New Delhi: Since India cannot return to a pre-Pokhran II or even pre-Pokhran I situation, it has to make the best use of its deterrent. Deterrence rests as much on weapons as on doctrine. Doctrine, however, is the commencement point. A nuclear doctrine has to be clear and forthright if it is to be effective. There is no necessity that a doctrine must identify adversaries. Adversaries are already identified. If there is more than one adversary, they have to be graded in terms of the threats they represent, on which in turn the deterrent strategy ought to be based.

Since this is an open forum, details of doctrine are best left unarticulated. The doctrine, however, should cater to the special characteristics of threats represented by multiple adversaries. When the threats are coloured by asymmetries, those ought to be studied in depth and responsive doctrines prepared. For example, in standalone situations with Pakistan and China, asymmetries favour India in one case and disfavour it in the other. Where the asymmetry is favourable, the no-first-use policy could remain unchanged. Where this is not the case, modifications have to come. There is a third scenario of a collusive war. In a situation of collusive war, of course, all bets are off. The nuclear doctrine needs definite updating to address the new realities without identifying parties or stoking alarm.

In continuation of that, the doctrine also needs clarity on the scale and type of nuclear pre-emption and retaliation. For example, this writer has long advocated deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to deter a Chinese bid -- even though farfetched -- to cut off the Chicken’s Neck and effectively sever the North East from the rest of India. That would call for a tactical nuclear pre-emption doctrine covering the entire North East and particularly Arunachal Pradesh. It would mirror the one that Pakistan has vis-a-vis India on the western border to protect Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, etc. Nuclear hawks tend to take false comfort in terms like massive retaliation. In the real world of nuclear weapons, that is meaningless. Robert McNamara induced the single biggest advance in nuclear doctrine by articulating the “flexible response”. Flexible response takes into account escalation dynamics while holding out a credible threat. India has been too lazy or fearful to revisit the nuclear doctrine enunciated informally after the Pokhran II test. The nuclear doctrine needs, to borrow a term from medicine, open heart surgery. Every threat to India, from China, Pakistan and deniable state actors, must be examined threadbare and nuclear and conventional responses found. Nuclear weapons cannot resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute nor contain Pakistani terrorism. Nuclear weapons only have tactical-strategic and purely strategic value. Since India has nuclear weapons, there has to be a proper doctrine that governs their use. Nuclear weapons demand doctrines. They absolutely insist on them. Since they are weapons of Armageddon, there must be detailed and supremely logical road maps for their employment. The hard part is getting the details right to fit the country’s threat perceptions and geopolitics. The part of the doctrine to be made public will write and explain itself disclosing little and provoking sobriety and caution in adversaries.

Once the doctrine is approved and sealed for purposes of the present circumstances, attention ought to focus on the weapons. Nuclear weapons fall in the peculiar category of being expensive and unusable. They eat into appropriations and squeeze budgets for conventional weapons which is why militaries do not set much store by them. This does not, to be sure, prevent them from laying proprietary claims on the weapons through allegedly superior domain knowledge to provoke fierce inter-services rivalries. But whereas the Major Powers with power rivalries ranging over a half-dozen and more decades have each reached a rational mix of nuclear and conventional weapons, India is not there. It has not even thought it necessary to strive for a rational mix because there is no real accounting of the threats faced by India and no grand strategy to address them. But a beginning has to be made somewhere and a nuclear doctrine permits an independent beginning. India has lost too much time since Pokhran II and limped along with what can only be described as a non-doctrine. This situation can no longer be tolerated.


Also read “Testing time 1,” “2,” “3” and “4” here, here, here and here.