India's nuclear doctrine: A Pakistani perspective

(The writer is Foreign Minister of Pakistan. This paper was read at Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, US)

India's Nuclear Doctrine announced on 16 August, 1999, is a logical evolution in its policy to develop its nuclear option, a policy resolutely pursued by India since its independence. This sustained pursuit of nuclear weapons is seen by India as a prerequisite for the realization of its long-held vision of itself as a regional hegemon and a major global power. The justifications based on a security threat perception, initially offered by India immediately after its tests in May last year, were later discarded in favour of an emphasis on the earlier theme i.e. that the existing unequal global nuclear paradigm must be challenged. This search for nuclear and great power status represents the true motivation for India's nuclear policy. In contrast, Pakistan has always adopted a reactive policy. It exercised the nuclear option essentially in response to the compulsions of its security environment. The only proactive component of Pakistan's policy pertained to its initiatives to keep South Asia free of nuclear weapons pursued during 1974 to 1998 and proposals for nuclear restraint since the 1998 tests. Clearly, India's nuclear programme is status driven, whereas Pakistan's has been security motivated. It is important to place the Indian nuclear doctrine in the historical perspective of India's nuclear policy before we can examine its implications for the region and beyond as well as for the global nuclear non-proliferation objectives.

In this analysis I will also outline the parameters of our approach to the nuclear issue especially in the context of our region. India's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, though often obscured by its moral exhortations of complete global nuclear disarmament, were pursued meticulously and with determination. It acquired a research reactor and other nuclear facilities outside international safeguards in the 1960s. It refused to sign the NPT in 1968 questioning the status accorded by the Treaty to the five existing nuclear powers. It insisted on the legitimacy of "peaceful nuclear explosions". Meanwhile, India clandestinely diverted nuclear fuel from its "civilian" programme to explode a so-called "peaceful" nuclear device in May 1974. Since then, it expanded the scope of its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities and fissile material stocks. Nuclear weapons development was accompanied by the development of nuclear delivery systems, especially ballistic missiles. India rejected every initiative taken by Pakistan, since 1974, to exclude nuclear weapons from South Asia.

These included the proposals for a nuclear-free zone in South Asia, first made in 1974; a joint Pakistan-India declaration renouncing the acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons in 1978, mutual inspection of each other's nuclear facilities in 1978; simultaneous acceptance of NPT or full-scope IAEA safeguards in 1979; a bilateral or regional Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1987; a South Asia Zero-Missile Zone in 1994, and a non-aggression pact in 1997. In 1992, we also proposed a five-power Conference involving the United States, Russia and China as well as Pakistan and India to discuss ways and means to establish a non-discriminatory and equitable nuclear weapon-free regime in our region. Unfortunately all these proposals and initiatives were rejected by India and largely ignored by the international community. In fact, India was encouraged to pursue its nuclear weapons programme. It was only after 1989 when it became clear that Pakistan had also acquired a nuclear capability, that a regional approach towards non-proliferation attracted the attention of the major powers. In May 1998, India carried out a series of five nuclear tests and declaring itself a nuclear weapon state. In justifying the step, India first pointed to a China as the principal security threat to India. Almost simultaneously, the Indian leadership made hostile, though inexplicable, statements threatening that Pakistan would have to "adjust" its position on Kashmir and that it should be dealt with forcefully in the new environment of a transformed strategic balance in the region. The Indian media also raised questions about Pakistan's nuclear capability asserting that, by testing, India had called "Pakistan's bluff". This was a dangerous assertion as it could easily lead to misadventure on the part of India.

Pakistan was thus obliged to restore the credibility of its nuclear deterrence capability in the interest of its own security as well as regional stability. Indian arguments to justify the tests on the basis of a security theat perception lacked credibility. It was soon discarded. It was evident that there had been no change in the security environment before May 1998 to warrant the Indian tests. The real motivation underlying the Indian tests was different. It has been eloquently revealed in the questions posed by Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in an article contributed to Foreign Affairs of Sept/Oct 1998, and I quote: "Disarmament seemed increasingly unrealistic politics. If the permanent five's possession of nuclear weapons increases security, why would India's possession of nuclear weapons be dangerous? If the permanent five continue to employ nuclear weapons as an international currency of force and power, why should India voluntarily devalue its own state power and national security? Why admonish India after the fact for not falling in line behind a new international agenda of discriminatory non-proliferation pursued largely due to the internal agendas or political debates of the nuclear club? If deterrence works in the West - as it so obviously appears to, since Western nations insist on continuing to possess nuclear weapons - by what reasoning will it not work in India?" Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh further admitted that "the forcing of an unconditional and indefinite extension of the NPT on the international community made 1995 a watershed in the evolution of the South Asian situation. India was left with no option but to go in for overt nuclear weaponization". Similarly, Jaswant Singh saw a deterioration in India's security environment when the international community approved "the coercive CTBT".

These are revealing statements dispelling any doubt that India's nuclear tests were integral to its ambitions to assert its role as the regional hegemon and a global major power. India's nuclear doctrine is the latest manifestation of the same pursuit. The Indian nuclear doctrine outlines New Delhi's goal of acquiring massive nuclear war fighting capabilities Such a massive programme for developing nuclear arsenal coupled with plans for acquiring a massive conventional capability will surely have near and long term strategic implications for the region and beyond as well as for regional and global non-proliferation concerns. The scale of the nuclear weapons capability envisaged by the doctrine is clearly not designed to maintain "credible deterrence" against Pakistan which has made proposals for nuclear and missile restraint in the region. Nor can this capability be meant for nuclear deterrence against China. According to authoritative sources India is planning up to 400 operationally deployed warheads. For a minimum credible deterrence India does not need to deploy such a large nuclear arsenal. These can be justified only by larger ambitions for military hegemony and control sea lanes from the oil rich Gulf in the West to the Straits of Malacca in the East. Accordingly, the world needs to comprehend the near and long-term implications of India's nuclear capability. India's plans for the development of a vast conventional force coupled with a large nuclear arsenal are aimed at building an offensive rather than a defensive military capability. The objective is assertion and consolidation of influence, based on the premise that nuclear weapons are, in the words of Jaswant Singh, the currency of power and force. There are near term implications for initiatives aimed at nuclear restraints and avoidance of a nuclear arms race in South Asia. Pakistan had believed that nuclear deterrence could be exercised by Pakistan and India at the lowest possible level.

We were therefore initially encouraged by Indian statements that it wanted to maintain a policy of "credible minimum deterrence", even though New Delhi soon obfuscated this position by describing the concept as not fixed in "time and space". The objective of the dialogue which the US has initiated with Pakistan and India separately was, as we saw it, aimed at developing similar restraints. In order to provide a framework for discussion, we offered a proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime, spelling out the requirements of credible minimum deterrence in fairly specific terms. This encompassed measures to prevent a nuclear and ballistic missile race, non-introduction of AMBs and SLBMs and the maintenance of a balance in conventional forces. Deterrence was to be maintained at the lowest possible level. The regime provided for a "risk reduction mechanism to avoid a conflict by miscalculation or accident. The nuclear doctrine announced by India is obviously incompatible with both the idea of credible minimum deterrence as well as the concept of a strategic restraint regime. It is a rejection of its initiatives for preventing a nuclear arms race in South Asia. It militates against all efforts for nuclear and missile restraints and conventional arms balance. It will have destabilizing impact on the region and beyond. India's military programme as projected by the nuclear doctrine will entail huge expenditure. Estimates of the costs vary widely from twenty billion dollars up to hundreds of billions of dollars. India is already acquiring technologically advanced lethal weapons systems such as new Mirage 2000s, SU 27s, SU30s and S300 ABMs which can all be employed both in the conventional and nuclear mode.

These and other projected acquisitions will be contributing to the destabilization of South Asia. Pakistan cannot ignore the negative consequences of such developments for its security. It will be obliged to make an appropriate response. We believe in restraint but we will have to preserve and maintain credible nuclear deterrence against India. In this endeavour we will not commit the error of over burdening our economy in an effort to match India bomb for bomb. It is obvious, however, that India's plans will compel Pakistan, as also perhaps some other nuclear weapons states to respond to the projected Indian military build up. It will intensify Pakistan's dependence on nuclear deterrence. It will create a "hair-trigger" security environment in South Asia. The Indian nuclear doctrine will militate against major nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives including perhaps the CTBT and Fissile Material Treaty negotiations. If the doctrine is implemented, India will require nuclear warheads to be placed on its short, medium and long range missiles as well as sea-based missiles. There are already reports about developing thermo-nuclear weapons and neutron bombs. Unless India receives nuclear weapons designs from calendstine sources, it will need to conduct further nuclear weapon tests to achieve the advanced deployment capabilities it desires. This will subvert the CTBT. Similarly, India will require substantial quantities of fissile materials for the large nuclear force envisaged by the nuclear doctrine. This will compound the difficulties for early success in the negotiations on a Fissile Material Treaty being conducted in Geneva since the question of stockpiles for nuclear weapons production is germane to the Treaty. As an Indian political analyst and scholar Praful Bidpai has stated, the Indian nuclear doctrine "marks a hardening of India's nuclear posture and further deterioration in South Asia's security equations after the nuclear tests of May 1988. It is certain to ignite a nuclear arms race in the region' with potentially disastrous consequences."

Before I dwell on our expectations from the international community, especially the protagonists of nuclear non-proliferation, I would like to focus on some assertions made by the apologists for the doctrine. First, that the doctrine is only a draft or that it is being proposed by an informal or a private group. This is a false premise. The doctrine was presented by the National Security Adviser to the Indian Prime Minister. It has been approved by the National Security Advisery Board of India. There is every reason to believe that it carries official sanction and requires only a formal approval of the political leadership to become a policy. Its implementation need not be pursued overtly as has been largely the case with India's nuclear policy. Too often in the past have we seen the manner in which certain major powers have accepted at face value India's ambiguous assurances despite Pakistan's cautionary advice. This happened in 1960s when we warned that India would secretly divert fuel from the unsafeguarded Cirrus reactor and later when we alerted the international community against an Indian nuclear explosion in the early 1970s. In April last year, just before India conducted its nuclear tests, we were told by high level emissaries of a great power that they had been impressed by India's "self-restraint". We cannot set aside our concerns only because the nuclear doctrine is yet to be officially formalized by the Indian Government. Second, some analysts place considerable emphasis on India's no-first-use declaration.

This declaration is hardly reassuring. The massive nuclear and conventional deployments envisaged in the doctrine cannot conceivably be designed purely for deterrence. India's profession of "non-first-use" of nuclear weapons is only a facade to justify a second strike capability and large-scale acquisition and deployment of nuclear weapons. Also, we believe that by offering no-first-use, India is attempting to secure its acceptance into the nuclear club through the back-door. India's no-first-use concept becomes questionable in the light of the assertions made in the text of the doctrine. The doctrine states that "any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat," and further provides that "India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail'. Therefore, India could resort to a nuclear first strike either to counter a nuclear threat or when it itself decides that deterrence has failed. The announcement of the nuclear doctrine amounts to India thumbing its nose at the international community. It calls into question the credibility of the dialogue pursued by the US with India over the past 16 months. The international community needs to respond in a determined way to this doctrine in order to arrest India's dangerous plans for nuclear and arms escalation and reverse its continuing and open defiance of the will of the international community. In my address to the UN General Assembly on 22 September, 1999 I outlined what needs to be done. I have proposed that the international community, especially the major powers, must urge India to: one, disavow the proposed nuclear doctrine; two, refrain from any further nuclear tests and adhere to the CTBT. For its part, Pakistan remains committed to adhering to the CTBT in an atmosphere free of coercion; three, undertake not to operationally deploy nuclear weapons on land, air or sea; four, open negotiations with Pakistan for an agreement to achieve balance in fissile material stocks, while both India and Pakistan participate in the Fissile Material Treaty negotiations expected to commence early next year in Geneva; five, eschew the acquisition of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and any military-related capabilities in Space; and six, cut-back drastically on its plans to purchase and develop various advanced and destabilizing conventional weapons systems. In this context, Pakistan appeals to those countries which intend to supply these conventional weapons to India to reconsider their policies.

I also proposed that it is now essential to convene a Conference, with the participation of all the Permanent Members of the Security Council, and other interested major powers, as well as Pakistan and India, to promote the goals of strategic restraint and stability in South Asia. I wish to emphasize that Pakistan's nuclear policy has been governed by the compulsions of its security environment. Regrettably, because of the long standing issue of Jammu and Kashmir, which India refuses to sincerely address, the security environment in South Asia remains tense and our security concerns remain constant. However, it needs to be appreciated that for reasons of limitations of our resources the regional character of our concerns, as well as our sensitivity to global sentiment favouring nuclear non-proliferation, Pakistan desires nuclear missile restraint. It wants to prevent a nuclear and conventional arms race in South Asia. It wishes to resolve Kashmir and other disputes with India through negotiations so that its own resources are liberated for the socio-economic development of the country. It is for the same reasons that it finds the Indian nuclear doctrine so disturbing and looks to the international community, especially the US, to dissuade India from pursuing the political and military ambitions as revealed in its nuclear doctrine. The writer is Foreign Minister of Pakistan. This paper was read at Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, US