Nuclear Politics and South Asia

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S. Iftikhar Murshed*


(Chance or accidental discoveries may have played a part in the development of nuclear weapons yet, had they not occurred, the Manhattan Project would still have been initiated, albeit, at a later date. The inevitable would merely have been postponed. The psychology of strength is consistently evident in the politics of nuclear weapons. The initial years of nuclear weapons technology clearly demonstrated that monopoly of a weapon of mass destruction leads to assertiveness in foreign policy. Its possession by more than one power results in a balance of terror which was the signature tune of the Cold War era. The experience of South Asia has been no different. An invisible Berlin Wall of unresolved disputes, particularly Kashmir, obstructs the establishment of good-neighbourly and cooperative relations between Pakistan and India. The tensions that have marked the equation between the two countries for the last six decades have resulted both in conventional as well as sub-conventional wars. After the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, the continuation of aggressive postures by either country can have disastrous consequences. For this precise reason, there is an urgent need for a strategic restraint regime involving the three interlocking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and ballistic restraint and conventional balance.)

The Initial Phase in West

The possession of nuclear weapons has influenced the manner in which countries interact with each other. This is as true of contemporary South Asia as it was of the bipolar world during the Cold War era. These weapons of mass destruction were introduced by the West and it was there that the nuclear factor became a major determinant of foreign policy. The experience of South Asia has been no different after Pakistan demonstrated its nuclear capability at the end of May 1998 in response to the Indian nuclear tests earlier that month. The contours of nuclear diplomacy emerged in the US-led West at the end of the Second World War and since then the possession of nuclear weapons has not only determined the pattern of interstate negotiations but has also been instrumental in establishing a tenuous global and regional equilibrium based on the fear of total annihilation.

It is said, perhaps wrongly, that the world stumbled across the nuclear bomb by chance. According to physicist Hans Bethe it was only very “slowly and painfully, through a comedy of errors, (that) the fission of uranium was discovered.” Research scholars support this view and explain that chance was instrumental in Enrico Fermi’s discovery in 1934 that the atom’s nucleus is capable of capturing slow neutrons. Fermi’s “seemingly accidental findings” were predicated upon developments that began with “Albert Einstein’s famous 1905 papers and continued with subsequent reports and inventions by scientists such as Leo Szilard (in connection with the cyclotron) and James Chadwick (in connection with the existence of the neutron).”1

These “accidents,” which may have been merely incidental to ongoing research and development, accelerated the advent of the nuclear age with the testing of the world’s first device by the US on 16 July 1945 in the desert north of Alamogordo, New Mexico. On 6

August of that year the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki thereby ending the Second World War. This unleashed a chain of events that was to have permanent and profound political consequences. After the Soviet Union tested its nuclear device four years later, the Cold War began and mutually assured destruction became the dominant theme of the era.

The initial US monopoly of the bomb resulted in political decisions which, under other circumstances, would have been inconceivable. Foremost among these was Washington’s decision to rearm and rebuild its erstwhile enemy, Germany. At Yalta, Roosevelt had unambiguously affirmed that American public opinion would never allow the re- emergence of Germany as a security threat and, furthermore, US troops would have to be brought home from Europe in view of the isolationist pressures that were gathering momentum in Congress. A broad agreement on controlling Germany was sought with the Soviet Union, the other major military power. Roosevelt also favoured the early dismantling of the German military-industrial complex which would result in the twin objectives of ensuring against German resurgence and provide short term reparations to the war-ravaged Soviet economy.

The Yalta agreement envisaged: (a) big power control of Germany; (b) payment of approximately US $ 20 billion (half of which was to go to the Soviet Union) by Germany as reparations; and, (c) a vague declaration on the status of Eastern Europe. After Alamogordo, US policy changed radically. The idea of the neutralization of Germany was abandoned. Washington acted unilaterally to reconstruct the western portion of the country and, later, to integrate it into a West European military alliance. Similarly, the understanding on German reparations was also discarded while little respect was shown for Soviet security concerns in East Europe.

The nuclear monopoly that the United States had acquired induced, in the words of President Harry Truman, “an entirely new feeling of confidence.” Shortly after Hiroshima, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, noted in his diary that Secretary of State James Byrnes “was very much against any attempt to cooperate with Russia. His mind is full of problems with the coming meeting of foreign ministers and he looks to having the presence of the bomb in his pocket, so to speak, as a great weapon to get through the thing.” It is significant that the nuclear tests in June 1946 at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, code-named “Operation

Crossroads,” took place when Byrnes was meeting Vyacheslav Molotov, the foreign minister of the Soviet Union. By 1948, the US had fifty weapons in its nuclear arsenal.

US policy, particularly on the German question, became more assertive and unilateral with the increase in its nuclear stockpile. It was obvious that this would be unacceptable to the Soviets. On 29 August 1949, the USSR conducted its first nuclear test in Kazakhstan. The other powers were not to be left behind. Britain went nuclear in 1952 and France conducted its first test in 1960 in Algeria while China exploded a nuclear device on 16 August 1964 at its Lop Nor site.

Five declared nuclear weapons states had thus come into existence and the possibility of the complete destruction of the world became a persistent nightmare. The Cuban missile crisis of 1961 provided startling evidence that the danger was real. The following year saw nuclear testing at its peak with the United States and the Soviet Union carrying out more than 170 explosions between themselves.

More than two thousand nuclear tests were conducted in the period 1945-1996 as per the following computation:

US          USSR     France  UK          China     India

Atmospheric:     215         219         50           21           23           0

Underground:   815         496         159         24           22           1

Total:     1030       715         209         45           45           1

It is significant that after the peak year for nuclear testing the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was signed. Under this accord, the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain agreed to stop all nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, underwater and, with an eye to the future, in outer space. From that time nuclear tests went underground though France and China continued testing in the atmosphere till 1974 and 1980 respectively.

It took thirty-three years and an end to the Cold War for the world to move on from the Partial Test Ban Treaty to the imperfect Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996. The few and far between steps towards nuclear disarmament in this period include:

(a)  The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was opened for signature on 1 July 1968 in London, Moscow and Washington forbids the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five declared nuclear powers. India, which exploded its device in 1974, was not considered a nuclear power under the NPT. All countries except Pakistan, India and Israel became signatories.

(b) On 3 July 1974 the US and the USSR signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty limiting underground tests to 150 kilo tons which is equivalent to 150,000 tons of high explosives.

(c) On 31 July 1991 the two superpowers signed START 1 which reduced their nuclear arsenals by about one-fifth to between eight and nine thousand weapons.

(d) START II which was signed by the United States and Russia on 3 January 1993 aimed at reducing long-range nuclear arsenals to a maximum of 3,500 warheads each.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Prior to the vote in favour of the CTBT by 158 members of the UN General Assembly on 10 September 1996, France conducted its last nuclear test in the South Pacific in 1995 whereas China exploded its final underground device at Lop Nor, in the remote north-western desert region of Xingjiang on 29 July 1996.       India, along with Bhutan and Libya voted against the CTBT while Syria, Lebanon, Cuba, Mauritania and Tanzania abstained.

The CTBT was signed by the five declared nuclear powers on 25 September 1996. On this occasion, President Clinton said that he had signed the Treaty with the same pen that had been used by President John F. Kennedy for concluding the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The purpose was probably to emphasize the importance of the CTBT but it also served as an unintended reminder that it took more than three uneasy decades for the world to move from a partial to a comprehensive test ban treaty despite its imperfections. However, on 13 October 1999, the US Senate rejected ratification of the CTBT. Subsequently, during his election campaign in 2008, President Barack Obama declared: “As president, I will reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date.”2 This was reiterated more forcefully when Obama visited Prague on 5 April 2009 during which he also committed the United States to “take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” However, the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement which was signed by Condoleeza Rice and Pranab Mukerjee on 10 October 2008 not only implicitly recognizes India as a nuclear weapons state but has also administered a crippling blow to the prospects of strategic restraint regime in South Asia. Furthermore, this was preceded by a similar deal between Paris and New Delhi the previous month. “A world without nuclear weapons” as envisaged by President Obama is, therefore, unlikely.

The CTBT, contrary to what the initials imply, is not a comprehensive treaty – the “Basic Obligation” as defined in Article I of the treaty is restricted to prohibiting nuclear test explosions but not all tests related to nuclear weapons. This left the door open for nuclear weapon states to conduct sub-critical tests to ensure the safety and reliability of their arsenals and to continue research and development for the qualitative improvement of the devices already in their possession. At the Ad Hoc Committee of the Conference on Disarmament where the text of the treaty was painstakingly deliberated upon for more than two years, Pakistan proposed amendments that would have proscribed qualitative improvements of nuclear weapons in accordance with the negotiating mandate of the Committee. However, this was rejected by the nuclear weapons states.

The provisions of the treaty fell short of the expectations of the international community inasmuch as there was an absence of any commitment, either in the operative or the preambular portion of the text, to nuclear disarmament and to the elimination of all nuclear weapons within a time frame. Through the CTBT negotiations India played a waiting game. The hope, quite clearly, was that some other country would block the proposed treaty. It was only in 1996, when it became apparent that the CTBT would be concluded, that India tabled its demand for a “time-bound” programme for nuclear disarmament to justify its rejection of the treaty. No such precondition was stipulated when India co-sponsored the US resolution at the UN General Assembly in 1993 proposing the CTBT negotiations nor did it raise this issue at the Ad Hoc Committee meetings between 1994 and 1995.

During the negotiations, Pakistan, along with several other countries, had repeatedly affirmed that the verification of the CTBT must be accomplished primarily by the International Monitoring System (IMS) and that on-site inspections (OSIs) must be a rare and exceptional occurrence. In this context it was also accepted that IMS information would have primacy over data obtained from National Technical Means in view of the unequal capabilities of states in this respect.  Sufficient safeguards were built into the Treaty against intrusive or abusive on-site inspections, including the requirement of approval for an OSI by 30 of the 51 members of the Executive Council as well as the right of the inspected state to deny access to certain sensitive facilities and buildings etc. The decision-making formula in the Executive Council which was changed from a simple majority to 30 votes ensured that the process would not be dominated and determined by the major powers.

Although the CTBT has not entered into force, a monitoring mechanism is in place. This outfit employs seismology, hydro-acoustics, infrasound and radionuclide methods to monitor the underground, the waters and the atmosphere whenever there is any sign of a nuclear explosion. Despite the reservations of countries such as Pakistan, on- site inspections will be provided for after the treaty comes into force. Currently the monitoring network consists of 337 facilities located worldwide. By September 2009, 250 of such facilities had been certified. The information collected by these stations is processed and analysed at the international data centre of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization and then sent to countries that have signed the Treaty.3

The “Entry into Force” provisions under Article XIV require the treaty to be signed and ratified by the 44 “Annex 2 states” i.e., states that had participated in the CTBT negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time.4 This was to include the five nuclear powers and the three threshold states, i.e., Pakistan, India and Israel.  It was Pakistan that had insisted on the inclusion of this clause on the ground that the treaty’s effectiveness depended on its simultaneous acceptance by the nuclear capable states. This was staunchly resisted by India at the time of the negotiations. As of November 2009, 151 states ratified the CTBT while an additional 31 countries, including nine of the Annex 2 states, have signed the treaty but are yet to ratify it. 5  India, Pakistan and North Korea are not signatories.

Chance  or  accidental  discoveries  may  have  played  a  part  in the development of nuclear weapons yet, had they not occurred, the Manhattan Project would still have been initiated, albeit, at a later date. The inevitable would merely have been postponed.

The psychology of strength is consistently evident in the politics of nuclear weapons. The initial years of nuclear weapons technology clearly demonstrated that monopoly of a weapon of mass destruction leads to assertiveness in foreign policy. Its possession by more than one power results in a balance of terror which was the signature tune of the Cold War era.

The Nuclear Issue and South Asia

There has never been any ambiguity in India’s objectives of developing a nuclear weapons capability. When the Indian Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru expressed the view that “every country would have to develop and use the latest scientific device for its protection.” This was echoed by Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha (1909-1966), the father of India’s nuclear industry, when he said that it was imperative for his country to pursue a “dual capacity” research and development programme. Subsequent events would show that these initial pronouncements were based on a well considered political decision to acquire nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s stance on nuclear weapons, unlike that of India, has not been consistent. From 1947 to 1970 it had fought two wars with its more powerful neighbour and these resulted in stalemates. This gave Pakistan the confidence that despite India’s military prowess, it would be able to acquit itself well in the event of a future conflict. In that period, Pakistan did not seriously entertain any ambition of acquiring nuclear weapons and the few non-proliferation initiatives that it took were sincere. However this was to change after its conclusive defeat in the 1971 war with India which resulted in the dismemberment of the country and the creation of Bangladesh. It was then that Pakistan realized that it had no other option but to pursue a nuclear weapons programme as only the possession of such a device would neutralize India’s conventional military superiority.

From 1971 till 28 May 1998 when Pakistan demonstrated its weapons capability, in response to India’s nuclear tests earlier that month, it sought to capture the high moral ground, while pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons development programme, by proffering several regional non-proliferation proposals which it knew New Delhi would reject. India’s approach was far less subtle and was predicated on the unattainable demand of total global nuclear disarmament. It made the usual noises about its commitment to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction but did little to hide its nuclear ambitions.

All this was known to the international community which did not seriously discourage India from pursuing its research and development efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal. For instance, no safeguards were required for the research reactor CIRRUS that was supplied by Canada. In addition, Canada also assisted India with a heavy water plant, a nuclear fuel complex and two large reactors in Rajasthan. For its part, the United States provided 21 tons of heavy water without safeguards, two light water reactors were financed through US AID and thirteen hundred scientists were trained by the Americans. Washington also helped India to build a reprocessing facility in Trombay and provided training to 24 specialists for this purpose. Expertise and technological know-how for the extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel were provided by France.

On 7 September 1972, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave verbal authorization to the scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Centre to assemble the nuclear device they had designed for testing.6  Throughout its development phase the device was usually referred to as the Smiling Buddha and it was tested at Pokhran on 18 May 1974 coinciding with the Buddha Jayanti festival in India marking the birth of Gautama Buddha.7

This was the first confirmed nuclear test by a country outside the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

India described the detonation of its nuclear device as a “peaceful explosion.”The reaction of the international community, even by the most fervent proponents of non-proliferation, was astonishingly muted and the French Atomic Energy Agency actually sent its felicitations. No sanctions were imposed and no preconditions linking aid to nuclear restraint were put forward. On the contrary, a month after the Pokhran test, India was rewarded by the Western donors’ consortium with a 200 million-dollar increase in development assistance.

In contrast, it was Islamabad that was singled out for punitive measures. In 1972, an IAEA study had recommended that Pakistan should meet its energy shortfall through nuclear power. Twenty reactors and a complete fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing, were envisaged. That year Canada supplied the KANNUP reactor to Pakistan under safeguards. However, after the Indian nuclear test, the Canadians halted fuel supplies for KANUPP, retracted from their commitment to provide a fuel fabrication plant and then unilaterally ended all nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. Subsequently, France also reneged on a 1979 agreement with Pakistan for the sale of a reprocessing plant under IAEA safeguards.

The US Congress enacted stringent non-proliferation laws in this period which impacted mainly on Pakistan as it pursued its clandestine nuclear weapons development programme. The Symington Amendment of 1976 which was modified by the Glen Amendment the following year made it mandatory for the US administration to terminate economic and military assistance to any country which acquired or provided enrichment facilities, materials or technology after 1976 without full- scope safeguards. Thus, India, which had already obtained all the technology it required for pursuing a nuclear weapons programme was automatically exempted from the sanctions prescribed under this law.

The country-specific Pressler Amendment was adopted in 1987 under which American assistance and military sales to Pakistan were prohibited unless the US president certified annually that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device.

Analysts in Pakistan believe that the international community was strangely wayward in its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. They are of the view that a distinct historical pattern is apparent suggesting a conscious decision to provide material and technical assistance for India’s nuclear programme. Similarly, at the multilateral plain, there was an eagerness to accommodate India’s views on non-proliferation. Though Pakistan supported Ireland’s 1957 proposal for a Non-Proliferation Treaty, it was India, not Pakistan, which was represented in the eighteen- nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva. It was here that India put its full weight behind the Soviet demand to legitimize peaceful nuclear explosions. This was accepted by the NPT’s sponsors and, subsequently, provided India with a tailor-made excuse for its 1974 nuclear test.

At the time of the establishment of the IAEA, Pakistan proposed that all civil nuclear activities should be under international inspection. In 1965 it wrote to the co-chairmen of the Geneva conference on disarmament documenting Indian preparations for a nuclear explosion. This warning fell on deaf ears. The representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union did not even accept Pakistan’s note. Similarly, Canada ignored the information provided by Pakistan in 1967 detailing Indian efforts aimed at carrying out a nuclear test by diverting plutonium from  the  CIRRUS  reactor.  Subsequently,  a  step-by-step  narration was given by the Pakistan delegation to the UN General Assembly. However, the world chose to ignore these warnings either because of genuine scepticism or because of a deliberate, well-thought-out policy of encouraging India in its nuclear ambitions.

Despite its reservations, Pakistan voted for the adoption of the NPT in 1968 at the UN General Assembly. It made clear its willingness to accede to the Treaty on condition that the nuclear-weapons-states provide adequate security guarantees to the non-nuclear states and persuade the threshold nuclear powers, including India, to accept the Treaty. In pursuance of this objective, Pakistan convened the Non-Nuclear Weapon States Conference at Geneva in 1968. The meeting was derailed by the US and the USSR.

When the KANNUP reactor was being inaugurated in 1972, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto proposed the creation of a nuclear weapon free zone in South Asia. The proposal, which it was obvious would be unacceptable to New Delhi, was revived after the Indian nuclear explosion in 1974 and was repeatedly adopted by the UN General Assembly.

A number of other proposals, aimed at achieving an equitable non- proliferation regime in South Asia, also emanated from Islamabad. These included: (a) a joint Pakistan-India declaration renouncing the acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons (1978); (b) mutual Pakistan-India inspection of each other’s nuclear facilities (1979); (c) simultaneous Pakistan-India adherence to the NPT (1979); (d) acceptance by the two countries of full-scope IAEA safeguards; (e) a bilateral or regional test ban treaty (1987); and (f) the creation of a zero missile zone in South Asia (1994). These initiatives, which Pakistan knew would be rejected by India, provided it a smokescreen to pursue its own nuclear weapons development programme.

These proposals did not elicit the least support from the major powers probably because of their suspicions about Islamabad’s nuclear ambitions. It was only after 1988, when it became apparent that Pakistan had acquired a nuclear capability, that Washington endorsed a regional approach towards non-proliferation in South Asia. Even then sanctions under the Pressler Amendment were imposed on Pakistan in 1990 but this did not deter Islamabad from persevering with its pursuit of nuclear weapons while New Delhi continued with its own nuclear and missile development programmes. The objective of promoting non- proliferation in South Asia was thus defeated. US Defence Secretary William Perry conceded that Pressler was a “blunt instrument” and an impediment to Pakistan-US relations and, in the final analysis, to non- proliferation prospects in South Asia. It was revised, to an extent, by the Brown Amendment which removed form the Pressler law non-military assistance, restored the provision of International Military Education Training (IMET) and allowed a one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment for the release of embargoed military equipment worth approximately US $ 368 million. This however did not apply to the 28 F-16s purchased by Pakistan but, in all fairness, President Clinton promised to take measures for the refund of the money to Islamabad. The Brown Amendment was signed into law by the US president in January 1996.

The realization that Pakistan had attained nuclear capability resulted in its being taken more seriously. Despite the sanctions under the Pressler law, there was a progressive de-escalation of the nuclear-related demands on Pakistan. For instance:(a) In 1991-93, the US asked for a “roll back” of Pakistan’s nuclear programme; (b) in 1993-95, it gave this up and instead proposed a unilateral “verified freeze” in exchange for delivery of Pakistan’s embargoed military equipment; (c) in 1995, the US gave up the “freeze” proposal and, instead, pressed Pakistan to accept the early conclusion of the a multilateral Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Subsequently there was a shift from discriminatory bilateral pressures to the adoption of multilateral and non-discriminatory measures; and (d) in 1996 the Brown Amendment was finally adopted.

India and Pakistan were equally duplicitous in their nuclear weapons research and development programmes. The former, despite the Pokhran test of 1974, unconvincingly called for comprehensive nuclear disarmament while further developing its weapons programme; the latter repeatedly proposed a number of measures built around the unattainable goal of a nuclear-free South Asia while stealthily pursuing its quest for the bomb. Despite their declaratory policies, neither New Delhi nor Islamabad was committed to either disarmament or non-proliferation. India’s nuclear programme was not merely for reasons of security but was also motivated by its yearning to acquire the status of a major power. After its bitter experience in 1971, Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions were security-driven and were spurred by the conventional military imbalance in South Asia that was weighted heavily in favour of India. Though Islamabad had acquired a nuclear weapons capability by the end of the 1980s, like Israel, it pursued a policy of ambiguity leaving it for the international community to guess whether or not it had the bomb. This was to change after May 1998.

India shocked the world by conducting nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998 but even then it did not abandon its declaratory stance of abhorring weapons of mass destruction. It unconvincingly reiterated that it remained committed to nuclear disarmament and maintained that it had been compelled to carry out the tests because of threats to its security. Despite this, it did not conceal its desire for recognition as a nuclear power. Thus in his address to the Lok Sabha on 27 May 1998

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated:

“… In 1947, when India emerged as a free country to take its rightful place in the comity of nations, the nuclear age had already dawned. Our leaders then took the crucial decision to opt for self-reliance, and freedom of thought and action. We rejected the Cold War paradigm and chose the more difficult path of non-alignment. Our leaders also realized that a nuclear- weapon-free-world would enhance not only India’s security but also the security of all nations. That is why disarmament was and continues to be a major plank in our foreign policy.

“During the 50’s India took the lead in calling for an end to all nuclear weapon testing. Addressing the Lok Sabha on 2 April, 1954, Pt. Jawaharlal, to whose memory we pay homage today, stated ‘nuclear, chemical and biological energy and power should not be used to forge weapons of mass destruction’. He called for negotiations for prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and in the interim, a standstill agreement to halt nuclear testing. This call was not heeded.

“In 1965, along with a small group of non-aligned countries, India put forward the idea of an international non-proliferation agreement under which the nuclear-weapon States would agree to give up their arsenals provided other countries refrained from developing or acquiring such weapons. This balance of rights and obligations was not accepted. In the 60’s our security concerns deepened. The country sought security guarantees but the countries we turned to were unable to extend to us the expected assurances. As a result, we made it clear that we would not be able to sign the NPT.

“The Lok Sabha debated the issue on 5 April, 1968. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assured the House that ‘we shall be guided entirely by our self-enlightenment and the considerations of national security’. This was a turning point and this House strengthened the decision of the then Government by reflecting a national consensus.

“Our decision not to sign the NPT was in keeping with our basic objectives. In 1974, we demonstrated our nuclear capability. Successive Governments thereafter have taken all necessary steps in keeping with that resolve and national will, to safeguard India’s nuclear option. This was the primary reason behind the 1996 decision for not signing the CTBT, a decision that also enjoyed consensus of this House…

“India is now a nuclear-weapon State. This is a reality that cannot be denied. It is not a conferment that we seek; nor is it a status for others to grant. It is an endowment to the nation by our scientists and engineers. It is India’s due, the right of one- sixth of human-kind. Our strengthened capability adds to our sense of responsibility. We do not intend to use these weapons for aggression or for mounting threats against any country; these are weapons of self-defence, to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion. We do not intend to engage in an arms race.

“Our nuclear policy has been marked by restraint and openness. We have not violated any international agreement either in 1974 or now, in 1998. The restraint exercised for 24 years, after having demonstrated our capability in 1974, is in itself a unique example. Restraint, however, has to arise from strength. It cannot be based upon indecision or doubt. The series of tests recently undertaken by India have led to the removal of doubts. The action involved was balanced in that it was the minimum necessary to maintain what is an irreducible component of our national security calculus…’” 8

Vajpayee’s solemn pledge before the lower house of the Indian parliament that India would not use its nuclear weapons for aggression “or for mounting threats against any country” could not have been intended to be taken seriously. Newspapers after the tests at Pokhran carried banner headlines highlighting the provocative statements and threats made by the Indian leadership against Pakistan. Islamabad was told that the strategic balance had changed and that India would teach Pakistan a lesson. On the night between 27 and 28 May, there were credible intelligence reports that India had planned pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities and this left Islamabad with no option but to demonstrate its nuclear capability on 28 and 30 May after which the threats from New Delhi came to an abrupt end.

Consequent to the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, the Conference on Disarmament convened its first ever special session on 2 June 1998. The Pakistan representative identified avoidance of conflict and the easing of current tensions, South Asian nuclear stabilization, rectifying the conventional military imbalance between India and Pakistan; and a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute as the four aspects of the South Asian crisis that needed to be addressed by the international community.9

All this, of course, fell on deaf ears and Pakistan-India tensions have continued to bedevil the South Asian security environment. As in the West during the Cold War era, the nuclear factor was to dominate issues of peace and security in South Asia. After May 1998, the nuclear postures adopted respectively by Pakistan and India became the main determinant of the manner in which the several militarized crises between the two countries would unfold.

The Nuclear Postures of Pakistan and India

In  March  2009,  Gen.  Shankar  Roychowdhry,  a  former  Indian Army Chief of Staff, conceded that Islamabad’s threat of nuclear use had deterred India from undertaking conventional military strikes against Pakistan.10 According to Vipin Narang, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University and a research fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, India’s nuclear weapons failed to deter Pakistan’s sub-conventional attacks in Mumbai and Delhi as well as its “conventional aggression” in the Kargil conflict in 1999.11

Narang identifies three regional nuclear postures, namely, (i) catalytic; (ii) assured retaliation, and; (iii) asymmetric escalation. India has adhered to an assured retaliation posture whereas Pakistan moved from a catalytic posture in the early years of its nuclear weapons program to asymmetric escalation after the May 1998 nuclear tests by the two countries.

Analyses of the militarized crises between Pakistan and India since 1986 demonstrate that the asymmetric escalation posture which is built around the first use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional attack has been “deterrent optimal” for Pakistan and has dissuaded India from crossing the international border on a number of occasions. In fact because of the widening conventional military imbalance in favour of India, Pakistan currently has no other option but to adopt a credible first use posture.


A catalytic posture is based on an ambiguous nuclear capability and is directed at “catalyzing” third party intervention in the form of diplomatic or military assistance in the event of a possible attack by neighbouring countries. If such assistance is not forthcoming then the state employing a catalytic posture threatens to discard the ambiguity surrounding its nuclear capability and unsheathe its weapons thereby escalating the conflict.12 at the adversary but at a third party in order to trigger its intervention. As an example, Narang cites the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel put into effect its catalytic nuclear posture. Three days into the war at a time when Egyptian and Syrian forces threatened Israel’s survival, the latter carried out operational checks of its delivery vehicles discernible only to US intelligence to signal that it was seriously contemplating using its nuclear weapons. The purpose was to prompt the urgent supply by the US of conventional state-of-the-art weapons to Israel to deal with the threat and also to pressure the Soviet Union to restrain Egypt and Syria.13 What is important in this illustration, if accurate, is that Israel directed its signal not at Egypt or Syria but at the United States. It is also instructive that Israel’s nuclear capability did not deter the Egyptian and Syrian attack and its rapid intensification. The catalytic posture was also employed by South Africa in the 1980s.14


The assured retaliation posture is founded on a second strike capability and is aimed at deterring nuclear attack or even the threat of such attack. It entails moving up the spectrum of nuclear capabilities as well as deployment procedures. Central to this posture is the development of a survivable second strike capability that can hit the adversary’s strategic facilities. India and China have adopted the assured retaliation posture.


The focus of the asymmetric escalation posture is the certainty of rapid (and asymmetric) first use of nuclear weapons against conventional military attacks in order to deter the adversary from such aggression. This obviously entails making nuclear weapons operational and usable at short notice. The credibility of such a posture, built as it is around the first use of nuclear weapons, necessitates transparent capabilities, deployment patterns and conditions of use.

This posture is adopted by countries that encounter serious security threats from proximate adversaries that possess superior nuclear and conventional capabilities. Under such circumstances, the first use of nuclear weapons becomes the only option available. In his well-researched article titled “Posturing for Peace?   Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” Narang gives the example of Cold War Europe where NATO and French forces were pitted against a conventionally superior and nuclear-armed Soviet Union. They accordingly adopted an asymmetric escalation posture that threatened the first use of nuclear weapons against Soviet military incursions into Western Europe.15

Though the intensity of  the asymmetric escalation posture can vary from massive retaliation to flexible response, its core ingredient is a credible threat of first use of nuclear weapons against conventional aggression in order to deter such an eventuality.

The South Asian Experience

When India first tested a nuclear device in 1974, it had a rudimentary aircraft-deliverable strike  capability. It was  under  Rajiv  Gandhi in the 1980s that it made significant advances on weapons designs and developed nuclear-capable missile systems after which it adopted an assured retaliation posture.

Analysts believe that the “core aim of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is to prevent a repetition of 1971…to deter an Indian attack that might reduce Pakistan’s size even further, or perhaps even put the country out of existence entirely.”16 After the debacle of 1971 Pakistan is said to have embarked on a nuclear weapons development program. By the end of 1987, the US assessment was that “Pakistan had produced enough fissionable weapons-grade uranium for four to six bombs.”17  Thus by the mid to the late 1980s both Pakistan and India were de facto nuclear weapons states although Islamabad had yet to carry out any tests. This marked the commencement of the South Asian nuclear period and, since then, all three nuclear postures have been adopted in the region. While India has been consistent with its assured retaliation posture, Pakistan switched from a catalytic posture to asymmetric escalation after May 1998 when it discarded its policy of ambiguity and demonstrated its nuclear capability in response to the Indian tests. This entailed the full directly deter Indian conventional attacks.

In January 2002, the director general of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, Lt. Gen (r) Khalid Kidwai, is reported to have stated that the country’s “nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India. In case that deterrence fails, they will be used if: (a) India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory; (b) India destroys a large part of either its land or air forces; (c) India proceeds to the economic strangulation of Pakistan; or (d) India pushes Pakistan into political destabilization or creates large scale internal subversion in Pakistan.”18

The asymmetric escalation posture has been effective in deterring Indian attacks against Pakistan in: (a) the Kargil war; (b) Operation Parakram which was launched after the 13 December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, and; (c) the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

During the Kargil war, according to Lt. Gen. (r) V.K.Sood and Pravin Sawhney, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was “known to have seriously considered a Pakistani nuclear strike had India escalated the war.”19  India’s Chief of Army Staff at that time, Gen. Ved Malik, also admitted that Pakistan’s nuclear posture compelled New Delhi to “rule out full-scale conventional war.”20  In “Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia,” P.R. Chari, Pervez Iqbal Cheema and  Stephen Cohen agree that  the  BJP government was firm about “not enlarging the theatre of operations beyond the Kargil sector or attacking Pakistani forces, staging posts, and lines of communications across the LoC, despite the fact that this defied military logic and entailed acceptance of heavier casualties. India’s air force had strict orders to avoid attacking targets in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. This restraint was in marked contrast to India’s response in the 1965 and 1971 conflicts, when nuclear weapons had not entered the equation and it had not displayed any inhibitions in invading Pakistan.”21

Operation Parakram, which was launched on 18 December 2001, involved some 800,000 troops and is said to have been the largest Indian  mobilization  since  1971.  Infantry  and  mountain  divisions were positioned along the LoC while India’s three strike corps were moved from Malthura, Ambala and Bhopal22  and deployed along the Thar Desert in Rajasthan in order to launch a massive attack against Pakistan. This took several weeks and gave Islamabad the time to also mobilize its forces. Subsequently tensions abated somewhat only to flare up again after a mujahideen attack in May 2002 at Kaluchak in Jammu. India, which had not withdrawn its strike corps from the border, seemed resolved, yet again, to move deep into Sind in line with the so- called Sundarji doctrine espoused by New Delhi from 1981 to 2004.23

This doctrine, named after Gen. Krishnaswamy Sundarrajan, was based on administering Pakistan a devastating blow in response to attacks by Pakistan-based jihadi groups.24  Islamabad responded by threatening to use its nuclear weapons and Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, declared “If Pakistan is being destroyed through conventional means, we will destroy them by using the nuclear option.”25 Subsequently the Parakram Operation was terminated and the strike corps were withdrawn from the border. The opinion of Indian analysts was that this operation “ended as an ignominious retreat after having failed to secure even its minimum objectives.”26 Lt. Gen. Sood conceded that had India “crossed the international border and severed Punjab and Sind with its conventional forces…Pakistan would use nuclear weapons in that scenario.”27

After the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, the war hysteria among segments of Indian society became progressively ascendant and this triggered similar saber-rattling in Pakistan. However, the leadership in both countries were able to defuse, albeit gradually, the inflamed public outcry. The Congress-led government in India was convinced that a conventional military attack against Pakistan was not an option as that could have escalated the conflict to the nuclear level and this was also admitted by the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen Shankar Roychowdhry: “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons deterred India from attacking that country after the Mumbai strikes…(and) it was due to Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons that India stopped short of a military retaliation following the attack on Parliament in 2001.”28 escalation posture adopted by Islamabad since 1998 has been effective in deterring India from launching conventional military strikes against Pakistan. On 22 November 2008, President Asif Ali Zardari took the world and, more so Pakistan, by storm when, during a videoconference organized by The Hindustan Times, he told his Indian audience that Pakistan would “certainly not” be the first to use nuclear weapons. He then quoted his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as saying that “there was a bit of Indian in every Pakistani and a bit of Pakistani in every Indian,” and added “I don’t feel threatened by India and India shouldn’t feel threatened by us.”29  The initial reaction of Indian strategic analysts was to cautiously welcome the president’s remarks. For instance, one such scholar, C. Uday Bhaskar, was remarkably accurate in his assessment that: “It is quite a breakthrough, but we have to wait till tomorrow to see how the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi responds to Mr. Zardari’s political initiative.”30 Nothing was to change as far as Pakistan’s nuclear posture was concerned and President Zardari’s comments generated the perception that he could not be taken seriously. However, on 25 December 2008 i.e., more than a month after the videoconference, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Choudhry Ahmad Mukhtar told reporters in Gujrat that the president had meant every word of what he had said and no one could make Zardari change his mind.31

Four days after President Zardari’s categorical pronouncements on the no first-use of nuclear weapons, the Mumbai attacks took place and the Congress leadership, as noted earlier, ruled out a conventional military attack against Pakistan for fear that a conflict could spiral to the nuclear level because of Pakistan’s asymmetric escalation posture. Since Mumbai, Pakistan-India relations have been marked by tensions. This was more than evident during the first post-Mumbai top level contact between the two countries when President Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on 16 June 2009. In his opening remarks, Manmohan Singh declared before the media that his mandate was confined only to discussing what Pakistan had done to stop terrorist attacks against India emanating from its soil.32Later the

Indian Prime Minister told reporters he had not realized that the media was still present in the room and that he had not meant to hurt President Zardari.

Four weeks later, when the prime ministers of the two countries met at the fringes of the NAM Summit in Sharm El Sheikh on 17 July 2009 they agreed “that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.” 33This demonstrated statesmanship and courage on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but unfortunately it triggered a severe backlash from nationalists amid accusations of weak-kneed capitulation to Pakistan. The Indian prime minister was vehemently criticized in parliament and New Delhi reverted to its position that a resumption of dialogue between the two countries was contingent to Pakistan bringing the alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. The 25 February 2010 talks in New Delhi between the foreign secretaries of the two countries achieved little as India insisted on a one- point terrorism-related agenda while Pakistan wanted a comprehensive discussion of all outstanding issues. The two delegations therefore talked at rather than with each other.

In the absence of a regular structured dialogue between the two countries and the consequent building of mutual trust and confidence, another terrorist incident in India could instigate a conventional strike against Pakistan. Such an eventuality is a possibility and cannot be brushed under the rug because of the dangers inherent in India’s current military doctrine.

After the Operation Parakram fiasco of 2002, the Sundarji doctrine was discarded and in April 2004 the Indian army announced the Pakistan- specific Cold Start doctrine. This envisages quick mobilization, rapid strikes against Pakistan, and shallow incursions “50-80 kilometers deep that could be used in post-conflict negotiations to extract concessions from Islamabad”34 (as opposed to the Sundarji doctrine of cutting Pakistan in half). What has not been factored in the Cold Start concept is that, Islamabad would be left with no option, because of the conventional imbalance, other than to respond with a nuclear first-strike.

Walter C. Ladwig III, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford University’s Merton College, writes: “The Cold Start doctrine requires reorganizing the Indian army’s offensive power away from the three strike corps of the Sundarji doctrine into eight smaller division-sized integrated battle groups that combine mechanized infantry, artillery and armor…The eight battle groups would be prepared to launch multiple strikes into Pakistan along different axes of advance.”35Since the announcement of the Cold Start doctrine in 2004, five exercises of varying sizes have been held to test the concept. These are: (i) Divya Astra (Divine Weapon) in March 2004; (ii) Vajra Shakti (Thunder Power) in May 2005; (iii) Desert Strike, the largest since the 1985 Brass Tacks exercise, was held six months after Vajra Shakti; (iv) Sanghe Shakti (Joint Power) in May 2006 was the largest Cold Start exercise. Ominously instead of the usual “red” and “blue” land, the two sides were posited as Pakistan and India, and; (v) Ashwamdeh (Horse Sacrifice referring to an ancient ritual of Hindu kings to assert their superiority over neighbouring kingdoms) in April-May 2007. 36

Cold Start has been described as a “limited war doctrine” and the absurdity of this claim becomes immediately obvious because of the certainty of a nuclear first strike by Pakistan should Indian forces cross the international border and occupy even a small part of its territory. Furthermore, the presumption that hostilities will end after Indian conventional forces have made shallow incursions into Pakistan is wishful thinking. In this event the conflict will not end and the areas occupied by Indian troops will not be available to New Delhi as a bargaining chip to negotiate with Islamabad. Military doctrines based on invasion and occupation of territory that make have been feasible before the nuclearization of South Asia are now anachronisms and no longer relevant. War, no matter how brief, is not an option available to either Pakistan or India because of the probability of such conflicts escalating to the nuclear level.

The disastrous consequences of a Pakistan-India conflict seem to have been lost on hardliners in both countries and, in particular, the Indian military leadership. General Deepak Kapoor, who retired as the army chief on 31 March 2010, “identified five thrust areas for the Indian military build-up: the ability to fight a two-front war against Pakistan and China; optimize capacity to counter asymmetric and sub- conventional threats; enhance capabilities for strategic reach and out- of-area operations from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits; acquire strategic (intercontinental) and space-based capabilities and ballistic missile defences, and ensure a technical edge over adversaries (that is, Pakistan and China)…But the greatest danger for Pakistan emanates from the concept   of the so-called ‘Cold Start’ strategy, propounded by General Kapoor, to mobilize and strike fast (within 96 hours) at Pakistan ‘under a WMD overhang.’”37More than 70 percent of India’s military capabilities are deployed against Pakistan. Kapoor’s statement was discussed at a meeting in Islamabad on 13 January 2010 of the National Command Authority which “took serious note of recent Indian statements about its capability to conduct conventional military strikes under a nuclear umbrella” and these were described as being “oblivious to the dangerous implications of adventurism in a nuclearized context.”38

An invisible Berlin Wall of unresolved disputes, particularly Kashmir, obstructs the establishment of good-neighbourly and cooperative relations between Pakistan and India. The tensions that have marked the equation between the two countries in the last six decades have resulted in conventional as well as sub-conventional wars. After the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, the continuation of aggressive postures by either country can have disastrous consequences. For this precise reason, there is an urgent need for “a strategic restraint regime involving the three interlocking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and ballistic restraint and conventional balance.”39 The wisdom of keeping the recently resumed Pakistan-India talks on track is self- evident.


1     “The Centrality of the Bomb;” Gar Alperovitz and Kai Bird; Foreign Policy, Spring 1994.

2     “Nuclear Testing is an Acceptable Risk for Arms Control;” Scientific American March 2009.

3     dagostinovists-the-ctbto/

4             “CTBTO Preparatory Commission.” CTBTO Press Centre.

5              Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (2010). “Status of Signature and Ratification.” Accessed on 21 February 2010.

6              Wikipedia, “Smiling Buddha.”

7              Ibid.

8              Quoted by Ambassador Savitri Kunadi at the Special Session of the Conference on Disarmament on 2 June 1998 for discussion the South Asian nuclear crisis.

9              Statement by Ambassador Munir Akram at the Conference on Disarmament on 2 June 1998.

10   “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Deterred India,” Hindu, 10 March 2009.

11   “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” Vipin Narang.

12   This term was used to describe South Africa’s nuclear posture. See Terrence McNamee, “The Afrikaner Bomb: Nuclear Proliferation and Rollback in South Africa,” in Avner Cohen and McNamee, Why do States Want Nuclear Weapons? The Cases of Israel and South Africa. (Oslo: Norwegian Institue of Defence Studies, 2005, p.14)

13  Avner Cohen, “The Last Nuclear Moment,” The New York Times, 3 October 2003; Hermann Eilts quoted by Janice G. Stein, “The Failure of Deterrence and Intelligence,” transcript of round table discussion, reprinted in Richar B. Parker, ed. The October War: A Retrospect, Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2001, p.121, and Avner Cohen, “Nuclear Arms in Crisis under Secrecy: Israel and the Lessons of the 1967 and 1973 Wars,” in Peter R. Lavoy, Scott D. Sagan, and James J. Wirtz, eds. Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000, p.118.

14   Peter Liberman, “The Rise and Fall of the South African Bomb,” International Security, Vol. 26, No. 2, Fall 2001, pp.45-86.

15   See, for example, David S. Yost, “France’s Deterrent Posture and Security in Europe.” Part I “Capabilities and Doctrine,” Adelphi Papers, No. 194, London, International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1984/1985.

16   Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2005, p.123.

17   Hendrick Smith, “A Bomb Ticks in Pakistan,” New York Times Magazine, 6 March 1988.

18   Quoted in Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Maurizio Martellini, “Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Stability, and Nuclear Strategy in Pakistan: A Concise Report of a visit by Landau Network Centro Volto,” 14 January 2002 11/pakistan-nuclear. htm.

19   V.K.Sood and Pravin Sawhney, Operation Parakram: An Unfinished War, Delhi, Sage, 2003, pp. 70-71.

20   Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in Nuclear South Asia,” p.79, and Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” p.147.

21   P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia; Washington D.C. Brookings Institution Press, 2007, 137.

22   “A Cold Start for Hot Wars,” Walter C. Ladwig III, International Security, Vol. 32, No.33, Winter 2007/2008 pp. 158-190

23   Pakistani Air Comdr. Tariq M. Ashraf termed the conventional military strategy pursued by India from 1981 to 2004, the Sundarji doctrine (after Gen. Krishnaswamy Sundarrajan in “Doctrinal Reawakening of the Indian Armed Forces,” Military Review, Vol. 84 No. 6, November-December 2004, p.54. Gen Sundarrajan’s overhaul of the Indian Army’s conventional doctrine in the 1980s is mentioned in Amit Gupta, “Determining India’s Force Structure and Military Doctrine: I Want My MiG,” Asian Survey, Vol. 35 No. 5, May 1995, pp.449-450.

24   Walter C. Ladwig III, “A Cold Start for Hot Wars.”

25   “Pak Will Not Hesitate to Use Nuke against India,” Press Trust of India, 22 May 2002.

26   Praveen Swami, “Beating the Retreat,” Frontline, Vol. 19 No. 22, 26 October 2002.

27   Quoted in S. Paul Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia, Stanford Calif. Stanford University Press, 2007, p.138.

28   “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Deterred India,” Hindu, 10 March 2009.

29   Dawn, Karachi, 23 November 2008, report from New Delhi by Jawed Naqvi.

30   Ibid.

31   Zee TV, news file 26 December 2008.

32   The Hindu, report by Nirupama Subramanian from Islamabad, 19 June 2009.

33   Joint Statement on the conclusion of the meeting the meeting between the prime ministers of Pakistan and India at Sharm El Sheikh on 17 July 2009.

34   Walter C. Ladwig III, “A Cold Start for Hot Wars (The Indian Army’s New Limited War Doctrine),” International Security, Vol. 32  No. 3, Winter 2007/08, pp.158-190.

35   Ibid.

36   Ibid.

37   Muneer Akram, “Meeting India’s military challenge,” The News, Lahore, 28 January 2010.

38   Quoted by Muneer Akarm in “Meeting India’s military challenge.”

39   Shamshad Ahmad, “This melon is not yet ripe,” The News, Lahore, 27 January 2010.