Indian Nuclear Strategy: A Perspective for 2020

P.M. Kamath, Director, VPMCIS


India demonstrated its nuclear capability on May 18, 1974, when it conducted the first nuclear test in Pokhran--a desert area in Rajasthan some 350 miles away from New Delhi. Technically, India then became the world's sixth nuclear power.1 However, because of international pressure, particularly from the United States (US) and Canada, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was then believed to have bitten off more than she could chew regarding nuclear weapons. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was caught unawares of the Indian tests. The test was then described as a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) by India. But few were willing to buy this explanation. It was also considered as being against the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); but since India had not signed the NPT, it was not strictly in violation of any international treaties.

After 24 years, India surprised the world once again by conducting three nuclear tests on Buddha Poornima Day--May 11, 1998. One was a plutonium type similar to the 1974 test. Another was a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb, and the third one was a low yield device with a wider application--primarily a tactical weapon. All three devices were triggered by one pull.

Two days later, on May 13, 1998, another two weapons were tested at Pokhran. These tests gave Indian scientists up-to-date knowledge on the latest developments in weaponisation of nuclear technology, including an ability to conduct sub-critical tests or testing by computer simulation in the laboratory.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee later said: "India now is a nuclear weapon state."2 Brijesh Mishra, the Prime Minister's Special Secretary, also said after the May 11 tests: "These tests have established that India has a proven capability for a weaponised nuclear programme."3 R. Chidambaram, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, stated: "The bombs tested at Pokhran were purely for defensive purposes." This time there was absolutely no reference to any peaceful nature of the nuclear tests.

Western nations in general, and the US in particular, had always considered India's nuclear weapons programme as less advanced. Naturally, scientist in the West began to doubt the claims of Indian scientists, particularly the Indian claim of having tested a thermonuclear device, and the level of sophistication and yield of the tests. But Anil Kakodkar, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said that the thermonuclear device was limited in yield to 43 to 45 kilotons, so that seismic disturbances do not affect nearby villages.4 But the total yield of all the tests was claimed by Indian scientists as 58 kilotons. This claim also was disputed by the American journal Science by stating that the total yield of the Indian tests was between 9 to 16 kilotons.

Reaction of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS)

The Indian tests angered world opinion. The US, Western nations and their allies were very critical of India. The State Department spokesman, James Rubin, accused India of lying and conducting a "campaign of duplicity" during nearly 20 high level meetings between the US and India on their nuclear intentions. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook stated that the nuclear tests have not, in fact, helped to enhance Indian security. Australia and New Zealand recalled their Ambassadors. The Japanese Prime Minister pronounced the Indian tests as "extremely deplorable." Japan suspended the annual grant of $26 million. Germany also froze all development aid to India but allowed aid to projects in the pipeline to be continued. The US also imposed economic sanctions with the intention to harm the Indian economy and withheld $143 million aid. The punitive intentions are clear from the testimony of a US official. Assistant Secretary of State, Karl Inderfurth, said: "More than $1 billion worth of loans have been postponed...having a ripple effect in the Indian economy and is resulting in decreased investor confidence."5

India's declaration of itself as a nuclear weapon state was seen by the Western powers as an effort on its part to emerge as a major power. The American policy makers were particularly sharp in advising India that there is no linkage between major power status and the possession of nuclear weapons. US President Clinton said that with India's democratic traditions, the nuclear path is not a way to "greatness."6 In the view of his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright also, nuclear weapons will not help a country "to enhance its national strength and status."7

The examples often cited are of Japan and Germany which are dominant economic powers and are also important players in world politics.8 These two states are also favoured by the US to occupy permanent seats in the UN Security Council (SC) when expanded but they do not possess nuclear weapons. But these commentators conveniently forget two inter-related facts. First, these two countries, defeated in World War II, have been protected since then by the US nuclear umbrella. Second, even after their economic recovery since the 1960s, they have played a secondary role to NWS within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), not only to the US but even to weaker European powers, like Britain and France.

On the other hand, the point has not been missed amongst the observers of international relations that it is non-possession of nuclear weapons that is a factor responsible for the secondary status of Japan and Germany. As a matter of fact, it is the American fear of the likely nuclear weaponisation by Germany and Japan that made the US in the first instance, react strongly against the Indian nuclear tests. Japan was against the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. It wants a rapid end of nuclear weapons under Article VI of the NPT. Former Japanese PM Sato reportedly told the US Ambassador that "if the other fellow (China) has the nuclear weapons, it is only common sense to have them oneself."9

China too has been vociferous in advising India to forget about its pursuit of great power status. The state-run Chinese media commented soon after the Indian nuclear tests: "A review of Indian history makes two facts clear: India was once a world power. It is obsessed with a desire to be a regional and world power again."10 Further, it added: "India has a strong armed force, which was out of line with its status as a developing country."

What is interesting, however, is the fact that China is never tired of proclaiming itself as a developing country. However, the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, called China "the regional heavyweight" on the eve of Clinton's visit to Beijing on June 20, 1998, and advised the US that "to maintain regional and global security interest," the Clinton Administration, "needs to work with China in safeguarding stability and security on the western side of the Pacific rim."11

China also took upon itself the responsibility to mention a need to improve the economic condition of the Indian people rather than expend scarce resources on nuclear weapons. The Chinese Ambassador in India, Zhou Gang, stated publicly that "India will score greater achievements in developing its economy and realising its people's living standards in the 21st century," than in conducting nuclear tests "against the international trend."12

More than one Chinese official has been asked the most embarrassing question regarding the justification for their own possession of nuclear weapons by news correspondents. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, Deng Jie, for instance, considered the Indian test a blow to non-proliferation. Asked why China gave itself the right of nuclear weaponisation while denying it to India, he stated that Beijing's nuclear tests were conducted in an international environment "that was different from the current one in which India has conducted its own tests."13 The Chinese Ambassador in Delhi too said similar words when he stated that "under specific and historical circumstance, China had to take a decision to develop nuclear weapons."14

What China refers to as a historical condition in October 1964 when it first conducted a nuclear test, was its threat perceptions, which included, in addition to its historical confict with the US since the birth of Communist rule in 1948, a growing threat from its own Communist big brother and neighbour, the Soviet Union. But China conveniently forgets the fact that India is also in a similar international environment, as it was in the 1960s, facing twin national security threats. Though today, seen from its national interest, the present international environment is against nuclear proliferation, it cannot force its perceptions on Indian policy makers.

Indian Compulsions

Then what compelled India to go nuclear against the "international trend?" First, it was China's growing assertion of power in South and South-East Asia.15 What China claims was the international environment in which it faced a two-pronged threat to its national security in the 1960s, was similar to the national security environment in the 1990s faced by India. China has been a potential security threat ever since its aggression against India in October 1962. But this threat perception has sharpened since the end of the Cold War.

China's ambition to emerge as the Asian superpower has made it assert itself in Asia. Its double standards are evident, however, when it accuses India of being a hegemonic power. How can China accuse India of trying to "obtain the hegemony in South Asia" when it pursues the status of superpower globally as well as regionally?

Towards this goal, China has developed not only its own blue water Navy but also sought naval and submarine bases and facilities of electronic surveillance in the Coco Islands of Myanmar. As a result, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal have come within the range of the Chinese sweep. For that matter, the entire eastern region of India is within the firing range of China. Arrogance of power on the part of Chinese leaders was indicated by their utterances. Thus, for instance, in 1994, the then Chinese Defence Minister publicly asserted that the "Indian Ocean is not India's ocean,"16 in response to a correspondent's query on Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean.

Second, Pakistan has been a perennial threat to Indian security under its goal of completing the partition process on the basis of religious identity. Thus, it had launched war thrice against India over Kashmir--once in 1947-48, the second time in 1965 and finally in 1971. The disastrous consequences of the separation of East Pakistan into the independent, sovereign state of Bangladesh, made it think in terms of revenge for its defeat in 1971.

In pursuit of this strategy, Pakistan had moved in the direction of a search for a nuclear weapon status. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had pushed for an Islamic bomb.17 Bhutto, though hanged by Zia-ul-Haq, left his dream of building an "Islamic Bomb" intact and it was pursued vigorously by the military dictator, particularly since 1980, under the cover of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan.

By 1984, Pakistan had acquired nuclear weapons capability. Pakistan's nuclear capability has always been India-specific. All its decisions in international relations regarding the nuclear bomb have been related to India. The best illustrations are: "If India signs the NPT, it will sign;" or "If India signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it too will sign." For the first time in 1994, the then interim Prime Minister, after the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister, admitted Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons.

Third, Sino-Pakistani collusion and collaboration in not only the latter's development of nuclear weapons and missile production, but their general security and diplomatic cooperation was aimed against India. Pakistan was aided by China in its pursuit of nuclear capability on the principle that an enemy's enemy is a friend. This collaboration between the two nations only increased after the end of the Cold War. The collaboration was also extended in the development of missile technology. It is a well confirmed fact that China had supplied to Pakistan M-11 missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The US had in August 1993, even imposed partial economic sanctions against China and Pakistan for this very reason. Among several areas of their collaboration, the latest is the Chinese aided plutonium production reactor at Khushab which was inaugurated in November 1998.18

Fourth, the US--the global policeman--did very little since 1993 to ensure that Pakistan and China adhered to the NPT and its own creation, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), under which any nation producing its own missile system was expected to restrain from transferring missile technology to another nation. Though in October 1990, the then President of the US, George Bush, had refused to certify that Pakistan is not actively engaged in nuclear weapons development, Bill Clinton, through the Hank Brown Amendment to the Pressler Amendment, saw to it that Pakistan was provided with $368 million worth of military aid.

Thus, the US, under Bill Clinton since January 1993, has been very accommodative of China and Pakistan--two of its closest allies in the bygone Cold War era. The US not only lifted partial sanctions imposed by it against China for the supply of M-11 missiles, but looked the other way when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported the collaboration between the two over missile production. The US officials often did a hair splitting exercise by stating that China has not transferred fully assembled missiles, only certain parts. Thus, for instance, Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "in spite of our best efforts to end Chinese assistance to Pakistan in the missile area, it may still be supplying missile components to Islamabad." But he emphatically added that China did not supply completed missiles to Pakistan.19

Ironically, the US instead of enforcing NPT provisions and the MTCR, itself cooperated with China by providing satellite and missile technology to it. After the Indian nuclear tests, it became evident, that the US, had, according to several Senators and Congressmen, been involved in actively transferring sophisticated technology to China. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, highlighted Clinton's dangerous policy of "transfer of American missile technology to China."

Fifth, in a worst case scenario, the US nuclear weapons in their Indian Ocean base in Diego Garcia are also a serious threat to Indian security. Alluding to threats to Indian security, I.K. Gujral, while he was the PM, had very elaborately underlined the security environment around India. He had then stated in his talk at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, on his way to New York to address the UN General Assembly (GA) in September 1996: "In the east, there is China a full-fledged nuclear power. In the south, there is Diego Garcia, a major American naval base for its nuclear submarines as well as aircraft carriers. In the west, the Gulf region is nuclearised by the United States. Is it possible for any government in India to remain indifferent to this gigantic array of nuclear arms across its eastern, southern and western borders?"20 If Congressman Jim Bryan could assert, as he did before the House Committee on National Security, that Indian missiles could be a long-term security threat to the US, Indian policy makers are justified in assuming a security threat from the US missiles in Diego Garcia.

The US is also mainly responsible for the May 1995 indefinite extension of the NPT. This legitimised the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons by the five NWS who also are the permanent members of the UN. Hence, as K. Subrahmanyam, pointed out, India joined the nuclear club as the "international community legitimised nuclear weapons" by indefinitely extending the NPT.21

Sixth, there was the need to extricate India from the muddled waters of past rhetoric over the CTBT. The Indian insistence from the beginning was nuclear disarmament. India had joined the US in co-sponsoring the CTBT in the UN General Assembly. But the US officials from the beginning were looking at it as another measure towards nuclear non-proliferation. However, India could have come out of the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as early as in November 1995, if not earlier, instead of waiting till June 20, 1996, because, in a speech in Georgetown University in November 1995, then Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) John Holum had made very clear that the aim of the CTBT is to prevent India from acquiring nuclear weapons, when he said:

"The CTBT will stem proliferation by preventing other countries from moving beyond the most rudimentary devices. The US has conducted well over 1,000 nuclear tests--hundreds more than any country. The value to us of any tiny increment in knowledge from more tests is heavily outweighed by the value of preventing tests by others, including rogue states who could derive quantum leaps of capability from even a few tests."22

In view of the Indian refusal to sign the CTBT as passed by the UN General Assembly as it was discriminatory, non-comprehensive and not a nuclear disarmament measure, India could not wait to decide on the next step indefinitely, provided it was keen on retaining the nuclear option--something every Prime Minister spoke about since Mrs. Gandhi, but which could not be held up indefinitely. The time for decision was rapidly running out as the CTBT was to come into force by September 1999 and in the event of India continuing to refuse to sign the treaty, the original 44 nations could determine under the provisions of entry into force--Article XIV. The consequences of such a situation could have been disastrous for India.

The proverbial last straw on the Indian camel's back that broke its nuclear abstinence, was the test firing of the Ghauri--a medium range missile--by Pakistan in April 1998, which could reach any Indian city with conventional or nuclear warheads. The missile is not an indigenous one but one from North Korea. However, North Korea under the influence of China, could not transfer a missile to Pakistan without its approval.

India is not a banana republic which can be moulded to suit international needs as the big powers perceive it. India has its own strength of history and culture and almost a billion people cannot be ordered to forego their nuclear option, particularly when surrounded by powerful nuclear weapon states. As Prime Minister Vajpayee said, "A country of 100 crores cannot be left to the mercy of others...Nuclear weaponisation is in self-defence. Our enemies should know that we have nuclear weapons so that they will not attack us."23

These developments indicated a potential security threat to India from the north. However, the former PM, I.K. Gujral was playing sheer partisan politics when he stated in the Lok Sabha while participating in the post-Pokhran nuclear debate that there was no security threat when he laid down office on March 18, hence, the conclusion that the tests were conducted for partisan purposes. In political polemics it meant, as the other Opposition leaders argued, that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) invented the threat to gain mileage in domestic politics. The Congress leaders were at their best in seeing a partisan motive in the tests. Salman Khursheed called the nuclear tests a political gimmick for garnering votes, while P. Chidambaram stated in the Lok Sabha that the "government has not discovered new threats but invented them."

However, it is pertinent to state that a nation does not act over a potential security threat when it actually materialises--the entire security scenario is built upon the anticipation of threat and being prepared to meet it. Only those with suicidal tendencies can state, as the late Prime Minister Morarji Desai had said in an interview to Barbara Walters of the American Broadcasting Company that he would "never go in for nuclear weapons even if the entire country is destroyed in their absence."24 Beyond this, the United Front (UF) government before Pokhran II, and the Congress government under Narasimha Rao that preceded it, had fine-tuned Sino-Indian bilateral relations by playing second fiddle to an increasingly assertive China.

Relevance of Nuclear Weapons

The vehemence with which the advice is given by the US and China to India not to tread on the nuclear path, indicates the existence of a close relationship between nuclear weapons and major power status. The US is able to maintain its superpower status despite its relative economic decline, largely on the strength of its nuclear superiority. China, despite being a developing country, is being cultivated by the US not only for its economic power but because it is a full-fledged nuclear weapon state.

Thus, it is necessary for India to conceptualise its strategic policy based on the doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence. It is no longer possible for Indian policy makers to state that we do have a strategic policy primarily based on nuclear deterrence; but unlike the Western nations, particularly, the US, we do not publicly discuss it. On the other hand, India's adversaries, mainly China and Pakistan, should know the circumstances under which the nuclear weapons will be used.

Before we discuss the main ingredients of India's strategic policy for the future, based on nuclear deterrence, it is necessary to dispose of two lingering doubts in the minds of opinion makers and even some in the Indian armed forces. These are: first, what will happen to the nuclear weapons if another party or a coalition comes to power replacing the present BJP-led coalition government?25 The answer is: nuclear weapons will continue to be a part of India's war preventing and peace promoting armoury as the liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG), continue to be part of our economic thought. Four governments, since P.V. Narasimha Rao under economic compulsions went in favour of LPG, have only refined it rather than abandoning it. Once tested, the nuclear weapons genie cannot be sent back into a bottle, though weaponisation and deployment can be either speeded up or slowed down.

Unlike economic policy where domestic politics plays a role, national security knows no party affiliation. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is a national consensus in favour of India's status as a nuclear power. The fact is, as the former President, R. Venkataraman, testified, that he, as the Defence Minister in 1983 under Mrs. Gandhi made preparations for a nuclear explosion, which had to be abandoned because of international pressure as was the case with other Prime Ministers in the 1990s. In a letter to Vajpayee soon after the nuclear tests, Venkataraman wrote: "As early as 1983, all preparations for underground tests at Pokhran were completed. I myself went down the shaft to see things for myself. It was shelved because of international pressure..."26

It is well known that Narasimha Rao had planned to conduct tests in mid-December 1995 but had to give it up because of international pressure. The US had then publicly and privately warned India on the basis of intelligence reports of India preparing to go nuclear. India had then, of course, denied the reports by stating that the US was raising the bogey of the second test to pressurise India to sign the CTBT, the conclusion of which was evident by then.27 If we are to go by the utterances of the former Defence Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, even the United Front had planned the tests, but did not do so because they lost their external support extended by the Congress and had to prepare to face elections in February 1998.

If the Congress and other parties have been critical of the BJP's decision to go nuclear, it is because of their surprise at the BJP showing the political will to conduct the nuclear tests. The Congress ruled for a longer period than the BJP but could not do it after the initial test of 1974. This politically bitter feeling was clearly evident when diplomat turned politician, Natwar Singh said soon after the May 13 tests that it was not the result of the work of the 45-day-old government, but of the 45 years work done by the Congress governments.

However, in one respect, the BJP failed miserably: it did not take the Opposition leaders into confidence, and informed them of the government's decision only a few minutes before it was made public. Similarly, the government should have summoned foreign diplomats in Delhi to inform them before they got the news through the media.

Second, though Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made India's possession of nuclear weapons a natural right when he stated that India's nuclear status "is not a conferment we seek, nor is it a status for others to grant. It is an endowment to the nation by the scientists and engineers and is the country's due, the right of one-sixth of humankind"28—this is good rhetoric and politically highly appealing--in reality, India needs to work in the next few years to convince the international community, particularly, the US, as to how it is a natural right and need of India in the light of its immediately security environment. It needs to be stressed that India has to work to get the NPT amended to include India as the sixth nuclear weapon state which it was in effect from May 1974.

In this direction, notwithstanding the present anti-India rhetoric of the US, India needs to work towards enhancing democratic ties between India and the US on the basis of shared values.29 Just like the initial anti-nuclear outbursts of the Congress Party within the nation, the US blasting India for its nuclear explosion too emanates from its feelings of being let down by India. But more importantly, there are two specific reasons for the US' outbursts against India.

First, the failure of the CIA in not being able to detect the Indian planning for the nuclear tests is a particularly big setback to the US intelligence community. It has continuously monitored the Pokhran site ever since the first test in 1974. As such, it reflected poorly on the prowess of the only surviving superpower and on its ability to monitor global events so vital to preserve its status as the global hegemon.

Second, for Bill Clinton and his close advisors, the timing of the Indian tests was particularly adverse because he had planned his China summit for June, and all his actions had to be China-specific.30 A situation somewhat similar to 1971 when India was playing the role of midwife in the birth Bangladesh. Then Nixon had planned his historic visit to China in February 1972. Probably, if India had sought Clinton's consent before going in for the big bang, he, like Nixon, would have told India to wait till his China visit was over!

Many commentators have expressed their opinion to the effect that any milder attack on the Indian tests would have been open to Chinese criticism that the Indian tests were approved, or connived at, by the US and the attack on India for its tests was only for the international record. Only this interpretation can help us to understand Bill Clinton offering the management of South Asia to the Chinese. In his speech at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, just before his China visit, he said:

"Last week, China chaired a meeting of the permanent members of the UN Security Council to forge a common strategy for moving India and Pakistan back from the nuclear arms race edge. It has condemned both countries for conducting nuclear tests. It has joined us in urging them to conduct no more tests, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to avoid deploying or testing missiles, to tone down the rhetoric, to work to resolve their differences including over Kashmir though dialogue. Because of its history with both countries,(?) China must be a part of any ultimate resolution of this matter."

A 2020 Perspective

In this background, what are the main ingredients of Indian strategic policy based on the doctrine of nuclear deterrence for the next two decades? The Prime Minister and others in the government have stated that minimal nuclear deterrence is not negotiable. The question, however, is: what constitutes minimum deterrence? Former Army Chief of Staff General K. Sundarji believes that India needs a minimum of 20 nuclear weapons of 20 kiloton each to deter a small country and about 50 such weapons to provide a credible nuclear deterrence against a large country. But it is next to impossible mathematically to state an accurate figure at any given time. The security threat perception and its intensity is ultimately a personal judgement of the ultimate decision maker based on his advisors, relative to an adversary at a given time. The number could very easily vary if an adversary raises the ante.

Some important ingredients of strategic policy can be underscored here. To begin with, India will continue to emphasise--in the next twenty years--from a position of strength, global nuclear disarmament. Unlike the US, which till the end of the Cold War believed that a limited nuclear war is thinkable and winnable, India looks at the nuclear weapons as the weapons of ultimate defence. Even after acquisition of nuclear weapons, Indian strategy is not based on the use of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, India now sees that it can speak on nuclear disarmament more authoritatively. However, in pursuit of global disarmament, we need to change our approach: instead of total disarmament, in the beginning, we need only move step by step towards that goal.

The first step has to be a global treaty amongst the known nuclear powers and threshold states on no-first use of nuclear weapons.31 The only obstacle today in this goal is the US and Pakistan which have based their doctrines of nuclear deterrence on the basis of a first strike. The US opposition to such a proposal can be gauged from the fact that when German Foreign Minister Fischer made a suggestion in mid-November 1998 that in the absence of a threat, NATO adopt the proposal of no-first use of nuclear weapons, the US Defence Secretary denounced the proposal. That was it; nothing more was heard about it.

India has already offered to sign such a treaty with Pakistan which has rejected the proposal by declaring it as "self serving." It sees nuclear weapons as a "credible deterrence "in view of India's conventional superiority."32 Russia's predecessor state, the Soviet Union, and China had announced during the Cold War their commitment to no-first use of nuclear weapons. But after the end of the Cold War, Russia and China have been ambiguous on the issue. Hence, a successful conclusion of a no-first strike treaty will greatly reduce the threat of nuclear war.

But even here, gradual movement towards the goal could be envisaged. Since the US, globally, and Pakistan, regionally, see the need for retaining their nuclear weapons, India can pursue more vigorously, such a treaty on "no-first strike" of nuclear weapons with China. Russian Prime Minister Primakov in December 1998 proposed a strategic triangle among Russia, China and India. Therefore, India can persuade Russia to take the lead in bringing India and China together on the issue of signing a no-first use treaty. Later, others can be persuaded to join. Eventually, this will make nuclear weapons merely defensive ones. It will also enable the US to achieve the Wilsonian dream of collective security. If, despite the treaty on no-first use of nuclear weapons, a nation uses nuclear weapons in a conflict, such a state can be threatened and punished collectively by the nuclear weapons of other NWS.

The second policy strand relates to halting of production of fissile materials essential for nuclear weapons. India needs to agree on a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) with certain precautions. Even on the FMCT, the US could take India for a ride by pressurising it to stop production of fissile materials even before the treaty is negotiated and signed. This again, could be a ploy on the part of the US to help Pakistan to achieve parity with India in possession of fissile material.

Ever since the conclusion of the CTBT and ongoing talks on the FMCT, Pakistan has been stating that India will have a larger stock of fissile materials than it does. A Pakistani spokesman said that when signed, the FMCT will create an imbalance in stockpiles of fissile material in the possession of India and Pakistan. Pakistan will not accept such an imbalance. It demands that the proposed treaty also cover existing stocks of fissile materials. However, the need of fissile material for a nation will depend upon the size of the territory to be protected and the nature of the threat perception. If Pakistan sees a threat from India, India's security is threatened by China as well as Pakistan.

Third, India needs to concentrate to make its nuclear weapons invulnerable to a first strike with nuclear weapons either by Pakistan or China or jointly by them. In this respect, not only development of the medium range missile--Agni--is essential but also it needs to focus on its perfection to the extent that at least half of the missiles fired will hit the target within a radius of a mile or two. To make nuclear weapons invulnerable to first strike, we will also have to develop nuclear submarines and deploy anti-ballistic missiles. India has, in fact, collaborated with Russia in developing Sagarika, the Indian nuclear submarine, which is expected to be inducted in the Navy by 2004.

Fourth, there is the case of deployment versus non-deployment of nuclear weapons to be decided. India will deploy nuclear weapons against China but not against Pakistan. This is because, even if China is our potential security threat33 in the sense of its threatening ambition to be a superpower and make India play second fiddle to it, it is unlikely to use nuclear weapons against India, as a rational decision maker. However, this does not preclude it from using them as blackmail which can, of course, now be checked because it knows India too has nuclear weapons. As such, there is a congruence of perception between China and India to the extent Chinese scholars also think in a like manner. For instance, a Chinese foreign policy expert, Yan Xuetong, is reported to have said: "I don't think India will use the nuclear bomb against China, but I do think that they may use it against Pakistan."34

However, since China has targetted its nuclear weapons against India, a treaty on detargetting of nuclear weapons between India and China is necessary and it is a rational possibility. Critics of Indian nuclear weapons ought to note the fact that the US agreed to de-target its nuclear weapons against China only when China acquired modern nuclear weapons.

But China does not rule out the possibility of India using nuclear weapons against their friend--Pakistan. India also cannot rule out the possibilities of Pakistan using them against India in view of their long history of talk of avenging the defeat of 1971. The desire for revenge is dangerously coupled with religious fanaticism. For these very reasons, there is no need to deploy them against Pakistan as it has no strategic depth and it will be highly provocative in view of its likely irrational decision making. Since India-Pak borders are also well populated, the targets have to be military installations. It is worth noting that the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, stated early in November last year that Pakistan will not deploy nuclear weapons if India agrees to a similar restraint. This is a good offer which should be taken up at the diplomatic level for further negotiations.

Fifth, India needs to develop a system of command and control over the nuclear weapons. The ultimate decision to use the nuclear weapons will have to rest with the Prime Minister. But in a worst case scenario, there is a need to clearly lay down the alternate line of control in the event of conflict escalating into a war. Similarly, if New Delhi is made dysfunctional by enemy bombing, from where will the command and control operate? How do you carry nuclear weapons to enemy targets? Do you use aircraft or missiles or submarines or use the tactical nuclear weapons? In other words, it is also necessary to resolve the question of inter-service rivalry over the possession of nuclear weapons. Since all three services may have to be provided with nuclear weapons, creation of a Chief of Defence Staff assumes additional urgency.

Sixth, India also will have to develop or acquire, in the next 20 years, necessary protective safety systems for nuclear weapons. There is also a need to take steps to prevent triggering of any accidental war; simultaneously taking confidence building measures between India and its two adversaries on the borders in the north.

Seventh, in the next 20 years, however, India will not be able to reduce the size of its armed forces because of acquisition of nuclear weapons--though eventually that is a possibility--as the threat to India's security will continue to arise from Pakistan, mainly through low intensity conflict (LIC) in fulfilment of the religiously emotive issue of the incomplete partition process in Kashmir.

While it is possible for India to reduce, through a bilateral agreement, armed forces on Sino-Indian borders without much reservation, it is necessary for India to move in the direction of equipping the armed forces for technological warfare, and gradually move in the direction of reduction of armed forces.

Eighth, Indian strategic policy needs to be backed by a well conceived diplomatic posture for the future.35 It will be a prudent policy for India to cultivate cordial relations with countries which feel threatened by the expansionist policies of China. The way in which the US has conducted its policy towards China in the months prior to and after Bill Clinton's summit meeting with Jiang Zemin in June 1998, shows that Japan increasingly, might feel threatened. Hence, despite Japan following in the US steps to criticise India for its nuclear tests, India needs to open immediately a strategic dialogue with Japan.36

Vietnam is another country which has traditionally been friendly towards India and deserves enhanced cooperation. While China is perceived as a security threat by a majority of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries even when China is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), India which is also a member of ARF has an advantage of not being perceived as a security threat. This was clearly evident in the ARF meeting of July 1998, when ASEAN states refused to condemn India for its nuclear tests despite hectic lobbying by states like China, the US, and Japan. The ASEAN statement issued after the meeting only said that they were "stunned" by the Indian tests which were contrary to the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. But the same paragraph of the statement also criticised the five nuclear weapons states for their failure to make progress towards nuclear disarmament. It will be good diplomacy for India to support the idea of South-East Asia as a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone since the proposal is opposed by China and even the US is ambiguous about it.

In Europe, France has shown always an inclination to pursue an independent policy not totally identified with the US: as such it needs to be cultivated. Hence, the opening of a strategic dialogue between India and France by Prime Minister Vajpayee and French President, Jacques Chirac, is a step in the right direction. At their first meeting held in November 1998, the French President's special envoy, Gerard Errera and the Indian Prime Minister's personal representative, Brajesh Mishra, agreed to cooperate in nuclear power projects. France also agreed to transfer dual-use technology to India.

Ninth, India will have to maintain a steady economic growth to sustain an estimated expenditure of at least Rs. 1,000 crore or more in the next ten years to put nuclear deterrence in place. This will need India to continue to maintain its GDP growth at a minimum of 7 to 8 per cent per annum in the next two decades.

Tenth, India also needs to highlight the possibilities of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamic terrorists in the Indian subcontinent as well as in the Middle East. US Senator Patrick Moynihan characterised the Pakistani bomb as an "Islamic bomb" and apprehended that finally it "will inevitably be pointed at the Middle East."37 Though Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has denied that their nuclear bomb is an Islamic weapon, some of his other ministerial colleagues like Information Minister, Mushahid Hussain have characterised the bomb as a possession of pride, Pakistan being "the only Muslim country to have the bomb."38 In the previous Bhutto Cabinet, the Minister for Interior, Major General (Retd.) Naseerullah Babar had stated in the Pakistani Senate, in May 1994 that Pakistan's nuclear programme was meant not only for the security of its own people but for the entire Muslim community (Ummah).39

However, eventually India-Pakistan relations are likely to turn into a secular mould because of nuclear deterrence. It is likely that knowing the other side has the nuclear weapons, each state will desist from provoking a suicidal war. Pakistan considers nuclear weapons as the biggest "equaliser." Mushahid Hussain had stated in October 1998 that nuclear weapons "reduced the chances of a fourth war between India and Pakistan." This may thus leave Pakistan's dream of grabbing Kashmir on the religious principle of Muslims constituting a majority in Jammu & Kashmir, unfulfilled. When this happens, one may very well say that the nuclear weapon has a force to secularise domestic politics and international relations. In the early 1990s, I had seen a trend of communalisation of international relations. But I also said:

"If India and Pakistan both come to acquire nuclear weapons, another war would become unlikely. At that stage, the two can sign a treaty renouncing first use of nuclear weapons. But their nuclear weapons status could have another important effect. It is likely that the threat/ fear of annihilation will have great influence in promoting a 'live and let live policy' in both the countries which will go a long way in secularising the domestic political process in Pakistan. This will also de-emphasise rhetoric on Kashmir and could help both the countries to agree on a compromise in turning the line of actual control into an international border...Secularisation of Pakistan will also help the two countries, as Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, to concentrate only on competition to improve the living conditions of their people."40

Eleventh, India needs to device ways and means to secure a stable government, as the political instability that the nation has witnessed ever since 1989 cannot be conducive to peace and stability in the nation's strategic policy. Only then can the political parties develop a non-partisan approach to the nation's foreign policy and security.

Finally, India needs to cultivate different segments of the American ruling elite through public diplomacy. In the highly fragmented system of politics and administration in the US, a large number of politicians and opinion leaders had taken a pro-India stand when India exploded nuclear weapons. We need to remember that their pro-India stand is not because of their acceptance of our compulsions in going nuclear--it is so more because of their internal dynamics of party politics. We need to strengthen our ties with such segments of American politics, including the India caucus in Congress. We need to identify such politicians and develop bipartisan support for India. While the Democrats have been strong on their advocacy of non-proliferation, the Republicans have been less vigorous on the issue.41 We need to watch whether a Republican dominated Senate will eventually vote to ratify the CTBT without which the treaty cannot be binding on the US. If not, it not only provides some more breathing time for Indian policy makers, but also greater hope for being accepted as a NWS.

Even some Democrats like Patrick Moynihan have advocated that the US should accept India as a NWS. Many Republicans like Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker, and Jesse Helms, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have blamed Bill Clinton for his tilt towards a Communist China and have asked him not to penalise a democracy like India for its nuclear tests. As Newt Gingrich put it, "The Administration roared with outrage when a democratic Indian government chose to test its capability." But Clinton tried to accommodate China when it conducted 45 tests.42

Even within the Administration, all have not taken a coherent anti-India stand on the nuclear tests or favoured punitive actions against India. Thus, for instance, Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor, has argued in favour of not making nuclear issue the only issue governing India-US relations, since the two countries "have an enormous amount of (other) common interests." Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador in the UN and currently the Energy Secretary, had also correctly seen the fact that the Indian nuclear tests were at least partially accelerated by Pakistan's launching of the Ghauri missile.


It is the sovereign right of India to decide whether its security compulsions warrant going in for nuclear weapons as an ultimate shield, notwithstanding the opinion of the Western nations. The opposition of the US and other developed nations appears to be totally self-serving when one looks at the actions of these very powers which advise India to desist from possessing nuclear weapons. It is unnecessary to illustrate the behaviour of every nation to convincingly prove this point. Suffice it, if I give here one example. After the North Korean missile test in August 1998, the US and Japan decided to conduct joint research on a missile defence system to protect US troops in Japan and also Japan itself. It was argued that in the absence of this, Japan will be open to blackmail from North Korea and China!

If, despite possessing nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons, the US needs a new system of missile defence to protect its troops abroad, why can't India have a small number of nuclear weapons to protect itself from any blackmailer in the neighbourhood? Have the US and Japan taken into account the effects of their decision on China which is likely to upgrade its missile defence system? This is bound to have its impact on Indian decision making on the subject as well.

India has vigorously moved in the UN to achieve some of the goals of its nuclear strategy. When in October 1998, the UNSC adopted a resolution deploring the Indian nuclear tests, and calling upon India to desist from further tests and development of missiles, the Indian representative in the UN, Kamlesh Sharma, pointed out that the UN nowhere has banned the production of ballistic missiles. Arguing in favour of a "no-first strike" agreement, he pointed out the irony of the situation wherein "statutes treat murder as an international crime but refuse to treat the first use of nuclear weapons as an international crime."

India also succeeded in drawing international attention to the need for taking immediate steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons by placing a resolution to that effect on the UN GA agenda despite the opposition of the US and China.

India has also initiated talks with the US on its compulsions in going for nuclear weapons. But it is too early for the US to cool down. As of now, the US, instead of deciding what it can give, is only interested in determining the concessions that it can extract from India!

In the ultimate analysis, however, a congruence of national interests between the US and India is likely to develop over their mutual perception of a security threat from China. The Chinese themselves see the US as the only power that is going to act as an obstacle in their pursuit of superpower status.43 Hence, as Professor Samuel P. Huntington has argued at length in the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, "Their common interests in containing China is likely to bring India and the United States closer together. The expansion of Indian power in Southern Asia cannot harm US interests and could serve them."44

One specific field in which the two will find congruence in their interests is the US goal of nuclear counter-proliferation. Again, as Huntington says: "In due course, US policy will shift from countering proliferation to accommodating proliferation and if the government can escape from its cold war mindset, to how promoting proliferation can serve US...interests."45 The US, if not under the present Administration, under the next Administration, will definitely realise that its long-term security interests are better served by accommodating India with its nuclear weapons than aimlessly countering them.

Unlike China, which is an expansionist and hegemonistic power,46 the Indian philosophic outlook is such that it does not subscribe to the use of force to settle border problems. American scholars will be quick to point out the Indian use of force to liberate Goa in 1961 from Portugal, forgetting totally the difference between a colonial territory and its liberation and use of force to grab more territory that does not belong to a country. India does not, and will never, subscribe to the nuclear thought of total war or mutually assured destruction (MAD) based on nuclear weapons as the US did during the Cold War, and continues to rely on them in the post-Cold War period.

It ought to be reassuring to the US, that Prime Minister Vajpayee categorically stated in his address to the UN GA in September last, India's willingness to sign the CTBT if certain of its security concerns are met. India has also voluntarily declared a moratorium on further tests, effectively meeting the aim of the CTBT. India has also declared its policy of not using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Karl Inderfurth, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, had expressed his sadness on India-US relations being "one of the great unfulfilled relationships of the world." Here is an opportunity for the US to correct its past efforts to impose restraints on India.

Hence, the pursuit of the above strategic policy, will not only make India by 2020 a major power in the global politics and economy but also a permanent member of the UN Security Council fulfilling Nehru's dream expressed in 1954 in the Lok Sabha that "if nothing goes wrong, like wars--the fourth major power next to US, Russia and China is India."47 India needs to develop self-confidence and as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam very aptly observed, begin to think in terms of making India a developed nation in the 21st century. A strong and stable India will be a force for peace not only in South Asia, but in the world as well.



1. Dennis Kux, Estranged Democracies: India and the United States 1941-1991 (New Delhi: Sage, 1994), p. 314.

2. Times of India, May 16, 1998.

3. Ibid.

4. Times of India, May 23, 1998.

5. Karl Inderfurth, "US Chagrined, to Implement Sanctions on India, Pakistan," USIA's Washington File, June 18, 1998.

6. Times of India, May 14, 1998.

7. Times of India, July 28, 1998.

8. John D. Holum, "The CTBT and Nuclear Disarmament--The US View," Journal of International Affairs, vol. 51, no. 1 (Summer 1997), p. 269.

9. Quoted in the Tribune, July 3, 1998.

10. Sunday Times of India, May 24, 1998.

11. Times of India, June 16, 1998.

12. Times of India, July 18, 1998.

13. Times of India, July 27, 1998.

14. Times of India, July 18, 1998.

15. For details, see P.M. Kamath, "US-China Relations Under the Clinton Administration: Comprehensive Engagement or the Cold War Again?" Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 5, August 1998, pp. 699-704.

16. David Shambaugh, "India-China Striving to Restore Normalcy," Asian Age, October 30, 1995.

17. Speaking at the Islamic Summit in Lahore in February 1974 (three months before the Indian test), Bhutto predicted revival of Islam with a nuclear bang. See Steve Weissman and Herbert Krosney, The Islamic Bomb (New Delhi: Vikas, 1983) pp. 17 & 31.

18. "Unchained Reaction" (edit), Times of India, November 13, 1998.

19. Times of India, July 15, 1998.

20. Quoted in P.M. Kamath, Indian Nuclear Policy: From Idealism to Realism (Jaipur: Printwell Publishers, 1999), p. 29.

21. See the Indian Express, May 12, 1998.

22. See "CTBT Aimed at Capping Indian N-programme," Times of India, November 13, 1995.

23. Hindustan Times, May 30, 1998.

24. Quoted in Kamath, n. 20, p. 49.

25. When I addressed the Headquarters, Army Training Command in Shimla on June 30, 1998, it was one of the question raised by the officers.

26. Times of India, May 28, 1998.

27. Times of India, December 17, 1995.

28. See Document 1, "Statement by Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee in Parliament on May 27, 1998," in World Affairs, vol. 2, no. 3, July-September, 1998. Also see Jaswant Singh, "Against Nuclear Apartheid," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1998, pp. 49-50.

29. For details, see P.M. Kamath, "Indo-US Relations During the Clinton Administration: Upward Trends and Uphill Tasks Ahead," Strategic Studies, vol. 21, no. 11, February 1998 pp. 1608-17.

30. Harvey Stockwin wrote in the Sunday Times of India, July 5, 1998 that because the initial reaction of the US was slow to come, the Chinese were likely to think that it supported the tests to balance China.

31. P.M. Kamath, "Post-Pokhran Permutations," Tribune, June 17, 1998.

32. Sunday Times of India, July 19, 1998.

33. P.M. Kamath, "Potential Threat No. 1," Blitz, May 30, 1998.

34. Times of India, May 27, 1998.

35. P.M. Kamath, "US Interests will be Better Served by 'Accommodating' India," Tribune, July 31, 1998.

36. See P.M. Kamath, "US Versus Others," Mid-Day, October 6, 1998.

37. Hindustan Times, May 30, 1998.

38. Sunday Times of India, October 18, 1998.

39. Indian Express, May 19, 1994.

40. P.M. Kamath, "The End of the Cold War: Implications for Indian-American Relations," India Quarterly, January-June 1993, p. 71.

41. Kux, n. 1, p. 317.

42. Times of India, May 20, 1998.

43. Ross H. Munro, "Eavesdropping on the Chinese Military: Where it Expects War--Where It Doesn't," Orbis, vol. 38, Summer 1994.

44. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remarking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 224.

45. Ibid., p. 192.

46. For details, see Munro, n. 43.

47. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Foreign Policy: Selected Speeches, September 1946 to April 1961 (New Delhi: Government of India, 1961), 305.