Indian Army Chief: Nukes Not For Warfighting

Gen. V.K. Singh

By Hans M. Kristensen

India’s nuclear weapons “are not for warfighting,” the chief of India’s army said Sunday at the Army Day Parade. The weapons have “a strategic capability and that is where it should end,” General V. K. Singh declared.

The rejection of nuclear warfighting ideas is a welcoming development in the debate over the role of nuclear weapons in South Asia. Pakistan’s military’s description of its new snort-range NASR missile as a “shoot and scoot…quick response system” has rightly raised concerns about the potential early use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

NASR is one of several new nuclear weapon systems that are nearing deployment with warheads from a Pakistani stockpile that has nearly doubled since 2005.

India is also increasing its arsenal and already has short-range missiles with nuclear capability: the land-based Prithvi has been in operation for a decade, and a naval version (Dhanush) is under development. But India’s posture seems focused on getting its medium-range Agni II in operation, developing longer-range versions to target China, and building a limited submarine-based nuclear capability.

If Gen. Singh’s rejection of nuclear warfighting is reflected in India’s future nuclear posture, two important things will have been achieved: rejection of the mindless tit-for-tat philosophy that otherwise dominates nuclear posturing; and limiting the scenarios where nuclear weapons otherwise could come into use. The rejection also has importance for other nuclear weapon states, where some have called for making nuclear weapons more “tailored” to limited regional scenarios.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

5 thoughts on “Indian Army Chief: Nukes Not For Warfighting

  1. Hans your focus on the Prithvi and AGNI-II seems to overlook the far more potent and strategically deployable AGNI-I in India’s arsenal.

  2. I find the last comment to be very suggestive. Are you saying that “tailored deterrence” is, partly, in your view supposed to be about regional nuclear war fighting? If so, surely complex transformation and arsenal modernisation would be tied into all that.

    Reply: It can be, but it depends. The type of tailored deterrence thinking that emerged in the Bush W administration’s first years after 9/11 certainly included warfighting elements of nukes being seen as another tool in a tool box to hunt down and destroy the regional adversary’s WMD capabilities. I don’t think that complex transformation is tied to that. Arsenal modernization can be, but only if it includes adding capabilities that make the weapons more useable AND is accompanied by policy statements and a strategy to match it. HK

  3. Yet, the paradox. World nuclear military leaders always say that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence. It is always said that nuclear weapons are only “political placeholders” in international politics; useful tools in diplomacy. After all, the international community must treat a nuclear power different than a nation without. Yet, once a nation acquires nuclear arms, it seems the River Styx is crossed. Modernization is the new goal. Warheads get smaller and more powerful. Short range battlefield nuclear missiles grow into IRBMs and the IRBMs grow into ICBMs. If you have an ICBM surely you need a submarine missile of intercontinental range as well, don’t you? Single warhead missile become MIRVed. If a thousand nuclear warheads are good, two thousand are better…

    I am sure the comments of General V. K. Singh are honest in intentions. I just don’t find the historical sincerity to believe this is some kind of “breakthrough”.

    Frank Shuler

  4. Reserving mass murder weapons for ‘deterrence only’ seems to make little sense. Are they really to remain gathering dust and locked up if deterrence fails to prevent a “conventional” war?
    It seems to me that humanity needs to stop thinking of national governments as leaders of local criminal gangs who are free to murder nationals of other nations to attempt to achieve their political or economic goals. Historically war has been treated as a manly sport, but it is clear that technology has long ago advanced to the point where the ‘side effects’ are too serious to permit us to continue with this approach to resolving conflicts.
    We should concentrate on working toward an effective world governance. To avoid a major catastrophe, it is necessary to build a spirit of cooperation to solve the many problems humanity faces, rather than a mutual fearfulness that ‘deterrence’ creates. FAS needs to continue to emphasize the real dangers that would befall us when (not if) deterrence fails.

    Fred Unterleitner

  5. HK, how Indian “Agni V” compares to DF-31A? Indian media claims that DRDO is going to develop MIRVs for AGNI V, but wouldn’t that require new nuclear testing? I have hard time to believe they would do such things because of PR blacklash.

    Reply: A lot of people are very hooked on MIRV, assuming almost automatically that if a country develops and ICBM it will also deploy MIRV on it. But for smaller nuclear weapon states that doesn’t necessarily follow (some of the larger nuclear states are reducing their reliance on MIRV). China has had MIRV capability for many years but not deployed it. For India to add MIRV to Agni-V (assuming India has the technological skills to do so) would significantly decrease its range – especially with India’s relatively heavy warheads. Since range is the main motivation for Agni-V and India has no intention (that I’m aware of) to develop a nuclear doctrine that requires their missiles to destroy a lot of different targets in a single strike, I fail to see why it would be necessary to spend a lot of money and effort to develop MIRV for the Agni-V. HK

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