Nuclear Policy: Certainly Not A Casual Walk on A Goa Beach
CHANDIGARH: Once India became a nuclear weapon power state, it was necessary to work out a definite policy on use of such weapons. India’s defence experts namely K Subrahmanyam, Gen Sundarji and some others got together at the War College, Mhow, to examine the issues in detail. Surdarji was then Commandant War College and had asked me to join in the deliberations. Outcome of these discussions were carried over to Delhi by K Subrahmanyam and finally incorporated into country’s nuclear policy of No First Use ( NFU.) and no use of these weapons against those not possessing such weapons.
In a nuclear weapons setting, the element of error in the use of such a weapon is high.
When two opposing sides are equipped with nuclear weapons, the advantages of first user are obvious. The enormous devastating power of such weapons, which can, not only destroy opponent’s nuclear weapons assets, but equally paralyze the opponent.
This first use can take place either due to error in the assessment and consequent conclusion that the opposing side is about to use this weapon, or faulty intelligence inputs, or where control on the use of such weapons is somewhat poorly exercised and under such situations temptations to pre-empt the opponent can come into play. That, in one part is the essence and rationale of India adopting NFU policy and the second being, country’s stance on the issue of nuclear weapons free world.
To deter the opponent from using nuclear weapons, it is essential to create viable and credible deterrence capability. The first user would, as a priority, target opponent’s nuclear weapons and weapons delivery assets. Therefore, it is essential to create such a range of nuclear weapon assets that can survive the opponent’s first strike and yet has the capability and capacity for a massive retaliation. That, in brief, is the other essential feature of NFU policy and has led India to create such a retaliatory capability.
BJP in its election manifesto had indicated that it would review India’s, NFU policy, concerning nuclear weapons. However since coming to power, the BJP has not made any move in this direction.
Recently the defence minister of India, Manohar Parrikar appears to have expressed his views and questioned this policy of NFU. To quote him, “I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off.” Though from this it may be difficult to conclude on his final stance and whose hoax it is, but being the defence minister of the country such public utterances does cause confusion both within and outside the country. Whatever he means or implies, by this statement, his ministry has been quick to point out that it is merely his private view. The fact that he has little control over his ministry is well known by now.
For our defence minister there is no difference between a casual walk on the Goa beach and inspecting a ceremonial guard of honour. Or for that matter his conviction that soldiers have lost public respect because of no war for a long time or surgical strikes are the result of adoption of RSS culture. He can easily forget the contents of a letter approved by him, ( MoD letter of 18 Oct re-casting equations between defence services officers and civilian staff at the armed forces headquarters.) Therefore, his views, on NFU,’ private and personnel, as he now claims, need not be taken seriously. Though as the defence minister of the country, it does highlight his lack of sense of responsibility and the inappropriateness of expressing such views in public.
Consequent to, ‘operation Parakaram’ fiasco, some defence experts started articulating the point of missing a ’window of opportunity,’ due to time consuming mobilization. They came up with what came to be known as, ‘cold start concept.’ Though this concept of cold start had no relevance to the Indian tactical environments and setting, Pakistan seems to have taken it seriously and developed tactical nuclear weapons to be used against Indian combat groups and combat commands as and when launched under the cold start concept.
What needs to be made clear, in unambiguous terms to Pakistan is that use of any nuclear device, be it nuclear bomb or tactical nuclear weapon, will invite full-scale retaliation.
Critics of NFU concept are completely off the mark when they call for change in doctrine due to increased stockpile of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and China’s expansionist designs in the region. What applies between Pakistan and India is equally applicable between India and China. These developments do not alter the parameters relevant to NFU policy, in both the cases.
Congress party spokesperson has termed Defence Ministers remarks on NFU policy concept as, ‘casual, immature and off the cuff.’ The communist party’s spokesperson has termed the defence minister’ s remarks on the NFU policy issue as, ‘most irresponsible and runs counter to India’s ethos of seeking a nuclear weapons free world.’ Be that as it may, any change in this policy of NFU requires detailed deliberations and consultations at various levels, both within and outside the government with a range of defence experts. Though as of now there are no developments warranting review of NFU.
However, what is pertinent and worrying aspect is the articulation of such views, of far reaching consequences, in so casual and off the cuff manner by a person no less than the defence minister of the country, more so when the situation on the border with Pakistan is already tense.
(Lt General Harwant Singh (Retired) is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff)