Book Review: Sharpening The Arsenal: India’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrence Policy

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New Delhi | Updated: April 20, 2018 3:28:42 PM

The book is successful in raising critical issues concerning India’s nuclear future. Without putting one to boredom, the book comprehensively details out every important aspect that India needs to achieve in order to hone its nuclear arsenal. This book by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal shows how he is both an exemplary scholar on strategic affairs and also a soldier who understands various dimensions of warfare. The book is a must read for all policymakers and strategic studies enthusiasts.

Sharpening The Arsenal: India’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrence Policy, by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) is a book that comprehensively details out India’s nuclear capabilities vis-à-vis other nuclear weapon states.

Sharpening The Arsenal: India’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrence Policy, by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) is a book that comprehensively details out India’s nuclear capabilities vis-à-vis other nuclear weapon states. It particularly brings in parallels with India’s immediate neighbours, China and Pakistan. It also pragmatically suggests ways to hone India’s nuclear doctrine and arsenal. The book is spread across 13 chapters. It also includes extensive appendices and notes to validate the arguments made in the book. Brigadier Kanwal begins by detailing out India’s ambiguity in affirming its nuclear status. He points out how India, even after successfully conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, continued to term nuclear weapons as “political weapons and not weapons of warfare”. The chapter lays the foundation of India’s nuclear policy through not just the prisms of the political establishment, and geopolitics, but also through the philosophical outlook towards being a nuclear power.

Brigadier Kanwal preserves the idea that nuclear doctrines are always evolving and are not static. Its dynamism is proved as he clarifies through several examples how ‘nuclear doctrines are not written in stone and are never absolutely rigid’. He raises the issues behind the ambiguity of ‘no first use policy’ and of its possible outcomes. He speaks about the political underpinnings of the doctrine and weighs the pros and cons of the ‘no first use policy’ without swaying either way. He goes a step further to assess the ‘theoretical doctrine’ to its operational reality as well.

Brigadier Kanwal raises some important questions over ‘no first use policy’. He asks will deterrence by punishment, which is to accept damage first and then to retaliate ‘massively’, actually works in today’s geopolitical scenario. He also makes a keen observation on how there is disparity between the polity and the public over the nuclear issues. He concludes the chapter by agreeing that the debate over nuclear doctrine continues to remain inconclusive. But, he does say, that a time to time review of the doctrine, given the circumstances in the subcontinent is highly necessary.

The book also takes stock of the existing nuclear arsenal and evaluates the nuclear requirements necessary to maintain credible deterrence. It estimates the number of warheads and delivery systems that India has in its arsenal. Chapter 3 of the book also deals with India’s efforts to create a ‘Triad’ with nuclear capabilities. The author comprehensively discusses India’s situation in developing nuclear-capable fighter-bomber aircraft, surface to surface ballistic missile groups, submarine-launched ballistic missile systems and ways to secure missile launchers.

After extensively discussing India’s nuclear arsenal, the author then compares it with India’s immediate nuclear neighbours, Pakistan and China. Brig Kanwal points out how the Chinese are rapidly modernising their nuclear powerhouses and putting India behind in the race. He also picks out instances where the Chinese have refused to accept India as a state armed with nuclear weapons. He then writes on how Pakistan’s doctrine of ‘first use policy’ is aiming to achieve ‘full spectrum deterrence’. Pakistan’s agenda to develop nuclear tactical missiles is evident as it has been conducting tests regularly. Recently, Pakistan also tested it indigenously built Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) Babur in the IOR. Some analysts believe that there is a ‘stability-instability paradox’ in play, says Brig Kanwal in his book.

The Chapter 5 of the book looks at differences between India and Pakistan in perceiving tactical nuclear weapons. In this chapter, it is closely observed how Pakistan’s quest for nuclear tactical weapons has forced it to look at nuclear weapons through a non-political prism. On the contrary, India has been maintaining that nuclear weapons are just political weapons and is not a military weapons. It has also opted to keep tactical nuclear weapons out of its nuclear arsenal.

The following chapter discusses India’s cold start doctrine, offensive operations to counter Pakistan in North and the West. He also points out how India uses methods of deep strike operations and counter-operations to deter Pakistan from waging asymmetric war. However, Brigadier Kanwal says that if Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI continue to sponsor terror attacks on India, then it is likely that the Indian armed forces will lose their threshold and eventually feel compelled to abandon its strategic policy of restraint. The coming chapters deal with strategic stability in the region, assessing whether ballistic missile defence is a panacea or a pipedream, India-US civil nuclear deal & its implications, challenges to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

After laying out India’s nuclear capabilities through the systemic and doctrinal prisms, author Brigadier Kanwal makes suggestions to achieve higher nuclear capabilities. He calls for the honing of India’s nuclear arsenal through effective delivery systems. He suggests that India must develop missiles so as to achieve long-range missile system. He says that if India has made a decision to absorb the first nuclear strike, then it must ensure that it is better equipped with stronger delivery systems.

Brigadier Kanwal says additional tests of warheads and missiles, rapid technological development in nuclear science is something that India should strongly consider. He also recommends that India must seek out strategic partners to combat the growing nexus between China and Pakistan.

The book is successful in raising critical issues concerning India’s nuclear future. Without putting one to boredom, the book comprehensively details out every important aspect that India needs to achieve in order to hone its nuclear arsenal. This book by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal shows how he is both an exemplary scholar on strategic affairs and also a soldier who understands various dimensions of warfare. The book is a must read for all policymakers and strategic studies enthusiasts.

Book :Sharpening the Arsenal: India’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrence Policy
Author :Gurmeet Kanwal
Publisher :Harper Collins
Cost :Hardcover, Rs. 599

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