January 22, 2014
Special ArrangementVITAL QUESTIONS: The ‘massive’ retaliation promised in the Indian nuclear doctrine is being increasingly questioned by scholars and analysts. This handout photograph released by the Defence Research and Development Organisation shows the launch of Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile at Wheeler Island, Odisha, on September 15, 2013.
India intends to deter nuclear use by Pakistan while Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are meant to compensate for conventional arms asymmetry.
Manufacturing a nuclear weapon does not, as a senior Indian Minister in 1998 claimed, create credible deterrence. Deterrence is entirely a matter of perceptions, a mental effect that is created on the adversary that nuclear use will entail assured retaliatory holocaust. The possibility of nuclear use is thereby pre-empted. The Indian nuclear doctrine, in that sense, is well articulated — on paper. Since 1998, more than 15 years have passed and in the Indian sub-continent, nuclear arsenals have grown far beyond the small nuclear ambitions that were articulated then. Yet there is an increasing fund of world literature being published, pointing to structural and operational weaknesses in the Indian nuclear arsenal. The question is not whether India has built enough nuclear bombs. Hardly anyone questions this basic fact, but the ideational systems that will ensure the ‘massive’ retaliation promised in the doctrine are being increasingly questioned by scholars and analysts worldwide. Pakistani observers cannot help but be swayed and dangerously influenced by such literature, thereby inducing them to think the unthinkable. What does not help in encouraging sober thinking is the fact that since the end of the Second World War, South Asia has seen the largest number of shooting wars in the world. So the questions of nuclear use will not arise in the quiet peace of neighbourly relations, but in the stress of combat over the Line of Control or the international border.The 1998 test
Critics of the credibility of India’s nuclear arsenal begin with their doubts on the success of the thermo-nuclear test of 1998, which they claim was a ‘fizzle.’ There has been much toing-and-froing in technical journals, of the veracity, accuracy and interpretation of seismic readings. There has also been an occasional closed door briefing by select bomb makers — but surprisingly there has not been, to date, a clear unambiguous public statement from the right source about the country’s thermo-nuclear capacity being fielded in India’s nuclear arsenal. This is a matter of some negligence, considering that the only members of the scientific community who have spoken on this issue are deeply sceptical of the success of the thermo-nuclear test.
The command and control of nuclear forces are another area of criticism, and not surprisingly so, since India is the only nuclear weapon country without a Chief of Defence Staff to act as the interface between the Prime Minister, the National Command Authority and the military who ‘own’ the weapons — at least most of it. In the guise of safety, India’s nuclear weapons are not only ‘de-mated’ and the core and ignition device separated from the warhead, but the separate components are under different departmental control. The actual reason for this bizarre arrangement is quite obvious. There is a petty turf war, and neither the Department of Atomic Energy nor the DRDO is willing to let go of the controlling part of the bomb, even if it means a cumbersome and unnecessary loss of control. Needless to say, between the military, the DAE and the DRDO, none of them has any hierarchical control over the other two.