India’s Credible Minimum Nuclear Deterrence
India in the last few weeks has been witnessing an active debate on the credibility of its nuclear deterrent following the disclosures by one of its nuclear scientists Mr. Santhanam that at the Pokharan tests in 1998 the thermonuclear tests recorded a low yield than what was officially claimed at that time. In other words the Indian thermonuclear test then turned out to be a ‘fizzle’. At a time when India’s security environment stands embattled by her two nuclear adversaries, China and Pakistan, these assertions cannot be allowed to be ending in an unseemly debate of two warring sides with opposite views on the success of the thermonuclear tests. The credibility of India’s nuclear deterrence has been called into question and it requires a careful examination including a fresh thermonuclear test.
In the debate that followed two warring sides emerged. One was the then official establishment and nuclear scientists with then India’s National Security Adviser Mr. Brajesh Mishra rubbishing the claim by Mr. Santhanam. Supporting Mr. Santhanam’s assertions were a number of former Atomic Energy Commission heads backing the claim by scientific data released by international monitoring bodies. Since such luminaries are involved an independent enquiry needs to be made and the country assured that tests were successful or otherwise.
If otherwise, then the Indian political leadership not be deterred by any external pressures to conduct fresh thermonuclear tests. Ultimately India’s national security is paramount and it is that consideration only that should receive paramount priority.
Associated with it are calls in responsible quarters that India’s Nuclear Doctrine enunciated more than years back needs a review in view of the up gradation of China’s nuclear arsenal and its deployment of nuclear weapons in Tibet targeted at India. Pakistan too as per US reports has gone in for a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal and fine-tuning its nuclear warfare capabilities.
In particular India is being called upon by some very senior professionals that India should reverse it’s declared ‘No First Use’ principle from its doctrine. The demand is logical in light of contemporary security environment in which India’s military adversaries should be put on notice that in case of extreme provocation endangering India’s national security or its armed forces being susceptible to a nuclear attack, India would not hesitate to go in for a first nuclear strike.
Of course, such an advocacy would draw howls of protests from India’s peaceniks both within and outside the policy establishment and so also condemnation from those who preach nuclear disarmament without adhering to its precepts or principles, but then the over-riding consideration is India’s national security and national honor.
Many of the Indian peaceniks would paint grim scenarios as to how India would stand isolated in the international community and how India’s economic growth would be arrested. But then the pattern of international reactions after 1998 tests is a pointer.
It is time to review India’s nuclear weapons capabilities and so also India’s nuclear doctrines.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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