India’s Nuclear War Plans

Two concurrent pronouncements made on 4 January 2003 – one, a major policy decision by the Government of India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the other, a pious wish expressed by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – are ominous signs of the perilous future that lies ahead. The brief Press Release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stated that the CCS had “met today to review the progress in operationaizing of India’s nuclear doctrine.” One wondered what “nuclear doctrine” the CCS was operationaizing? This doubt arose because, one was only aware of a ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’ (DND) that was propounded on 17 August 1999, when the National Security Advisor, Mr. Brajesh Mishra, in his capacity as Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), had released “the document for public discussion and debate“. The observations that Mr. Mishra had made while releasing the DND document is very significant especially in the present context.

Mr. Mishra had then said: “I am happy to present to you the draft of the Nuclear Doctrine prepared by the National Security Board. We have decided to make this document public in keeping with our position in favour of greater transparency in decision-making. Please note that this is a draft proposed by the NSAB and has not yet been approved by the Government. That will have to wait until after the general elections.”(Ibid.) Mr. Mishra had explicitly stated that the Government favoured “greater transparency in decision-making” and that the proposed draft had “not yet been approved by the Government”. Mr. Mishra was well aware that the BJP-led Government then could not have approved the DND because it had lost its mandate to govern and was holding office only temporarily. It was the duty of the next elected government to set the process in motion.

No Debate

While analysing the CCS’ decision in the light of the statements that Mr. Mishra had made earlier, three important questions follow:

(1) When and in which forums and to what extent has public discussion and debate taken place on this critical national issue and what, if any, was the outcome? ;

(2) If not, why did the Government decide to finalise and approve the DND without public discussion, debate or notice? ; and

(3) Where is the promised transparency in decision making when vital decisions having crucial bearing on the lives of the entire population of the nation are taken surreptitiously?

It is therefore incumbent on the Government to explain its precipitate action on an issue of great national importance and which is bound to have far wider ramifications. The opposition parties in India are yet to take the Government to task on this issue.

The promised “public discussion and debate” on the DND did not take place probably because the Government developed cold feet out of fear that the likely outcome of such a debate would be quite contrary to their expectations. May be it was apprehensive that the questionable proposals in the DND would have found few takers. If the Government had any confidence at all that the proposals are just and well-grounded, there was absolutely no reason why it should have shied away from a public debate on the issue. It is becoming increasingly clear that in the name of defending “national security” the right-wing BJP-dominated Government is merely trying to pursue its sectarian agenda for partisan ends. By surreptitiously approving what may be the propounded Draft Nuclear Doctrine almost verbatim the Government has set a very dangerous precedent both in terms of the procedure adopted for formulating the policy as well as the substance of the policy itself.

The most shocking proposal in the DND was about the necessity of cultivating “the will to employ nuclear weapons and forces“. This was the core proposal around which rest of the DND had evolved. But any use of nuclear weapons would necessarily result in wanton destruction of lives and property. However, conscientious human beings would have found even a mindless thought of committing such genocide absolutely revolting. So the authours of the DND have come up with a bizarre solution: they thought it was imperative to inculcate the much-needed pernicious will for perpetrating a horrendous crime against humanity. Injection of insensitivity into the thought processes of sane human beings was an intrinsic requirement for pursuing that objective. Essentially it would entail de-humanisation of the individuals involved in the execution of the dreaded decision, those who would have otherwise retained their humanness. (Is this kind of moulding of the thought process any different from that of the of terrorists who are conditioned to indulge in senseless killing of unarmed and innocent civilians?) It may also entail taking of appropriate steps to ensure that the pernicious “will” percolates down to the mass of people so that they endorse despicable decisions as a matter of necessity or inevitability. (At a micro level, the attempt to condone and accept the unprecedented communal violence in Gujarat through a process of internalisation is a classic example. Committing large-scale atrocities – arson, rape and murder – were nothing to be ashamed of; they are acts that have become a matter of “gaurav” or pride.) The DND was, thus, essentially a document that sanctified and sanitised the use of nuclear weapons. In short, it is a doctrine for fighting a nuclear war, not for preventing one!

The justification offered for formulating such a policy was that these weapons of mass destruction would be used only in a retaliatory strike, which, in the words of the CCS, “will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage” (PMO, op cit.) on the adversary. If that is so, it is again an admission that possessing nuclear weapons would neither deter the adversary from launching a nuclear strike nor protect Indians from being victims of such an attack. The utter fallacy of the doctrine of ‘nuclear deterrence’ thereby stands completely exposed. None of the proponents of this doctrine have argued that stockpiling of nuclear weapons can actually prevent a catastrophe. All they are claiming is that they can compound such a catastrophe several times over through a retaliatory strike! Deterrence is bound to breakdown at some point because deterrence is always accompanied by nuclear one-upmanship, which necessarily results in a never-ending upward spiralling nuclear arms race with the spectre of a catastrophe remaining ever imminent. If India was likely to be targeted in a nuclear first strike, why is the Government cagey about the huge scale of death and destruction that Indians might suffer if such a calamitous strike were to take place? Is there an acceptable level of damage that Indians can be made to suffer? If possession of nuclear weapons cannot protect Indians from being victims of a nuclear attack, what exactly is the purpose or advantage in possessing these dreadful weapons of mass destruction?

Are the Indian victims of a nuclear attack supposed to find solace in the fact that in a retaliatory strike far greater number of people residing in the state of the aggressor would be killed? Is a highly deplorable act to be avenged by carrying out yet another equally deplorable act against a mass of people who had had absolutely no role in the decision to initiate the first nuclear strike? Every aggressor deserves to be punished stringently. But is the aggressor an entire people or the decision-makers in the concerned state? Who has to be punished? Retaliation is against whom? Moreover, there is a serious problem about identifying the Aggressor State since India can be targeted from any point on Earth with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) or Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs), which are in the possession of several nuclear weapon states. (It may be noted that except China and India none of the other nuclear weapon states have given even a No-First-Use pledge.) This being the case, is Pakistan the fixed target for a retaliatory strike irrespective of who the aggressor is? Any way, why is this undue emphasis on retaliation and revenge instead of being more concerned about preventing a nuclear war and on saving those millions of precious Indian lives (which will certainly be lost in a nuclear first strike or subsequent strikes) in the first place?

An active UN and the UN alone can effectively contain any potential threat from an irrational power. The problem is that there is a concerted attempt to hijack the UN and to prevent it from acting to its full potential. Unless this problem is urgently remedied by the mass of UN members and a concerted attempt is made to uphold the laudable goals enshrined in the UN Charter, the world will always be in the grip of one crisis to the other.

India’s current nuclear war strategy is akin to the senseless policy of Mutually Assured Destruction – or what was more appropriately called the MAD policy – that USA and the Soviet Union (now Russia) have pursued. In fact, Mr. George Fernandes, India’s controversial Defence Minister, told newspersons on 7 January 2003 that: “…if the [Indian] deterrent is not adequate and Pakistan uses the bomb, we will suffer a little but there will be no Pakistan left later” (see ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 8 January 2003). It may be recalled that Mr. Fernandes had made a similar statement just a year back (see ‘The Hindustan Times’, Delhi, 30 December 2001). The shrill rhetoric from the Pakistani side too was almost on the same lines.

Pakistan’s Reaction

Pakistan, which had set up its ‘Nuclear Command Authority’ on 2 February 2000, was never averse to making boastful claims. Pakistan’s President, General Pervez Musharraf, on 13 December 2002 gloated that his country’s armed forces had earned the distinction of “defeating the enemy without fighting a war” in the recent escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan (see ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 14 December 2002). Subsequently, while addressing Air Force veterans in Karachi on 30 December 2002, President Musharraf had reportedly said: “I personally conveyed messages to Prime Minister Vajpayee through every international leader who came to Pakistan that if Indian troops moved a step across the international border or the Line of Control, they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan. I believe my message was effectively conveyed to Mr. Vajpayee” (see ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 31 December 2002). The mass media had immediately interpreted the President’s allusion as holding out a nuclear threat. While the spokesperson of the Pakistan President, Rashid Qureshi, maintained that President Musharraf did not talk about a nuclear war, the clarification later issued by the President himself leaves little doubt about what he had actually meant.

Accusing the media of misinterpreting his remarks on an “unconventional” war with India, the Pakistan President told reporters in Islamabad on 3 January 2003 that: “This is a distortion and I have been misquoted. No one in his right state of mind can talk of a nuclear war.” (So far so good, but what he said subsequently nevertheless betrayed his real intentions.) The President had gone on to add that he was, in fact, at that time talking in the context of Kashmir and had said that if any one tried to cross the Line of Control then there would be a ‘guerrilla warfare’ (see ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 4 January 2003). President Musharraf’s explanation hardly makes any sense since the Indian army, which was ready to confront the regular Pakistani army, could not have been deterred by the threat of guerrilla warfare! Any way the Indian army was already fighting such a war on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Thus, President Musharraf’s claim that he was misquoted is not very convincing.

Indeed, if as President Musharraf says ‘No one in his right state of mind can talk of a nuclear war’, the best way for Pakistan to remove any such misapprehension is by giving an undertaking of No First Use of nuclear weapons. This step can be followed immediately by a No War Pact between the two neighbours in order to prevent outbreak of any war – both ‘conventional’ as well as ‘unconventional’ types, including what is called ‘cross-border terrorism’. However, what is happening today is that the leadership of both the nations is currently indulging in the game of nuclear brinkmanship, which poses a grave threat to the lives of the people of the two countries. Although India has unilaterally given a No First Use pledge, in reality the pledge has become a mere mask behind which feverish preparations are going on for conducting an all out nuclear war (against Pakistan of course). This is apparent in the original DND itself. (According to the “India Abroad” weekly, the Third NSAB has recommended the abandonment of the No-First-Use pledge. This disturbing news appears credible since the CCS has already sought to dilute the pledge.) The fact that Pakistan refuses to follow a NFU policy also creates serious doubts regarding its real intentions.

The only difference in the approach of the two sides is that, on the one hand, the Pakistani leadership practically appears to eulogise hara-kiri by claiming that “the 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might” (see ‘The Week’, Kochi, 6 January, 2002). On the other hand, the Indian side harps on the inevitability of winning the nuclear war despite a “little” suffering in the process (see Mr. Fernandes’ statement of 6 January 2003 quoted above). In terms of numbers “little” would actually mean several million Indian casualties. With hundreds of millions of casualties on both sides what a victory that would be! Thankfully, it appears that the Pakistani side is now trying to tone down the rhetoric.

In response to Mr. Fernandes’ comment that India could absorb a nuclear hit and annihilate Pakistan in return, Pakistan’s information Minister, Mr. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, reportedly said: “We will not initiate nuclear war, and this is our policy” (Associated Press report quoted in ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 9 January 2003). If Mr. Ahmed’s statement is the current stand of the Pakistani Government, it indeed is a very welcome move. In that case Pakistan should have no hesitation in formally adhering to the policy of No First Use, which would be a major step towards reducing nuclear tensions between the two neighbours. A No First Use pledge need not be anything more than an expression of intent. But it would be a major Confidence Building Measure (CBM) that could open up the possibilities of more meaningful preventive measures. The Pakistan President, Gen. Musharaf, has also tried to discount the possibility of an accidental nuclear war from the Pakistani side by claiming that “Missiles and [nuclear] warheads are not permitted together. There is a geographical separation between them” (see ‘The Hindu’, Delhi, 11 January 2003).

A New Twist

In the CCS’ statement, two new elements have been introduced into the No First Use posture. Firstly, in the original DND retaliation would have been in response to “any nuclear attack on India and its forces” (para 2.3b, DND, op cit.) The same has now been modified to mean that nuclear weapons will be used “in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere” (PMO, op cit.). That Indian forces are going to be “anywhere” is certainly a revelation. The Government owes an explanation to the Indian people as to what it means. It certainly cannot mean peacekeeping missions under the aegis of the United Nations, because Indian forces during such missions have not so far been engaged in any peace breaking activities unlike the US forces. There is absolutely no reason why Indian forces, which engages itself in credible peace making activities, should come under a nuclear attack. (But any likely military deployment abroad by India, which is outside the pale of the UN, would be questionable and should not be undertaken in the first place.)

Secondly, unlike the DND, the CCS states that “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons” (ibid.). This is again a very questionable posture. Does this mean that if there is a major chemical disaster for which say a US multinational company (e.g. Union Carbide Corporation in the Bhopal gas leak disaster of December 1984) is culpable, will the Government of India then consider the option of targeting the United States with nuclear weapons? How will discretion be exercised? Effectively, this posture would mean that India is going back on its No-First-Use pledge. When chemical or biological agents are released by firing artillery shells it may not be difficult to identify the aggressor. But the magnitude of the damage that could be inflicted through such a process would be very limited and cannot even theoretically justify a nuclear response. Under other circumstances, identifying the aggressor is going to be quite problematic just as in the case of a nuclear attack. A nuclear response to any situation might be a very convenient belligerent stance but that would only compound the problem and can never bring about any solution. All types of terrorism can be contained ones its global links are severed. What is required is international co-operation in eliminating the menace; there is no other short cut.

In an attempt to tone down the bellicosity, the CCS has reiterated that it would remain committed to: (1) “Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states”; and (2) “A continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests”. That the Government has chosen to standby these commitments is a sign of sobriety. The CCS also re-emphasised India’s “Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament” (ibid.). However, if this laudatory pronouncement was not followed up with concrete action, there is a high propensity that the same would become a mere cover for concealing aggressive nuclear war plans. To assume that the onus of pursuing the goal of global nuclear disarmament is that of someone else is a convenient way of passing the buck and to quietly shy away from taking on the responsibility.

Itching for War

The CCS, which announced the setting up of a Nuclear Command Authority – a two-tier body consisting of a Political Council and an Executive Council – has tried to imply that India is a responsible nuclear weapon power. It has claimed that only the “Political Councilchaired by the Prime Minister” (ibid) [hopefully meaning the elected leadership] of the country can take the dreaded decision to initiate a nuclear strike. But this announcement is hardly reassuring considering the fact that it was an elected government in the United States that took the reprehensible decision to use nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 when an already defeated Japan was on the verge of surrender. While the ultimate decision to use the horrendous weapon may rest with the civilian leadership, the fact is that effective control over nuclear weapons as expected would remain with the military. A Strategic Forces Command has already been set up for the purpose and the CCS has appointed a Commander-in-Chief for the same to manage and administer all strategic forces.

The CCS also indicated that it has “reviewed and approved the arrangements for alternate chains of command for retaliatory nuclear strikes in all eventualities” (ibid.). The way this statement has been formulated underlines the cold and insensitive manner in which the proponents of the nuclear doctrine are treating the issue. That the Prime Minister of the country could get knocked out in the very first nuclear strike is presented as just a matter-of-fact. That millions of Delhiites would perish along with the PM is left unsaid because it is of little consequence. The whole emphasis is on ensuring that there would be a ‘next-in-command’ who would be empowered to give the deadly signal for a retaliatory strike. It is as though the authors of this abhorrent doctrine are hoping that someone (preferably Pakistan) would carry out a nuclear first strike on India so they can retaliate in a manner that would “inflict unacceptable damage” on the aggressor. They are just itching to retaliate because their entire focus is on retaliation and not on initiating concrete steps towards preventing a nuclear war.

The saddest part is that the urgency of preventing a nuclear war has become a non-issue as far as the CCS was concerned. They are content to pay ritualistic lip service to the cause of nuclear disarmament and to do little else. On the contrary, the stress is on “overall preparedness” of the “existing command and control structures, the state of readiness, the targeting strategy for a retaliatory attack, and operating procedures for various stages of alert and launch” (ibid.). Any reference to India’s long held principled stand that ‘the use of nuclear weapons constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and a crime against humanity’ is consciously avoided. In fact the very phrase “to prevent use of nuclear weapons” was completely missing from the entire text of even the original DND! ‘Nuclear war-fighting’ is the strategy that has now captured the imagination of the CCS’.

“Space Force”

Another matter that has caused concern is the proposal put forward inadvertently by the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam. In a speech titled “Vision for the Global Space Community: Prosperous, Happy and Secure Planet Earth” that was delivered at the Space Summit of the 90th Session of the Indian Science Congress at Bangalore on 4 January 2003, Dr. Kalam, spoke of the need for an “International Space Force”. While it is very evident that the President had not referred to the Space Force with any sinister motive, the implications of his suggestion would actually be quite contrary to what he had in mind. Dr. Kalam had correctly recognised “the necessity for the world’s Space community to avoid terrestrial geo-political conflict to be drawn into outer space, thus threatening the space assets belonging to all mankind”. The President had also expressed his eagerness “to protect world space assets in a manner which will enable peaceful use of space on a global co-operative basis without the looming threat of conflict on earth”. But the “International Space Force” that Dr. Kalam wants to establish would itself become the biggest stumbling block in the way of attaining the important objectives that he has highlighted. On the other hand, what was required was not the setting up of a group of “protectors” but the total de-militarisation of space so that all assets could be preserved and shared in a co-operative manner for the benefit of all humankind.

The biggest threat that is looming large today is the concerted attempt of the United States to militarise space in a bid to impose its will over the rest of humanity. Under the circumstances, the danger is that any attempt to create an “International Space Force” may in the end just turn out to be a mere euphemism for a “US Space Force”. The President’s noble vision to enable “peaceful use of space on a global co-operative basis” would then remain only a pipe dream. It is in this context that the President’s suggestion appears alarming. The apprehension seems well justified considering the fact that India has held a two-day official level talks with the United States on the so-called Missile Defence on 15-16 January 2003. These talks were a continuation of two rounds of discussions held in May 2001 and May 2002. It may be recalled that in total contravention of its principled stand against militarisation of space, the Government of India on 2 May 2001 became the first major government to declare tacit support to the “Missile Defence” system propounded by the US Administration. It marked a major break from India’s purported policy of Non-Alignment. The “Missile Defence” system is very much an integral part of the US strategic framework to militarise space through its preposterous “Star War” plans. By opting to play second fiddle to the US in this sinister programme, the Government of India has completely compromised the vital interests of the country. If the grotesque plan ever gets going the mass of humanity will be forced to pay a heavy price.

A Sharp Contrast

The questionable policies that the Government of India is pursuing at home and at a bilateral level is in sharp contrast to the forthright policies it has been upholding in several international fora, especially in the United Nations. India’s Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Mr Rakesh Sood, while speaking at the 57th Session of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on 7 October 2002, had made the following announcement. He stated that the Indian delegation was “bringing before this committee yet again, as it has done since 1982, the resolution calling for a convention to be negotiated for prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances”. Mr.Sood also said that: “India’s resolution entitled “Reducing Nuclear Danger” will be presented to this committee for the fifth consecutive year with the expectation that it will receive wider support and convince those who are still skeptical of the need for early concrete action” .

The UN General Assembly adopted the two above-mentioned resolutions on 22 November 2002 with the support of both India and Pakistan. The resolution for a ‘Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons‘ (A/RES/57/94 ) was passed by 110 to 45 votes with 12 abstentions (with the entire NATO block and its supporters opposing it). While the resolution on ‘Reducing Nuclear Danger’ (A/RES/57/84) was passed by 107 to 46 votes with 17 abstentions. Both India and Pakistan have extended support to yet another important resolution titled “Follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the ‘Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons'”. The UN General Assembly adopted this resolution (A/RES/57/85) also on 22 November 2002 by 161 to 4 votes with 1 abstention. (Those who voted against were France, Israel, Russia and USA, while UK chose to abstain – leaving little doubt that they are the five powers that constitute the biggest stumbling block in way of global nuclear disarmament.) India and Pakistan were also among the group of nations that sponsored and supported the resolution (A/RES/57/57) on “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space”, which was passed in the General Assembly by 159 votes to 0 with 3 abstentions (Israel, Micronesia and USA).

However, it is a little too premature to be euphoric about the support that these resolutions have received. As India’s representative, Mr.Rakesh Sood, has pointed out: “The political will necessary to kick-start the negotiations of long awaited and future oriented disarmament treaties has not been in evidence for yet another year. If we do not get our act together, we are in danger of engaging in activities “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. He further added that: “we need to shake ourselves out of our stupor and take concrete initiatives that address both the issues that have remained with us for long and those that have emerged in the post–11 September 2001 context” (Mr. Sood’s statement, op cit.).

Stem the Drift

It is time that the Government of India itself first took heed of Mr. Sood’s plea. The point is that both India and Pakistan have on the floor of the UN General Assembly unequivocally supported several resolutions in favour of global nuclear disarmament and against the arms race. They both claim:

(1) that they support a convention on prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances;

(2) that they are ready to take all necessary steps to reduce the nuclear danger;

(3) that the only defence against a nuclear catastrophe is the total elimination of nuclear weapons;

(4) that they recognise the need to commence negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified framework of time; and

(5) that they are against an arms race in outer space. Then why is it not possible for the two nations to reiterate the same at a bilateral level on a joint platform? Instead, what is happening is that, outside the four walls of the UN and especially at home, the two neighbours are constantly at loggerheads and rattling their nuclear sabre at each other.

(The rare exception is the ‘Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between India and Pakistan’, which was signed in 1988*. As to why similar agreements cannot be signed bilaterally to prevent a nuclear war or, for that matter, any war between the two is inexplicable.) [*The agreement came into force in 1991. Under the agreement, the two countries are to inform each other on January 1 of every calendar year of the nuclear installations and facilities to be covered by the Agreement. The 12th such exchange took place on 1 January 2003. See ‘TheHindu’, Delhi, 2 January 2003]

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the leaders in both India and Pakistan try to conceal from their peoples as much as possible about their common and often joint activities in the UN for furthering the cause of world peace. Any way it cannot be denied that hardly any publicity is given to these efforts. At home they are more pre-occupied with rabble-rousing and little else. Demonisation of each other caters to the wild passions of the religious right and conflating hatred of the other community with defence of one’s nation is done so as to extract good dividends in domestic politics. By refusing to initiate concrete action on the numerous issues on which they have a common position, the leadership of the two countries are only deceiving their own peoples. Unless the concerned citizens of India and Pakistan rise up to put an end to this mindless drift, a tragic end might not be too far away for a sizeable section of humanity.

N.D. JAYAPRAKASH is a member of the Delhi Science Forum in Saket, New Delhi. He can be reached at:



N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).