Indian National Security Policy: Minimal Nuclear Deterrence

P.M. Kamath, Professor Emeritus, University of Mumbai


Ever since India became free and independent in August 1947, it has faced four military conflicts, including the recent "war-like" Kargil conflict with its north-western neighbour, Pakistan; and one military conflict with its north-eastern neighbour, China. Hence, when India speaks of national security threat perceptions from across the border, it is not speaking in terms of merely potential security threats and, hence, the need to be prepared in keeping with the ancient Roman dictum: Si vis pacem, para bellum-"If you want peace, prepare for war."

As a matter of fact, when you divide a culturally and historically well established state, you sow the seeds of military conflict. Germany and Korea are cases illustrative of this in the post-World War II period. At least these countries were divided on a political basis, but Pakistan was carved out from India on the pernicious principle expounded by Jinnah that Muslims and Hindus are two irreconcilable nations.

Pakistan as a National Security Threat

For the purpose of this paper, it is not necessary for me to go into details of the first three conflicts with Pakistan except to mention them in passing. Since the creation of Pakistan was on the basis of Muslims as a separate nation, it laid a claim for Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on the grounds of Muslim majority in that state. It followed up the claim by invading the state by disguising the armed forces as tribal hordes from the North- West Frontier Province; then followed it with regular troops. The first war over J&K resulted in Pakistan occupying one-third of the state, thanks to Nehru's internationalism and faith in the United Nations (UN).1

In September 1965, the military dictator, Ayub Khan, launched the second war, first with pushing in around 100 guerillas from across the borders with an expectation of an internal uprising in J&K. When the expected uprising did not take place, regular troops launched the war. In this war, Indian troops had captured sizeable territory (2,735 sq. miles) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Indian troops had also opened a second front and captured a chunk of territory in the Lahore and Sialkot sectors.

But the then prevailing international environment and political pressures applied by India's new friend-the Soviet Union-led to the signing of the Tashkent Agreement which returned all territories regained by the Indian Army in POK in return for Pakistani commitment not to use force and pursue the policy of good neighbourliness.2

Enter the Chinese Dragon

In the meanwhile, India had already fought a border war with China in October 1962. In pursuance of his "defence by friendship policy,"3 Nehru had accepted the Chinese claim over Tibet as an Autonomous Region of China in 1954. One cannot even accuse Nehru of accepting the Chinese claim over Tibet in return for China accepting India's proposal of the McMahon Line as the international boundary between the two and thus playing realpolitik with China by sacrificing the interests of the Tibetan people!

Once India accepted China's claim for Tibet, based on Tibetan documents, China could claim more Indian territories.4 The result was a humiliating defeat of the Indian forces in the Himalayan heights at the hands of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and creation of a permanent border conflict with China and addition of another adversary on India's north-eastern borders.

Cold War and Two and One Half National Security Threats

Internationally, October 1962 was the coldest period of the Cold War; from then onwards, it could only be a slow down, and detente (1972-79) and mild Cold War (1979-87) again, before another detente (1987-90) and final disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991. But for South Asia, the period was of tremendous implications.

In the aftermath of the Sino-Indian War of 1962, two of India's adversaries came together in close cooperation on the primary principle of "enemy's enemy is a friend." Since then, this friendship has grown to become so firm and lasting that in comparison to it, many other international friendships appear to be transitory arrangements. Their collaborative friendship has only contributed to aggravate the Indian threat perception from them, individually and collectively. It continues to do so.

Their security related collaboration was best demonstrated during the Bangladesh War of 1971. The third war between India and Pakistan on the question of undoing a demographic aggression unleashed by West Pakistan in its divided other half of East Pakistan, also saw a firm development of what Stephen Cohen has called the Pentagonal Balance of Power-Pakistan, China and the United States (US) on one side and India and the Soviet Union on the other-an extension of the newly emerging triangular balance of power where the US and China form one side, aimed to balance the growing powers of the Soviet Union. Thus, by the addition of the US as one half to the existing two, India had to face two and one half adversaries!

The details of the war and the collaborative efforts on both sides of the balance have been well documented.5 What is of relevance here is the fact that the US in its singular aim of opening relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC), was willing to ignore such a massive violation of human rights in East Pakistan just to demonstrate to China that it is a reliable friend by standing steadfastly on the side of Pakistan.6

The Bangladesh War brought out three interrelated developments, all pointing at one long-term problem for India. First, in the process of opening of relations with China, the US had informed the then Indian Ambassador, L.K. Jha, that it "would not be able to help you against China" in the event of Chinese intervention on the side of Pakistan.7 This was against the Nixon Doctrine of assisting any non-nuclear weapons state (NNWS), if it is threatened by a nuclear weapons state (NWS). Second, during the course of the war, Kissinger met the Chinese representative in the UN at a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hideout in New York, to urge him to do something more than merely verbal threats to India. Third, the US sent the nuclear powered USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal on December 10 as part of gunboat diplomacy to force India, as claimed by Nixon and Kissinger, to declare a cease-fire in the war with West Pakistan.8

Cold War Period and Indian Nuclear Test

Thus, the period during the Bangladesh War and post-war period were really eye-openers to those who were charged with Indian national security policy making. India had achieved a nuclear capability in the early 1960s. Despite the grave provocation of a security threat arising from the Chinese nuclear test of October 1964, India resisted the temptation for going nuclear. All available presidential papers indicate that if India had exploded a nuclear device then in response to China, the Johnson Administration would have winked at India, perhaps with some proforma protests.

But the Nixon-Kissinger approach to India during the Bangladesh War demonstrated that India needed to be self-reliant in the matters of its national security. It is this concern that led Mrs. Gandhi to the conduct first Pokhran test in May 1974. It was not surprising that the same Nixon Administration was very moderate in criticising India. Kissinger is reported to have disagreed with the State Department recommendation to be harsh on India. Dennis Kux who was then director, India Desk in the State Department, writes: "Kissinger believed public scolding would not undo the event, but only add to US-Indian bilateral problems and reduce the influence Washington might have on India's future nuclear policy."9

Kissinger also visited New Delhi in October 1974. In his address to the Indian Council of World Affairs, he said: "The size and position of India give it a role of leadership in South Asia and world affairs. They confer on it at the same time the special responsibility for accommodation and restraint that strength entails. The United States recognises both these realities."10

End of the Cold War and Pokhran II

Though with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there was an end of the Cold War within the global triangle and consequent breakdown of the South Asian regional pentagon, there was no end to the Cold War in South Asia. India-Pakistan conflicts continued and so did the Sino-Pakistan cooperation in the national security arena. The Report of the Indian Parliamentary Committee on Defence of 1995 states:

China has also continued to be the main source of major weapons, including missiles and allied technology, to Pakistan, a very hostile neighbour, causing disquiet to India. Despite warming relations with China, China is and is likely to remain the primary security challenge to India in the medium and long terms. Its enhancement of missile capabilities and its immense help to Pakistan in the missile programme are serious security concerns to India.11

This is independently confirmed by more than one governmental source in the US.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration had imposed partial economic sanctions against China for supplying M-11 missile parts to Pakistan.But these were withdrawn under duress in October 1994. In return, China promised to adhere to the US-sponsored Missile Transfer Control Regime (MTCR) only to renege on it in May 1998 as it had certain commitments.12

The US also, during the post-Cold War period, played different patterns of roles in its relations with India. Without going into details, during the nearly seven years of the Clinton Administration, US-India relations went through periods of ups and downs and also touched a plateau in between, particularly on nuclear related issues. The Administration started by applying public pressure on India first to cap, then roll back and finally eliminate its nuclear programme (January 1993 to May 1994).

An insecurity dilemma was created in the minds of Indian policy makers by drawing attention to Pakistan's linking its own nuclear programme to its unresolved Kashmir dispute. Pressure was also brought to bear on India to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Similar pressure was applied over the issue of human rights in the Punjab and Kashmir.

After the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's visit to Washington, DC, public pressure on India on vital security issues was suspended in return for Rao's promise not to create problems for the US at the NPT review conference in New York and go along with the US on the issues like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the proposed Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).13

However, the US also, on its part, promised not to sell weapons to Pakistan. But by mid-October 1995, President Clinton personally asked the Senate to make a one-time exception to the Pressler Amendment which bans sale of weapons to Pakistan, to provide $368 million worth of weapons to that country. This was done under the Hank Brown Amendment to the Pressler Amendment. Since then, the relations had reached a plateau and Prime Minister Rao, as the elections of 1996 began to draw near, categorically stated that India will retain its nuclear option.

The US was also, by 1996, pushing for the CTBT, clearly as a non-proliferation measure while India had joined in the promotion of the treaty as a nuclear disarmament measure. The US approach was best expressed by John D. Holum, then director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, on November 2, 1995, in an address at Georgetown University. He made it implicitly clear that the aim of the CTBT is to prevent India from acquiring nuclear weapons when he said that the CTBT "will stem proliferation by preventing other countries from moving beyond the most rudimentary devices...The United States 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."14

In the light of the above national security threats to India, there was a need once again for India to be self-reliant for its own national security. It is these developments which eventually contributed to India deciding to conduct nuclear tests in May 1998.

The international criticism of the Indian tests, led by the US, was ferocious, in keeping with the goal of others, beyond the five NWS who are also the Permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council, not acquiring nuclear weapons. Two others, who are also the US sponsored candidates to join the P-5-Japan and Germany-were also equally critical of India and offered their own advice to India as to why the nuclear path is not the one which India should take. The Clinton Administration was also motivated by its desire to turn the then impending China visit by President Clinton into a great success.15

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 Indian tests were approved or connived at by the US and the US' attack on India for the tests was only for international record. Only this interpretation can help us to understand Bill Clinton offering South Asia for Chinese management. In his speech, at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC, just before his China visit, on June 11, he made an astounding proposal:

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 through dialogue. Because of its history over both countries, China must be a part of any ultimate resolution of this matter.16

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 co-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 of its status as a full-fledged NWS.

Minimal Nuclear Deterrence

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and others in the government have stated that minimal nuclear deterrence is not negotiable. After India exploded nuclear weapons in May 1998, there were eight rounds of talks between US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott and Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh. One point repeatedly stressed by Talbott was the need for India to define its doctrine of minimal nuclear deterrence. During his visit to Islamabad, in early February 1999, Mr. Talbott said: "It was more important now that both (India and Pakistan) define conceptually and operationally a credible minimum deterrence in a way that will be recognised by each other and by the world."17 Some Western scholars, like George Tanham of the Rand Corporation, have also held the view that India lacks a strategic policy.

Thus, it was 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, based on nuclear deterrence; but that unlike the Western nations, particularly, the US, we do not publicly discuss it. Thus, for instance, in December 1996, the Parliamentary Committee on Defence had emphasised the need to have a clearly enunciated defence policy. However, the government, under then Prime Minister Deve Gowda, informed the committee that India has a defence policy but the government need not make its defence policy public. As the Ministry of Defence replied to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence: "Of course, we have a policy and that too a comprehensive one" and it is under constant review.18

In this background, the need was felt to clearly define the Indian nuclear doctrine. The newly constituted National Security Advisory Board has drafted the Indian Nuclear Doctrine. The draft was released by the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, on August 17, 1999, for the purpose of public debate. The doctrine simply places together what was already in the public domain and some of the principles had also been stated by Prime Minister Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha.

Main Tenets of the MIND

What are the main tenets of Indian strategic policy based on the doctrine of nuclear deterrence? Some of the important tenets of Minimal Nuclear Deterrence-let me refer to it as MIND-can be underscored here.

First and the foremost, is that India is firmly committed to the principle of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. India has already offered to sign such a treaty with Pakistan, China or any other nation. But Pakistan has off-hand rejected the proposal by declaring it as "self serving." It sees nuclear weapons as a "credible deterrence" in view of India's "conventional superiority." However, 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 developed their own ambiguities on the issue. It is in the interest of global peace that China and India negotiate on such a treaty so that other nations may see its relevance in international affairs.

Secondly, "India will not resort to the use of nuclear weapons against states which do not possess nuclear weapons or are not aligned"19 with the NWS. This principle needs to be seen in the context of Indian nuclear weapons being for self-defence. This is to be seen in the context of the US threat to use nuclear weapons even against NNWS. Within South Asia, no state, other than Pakistan, has ever expressed any apprehension from Indian nuclear weapons. India, as a member of the ARF (ASEAN-Regional Forum), has also offered to join the South-East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. It is China which the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations really fear, and not India.

Thirdly, in the event of failure of nuclear deterrence, and if India is attacked with nuclear weapons, India will use nuclear weapons in a second strike to retaliate and "to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor." The credibility of such deterrence will depend upon sufficiency of nuclear weapons. But policy makers do not prescribe any specific number, and rightly so.

Though the government is reluctant to indicate the number, former Army Chief of Staff, General K. Sundarji believed 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 intensity of perception are both ultimately dependent upon the personal judgement of the chief decision maker, based on his advisers, relative to an adversary at a given time. The number could very easily vary if an adversary raises the ante. Here India's neighbours can play a major role as much as India would play a role in their respective decision making process. The arms race among these states can be avoided by each one of them sticking to a minimum number of nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan and China need to develop a greater level of confidence through adequate confidence building measures.

Fourthly, 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. The Nuclear Doctrine speaks of a triad of aircraft, land-based mobile missiles and sea-based assets. In this respect, not only development of medium range missiles-Agni II (2,500 km) and Agni III (3,500 km)-is essential but India also 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, India will also have to develop nuclear submarines and deploy anti-ballistic missiles.

Fifthly, MIND also assures civilian control of nuclear weapons by a democratically elected leadership through a system of command and control. The ultimate decision to use the nuclear weapons will rest with the prime minister. But in a worst case scenario, there is the need to clearly lay down the alternate democratic chain of command 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 any possible inter-service rivalry on 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. The doctrine also promises an integrated plan of "command, control, communications, intelligence and information (C4I2)."

Sixthly, India will also develop or acquire, the necessary protective safety systems for nuclear weapons. This will prevent triggering of any accidental war; or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons. It also stresses adequate provisions for avoiding theft or sabotage of nuclear weapon systems.

Seventhly, "to raise the threshold of outbreak of both conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons," India will maintain "highly effective conventional military capabilities..." It means that in the near future 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 completion of the incomplete partition process in Kashmir, as was the case in the Kargil conflict.

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

Next, the doctrine also reassures the Indian nuclear establishment that it will continue to "step up efforts in research and development to keep up with technological advances in this field." Recently, Indian nuclear scientists claimed that they have knowhow on the neutron bomb.20 While India has no plans go in for the production of neutron bombs, it can not accept any limitations on developing its R&D capability.

Finally, India will continue to emphasise-from a position of strength-global nuclear disarmament. The doctrine believes that "global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is a national security objective." 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 nuclear disarmament, there is a need to move gradually towards it. Hence, a successful conclusion of a no first use treaty as a first step, will greatly reduce the threat of nuclear war.

As a matter of fact, in addition to its security concerns, an important element that hastened the Indian decision to go for nuclear tests, is the failure of world powers either to show their sincere concern or any commitment to move-even gradually-but positively, towards nuclear disarmament. The NWS, particularly the Western ones, used Nehru's commitment and proposal for a CTBT as a move towards nuclear disarmament, to pressurise India, without being obliged to a similar commitment to nuclear disarmament on their part.

Since mankind invented nuclear weapons in 1945 as weapons of mass destruction deadlier than biological and chemical weapons (BCW) and then sought a ban on the BCW, should we wait till we discover weapons of far greater power to destroy mankind than nuclear weapons before we seek to ban them?

The Indian plea for nuclear disarmament cannot be dismissed as mere idealism in an anarchical international society, emerging from its comparative weakness of power. When President Woodrow Wilson sought to promote collective security through the League of Nations, he was not pleading for a world body acting on collective security on the basis of weakness.

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 use of nuclear weapons with China. Since the former Russian Prime Minister Primakov in December 1998, proposed a strategic triangle among, China and India, India can persuade Russia to take a lead in bringing India and China together on the issue of signing a no first use treaty. Later others can be persuaded to join.

If all nuclear weapons states and threshold states commit to the principle of no first use, and treat any violation of it as a threat to collective security and act to deter any such state, there will be, in effect, nuclear disarmament. Any state taking recourse to the use of nuclear weapons despite a treaty against its first use, could be legitimately. This must eventually convince nations to limit warfare to less deadlier weapons.

The obstacles today in achieving the goal of no first use of nuclear weapons, are 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 last year that in the absence of a threat, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (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 later.

Going beyond the MIND, let me discuss the case of deployment versus non-deployment of nuclear weapons. India should deploy nuclear weapons against China but not against Pakistan. This is because, even if China is our potential security threat, in the sense of its threatening ambition to be the second superpower and make India play second fiddle to it, it is unlikely to use nuclear weapons against India, as a rational decision maker. Though this does not preclude it from using them to blackmail which can, of course, now be checked because it knows India too has nuclear weapons. As such there is a congruence of perceptions between China and India to the extent that 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."

However, since China has targetted its nuclear weapons against India, a treaty on de-targetting of nuclear weapons between India and China is necessary and it is a rational possibility. Critics of the Indian nuclear weapons policy ought to note the fact that the US could agree to de-target its nuclear weapons against China during the Clinton-Zemin June 1998 summit in Beijing, only when China had 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 its long history of talk of avenging the defeat of 1971. The feeling of 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.

Israel by all accounts has nuclear weapons but there are no reports of its having deployed them. Since the India-Pakistan borders are also well populated, the targets have to be military installations. It is worth noting that Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz stated early in November 1998 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.

The doctrine is also not country-specific. By implication, it is universal in its application. It shies away from identifying China and Pakistan as its specific sources of threat to national security as a result of the policy makers' experience soon after the May 1998 nuclear tests. Then, prior to the tests, Defence Minister, George Fernandes had publicly identified China as "potential security threat Number One"21 and Prime Minister Vajpayee, in his letter to President Bill Clinton, had also mentioned China as a threat that led India to conduct the nuclear tests.

Both men drew public flak. The China lobby was up in arms against Fernandes. Bill Clinton contributed to the trouble of the PM. The US president was then in the midst of planning for his once in a life-time trip to China and any, even implicit, indication of the US acceptance of the Indian proposition of China as a threat, would have made Clinton less reliable as a friend of China. The Chinese demand undiluted friendship whenever the Americans try to court them. One has to only remember the period in 1970 when the US tried to normalise its relations with China. The famous tilt in the US policy towards Pakistan was justified by both Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon on the ground of its trying to demonstrate to China that the US can be a reliable friend by firmly supporting its long-term friend, Pakistan.

Hence, Clinton leaked the letter to the media and China began to vent its spleen against Indian designs of hegemony, and its craving for great power status and repeatedly advised India to concentrate on the improvement of the economic status of its people.

Criticism of the Doctrine

The MIND has drawn general criticism from national and international sources. Internally, the Congress Party and the leftists have been critical of the nuclear doctrine. While I can understand the criticism of the left, the Congress Party has been motivated only by its search for issues to oppose the government. Thus, for instance, the new spokesman of the Congress Party, Kapil Sibal, argued that " keep deterrence at a theoretical minimum, is to leave ourselves vulnerable to a first strike leaving us nothing to retaliate with."22

Since the nuclear doctrine is not country-specific, critics have attacked its implied stance of being universal. Does it mean that India expects other nuclear powers to pose a threat to its national security? India has never perceived a security threat from Russia, or France or Britain.

Since the US speaks for the West, often governments in India, in the past, have considered the presence of the US in the Diego Garcia base as a security threat. Former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, for instance, had more than once referred to nuclear weapons at the Diego Garcia base as a threat. In his address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in September 1996, Gujral alluded to his threat perception:

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?23

Though the Indian policy makers do not generally perceive a threat from the US, often their threat perceptions are reactive. In the context of the Indian development of Agni, for instance, Lee Hamilton, then chairman of the House International Relations Committee in early May 1994 had publicly expressed his perception of Indian missiles as a threat to the US base in Diego Garcia.24 After the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998, Congressman Jim Bryan had also referred to the Indian missile and nuclear programme as a long-term security threat to the US before the House Committee on National Security.

However, a universalised doctrine becomes more relevant than a country specific one when we refer to the underlying purpose of the MIND. The doctrine says: "Autonomy of decision making in the developmental process and in strategic matters is an inalienable right of the Indian people." This was repeatedly stated by the PM even while justifying the nuclear tests. Then he had 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."25

Another criticism of the doctrine is that it will lead to the arms race. While there is the theoretical possibility of the doctrine leading to an arms race, it is not unrealistic to believe that India, Pakistan and China will be pragmatic in their approach to minimum nuclear deterrence. While China has been expectedly, critical of the MIND, Pakistan has been more realistic in stating that it is not in a race to raise its minimum deterrence in response to the Indian nuclear doctrine.

The US, having repeatedly asked India to define its doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence, was only ready with its negative response to it. The Clinton Administration attacked the Vajpayee government's nuclear doctrine as describing "the Indian desire to develop a nuclear arsenal" which in the US view militates against the security interests of the world. The US does not accept the need for nuclear deterrence against "possible nuclear blackmail by China." Ironically, again the Clinton Administration is not speaking for itself, but on behalf of its friend-China.

But then, the US owes an explanation to the world as to the justification for its possessing even 2,300 nuclear warheads, when it has proposed to de-target them against China and Russia. For even to deter rogue states and friends turned adversaries, according to Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA, the US needs only 200 warheads for an effective deterrence.26 When less can do, why go for more?


The Indian nuclear doctrine is only a draft for discussion. This is for the first time that a government has officially released a document relating to national security for public discussion. Whatever may be the ultimate shape of the doctrine, one thing is clear: Indian nuclear weapons are there to stay for as long as it takes others to reduce their own stockpiles.

Its relevance or otherwise to Indian security will be demonstrated by the developments of the future. However, to some extent its relevance came to the fore during the latest Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan which is the first war fought by the two countries after their overt nuclear status. It brought out both the strengths and limitations of nuclear weapons in the context of South Asia.

For India, nuclear weapons imposed obvious limitations. Unlike in the 1965 War, it was not able to take the war to Pakistani territory of its choice for fear of escalating the conflict. It had to practise tremendous self-restraint by limiting the war to Indian territory and accept a high rate of casualties. Pakistan considers nuclear weapons as the biggest "equaliser." Pakistan's Information Minister, Mushahid Hussain, had stated in October 1998 that nuclear weapons "reduced chances of a fourth war between India and Pakistan."

However, Pakistan overestimated the role of nuclear weapons, by banking upon nuclear blackmail to force India to accept its version of the Line of Control (LOC) being undemarcated and temporary in a disputed territory, hence open to negotiations. In the course of the conflict, Mushahid Hussain held out the threat of use of nuclear weapons in national interest. Pakistan's foreign secretary, also stated that "we will not hesitate to use any weapon in our arsenal to defend our territorial integrity."27 Recently, Benazir Bhutto said in London that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif "crossed" into Kargil believing that nuclear blackmail "would work; but it didn't; the situation went out of hand."28

It did not work, as South Asia adviser in the State Department, Matthew P. Daley said, because Pakistan broke the unwritten law among nuclear weapons powers that their forces do not cross each other's borders or violate recognised zones of control like the LOC. He described it as a "central lesson of the Cold War."29

It became, on the other hand, a strength of Indian nuclear policy wherein its extreme restraint for the first time brought international support led by the US which asked Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Kargil. Pakistan, having maintained that its forces were not involved in the Jehad (religious war) led by the Mujahideen, by agreeing to ask the forces to withdraw, accepted that it controlled troops and/or the Mujahideen fighting in Kargil. As a matter of fact, after the event, the Pakistan Army chief of staff admitted in a BBC interview that his forces were involved in the fighting. The Kargil experince must have been an eye opener for Pakistani policy makers on the limitations of nuclear weapons as an instrument of blackmail.

Thus, I believe, eventually nuclear deterrence will turn India-Pakistan relations into a secular mould. It is likely that knowing that the other side has the nuclear weapons, each state will desist from provoking a suicidal war. This may, thus, leave Pakistan's dream of grabbing Kashmir on the religious principle of Muslims constituting a majority in Jammu & Kashmir, unfulfilled. When that happens, nuclear weapons can be credited with a force to secularise domestic politics and international relations. In the early 1990s I had 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 weapon status could have another important effect. It is likely that the threat/fear of annihilation will have great influence in promoting "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.30

India will also stand to gain with China on the strength of the MIND. China will have to be serious in resolving the border problems rather than conducting proforma meetings of the Joint Working Group which has held 10 meetings since it was constituted in 1998. China can also no longer blackmail India on the strength of its nuclear force, as it did, for instance, in 1995, by insisting that those who moved first should withdraw first on the issue of troops withdrawal on the borders.

The US as the most powerful democracy will find it in its national interest to accept India as an equal partner in international relations in the next millennium. It is worth recalling the words of Samuel P. Huntington:

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.

Towards that goal, he foresees that:

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.31



1. See Abdul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom (Bombay: Orient Longmans, 1959), p. 65. He considered that Nehru "looked at all questions from an international rather than a national point of view." Lord Mountbatten also prodded Nehru to take the Kashmir invasion to the UN Security Council.

2. S.S. Bindra, Indo-Pak Relations: Tashkent to Simla Agreement (New Delhi: Deep & Deep, 1981), p. 72 & 251.

3. Michael Edwardes, Nehru: A Political Biography (London: Penguin, 1973), p. 270.

4. Dawa Norbu, "Tibet in Sino-Indian Relations: Centrality of Marginality," Asian Survey, vol. 37, no. 11, November 1997.

5. Stanley Wolpert, Roots of Confrontation in South Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Dilip H. Mohite, Indo-US Relations: Issues in Conflict and Cooperation (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1995); and Aditi D. Juvekar, Partners in Conflict: Perceptions and Realities of Indo-US Relations (Mumbai: Himalaya Publishing House, 1997).

6. See for details, P.M. Kamath ed., Indo-US Relations: Dynamics of Change (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1987) and P.M. Kamath, "Security Considerations in Indo-US Relations," in A.P. Rana ed., Four Decades of Indo-US Relations: A Commemorative Retrospective (New Delhi: United States Educational Foundation in India, 1994).

7. Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (New York: Summit Books, 1983), p. 452.

8. See Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), p. 913 and Richard M. Nixon, Memoirs (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1978), p. 530.

9. See Dennis Kux, Estranged Democracies: India and the United States (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994), p. 315.

10. Address by the Honourable Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of state of the United States of America to the Indian Council of World Affairs, October 28, 1974, (New Delhi: USIS, 1974), p. 8.

11. See the text of D.R. Mankekar Memorial Lecture by George Fernandes, at India International Centre, New Delhi, on August 8, 1998.

12. For details, see P.M. Kamath, "US-China Relations Under the Clinton Administration: Comprehensive Engagement or the Cold War Again?" Strategic Analysis, vol. 21, no. 5, August 1998.

13. P.M. Kamath, "The US Role in South Asia Since the End of the Cold War: From Partisan to a Balancer and a Partisan Again," in Arun Chaturvedi and Sanjay Lodha, eds., India's Foreign Policy & The Emerging World Order (Jaipur: Printwell Publishers, 1998; and P.M. Kamath, "Indo-US Relations During the Clinton Administration: Upward Trends and Uphill Tasks Ahead," Strategic Analysis, vol. 21, no. 11, February 1998.

14. See the text of the speech, "Post-Cold War Weapons Spread Spurs Need for Arms Control," Public Diplomacy Query (Internet).

15. For details on the nature of attacks on the Indian nuclear tests, see, P.M. Kamath, "Indian Nuclear Strategy: A Perspective for 2020," Strategic Analysis, vol. 22, no. 12, March 1999 and P.M. Kamath, "Indian Nuclear Tests, Then and Now: An Analysis of US and Canadian Responses," Strategic Analysis, vol. 23, no. 5, August 1999.

16. Text of the speech, "Remarks by the President on US-China Relations in the 21st Century," The White House office of the Press Secretary (Internet).

17. Times of India, February 4, 1999.

18. Times of India, December 9, 1996.

19. For the text of the Indian Nuclear Doctrine see Observer of Business and Politics, August 20, 1999.

20. R. Chidambaram, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission said in Mumbai. See Times of India, August 17, 1999.

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

22. "Toy Gun Security: Flaws in India's Nuclear Deterrence," Times of India, January 1, 1999.

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

24. See K.D. Mathur and P.M. Kamath, Conduct of India's Foreign Policy (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1996), pp. 155-6.

25. Hindustan Times, May 30, 1998.

26. Stansfield Turner, Caging the Nuclear Genie: An American Challenge for Global Security (Colorado: Westview, 1998).

27. Times of India, June 2, 1999.

28. Times of India, September 17, 1999.

29. Observer of Business and Politics, July 22, 1999.

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

31. Samuel P. Huntingdon The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 224 & 192.