August 15, 2001


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G Parthasarathy

Pakistani generals are adventuristic, not suicidal

History has a strange way of repeating itself when Republican administrations assume office in Washington. The Pentagon-affiliated Rand Corporation has a key role to play in this process as far as Republican administration policies towards the subcontinent are concerned.

When the Reagan administration assumed office in 1981, a then unknown analyst at the RAND corporation Francis Fukuyama produced a report, in which he ordained that Pakistan should play a leading role in promoting American interests as a frontline state in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. He even claimed that Deng's China was more democratic that Indira Gandhi's India. (Fukuyama whom I met in Washington in 1981, had till then, visited neither India nor China). His report became a virtual Bible for American policymakers in the Pentagon, the CIA and the White House. The Eisenhower administration had reacted similarly to a RAND Corporation report in 1956.

The assumption of office by the Bush administration has been accompanied by yet another report of the RAND corporation that focuses attention on India's nuclear capabilities and emerging nuclear strategies. Unlike Fukuyama's report the latest RAND study is devoid of Cold War imperatives. Written by well-known analyst Ashley Tellis, the report avers that while New Delhi does not currently possess or seek to build a ready nuclear arsenal, India does aim to create a 'force-in-being' comprising available, but dispersed, components: unassembled nuclear warheads under civilian control and dedicated delivery systems kept either in cold storage or in readiness, away from their operational areas.

Tellis suggests that such a posture enables India to implement its no first-use strategy by developing capabilities to retaliate with 'certainty and speed' in the event of a nuclear threat. He argues that this strategy enables India to gain in security, stature and prestige, while simultaneously exhibiting restraint.

The RAND corporation report realistically notes it would be impracticable to seek to cap, or roll back the Indian nuclear programme -- an aim that many nuclear non-proliferation fundamentalists in the United States and elsewhere dearly cherish and retain. The study refers to Indian conventional superiority over Pakistan and China (in the theatre) and acknowledges that in the current circumstances the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons is remote. It also injects a note of realism in the policy debate in the USA by arguing that as there was never the remotest possibility of India, Pakistan and Israel acceding to the Non Proliferation Treaty, US non-proliferation policies worldwide have succeeded by getting countries like Iran, Libya and North Korea to be bound by NPT obligations.

Tellis recommends that the United States should shift its regional strategy from prevention of proliferation to prevention of war. He suggests increased interaction with India on export controls and in encouraging New Delhi to evolve a deterrent that is 'modest in size, surreptitious in nature and slow to be used.'

India will necessarily have to analyze the size, sophistication and thrust of the nuclear arsenals and policies of others possessing nuclear weapons while evolving its own nuclear posture. There are indications to suggest that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal presently comprising around 20 to 25 nuclear weapons of Chinese design, each with a 25-kiloton capacity. Given China's assistance in providing Pakistan with an unsafeguarded Plutonium plant in Khushab, it would be prudent to assume that the Chinese will also provide Pakistan with the designs for boosted fission and fusion weapons. Pakistan can use aircraft from its present fleet like the F-16s or Mirage 5s to deliver nuclear weapons. It can also use its Chinese supplied M-9 and M-18 missiles to target major population centres ranging from Delhi to Bangalore.

China is today estimated to possess around 2,500 nuclear warheads, with its nuclear arsenal increasing by 150 to 200 warheads annually. It possesses neutron weapons for tactical use and has a wide range of missiles that can target population centres in India. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is totally under military control and the military has the predominant say on nuclear policies.

It is only natural for Pakistan to refuse to adopt a no first-use strategy, given India's conventional superiority. But, it should also be evident that while some Pakistani generals like Pervez Musharraf are by inclination adventuristic, they are not suicidal. Even champions of the qualities of the head and heart of the Pakistan military establishment, like Professor Stephen Cohen, feel that the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan will be a last resort against an Indian attack. It is likely to occur if important population centres in Pakistan are about to be overrun. China's policies are dictated exclusively by its perceptions of its national interests.

China was a vociferous critic of the NPT and labeled the treaty as an instrument of superpower hegemony for nearly 25 years. Given its relatively weak nuclear arsenal, China also adopted a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. When the Cold War ended, China found the NPT a useful instrument to assert its great power status and proceeded to accede the treaty. By 1993 there were informal indications from China that as India was not a signatory to the NPT, its nuclear no first-use and non-use pledges would not be applicable to India. It is imperative that as New Delhi fashions its future nuclear posture there should be a clear and transparent understanding of what exactly Beijing's nuclear policies are going to be.

In its presentation on the Evolution of India's Nuclear Policy tabled in Parliament on May 27, 1998 the Vajpayee government asserted that 'the challenge to Indian statecraft is balancing and reconciling India's security imperatives with valid international concerns in this regard.' On August 17, 1999 the National Security Council Advisory Board presented a Draft Nuclear Doctrine.

The draft doctrine recommended that our nuclear deterrent should be based on 'sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared nuclear forces' backed by 'a robust command and control system, effective intelligence and early warning facilities" and most importantly "the will to employ nuclear forces and weapons.' Emphasis was laid on a strategic posture involving 'no first use' of nuclear weapons. The board also recommended negotiation of 'appropriate nuclear risk reduction and confidence building measures.'

While the size, sophistication and operational readiness of our nuclear arsenal will depend largely on global and regional developments, there is merit in the recommendation of the RAND study about the need to evolve strategies that are sensitive to concerns about the risks of nuclear conflict. The Bush administration has spoken about measures to reduce and de-alert its nuclear arsenal. We have repeatedly tabled resolutions in the United Nations about the need to globally de-alert and remove nuclear warheads from missiles. These are issues we need to discuss not only with the United States, but also with Pakistan and China. We should formulate practical measures to promote transparency and a better understanding about nuclear policies.

Pakistan is slowly realizing that resorting to nuclear blackmail by continuously describing Jammu and Kashmir as a 'nuclear flashpoint,' while at the same time refusing to discuss or adopt measures enhancing transparency, trust and confidence will only isolate it in the international community.

It is unfortunate that there has been so little debate and discussion in our Parliament and media about our evolving nuclear postures. Despite this public disinterest, it is heartening that apart from the planned acquisition of long-range strike aircraft like the SU 30 MKI and Airborne Early Warning Systems, we are also moving ahead in serializing production of the Agni missile. We also need to consider the acquisition of suitable missile defence systems.

We should, however, go about this effort in a discreet and low-key manner. We should also be careful not to rush into large investments to develop systems for which we may have neither the financial nor technological capabilities. It needs to be remembered that even China has not been able to succeed in its efforts to develop a credible sea-launched nuclear deterrent. There is little point in living beyond one's means.

G Parthasarathy

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