India’s Nuclear War Plans: DANGEROUS PORTENTS

TWO concurrent pronouncements made on January 4, 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 operationalising of India’s nuclear doctrine.” (Press release issued by the PMO at

One wondered what “nuclear doctrine” the CCS was operationalising? This doubt arose because, one was only aware of a ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’ (DND) that was propounded on August 17, 1999, when the National Security Advisor, 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 Brajesh  Mishra had made while releasing the DND document are very significant especially in the present context.

Brajesh 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.)  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”. Brajesh 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.


While analysing the CCS’ decision in the light of the statements that Mishra had made earlier, three important questions follow: First, 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? ; Second, if not, why did the government decide to finalise and approve the DND without public discussion, debate or notice? ; And Third, 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. Maybe 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” (Para 2.6e, DND at 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 authors 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 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,  George Fernandes, India’s controversial defence minister, told newspersons on January 7, 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, January 8, 2003). It may be recalled that Fernandes had made a similar statement just a year back (see The Hindustan Times, Delhi, December 30, 2001). The shrill rhetoric from the Pakistani side too was almost on the same lines.


Pakistan, which had set up its ‘Nuclear Command Authority’ on February 2, 2000, was never averse to making boastful claims. Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, on December 13, 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, December 14, 2002).  Subsequently, while addressing Air Force veterans in Karachi on December 30, 2002, 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, December 31, 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 January 3, 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, January 4, 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. (see

This disturbing news appears credible since the CCS has already sought to dilute the pledge. The fact that Pakistan refuses to follow a No First Use 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 “the 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might” (see The Week, Kochi, January 6, 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 January 6, 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 Fernandes’ comment that India could absorb a nuclear hit and annihilate Pakistan in return, Pakistan’s information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, reportedly said: “We will not initiate nuclear war, and this is our policy” (Associated Press report quoted in The Hindu, Delhi, January 9, 2003). If 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, Pervez Musharaf, has also tried to discount the possibility of an accidental nuclear war from the Pakistani side by claiming “Missiles and [nuclear] warheads are not permitted together. There is a geographical separation between them” (see The Hindu, Delhi, January 11, 2003).
(To be continued)