Nuclear Evolution: Ends and Means of Nuclear Deterrence

Report on US-India Discussion Co-hosted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Forum for Strategic Initiatives, February 3-5, 2015

A workshop entitled “Nuclear Evolution: Ends and Means of Nuclear Deterrence” was co-hosted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Livermore, USA, and the Forum for Strategic Initiatives (FSI), New Delhi, India. The workshop was held at Bangkok on February 3-5, 2015.
While the US participants recounted their experience with the evolution and practice of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War period and later, the Indian participants shared their experience of nuclear deterrence in South Asia. The salient issues highlighted by the participants are given in succeeding paragraphs.
The workshop was held in the wake of a very successful Summit meeting between the Indian PM and the US President on January 25-26, 2015. The Summit has raised expectations of better relations. Overall, there is a feeling of optimism.

It was pointed out that India is a reluctant nuclear power. India has two nuclear-armed neighbours, with both of whom it has territorial disputes. India had sought but had been denied nuclear guarantees. It was only then that India opted to acquire nuclear weapons.

India believes that nuclear weapons are political weapons and not weapons of warfighting. Their sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

India’s nuclear doctrine is credible minimum deterrence with a ‘no first use’ posture and assured retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage.India has invested deeply in strategic stability; this is reflected in the nuclear doctrine and posture. India has never flaunted its nuclear weapons.
India has exercised immense strategic restraint despite grave provocation, particularly from Pakistan – by way of a quarter century old proxy war being conducted through state-sponsored terrorism.
Despite the disadvantages, India opted not to cross the LoC during the Kargil conflict in 1999. In the 2001-02 stand-off, India did not retaliate despite an attack on our Parliament.

However, India’s threshold of tolerance is not limitless and any future terrorist strike with evidence of state backing is likely to elicit a military response. The response will be carefully calibrated to ensure that the risk of escalation to large-scale conventional conflict is minimised.

Total nuclear disarmament was and still is a cardinal principle of India’s foreign policy. India has adhered to the provisions of the NPT, the CTBT and MTCR even though it is not a signatory to these agreements and supports early conclusion of the negotiations for the FMCT.

India’s conduct as a responsible nuclear power was recognised in the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement of July 2005. India is looking forward to membership of the NSG, the MTCR, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar arrangement.

With Pakistan’s acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), does India’s nuclear doctrine need some tweaking?India needs to decide as to where we want to go with our nuclear deterrence programme.India’s pacifist and often weak strategic culture tends to result in greater strategic stability at times
Contextually, the narrative of the US and India on nuclear discourse has been different. In India, strategic thinking and nuclear posture continue to be a work in progress.India’s policy of credible minimum deterrence is facing immense pressure in the context of China and Pakistan’s deterrence policies, especially given thenuclear warhead and missile technology collusion between the two.

Nuclear disarmament no longer enjoys the salience it had in liberal thinking in America until recently. Due to Russian involvement in the civil war in Ukraine, NWs are back and, that too, with a vengeance. Strategic doctrine is being discussed again. President Obama’s top priority is to safeguard existing stockpiles – “save what is already there”. Post-9/11,President George W Bush had argued in favour of pre-emptive vs. preventive wars.
Nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan depends a great deal on nuclear signalling and Pakistan appears to have an edgein this sphere.The international community is deeply involved in this mind game.
Deterrence can become unstable in the face of rapid technological innovation/change. In the US-Soviet equation, the US had parallel discussions with the Soviets on arms control and crisis management.
The Soviet Union did not want a war with the West; NWs were important in their “deterrence thinking”.They too laid emphasis on TNWs. The range or the yield of the weapon did not matter, what mattered was where it fell.If it fell on the Soviet homeland, it was not a TNW.

The Soviets were convinced that the West would escalate the situation; hence,preparing for a nuclear battlefield was necessary. When you have a huge army, it takes decades to equip/ re-equip it. Their concept of operations sought to pre-empt NATO. The Soviet Union wanted to win the war quickly before NATO could employ TNWs. They were certain that escalation to strategic use was inevitable.In the India-Pakistan context, the situation is somewhat similar with Indian thinking matching Soviet thinking and Pakistan adopting the NATO line.
The US/NATO experience with TNWs applies equally well to South Asia.NATO’s nuclear red-lines were very different from those of Pakistan. TNWs confront the initiator with complicating prospects of consequent escalation.There is danger inherent in the thinking, “We will fight as well as we can conventionally, and then fire the TNWs.The eventual outcome shall flow out of this.”
Due to the NBC protection provided to modern AFVs, armour formations are likely to suffer greater damage from radiation than from the blast and heat caused by a TNW. At some stage during a war, the custody of TNWs has to be released to field formations and the authority to fire them has to be delegated. TNWs are difficult to secure once they are pulled out of storage.Under certain circumstances, the mere act of deployment may result in deterrence break down in South Asia.
Pakistan believes that the eventual development of assured retaliatory strike capability would largely exclude the possibility of Indian retaliation or disproportional response.Also, India’s culture of restraint may inhibit the launching of the massive counter-value response predicated in the Indian nuclear doctrine. However, Indian signalling is designed to convince Pakistani planners that India will unhesitatingly retaliate massively in response to the use of nuclear weapons anywhere.
The yardsticks of determining whether a weapon is tactical or strategic varies and revolves around four particular aspects, namely, range, yield, function and point of impact. However, its effect is always strategic. The international community is bound to intervene if there are nuclear exchanges in South Asia or, for that matter, anywhere in the world.
Deterrence Stability incomplex systems consists of a large number of mutually interacting and interwoven elements and parts. Spatial complexity can be viewed in terms of geographical factors, terrain, climatic distribution; dimensional factors (medium of operation); and, organisational complexities (functional issues such as specialisation of capabilities, hierarchical issues)
It is necessary to understand and analyse the epistemic and doxastic issues; political complexity – sources of power and authority, civil-military relations; and, the differences between the state and the regime.Stability induced by NWs through mutual deterrence at the strategic level opens up the possibility of more frequent resort to force, and hence greater instability at lower levels of violence (Glenn Snyder 1965), the classical stability-instability paradox.
The essence of Pakistan’s acquisition of NWs is to negate India’s conventional military superiority and to wage a proxy war to destabilise India under the shadow of its nuclear umbrella. With the acquisition of NWs, Pakistan is attempting to blur the distinction between conventional and sub-conventional conflict. Now, with the introduction of the TNWs, it is seeking to blur the line between nuclear and conventional.
By supporting insurgency in Kashmir and terrorism in other parts of India,Pakistan is following a revisionist strategy – the use of force to alter the territorial status quo while seeking plausible deniability that is inherent in asymmetric warfare. This is Pakistan’s pincer – lowering the nuclear threshold, threatening escalation and attempting to restrict India’s response options.
Indian participants emphasised that India continues to exercise enormous restraint in the interest of strategic stability even though it is politically costly. However, India believes that there is space for limited warbelow the nuclear threshold. If it ever became necessary to retaliate militarily to Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, India’s response would be extremely carefully calibrated to avoid risking escalation.
The workshop ended on a positive note with the participants expressing their satisfaction with the frankness and the quality of the discussions and endorsing the need to continue with the US-India dialogue.

Participants from India: Amb Lalit Mansingh, Amb K C Singh, Amb Sheel K Sharma, Dr R Rajaraman, Air Chief Marshal S C Tyagi, RAdm Raja Menon, Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee, Lt Gen Aditya Singh, Maj Gen P K Chakravorty, Brig Arun Sahgal, Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, Dr Varun Sahni and Dr Monika Chansoria
Participants from the United States: Mr Robert Swartz, Dr Zachary Davis, Dr Peter Lavoy, Dr Neil Joeck, Maj Gen Paul D. Eaton, Col Jeffrey McCausland, Col David Smith, Mr Christopher Clary, Ms Christine Shannon and Dr Chris Donnelly (United Kingdom)

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