments and speculative judgments, of the kind I have drawn attention to, invade our own thinking is deeply troubling. 

The secrecy which surrounds our nuclear programme, a legacy of the long years of developing and maintaining strategic capabilities, is now counter-productive.  There is not enough data or information that flows from the guardians of our strategic assets to enable reasoned judgments and evaluations. There has been significant progress in the modernization and operationalisation of our strategic assets, but this is rarely and only anecdotally shared with the public.  The result is   an information vacuum which then gets occupied by either ill-informed or motivated speculation or assessments. To begin with, I would hope that the Government makes public its nuclear doctrine and releases data regularly on what steps have been taken and are being taken to put the requirements of the doctrine in place. It is not necessary to share operational details but an overall survey such as an annual Strategic Posture Review, should be shared with the citizens of the country who, after all, pay for the security which the deterrent is supposed to provide to them.  An informed and vigorous debate based on accurate and factual information should be welcomed, because only through such debate can concepts be refined, contingencies identified and the most effective responses formulated.  In a democracy, this is critical to upholding a broad consensus on dealing with the complex and constantly evolving security challenges our country confronts. 

A speech delivered by the Chairman of the NSAB at the 
India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, August 24, 2013.