India has effective deterrence against both China and Pakistan, but while China’s nuclear weapons are a major strategic concern for India, Pakistan’s nuclear programme “remains a daily source of tactical worry” and both countries’ nuclear weapons programmes “are so closely linked… that they may effectively be treated as one”, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has said.
In his newly-published book “Choices” (Penguin), Menon, who served in the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, first as Foreign Secretary and then as NSA, says the Pakistan Army seems to believe, mistakenly though, that the country’s “nuclear shield permits Pakistan to undertake terrorist attacks on India without fear of retaliation”.
But India’s main worry is that Islamabad has developed “tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems” in the short, 60-km range and the decision to use these weapons would be in the hands of young officers “in an army increasingly religiously motivated and less and less professional and that has consistently produced rogue officers…”
However, says Menon, if Pakistan were to use tactical nuclear weapons in the battlefield — as the country’s Defence Minister recently hinted darkly — “it would effectively be opening the doors to a massive Indian first-strike, having crossed India’s declared red lines”.
That red line, Menon underlined, would also apply to the use of tactical weapons “even against Indian forces in Pakistan” — Indian special forces did cross over to conduct the September 29 surgical strike across the Line of Control against “terrorist launchpads”.
“In other words,” reiterated Menon, “Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first-strike against Pakistan” in what is perhaps the most clear enunciation of India’s nuclear doctrine to date by someone who has been closely involved in its policymaking and implementation.
With a debate started by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on India’s no-first-use policy, which was earlier considered a strategic holy cow, Menon says “it is the uniqueness of India’s situation that explains the uniqueness of India’s nuclear doctrines and postures” as “no other nuclear-weapon state faces as complex a combination of factors in its deterrence calculus as India”.
Menon says India’s nuclear weapons have always been treated as “political instruments — rather than war-fighting weapons as Pakistan treats them — that deter nuclear attack and attempts at coercion” and the “clearer and simpler the task of our nuclear weapons, the more credible they are”.
“And the more credible they are, the stronger will be their deterrent effect”.
Menon also said that, with possible reference to the present debate, that “there is nothing in the present doctrine that prevents India from responding proportionately to a nuclear attack, from choosing a mix of military and civilian targets for its nuclear weapons.
“The doctrine speaks of punitive retaliation. The scope and scale of retaliation are in the hands of the Indian leadership,” Menon emphasised.
He said while there was a “clear difference” between India’s nuclear doctrine an Pakistan’s, India’s doctrine is “closest to the Chinese doctrine” in no-first-use policy (though somewhat hedged).
For its nuclear strategy to be truly effective, India must develop a “genuine delivery triad on land, sea and air as soon as possible to ensure survivability of its second-strike capability and to assure retaliation”, he noted and added that the nuclear-armed Prithvi missiles developed with their limited range of 350 km “were effective deterrents in our situation”.