India’s nuclear logic

The former Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, gave a revealing speech on India’s nuclear deterrent on April 24th. The speech was titled, somewhat vaguely, “Is India’s Nuclear Deterrent Credible?”

But it more usefully updated India’s nuclear weapons status in a way that hasn’t happened since the release of the draft nuclear doctrine back in the early 2000s.

The most striking part of the speech doctrinally responded to Pakistan’s supposed move to develop tactical nuclear capability. Saran made it clear that India wouldn’t distinguish between a kiloton weapon aimed at tanks or a megatonner aimed at a city. “The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level. Pakistan would be prudent not to assume otherwise as it sometimes appears to do, most recently by developing and perhaps deploying theatre nuclear weapons.”

The speech also fitted in place missing bits of India’s nuclear puzzle.

He confirmed that two legs of India’s nuclear triad — airborne weapons and rail and mobile land-based nuclear warheads — have been completed. And he laid out a timetable for the completion of the third submarine-based leg.

He also confirmed that an official nuclear doctrine has been approved, and bemoaned the face it has not been made public.

“Since January 4, 2003, when India adopted its nuclear doctrine formally at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), it has moved to put in place, at a measured pace, a triad of land-based, air-delivered and submarine-based nuclear forces and delivery assets to conform to its declared doctrine of no-first use and retaliation only. It has had to create a command and control infrastructure that can survive a first strike and a fully secure communication system that is reliable and hardened against radiation or electronic interference.” Saran argues that if the doctrine cannot be revealed, then India should at least release an annual Strategic Posture Review.

I feel Saran pulled his punches on arguing for the doctrine to be made public. Deterrent works only by being transparent about intent and capability. Otherwise, an opponent may conclude the deterrent is a bluff. At a time when Pakistan is slowly losing its political marbles, the logic of such transparency is stronger than ever.

The speech also lays out a potted history of India’s nuclear posture. One of the more forceful parts of the speech refutes the argument that India went nuclear largely for reasons of prestige. It was China, China and China, Saran makes clear.

“I find somewhat puzzling assertions by some respected security analysts, both Indian and foreign, that India’s nuclear weapons programme has been driven by notions of prestige or global standing rather than by considerations of national security.”

He also makes the argument that India’s nuclear environment with its three-nation minuet makes a lot of the strategy that evolved in the West irrelevant. “It is because of this complexity that notions of flexible response and counter-force targeting, which appeared to have a certain logic in a binary US-Soviet context, lose their relevance in the multi-dimensional threat scenario which prevails certainly in our region.” This is an interesting argument but needs a lot more explaining than this speech was able to.

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  • abc

    So what, we are nuclear power nation. We are super power. And we do not count those poor people in India.


    dac Reply:

    they the politicians are one of the ******** in India. They might have sold the wheat and is blaming rain that destroyed it. Its a shame on people of India who encourages these things.


  • Avinash

    It is shameful on the part of all the administrators either senior bureaucrats of politicians. The other day there was a news item in HT that in a village which is about 80 kms. from Allahabad, said to be the most prestigious constituency, the children eat MUD I repeat Mud as their food. The most disgusting was when the politicians concerned tried to justified that they eat it by choice (habit) and not otherwise as they had options to either eat “Biryani” or “Mud” and they had chosen the later. I attempted to raise my voice by writing in various papers.

    The most shameful was when said to the the most intelligent economists like Montek Singh Ahluwalia was trying to justify the expenditure of few lakhs for renovation of few toilets i the office (Planning Commission) where he work from.

    India will remain poor till such time each and every child is properly taken care of for reasonably good education, health facilities etc…….Please please Manmohan Singh ji break your silence….say something, do something…….


    SK Reply:

    It will never happen in India in million years. Our politicians, CM’s, MP’s do not have the guts and honesty to make India a better place to live. It is not India shinning, it is the corruption, which is getting bigger and more powerful.
    Mr. Montek Singh lives in AC home, has servants and gets three decent meals a day. Do these corrupted politicians like him care? If so, please do something to make India to be proud of.


  • rajesh

    All of this is anti- Indian propaganda. India is a booming country and a super power.
    Yes we have minor problems but they will be resolved.


    Deen Dayal Reply:

    Who told you that India is a booming country and a super power? Westerners right, beta har bali ke bakre ko teekka lagaya jata hai. Yes these words are teekka and India is bali ka bakara. How much loan do you have on you. Go ask your parents how much they had. You will know. New generation of slaves.



    this just shows the state of india. the most backward corrupt country in the world where they cannot even feed their own people & nobody cares


  • Abu Ahmed

    It is highly disturbing indeed, to put it extremely mildly. I suggest one should take all the top administrators and political leadership of the agriculture & finance ministries on a guided tour and show them the ground reality. and pursue the questions, firstly, of starvation and, secondly, of food storage till sweeping measures are taken to improve the situation.


  • Navtej Sarna

    Still fuzzy and mumbling so that his muttering can be taken as a personal viewpoint – the fact is that India does not have a nuclear doctrine just technology demonstrators and working missiles period


    RickP Reply:

    What are you, dude? A pessimist or does not believe in your own country? Get informed and more importantly get out of your 300+ year old slavery attitude of “We can’t do it.” Not only we are doing it, we are leading in a lot of defense technologies. Yeah, Believe it and oh BTW, I am an American!


    Guru Reply:

    India does not lead anybody in any technology. Indian officials
    get HUSH money (kickback) and buys these inferior weapons

    and kickback money goes to Swiss banks. Do you have any
    American weapons???


    Jai-Hanuman Reply:

    Another Indian born/educated cab driver or working in Walmart


  • Probhat Raha

    India does not have any coordinated Nuclear Policy. It has back-fired in the case of Pakistan. Pakistan with its wholesale imported war equipment is having the upper hand in deployment. DRDO is showing off new hardware but most of them cannot be deployed with India’s poor infrastructure.


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  • vijay !

    The logic of nuclear deterrence can be understood in terms of China.