India's Nuclear Policy: The Year After

Jasjit Singh, Director, IDSA

 

On May 11, 1998, two events took place:

(i) India carried out nuclear tests; and,

(ii) India declared itself to be a state with nuclear weapons.

The first demonstrated continuity in the policy of building the technological and material capabilities for an independent credible nuclear deterrent. This was in keeping with the 1964 commitment (discussed later). India had successfully demonstrated its ability to explode a nuclear device in May 1974. To that extent, the five tests in 1998 only emphasised the continuity and growth of capability over the years. The tests were predictably strongly criticised by the international community, especially by the nuclear weapon states and their military allies protected by nuclear weapons even if not legally nuclear. But the essential point is that while people may detest India's nuclear tests, they cannot be de-tested.

State with Nuclear Weapons†

But the second aspect, of India declaring itself as a state with nuclear weapons (SNW), has more far-reaching implications. This was an apparent departure from the decades old declared policy. But to most Indians it seems strange that the slow but sure march of their country toward nuclearisation has been seen with such surprise. As early as 1946, in response to a question about the possibility of Indian deployment of nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had stated his hope that "India would develop atomic power for peaceful uses but warned that, as long the world was constituted as it was, every country would have to develop and use the latest scientific devices for its protection."1 By that time Mahatma Gandhi, the great apostle of non-violence, had given a clear indication of his assessment that the atomic bomb had tremendous power to achieve political goals. After Hiroshima, although privately he expressed his strong abhorrence for the bomb, he made no public comment for almost a year because of his apprehensions that the bomb could be used to deny India its freedom!

It may be useful to briefly review India's progress to becoming an SNW in order to ascertain its motivations. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 left a deep impact on Indian society and leadership and the scars have not healed still (and nor has the territory grabbed by China been restored). One day after the test the prime minister wrote to the US president:2

I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border problem. To add to the distrust, that country has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapon state. At the hands of this bitter neighbour, we have suffered three aggressions in the past 50 years.

The Jan Sangh (an influential political party and the predecessor to the present day BJP—(Bharatiya Janata Party) which currently rules India, demanded nuclear weapons for India from that time. The major political party, the Indian National Congress, considered the question of acquiring nuclear weapons after the Chinese test in 1964 but persuaded itself to defer the decision. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, a man deeply committed to Gandhian ideals of non-violence, however, provided a definitive thrust to nuclearisation at a future date and "launched a programme to reduce the time needed to build nuclear arms to six months."3 At the same time, dialogue was initiated with the UK and in 1966-67 with the USSR and the United States. These parleys did not lead to any definitive results and the United States made it clear that no nuclear guarantees to India (essentially against China which was a Communist country not even recognised by the United States) could be provided. India had to stand alone and independent in matters of national security.4 The armed conflict with China in 1967 reinforced this view. India had been a co-sponsor of the UN General Assembly resolution of November 19, 1965, which sought a nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that would carry a balance of obligations between the weapons states and those expected not to acquire any weapon. But the actual treaty evolved with a heavy bias in favour of non-proliferation and a mild clause for nuclear disarmament which has not been fulfilled even three decades later.

The prospects of a war in 1971 generated a more immediate concern in India which did not have the force levels to be deployed on three fronts concurrently, that is West Pakistan, East Pakistan (where the Pakistan army had sought to launch an offensive into India in April-May 1971) and the northern borders with China. This led to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of August 1971, a treaty that India had resisted for a number of years. Even more important, the treaty now also incorporated a clause for mutual consultations if the security of either was threatened. In the event, China, unlike its policy in 1965, remained non-interventionist. But the United States despatched a nuclear-armed armada led by the USS Enterprise to coerce New Delhi.5 The latter saw not only the proverbial tilt toward Pakistan but also the potential of nuclear coercion although actual use was not seen as a credible scenario.6 The experience reinforced the will to have an independent deterrent.

It is now well known that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave instructions in 1972 for the nuclear test (a peaceful nuclear explosion) carried out in 1974. Among its various implications, it is often ignored that this was also a signal to Moscow that India would not need Clause 9 (on security) of the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty in future. The result was that no one ever referred to this clause again and when the treaty came up for review in 1991, the clause was quietly dropped. India also considered acquiring the Tu-22 bomber from the USSR but the proposal fell through although special airfields along the Himalayan belt were prepared for the task of launching them. The Seventies saw the programme to develop indigenous ballistic missile system come to nothing. This is why the Integrated Guided Missile Programme was launched in 1983. Up to this stage, Pakistan, while taken seriously in terms of its conventional capability, was not seen as a factor in any nuclear security calculus in the region. In fact, even Jammu and Kashmir was not a factor defining the security relationship between India and Pakistan for two decades after 1966. It was the phenomenon of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, and even more important, Pakistan's willingness to accept the role of a "front-line state" in 1981 that produced a major negative impact on Indian security.

In more recent times, the demands for exercising the nuclear option and overt nuclearisation had been growing, especially during the 1990s. The position adopted with regard to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, articulated national security as a major reason for not signing it. There were a number of options in the manner and method of exercising the nuclear option, kept open clearly as a deliberate policy since at least 1964.7 These related essentially to the choices that would provide the optimum cost-benefit ratios but did not deviate from the central issue and the growing consensus that exercising the nuclear option had now become almost inevitable. This had less to do with any immediate military threat and far more to do with assessment of how to maintain the minimum level of strategic capabilities which remain credible and flexible to meet the strategic uncertainties of the future. It is in this context that the tests became useful in that they indicated the resolve and the technological prowess to provide necessary credibility for deterrence.

The Reason Why?

An examination of India's nuclear policy as it has evolved over the decades and especially during the past one year requires that we first address the question:

Why does India require nuclear weapons?

India does not require nuclear weapons for prestige or status although nuclear weapons have been seen as the currency of power since Hiroshima. Our prestige will be governed by our ability to solve our problems successfully. The issue of national security in relation to nuclear weapon threat is one of those myriad problems. For a country pursuing an independent foreign and security policy, potential challenges posed by existential and specific nuclear weapons threat can be adequately addressed only (i) through global abolition of nuclear weapons or (ii) by reliance on nuclear deterrence to ward off such challenges. The latter could be autonomous or provided by military alliance (as is the case for a large number of countries).

The Indian leadership had decided long before independence that the country would pursue an independent and non-aligned foreign and defence policy.8 Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Cold War was neither the sole nor the most critical reference point of non-alignment which emanated and grew in a wider complex of national and international factors in the post-World War II period. The central factors that pushed India toward overt nuclear weapons deterrence can be summarised broadly under seven heads (not necessarily in that order):

1. The China Factor. Historically, India has had to formulate its nuclear policy in the context of those of the nuclear weapon states, with China as a central factor. India's policy from the beginning has had to cater for a fundamental competition with China, which undoubtedly poses by far the biggest strategic challenge. This imperative requires that we continue to build close and cooperative relations with China. But, at the same time, we also need to take prudent precautions for a possible reversal in that process at a future date so that the situation of 1962 does not repeat itself.9 Some of the elements that need to be borne in mind are:

l The historical strategic and ideological motivations that resulted in China's aggression in 1962 may not have fully dissolved.

l Persisting territorial dispute where China occupies 48,000 sq. km. of India territory and claims another 94,000 sq. km. (comprising one of the constituent states of the Indian Republic).

l While China signed an agreement with India in 1993 for both countries not to use their military capabilities against each other, it is not entirely clear what will be the status of this commitment in times of tension and crisis, especially in territories which China claims and depicts as Chinese territories. This is made more complicated by China's declared policy in a different context where it is completely unwilling to renounce the use of force for "reunification" and treats reunification as the "sacred duty of the PLA."

l The continuing inability of China to resolve the internal tensions related to Tibet and Xinjiang (on India's border) creates its own dynamics of potential problems. It needs to be recalled that worsening of the situation in Tibet in the late 1950s was a major factor leading to conflict beween China and India. There are still 150,000 Tibetan refugees in India who have been showing signs of restlessness. Future instability because of the Tibet situation cannot be ruled out, and unlike 1962, China is a nuclear weapon state with a modernising arsenal.

l Conventional and nuclear force modernisation has been progressing at a fast pace, especially with access to Soviet/Russia military technology since 1992.

l Continuing strategic uncertainty of how China (a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council) might use its composite power in future. This (economic, political and military) power has been growing almost dramatically in the past two decades.

l Transfer of nuclear/missile systems and technology besides conventional arms to Islamic countries of Southern Asia. In particular, proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan which continued after China acceded to the NPT in 1992, has been a source of serious concern for its short and long-term implications for India's security.10

l China shows signs of responding to the Western-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) strategy of NATO expansion, ballistic missile defences (BMD), etc. by enhancing its strategic military posture.

l Over 96 percent of China's nuclear forces and ballistic missiles have relevance only for its immediate neighbours.

2. Enhanced Nuclear Proliferation. Nuclear proliferation has increasingly flowered during the 1990s:

l Iraq was almost successful (and may well have been if the Gulf War did not take place when it did) in its acquisition of nuclear weapons in violation of treaty obligations with technology transferred from NPT member countries, mostly from West Europe and North America.

l North Korea pursued a clandestine nuclear programme in violation of its treaty obligations and was seen to be rewarded with nuclear power reactors. Iran is suspected by the West of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme in spite of its NPT commitments. Saudi Arabia was also reportedly pursuing nuclear ambitions at one time.

l China and France violated solemn assurances to exercise the "utmost restraint" in nuclear testing to validate plans for new warheads. China, in fact, was cynical in carrying out a nuclear test within hours of giving this assurance (at the NPT Extension Conference), while France regressed from its earlier moratorium.

l Nuclear delivery systems, especially ballistic missiles, have been transferred by China and North Korea to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.11 On April 6, 1998, Pakistan fired a nuclear capable intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) across its populated areas with the US responding only with mild "regret" compared with strong pressures brought to bear on India by the G-7 to give up its indigenous missile programme.12

l Pakistan reached successful nuclear weaponisation by 1987 although it had manufactured and tested a nuclear device in 1983.13 This test is believed to have been carried out in Lop Nor in China. Over the years, evidence has emerged of significant transfers of nuclear weapon technology to Pakistan from the West as well as from China.

l China has continued to proliferate nuclear weapons technology even after it acceded to the NPT in 1992. A US Senate Committee report in January 1998 stated: "China is the principal supplier of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to the world, and US government efforts to turn Beijing against international proliferation have met with little success"14 (emphasis added).

l Information has now emerged in the United States that design data with regard to all seven types of sophisticated US nuclear weapons has been transferred over the years to China through espionage. In specific, millions of lines of computer codes, extremely valuable for computer simulation and design of new sophisticated warheads, leaked from Los Alamos Laboratories to China in 1994-1995. The implications of this proliferation have yet to be fully assessed.

3. Eroding Prospects of Disarmament. The end of the Cold War unfortunately demonstrated a negative trend and the withdrawal of the international community in general and the weapon states in particular from the commitment to global nuclear disarmament. Permanent extension of the NPT without firm commitments to disarmament, submissions to the World Court by the weapon states, unwillingness to hold the fourth UN Special Session on Disarmament, blocking opening of negotiations for disarmament at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), even abolishing the post of under secretary general for disarmament (recently recreated), and a host of other indications clearly demonstrated the unwillingness of the nuclear weapon states to move firmly towards global abolition of nuclear weapons. For India, if a nuclear weapon-free world was not likely or feasible, the only other option to ensure its security was through acquisition of nuclear weapons.

4. Dominant Strategic Doctrines. The dominant strategic doctrines of the major powers mostly started to re-emphasise the role and likely use of nuclear weapons even in non-nuclear situations. Russia resiled from its earlier commitment of no-first-use and defensive doctrine and has come to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons than ever before. NATO has continued to shy away from a no-first-use commitment in spite of dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO) and dramatic degradation in potential conventional capabilities of its possible adversaries. China has moved toward the doctrine of "limited deterrence." NATO's new strategic concept and corresponding nuclear doctrine reaffirms the doctrine for an expanded role of nuclear weapons.

5. Post-Cold War International Order. The post-Cold War strategic environment inevitably disturbed the earlier balance but in the absence of any over-arching ideological or strategic challenge, it was expected to become more benign and cooperative. This has turned out to be restricted to the Vancouver to Vladivostok order which isolates countries south of the NATO cooperation area. Devaluing of the UN system and unwillingness to institute reforms in tune with the altered geo-political realities and evolving a more cooperative international order has forced countries outside the alliance system to think more seriously about autonomous national capabilities. Efforts to impose unipolarity (even if supported by like-minded countries) has increased apprehensions about the international order managed more by denial regimes and punitive action than democratic values. The effect of the new strategic environment is increasingly narrowing national sovereignty. India's efforts at cooperation did not bring about adequate understanding of its security concerns. It was increasingly forced to rely on its national options.

6. Threat to Nuclear Option. The most critical impact of aggressive non-proliferation (and counter-proliferation) without disarmament during the 1990s came to pose an extremely serious threat to India's policy of keeping its nuclear option open. India faced a dual challenge after 1990 to which it had to either submit and go down the slippery slope to being disarmed without any solution to its security concerns, or cross the threshold that it had preferred not to for three decades:

l A basic challenge since 1964 was of how to build strategic capabilities at the very minimum level as an interim measure while working for global nuclear disarmament. This policy took the shape of keeping the nuclear option, not weaponising, and working for disarmament. It was perhaps not adequately appreciated that this was a policy of restraint.

l To this was added a second challenge since the beginning of the 1990s, of protecting the policy of restraint from the Western liberal democracies (led by the USA) targetting this policy in pursuit of their own agendas. India was specifically targetted under these non-proliferation policies thus creating a threat to the continuity of the policy of keeping the option open at the non-weaponised level.

7. The CTBT Deadline. The negotiated draft of the CTBT as it emerged in June 1996 not only violated the original mandate of the 1993 UN General Assembly, but failed to address India's concerns. India, therefore, indicated its unwillingness to sign the CTBT but made it clear that it would not come in the way of the treaty coming into force. However, in violation of all norms, the international community brought forth a draft at the end of July that sought to impose the CTBT on India through the stipulation of Article XIV, making India's (among others) signature essential to the treaty coming into force. Concurrently, an implicit threat of punitive action was held out in the shape of "measures" to be taken if the treaty did not enter into force three years later. Thus, the CTBT clock timed to September 1999 was ticking whereby India could face punitive measures if it did not sign the CTBT even if it did not weaponise. This created a time- bound imperative for declaration of weapons capability. The BJP's assumption of power facilitated the decision which was further propelled by the Ghauri intermediate range ballistic missile test by Pakistan to which the US responded with only mild regret.15

Selective Non-Proliferation sans Disarmament

Not only has nuclear disarmament been seen in India as the only comprehensive and durable non-proliferation instrument, but nuclear disarmament has been a key strategic and security goal for it. India's preferred option, not unsurprisingly, was to keep the nuclear option open as long as feasible, not weaponise, and work for disarmament which would eliminate the roots of the nuclear security dilemma. This was mostly ignored or perhaps not understood in the Western world as a strategy of restraint. But it seems to have been seen more as a policy of weakness and a challenge to the non-proliferation order which was being expanded and deepened. For India, an "open option" represented an optimum policy which minimised costs and maximised capabilities.16 But after 1990, stimulated by the Iraqi quest for nuclear weapons,17 the weapon states, partly to protect their own weapon status, set out with renewed vigour on the path of non-proliferation, seeking to roll back India's nuclear programme. The basic logic of the renewed focus of non-proliferation may have been global in nature, with selective targetting of the "rogue states," but India was also specifically targetted although the international community was polite enough not to refer to India as a "rogue state"!

President Clinton's policy of "cap, reduce and eliminate" nuclear capabilities in South Asia implied that eventually the two countries would have to give up their nuclear capabilities and that "the present policy was merely a way station on the road to complete regional disarmament (without any commitment to applying such a policy to existing nuclear-weapon states)"18 (emphasis added). But since Pakistan had pursued a policy based on the premise that it will do whatever India does, the US policy essentially targetted only India.

The intense pressure brought to bear on India (which had not proliferated, unlike some other states) after 1991 was premised on the same logic while successive governments of the United States had acquiesced in Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapon programme, at least since 1981. Eminent and knowledgeable Pakistanis claim that a mutual understanding has existed between the United States and Pakistan since 1981 that the former will not raise any hurdles in the latter's nuclear weapon programme in return for Pakistan's willingness to be a "front-line state" against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.19 While approving the military-economic aid in 1981, the US Congress put some conditions which are revealing. The Congress specified that the aid will be suspended "if it (Pakistan) transfers a nuclear explosive device to any non-nuclear state or receives a nuclear device from any country or detonates such a device."20 By the same stipulation, acquiring nuclear weapon wherewithal from another country or making its own bomb would not come in the way of US military-economic assistance! Very clearly, the language approved by the US Congress ensured that some non-proliferation goals related to securing non-transfer of a nuclear device to and from Pakistan would be pursued. But it seems to have accepted as legitimate Pakistan's own programme and access to nuclear weapon technology from other countries without any negative step by the US as long Pakistan did not import or export a "nuclear device" or carry out a test!21 Even in 1997, the focus of obtaining assurances from China regarding non-transfer of nuclear and missile technology in future was in respect of Iran, and Pakistan was conveniently left out of the formulation in spite of credible reports emanating from senior officials of the United States that China had transferred nuclear weapons technology (including 5,000 ring magnets for uranium enrichment for weapon purposes in 1995). "American officials were less concerned with promoting regional stability, or influencing regional strategic decisions over the long run, than in getting treaty (NPT, etc.) adherence in the short run."22

The US intelligence community had concluded by early 1983 that Pakistan had acquired the wherewithal to create a nuclear deterrent.23 US CINC CENTCOM, in a testimony to the Senate in June 1983, had even stated that Pakistan's going nuclear would be a "good thing." It was the 1985 legislation that plugged this loophole, but a way out was found quickly through the Pressler Amendment to continue US assistance without any hurdle up to the point Pakistan would actually possess a weapon. It is also not surprising in this context that the United States further legitimised Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapon programme when it re-opened military supplies under the Brown Amendment in 1996. These weapons had been embargoed because US laws did not allow their delivery after the US president was unable to certify in 1990 that Pakistan does not have a nuclear bomb.

The most flagrant violation of the NPT came from a recent NPT entrant, China, when it supplied nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan. Some of this was transferred before 1992 and hence did not violate the treaty obligations since China was not a party to the treaty till then. But that does not condone what has been its role as an irresponsible proliferator. The transfers after 1992 certainly undermined the NPT severely. More important, the issues involved highlighted the fact that few will say or do anything when a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto power violates treaty obligations.

The flowering of proliferation represents a negative trend compared to the accession of South Africa, Argentina and Brazil to non-proliferation norms and regimes. The most significant maturing of the proliferation process was that of Pakistan which acquired nuclear weapons know-how and technology from Europe and North America in the 1980s and received substantive assistance in terms of technology transfers from China in the 1980s and 1990s. Till 1971, Pakistan possessed only a primitive level of indigenous nuclear science and technology. But acquisition of technology from external sources helped it to acquire nuclear weapons. In pursuit of its national strategic objectives, the United States abandoned its non-proliferation objectives in Pakistan after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

It is in this context that the core logic of India having kept the option to make nuclear weapons open and final nuclearisation has been the continued possession of nuclear weapons by the five acknowledged weapon states, China standing out in the process because of historical experiences and continuing territorial disputes. The heightened focus by the international community led by the five nuclear weapon states on nuclear non-proliferation without disarmament, the broader strategic uncertainties, especially those regarding how an increasingly powerful China might use its power24 and the emergence of another nuclear weapon state, Pakistan, through processes which flagrantly violated the established international norms and treaties for nuclear non-proliferation while the international community was unable or unwilling to do anything about it, have added to the basic rationale for the nuclear policy.25

Impact on Non-Proliferation

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that India's tests and nuclearisation has challenged the non-proliferation regime and damaged it. It is also being stated that acceptance of the reality of India's nuclear weapons would amount to "rewarding" proliferation and will provide the incentive to other states to acquire nuclear weapons. This mythology requires serious and objective examination.

It is necessary to emphasise at the very outset that India has a strong stake in non-proliferation although there is a fundamental difference in the approach of the European countries and that of India which has seen total elimination of nuclear weapons as the only durable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive non-proliferation order. India was at the forefront of sponsoring the resolution passed unanimously by the UN General Assembly on November 19, 1965, that finally led to the NPT. The treaty, however, violated the General Assembly resolution which had sought the principle of a balance of obligations. What little balance did exist during the Cold War, completely tilted toward non-proliferation (and even counter-proliferation) at the cost of disarmament in the 1990s.

More important, India did not violate any treaty or political commitment when it crossed the threshold. In fact, its unwillingness to sign the NPT for three decades in spite of immense pressure brought to bear on it and a declared policy of keeping the nuclear option open was a clear indication that it had reserved the right to acquire nuclear weapons if its security interests required it. The statement at the time of disassociating from the CTBT at the CD in 1996 had clearly cited national security as the essential reason for not accepting the treaty. In the process, it had been treated as a de-facto state with nuclear weapons for many years.

The non-proliferation regime cannot be considered to have been challenged by India's actions simply because India was not part of that regime. India did not sign the NPT. It was not a member of the other ad-hoc groupings like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Group, etc. For the same reasons, non-proliferation cannot be claimed to have been damaged by India's actions. Except for India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba, all other 187 countries are members of the NPT which was extended for an indefinite period into the future in 1995. There is a fundamental fragility in the NPT regime because of the lack of balance of obligations, especially in the implementation of the disarmament provisions of the treaty. It has been further weakened by member states who have either violated their treaty obligations by pursuit of clandestine weapons programme or by transferring nuclear weapons technology forbidden by the treaty. Challenge to the NPT in future can come only from states party to the treaty either by legal withdrawal, or through clandestine programmes in violation of treaty obligations. In the former case, only a powerful state could withstand the pressures of the international community and hope to acquire nuclear weapons. Only countries like Japan and Germany appear to have such capabilities. But they have demonstrated no political incentive to break from their military alliance where they are under credible and reliable nuclear security. A weakening of the alliance system might provide an incentive to go nuclear. But in that case, India's example in any case would not be relevant.

The second aspect is that related to the question of realism. There is a fundamental contradiction in asking India to participate in arms control while pretending that there are no arms. Acceptance of reality would only facilitate the institution of arms control and restraint regimes. India has made it clear that it is not seeking any recognition or conferment, but has only sought to ensure its security in a nuclearised world.

Policy as a State with Nuclear Weapons

Indian policy after its declaration of being a state with nuclear weapons may be summed up in the following terms:

1. Total abolition of nuclear weapons at an early date continues to be a central goal. This will remain predicated on:

l Deligitimisation of nuclear weapons and change in the belief systems and motivations for nuclear weapons,

l Phased, if not time-bound, negotiations and conclusion of a universal treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

l Narrowing the window of nuclear weapons utility.

2. Nuclear policy as a state with nuclear weapons predicated on:

l Doctrine of minimum credible deterrence

l Strategy of no-first-use, survivable force and violent retaliation to a nuclear attack.

l Posture of recessed deterrence in tune with the doctrine.

l Command and control firmly with the political executive head

3. Cooperative approach to arms control within the framework of national security interests and as transparent interim measures pending abolition of nuclear weapons.

4. Strategic stability to ensure that risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons is minimised. Confidence building measures to be strengthened. Improvement of political relations with China and Pakistan as a specific priority to reduce the potential for conflict. High level of conventional capability to raise the nuclear threshold.

Implications for Stability, Security and Arms Control

China had acquired nuclear weapons in 1964. Pakistan had acquired a credible nuclear deterrent by 1987. India's peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 had demonstrated its ability to make nuclear weapons at short notice. In fact, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was reported to have stated in 1985 that India could make nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks. The US policy of "cap, reduce and eliminate" nuclear capabilities in South Asia was premised on the logic that such capabilities existed. The US president's failure to certify Pakistan's non-nuclear status in 1990 further reinforced perceptions of existing nuclear deterrent capabilities. None of the countries involved, therefore, could possibly operate after 1987 in any other way except on the basis that each of them was a state with nuclear weapons. To that extent, there was little that was new in the events of May 1998. What the events of May 1998 did was to bring clarity into the situation by substantially removing the ambiguity that had come to symbolise the nuclear policy and posture of India and Pakistan. What does this mean for security?

Regional Security and Stability

It is possible to argue that greater clarity in the nuclear posture of de-facto nuclear weapon states enhances stability and security. There are greater chances of miscalculations and errors in deterrence based on ambiguous postures. One of the countries could adopt a worse-case approach and base its security policy on that assumption, in turn triggering an action-reaction phenomenon. The temptation to undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike would also be greater in an ambiguous situation.

The rationale for acquiring nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan is not similar and hence the factors affecting stability and security are different. Pakistan has sought nuclear weapons essentially to neutralise India's conventional military superiority, which according to an eminent Pakistani, hangs over Pakistan like a permanent Sword of Damocles.26 Responsible people in Pakistan have been saying that its acquisition of nuclear weapons since 1987 has kept the peace in South Asia in spite of serious tensions between the two countries.27 India, on the other hand, sees its necessity for nuclear weapons in relation to the larger question of the nature of an inequitable international order made more unequal by the perpetuation of nuclear weapons in the possession of a few where the answer really lies in global abolition of nuclear weapons. Within this larger question lies the issue of national security which could only be addressed either by global nuclear disarmament or by India's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The need for strategic stability in Asia involving all the nuclear weapon states remains an important objective. Toward this end, India has adopted a doctrine of minimal credible deterrence and declared that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and by the same logic will not use them against a non-nuclear weapon state. Greater clarity in the Indian and Pakistan's nuclear posture would make it possible to institute measures for reducing the risks of accidents or miscalculation. It is thus possible to argue that after adopting an overt nuclear posture, Pakistan may feel more self-confident of ensuring its security in relation to the much bigger and stronger India. This should enhance stability and security in the subcontinent in the short and long term.

Similarly, India's acquisition of nuclear weapons is likely have a stabilising influence in Sino-Indian relations when these are seen beyond the current hiccups. The risk of war between China and India has been very low since India acquired adequate conventional military capability across the Himalayan frontiers. This equation could have altered in the coming years as a result of qualitative changes taking place in the Chinese military power. An asymmetry in nuclear weapon capability contained the seeds of asymmetry and instability which has essentially now been resolved. After the initial negative reaction, China appears to be settling down to picking up the threads of cooperative relations. The Joint Working Group has already met in Beijing at the end of April and has held the promise of closer interaction in future. Ironically, it may finally be the NATO policies that may help a more cooperative relationship between China and India.

In the overall assessment, it is clear that the prospects of peace in Southern Asia have increased as a result of India (and then Pakistan) adopting a more overt nuclear weapons posture. Countries would be less compelled to respond to each and every change in the military capability and arms acquisition of a neighbour. This should reinforce the existing stability that has existed for some decades now.

The Indian government has declared a policy of "no-first-use" of nuclear weapons and non-use of such weapons and capabilities against non-nuclear weapon states. This, unlike China's declaration, is not a political statement but defines the nuclear doctrine and strategy. Under this, India would pursue a doctrine of minimum credible deterrence and a strategy based on recessed deterrence. This will remain a dynamic concept related to likely nuclear challenges and threats. India does not appear to be rushing toward building a large nuclear arsenal. But in essence, it clearly indicates India's resolve to continue the pursuit of a policy of restraint even if it is now overt and at a slightly higher level than the earlier policy of keeping the option open. India has offered to sign a bilateral agreement with Pakistan on no-first-use. The two countries have also agreed to take risk reduction measures in order to eliminate potential dangers of accident, loss of control over the nuclear arsenal and any miscalculation. This would be built upon the significant confidence building measures that have been put into place among the two countries over the years. Similarly, such measures are likely to be introduced between India and China as soon as China is ready to resume dialogue and normal relations with India. It will be necessary to seriously consider a bilateral no-first-use treaty between China and India to strengthen restraint and to ensure that no ambiguity exists in relation to territories under dispute. A trilateral agreement among China, Russia and India would also go a long way in enhancing stability.

Prospects for Arms Control

An attempt to assess the prospects for nuclear-related arms control throws up four basic conceptual issues. How can we institute arms control without acknowledging the existence of (nuclear) arms? The issue is not that any formal recognition or benefits are sought by India. But it will be necessary to recognise the reality that it is a state with nuclear weapons for purposes of involving it in any arms control process. The second conceptual issue is that India may agree to arms control in relation to China and the other acknowledged nuclear weapon states. But any arms control measure related to Pakistan would not be acceptable if it places constraints on Indian strategy in relation to the five acknowledged nuclear weapon states. Third, India has always looked at nuclear arms control as an interim process related to, and situated in, global abolition of nuclear weapons. This becomes even more critical where it directly impinges on its national security interests. In the ultimate analysis, arms control can be accepted by a country for the sake of greater stability but only if does not degrade national security. India's case is no different.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The entry into force of the CTBT appears to be a priority issue in involving India in the arms control process. But even at the end of nearly three years, only 17 countries out of the stipulated 44 (whose ratification is a pre-condition to the treaty's entry into force) have ratified the CTBT so far. The key nuclear weapon states, the USA, Russia and China, have not ratified it. In the United States, the process of ratification has not even started. The plethora of information that has recently emerged into public domain regarding transfer of data on US nuclear weapons to China, the Cox Report, reports of millions of computer codes' transfer to China during 1994-1995 from the premier US nuclear weapons laboratory, raise many questions. The data, especially the "legacy codes" that have been transferred to China are believed to provide complete information on design of sophisticated US nuclear weapons and the data will be invaluable for computer simulations for new warhead designs. These reports raise many issues for the CTBT, the implications of which have yet to be adequately assessed. They certainly remind of the Indian concerns regarding the CTBT's inability to stop transfer of validated nuclear weapon designs to other countries like it happened in the case of design transfer from China to Pakistan. It appears premature, therefore, to expect India to sign the treaty at this stage.

Based on an extensive national consensus, India had refused to sign the CTBT in 1996. The basic reasons for that step have not altered and hence will necessitate give and take on both sides (the international community and India) even though India may now feel more self-assured in meeting its future security challenges. It has already declared a moratorium on testing and the prime minister had stated at the UN General Assembly in September 1998 that it would not come in the way of the treaty entering into force in September 1999. This, however, must be read in the context of the complete statement in this regard that:28

....having harmonised its national imperatives and security obligations and desirous of continuing to co-operate with the international community, is now engaged in discussions with key interlocutors on a range of issues, including the CTBT. We are prepared to bring these discussions to a successful conclusion, so that the entry into force of the CTBT is not delayed beyond September 1999. We expect that other countries, as indicated in Article XIV of the CTBT, will adhere to this Treaty without conditions.

The core issue for India is the incentive that it may get to accept formal treaty obligations to forego its right to test in future for whatever reason. Unfortunately, all we have so far is the continuing punitive approach which is not reconciliable with the fact that India did not violate any international treaty or political commitment. Among various possible incentives, access to nuclear trade for peaceful purposes, especially in the power sector, could be an important incentive for signing the CTBT. India's access to nuclear trade for peaceful purposes has been denied under ad-hoc arrangements or national laws and not under any international treaty or regime. It will be necessary, therefore, at the bare minimum to revert to the pre-1992 position in NSG guidelines if India is to start engaging in arms control and non-proliferation measures. Questions will also need to be resolved regarding whether India would have the political leeway to undertake sub-critical tests and other activities which are not forbidden by the CTBT.

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty

The second issue relates to the FMCT (Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty). As noted earlier, India had co-sponsored with the USA the UNGA resolution seeking such a treaty. India had not been the hurdle in opening negotiations at the CD in Geneva and these have now started. But India may be expected (like other countries) to negotiate hard to safeguard its interests. Generally speaking, India is likely to go along with a treaty text which brings future production of fissile material for weapons purposes under international inspections and safeguards. This assumes that India's nuclear security concerns as a state with nuclear weapons will be respected as much as those of the five acknowledged nuclear weapon states are. Among other things, this would require that nuclear weapon-grade material produced and stockpiled up to that time, and warheads and weapons-related facilities would remain outside the purview (directly or otherwise) of any inspections safeguards system.

However, if existing stockpiles are to be included in such a treaty, India is most likely to insist before signing such a treaty that these stockpiles (material and warheads) be reduced in a proportionate manner leading to their ultimate elimination. In such a case, the treaty would adopt the shape of a global nuclear disarmament treaty. In the interim, India is not likely to accept any limitations on its production of fissile material for weapon purposes. While a moratorium on testing has been declared unilaterally, any moratorium on fissile material production will remain unacceptable because of numerous concerns, including those in relation to transfer of fissile material from a nuclear weapon state. The risk generated by apparently loose controls over fissile material in the former Soviet Union is only a part of the broader concerns in this regard.

Discussions

This was an assembly of political leaders from nuclear weapon states and those protected by such weapons. Very few responded to the address. Three questions were raised after the address by parliamentarians (British, Finnish and Romanian), who expressed almost similar views that India's actions were motivated by the search for recognition and prestige. But the logic of national security as the basis of India's nuclearisation would provide incentives and legitimacy to 160 (sic) non-nuclear countries. Hence, this argument was not acceptable. One of them stated that India did wrong not to trust the UN for its national security.

I responded by stating that while it was understandable that the British view would reject the security argument for a number of reasons including the questionable logic of the British nuclear arsenal, unfortunately, the role of nuclear weapons has been legitimised by the weapon states and their allies. The NATO Strategic Concept is only the latest in this process and goes further than what could be justifiable in the post-Cold War era. As regards India's nuclearisation constituting an incentive, I re-emphasised that:

(a) India had not violated any treaty or political commitment and, hence there was no rationale for the punitive actions. However, violations of the NPT had taken place by NPT member states, not all of them "rogue states." So it would be incorrect to accuse India of damaging the non-proliferation regime.

(b) Only four countries (India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba) were outside the NPT and three of these in reality were states with nuclear weapons. In the exercise of their sovereign rights, all non-nuclear weapon states have treaty obligations to remain non-nuclear. Any such country now acquiring nuclear weapons could do so only by either violating the treaty obligations through clandestine processes (like Iraq) or by withdrawal from the NPT. Only countries like Japan, Germany, Italy, etc. could possibly withdraw and withstand the inevitable international pressure. But as key partners of expanding military alliances which are widening their roles, there appears to be no political rationale or security logic for them to adopt this line. In any case, the logic presented by the parliamentarians only emphasises the basic fragility of the non-proliferation system

(c) As regards not trusting the UN system, the reality is that the UN has not provided a solution for India's security problems. It has not been able to move the nuclear weapon states toward total abolition (as in the case of the other two categories of WMD). The UN Security Council resolution on security guarantees to non-nuclear weapon states may be adequate for some countries but has two problems. Firstly, the UN Security Council has deviated from the UN Charter in providing such guarantees because international peace and security of all countries (and not just limited to some members) is the prime responsibility of the Council which has not been carried out. Secondly, any threat to India can only come from a nuclear weapon state all of which, as acknowledged by the world, are permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto powers. Thus, there is little credibility in the UN system providing for security against a nuclear threat to a country like India.

 

NOTES

1. Lorne J Kavic, India's Quest for Security: Defence Policies, 1947-1965, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), pp.27-28.

2. New York Times, May 13, 1998, p.A12.

3. Leonard S. Spector, with Jacqueline R. Smith, Nuclear Ambitions: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 1989-90, (Boulder Colo., Westview: 1990), p.64.

4. Recently declassified US government documents provide fascinating details of the parleys which could have led to India remaining non-nuclear. For a partial account of the negotiations for security guarantees, see Joyce Battle, National Security Archive Electronic Book No.6: India and Pakistan—On the Nuclear Threshold (1998).

5. For one account of the Enterprise incident, see Barry Blechman et al., Force Without War: US Armed Forces as a Political Instrument, (Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, pp.175-223.

6. The perceptions in India of potential threats, especialy of coercion and blackmail intensified after Richard Nixon, US president in 1971, stated in 1985 that he had considered using nuclear weapons during the Indo-Pak War in 1971, although more in the context of China intervening (the reason why India had signed the treaty with the USSR); see Richard Nixon, Time Magazine, July 29, 1985.

7. My own preferred option had been spelt out in an article which appeared in a major publication three weeks before the tests. See Jasjit Singh, Frontline, April 24, 1998. However, the test certainly strengthens credibility to a far greater degree than other methods.

8. The roots of the policy of non-alignment can be traced back in India to at least 1939 when the leading Indian National Congress Party (at its session at Haripur) passed a resolution that "India was resolved to maintain friendly and co-operative relations with all nations and avoid entanglements in military and similar alliances which tend to divide up the world into rival groups and thus endanger world peace."

9. The same rationale had operated in the 1950s when China and the USSR were military allies. The Panchsheel Agreement of 1954 was a major example of engaging China, trying to commit it to the principles and aims of the UN Charter (since it was not a member of that organisation). But a major reversal in Sino-Indian relations took place in 1959 following the revolt in Tibet and border clashes from that time. And we were caught substantively unprepared three years later, when a full fledged invasion was launched by China across the Himalayan frontiers.

10. Annual Reports of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, for a number of years during the 1990s.

11. For China's supplies of ballistic missiles to Pakistan, see Pakistan Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi's statement on August 26, 1993, cited in The Nation, August 27, 1993; and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar's statement to the Senate August 26, 1993, cited in The Nation, August 27, 1993 where he stated, "These missiles were bought keeping in mind Pakistan's security needs" which he went on justify in relation to missile attacks across the borders from Afghanistan. For an earlier confirmation of Chinese supplies of ballistic missiles to Pakistan, see Chinese ambassador to the USA Zhu Qizhen's address to the National Press Club, Washington DC, Reuters Transcript Report (June 27, 1991) cited in John Wilson and Hua Di, "China's Ballistic Missile Programs", International Security, vol. 17, no.2, Fall 1992, p.37, where he stated, "We have sold some conventional weapons to Pakistan, including a tiny amount of short-range tactical missiles". More recently, Pakistani interlocutors have confirmed that China had supplied M-11s to Pakistan though modified somewhat to bring them technically under the MTCR limits.

12. It is interesting that India appears to have put its IRBM programme on hold after 1994, reportedly under US pressures. A 2,500-km range missile, Agni-II, was tested finally in April 1999.

13. Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, the Pakistani scientist in charge of Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998, cited in The Gulf Today, May 19, 1999.

14. China: The Proliferation Primer, A Majority Report of the International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services Subcommittee, United States Senate Committee on Government Affairs, January 1998, Washington DC.

15. The missile was believed to have been transferred from China/North Korea and tested on April 6, 1998, across inhabited territory. The orders to undertake the nuclear tests were apparently issued in New Delhi two days later.

16. For example, see Jasjit Singh, "India's Nuclear Policy: A Perspective," Strategic Analysis, vol. XIII, no.VIII, November 1989, pp. 781-802.

17. Where technology was transferred from West European states and not from India.

18. Stephen P. Cohen and Sumit Ganguly, "India" in Robert Chase, Emily Hill and Paul Kennedy, eds., The Pivotal States: A New Framework for US Policy in the Developing World, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999), p.57.

19. General K.M. Arif, Working with Zia: Pakistan's Power Politics 1977-1988, (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.431.

20. Ibid., p. 434.

21. For example, see US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1984, 98th Congress, 2nd sessin, 1984 Senate Report 98-400, pp. 7, 19, 58-59, 114.

22. Cohen, n.18.

23. US Department of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, "Pakistan's Nuclear Program," secret report, March 14, 1983 (National Security Archives).

24. It needs to be noted that China set about modernising its nuclear and missile forces since the late 1970s and new systems are already being deployed. Perhaps more significant is that over 96 percent of China's nuclear arsenal (including tactical nuclear weapons) has relevance only for China's immediate physical neighbours. With US deployment of BMD in geographical Asia, this arsenal is likely to grow quantitatively and qualitatively.

25. Indian prime ministers repeatedly cautioned the world since 1980 on this issue even making it clear that India would have no option but to follow suit if Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. By all accounts, Pakistan had acquired nuclear weapons by 1987.

26. Former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Agha Shahi, in Fasahat H. Syed ed., Nuclear Disarmament and Conventional Arms Control Including Light Weapons, (Rawalpindi: FRIENDS, 1997), p. 421.

27. General Aslam Beg (who headed the Pakistan Army during 1988-91) in Syed ed., Ibid. See also his statement at the Stimson Centre, Washington DC, July 1995.

28. Statement of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to the UN General Assembly, September 24, 1998.