India Releases Nuclear Doctrine, Looks to Emulate P-5 Arsenals

Howard Diamond

LAYING THE FOUNDATION for an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear warheads deployed at high-alert levels on missiles, aircraft and ships, India released its first draft nuclear doctrine on August 17. (See factfile.) Produced by the 27-member National Security Advisory Board, the six-page document has not been formally adopted by the current caretaker government, and was released "in favor of greater transparency in decision-making" by Brajesh Mishra, the Indian prime minister's national security advisor. The United States, which has been pressing India and neighboring Pakistan to restrain their nuclear competition since their tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, expressed disappointment with the draft doctrine, terming it a move "in the wrong direction." Pakistani officials have warned that if put into practice, the positions laid out by India will stoke the existing arms race in South Asia.

Doctrine Released

At a press conference before releasing the document, Mishra emphasized the voluntary constraints New Delhi has already accepted on its nuclear arsenal. India, he said, has adopted a "no-first-use" policy and has pledged to never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. New Delhi's nuclear weapons are not "country-specific," Mishra said, and are meant only to provide "minimum but credible deterrence." Mishra also emphasized two points made in the draft doctrine: that India's nuclear weapons are under "civilian control," and that India remains in favor of complete nuclear disarmament, its nuclear plans notwithstanding.

The new doctrine, however, focuses not on limits, but on the substantial new capabilities that India needs to provide "insurance against potential risks to peace and stability" and to guarantee New Delhi "autonomy of decision-making." Calling for a nuclear policy of "retaliation only," the draft doctrine urges India to acquire "survivable" nuclear forces; "robust" command and control mechanisms; and space-based early-warning, communications and damage-assessment systems. Reflecting the terminology of existing nuclear arsenals, the doctrine calls on India to develop an "integrated operational plan" for nuclear use and a "triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets." India's nuclear weapons should be able to shift from "peacetime deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time" and be able to "retaliate effectively" following a first-strike, the doctrine concludes.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was quoted by The Times of India on August 20 as downplaying the stature of the arsenal being proposed in the draft doctrine. "We are not in the arms race," Singh said. "We are not for reinventing the acronyms and phraseologies of the Cold War-era." Singh told CNN on August 18 that "there is no need for anyone to fear from what is after all a discussion paper."

Bharat Karnad, a member of the National Security Advisory Board and one of the lead drafters of the proposed doctrine, said in an August 22 interview with The Times of India that his research has shown that an arsenal of 350 to 400 nuclear weapons and associated support systems would cost India $17-$177 billion spread over 30 years. According to the CIA, India's gross domestic product in 1997 was $1.534 trillion, with annual growth estimated at about 5 percent. Karnad said the draft doctrine was a consensus document that had been prepared between January and June. He offered no explanation as to why the document had been released only three weeks before Indians go to the polls to choose a new government

International Responses

Pakistan's government, already shaky from India's recent success in expelling Pakistani fighters from the disputed Kashmir region, has responded to the Indian draft with alarm. Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed said on August 19 that while "Pakistan does not want a nuclear arms race in South Asia....Pakistan cannot afford to ignore the security implications of India's new doctrine...." The day before, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan's own nuclear doctrine is in the final stages of development.

On August 19, at the 66-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram accused New Delhi of using U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to pass false assurances on to Pakistan. Akram claimed India's "false promises" regarding its willingness to accept limits on "the deployment and operationalization of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems" were meant to "persuade Pakistan to accept one-sided commitments." Akram also asserted that India's new doctrine "would negate several measures for mutual restraint which were identified at the Lahore Summit." (See ACT, January/February 1999.) Warning that development of India's nuclear arsenal would be accompanied by a concurrent buildup of conventional weapons, Akram said Pakistan would be forced "to intensify [its] reliance on its nuclear capabilities to deter the use or threat of aggression or domination by India."

State Department spokesman James Rubin said August 17 that the United States knew India was preparing a nuclear doctrine but had not been given a copy of the draft prior to its public release. The Clinton administration, he said, "will continue [its] efforts to de-nuclearize the Subcontinent" and to push India and Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Faced with criticism that the high-level dialogue between Talbott and Singh did not seem to be producing results, Rubin said Talbott's diplomacy had produced some "limited success," and cited India's moratorium on further nuclear testing and its commitment to work toward signing the CTBT by September.

Washington Disappointed

The United States is still pressing India and Pakistan to improve their export control systems, to accept a moratorium on fissile material production pending negotiation of an international fissile material cut-off treaty, and to engage in a sustained bilateral security dialogue with each other, Rubin said. "[W]e think it would be unwise to move in the direction of developing a nuclear deterrent and encouraging thereby the other country to develop a nuclear deterrent and thereby creating an action-reaction cycle that will increase the risks to both countries," he said. "We think at the end of that process, the security of [both countries] will be worse off...."