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former IAEA Director-General

India’s Bid to Join Missile Regime Fails

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

India’s bid to join a multilateral regime designed to stem the spread of certain types of missiles and drones failed last month when its application was blocked by Italy, an official who attended the meeting said.

The official said in an Oct. 19 e-mail that Italy’s objection to India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was likely motivated by a bilateral dispute between Rome and New Delhi unrelated to the regime.

He and other sources cited a 2012 incident in which two Italian marines guarding an Italian cargo ship killed an Indian fisherman. Indian officials arrested the marines, who claimed that they fired warning shots and were attempting to guard the ship. India and Italy are involved in a dispute over the trial.

India said in June that it applied for membership in the MTCR, an initiative designed to prevent the spread of missiles and unmanned systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

India’s application for membership was considered at the annual plenary, which was held Oct. 5-9 in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Membership is determined by consensus of the group, which currently has 34 members.

Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said on Oct. 9 that the application was well received but “remains under consideration.”

The regime, which was formed in 1987, defines WMD-capable delivery systems as missiles or drones capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers. India already possesses a number of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

MTCR members agree to abide by export policy guidelines designed to limit the spread of technologies applicable to the development of WMD-capable missiles and drones.

Swarup said that India’s membership would “strengthen global nonproliferation objectives.”

From left to right, Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speak to reporters after a meeting in Washington on September 22. In a joint statement with India issued that day, the United States expressed its support for India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime at the group’s meeting in October. [Photo credit: Prakash Singh /AFP/Getty Images]The United States backed India’s bid for membership and affirmed its support prior to the plenary in a Sept. 22 statement on U.S.-Indian relations. The Obama administration voiced support for Indian membership five years ago (see ACT, December 2010) and has consistently supported it since then.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on India’s unsuccessful membership bid.

When India applied to join the regime, it said that its space program had suffered because it was not a member of the regime. Membership would not ensure that India would be able to purchase restricted items because MTCR guidelines “do not distinguish between exports to Partners and exports to non-Partners,” according to a summary on the MTCR website. But India has argued that membership would raise its profile as a responsible state committed to nonproliferation.

Technology applicable to missile development is also used in space programs. The statement issued by MTCR members after the plenary meeting noted that the regime is not designed to “impede technological advancement and development, including space programmes,” as long as it does not contribute to WMD-capable delivery systems.

India is not the only country to have applied for membership. Nine additional countries are seeking to join the regime, none of which were accepted, said the official who attended the meeting.

 The official said that Russia objected to allowing several eastern European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, to join the regime.

The Oct. 9 statement said that individual applications for membership were “thoroughly discussed” and the issue of expanding the membership will remain on the agenda. The last country admitted to the MTCR was Bulgaria in 2004.

States that are not members of the regime can voluntarily adhere to the export guidelines. The statement noted that, since last year’s plenary, Estonia and Latvia pledged to use the regime guidelines as the basis for their export controls of missile-related technologies, and the statement encouraged other countries to do the same.

Sea Trials Progress for Indian Sub

An Indian official said sea trials of its ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include missile tests this month.

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

The Nirbhay, India’s long-range cruise missile, lifts off during a test launch in the Indian state of Odisha on October 17, 2014. [Photo credit: Defence Research & Development Organisation of India]Sea trials of India’s first indigenously built ballistic missile submarine are going well and may include the first test launch of a nuclear-capable missile this month, an Indian official said last month.

In an Oct. 15 e-mail, the official confirmed reports in several Indian newspapers that the next steps for the sea trials of the INS Arihant include test launches of a cruise missile and a ballistic missile and that these tests could take place within the next month.

India, whose submarine program dates back to 1984, started work on the Arihant in 2009. The submarine’s nuclear-powered reactor went critical in August 2013, and it began sea trials in December 2014.

Indian officials have said that they plan to conduct test launches of the submarine’s missiles before the Arihant is ready to go on patrol. Currently, New Delhi says the Arihant will be handed over to the navy to begin service in 2016, ideally before the International Fleet Review, an international naval exhibition, in February. But the deployment of the Arihant has been delayed in the past.

The plan to test a cruise missile from the submarine may have suffered a setback after a land-based test of the missile was aborted last month.

In an Oct. 16 press release, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said that, to “ensure coastal safety,” a test of the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile was “terminated” midway through its flight after “deviations were observed from its intended course.” The release said that the Oct. 16 test still met basic mission objectives successfully.

The Nirbhay is likely a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers, although India has not confirmed its nuclear mission. India has tested the missile several times, including in March 2013 and October 2014. The March 2013 test was terminated when the missile veered off course. The October 2014 test was deemed a partial success by a DRDO official.

The other missile suitable for the Arihant-class submarine is the K-15, a two-stage ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead an estimated 700 kilometers.

The submarine is designed to carry 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

India has tested the K-15 missile multiple times, including from a submerged pontoon in 2013, but not from the Arihant.

The DRDO also is developing a longer-range SLBM, the K-4, which will have an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers with a nuclear payload. That range puts Pakistan and most of China within range if India launches the K-4 from the northern Indian Ocean.

India first tested the K-4 missile in March 2014. Each Arihant-class submarine could carry up to four K-4s.

Once the Arihant is on patrol, India will have a complete nuclear triad, which also includes the ability to deliver warheads via land-based missiles and bombers. Currently, only China, Russia, and the United States deploy nuclear warheads across all three delivery systems.

India will also join China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as the only countries with a sea-based nuclear deterrent.

India has two submarines similar to the Arihant at various stages of construction. 

BOOK REVIEW: Turning the Page on Pax Atomica

October 2015

Reviewed by Randy Rydell

The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence
Edited by George P. Shultz and James E. Goodby Hoover Institution Press, 2015, 530 pp.

On June 14, 1946, U.S. representative Bernard Baruch addressed the UN Atomic Energy Commission and launched his country’s ambitious plan for global nuclear disarmament and international ownership of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The plan was not without its conditions. Actual disarmament would occur only after other steps had been taken, most notably the imposition of intrusive controls over the nuclear programs of every other country and the establishment of the International Atomic Development Authority. In 1961 the U.S. Department of State’s press release accompanying the McCloy-Zorin joint statement on “general and complete disarmament” referred to the attainment of that goal “in a peaceful world,” suggesting that disarmament would occur at the end of a very long road, essentially with the dawning of world peace.1

A new collection of essays, The War That Must Never Be Fought: Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence, takes a somewhat more practical approach by outlining specific actions needed to achieve and sustain global nuclear disarmament. Although contemporary in focus, the chapters all illustrate the continuity of the primary challenges faced some 70 years ago in this field. Which must come first—peace and security or disarmament? How can sovereign states respond to enforce a nuclear disarmament commitment if it is violated? Does the “inalienable right” to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) puts it, extend to the technologies that produced the Little Boy and Fat Man atomic bombs? Is nonproliferation a precondition for disarmament or vice versa?

Taking Disarmament Seriously

Edited by George P. Shultz and James E. Goodby, this book is an exceptional contribution to the literature on nuclear disarmament and arms control. Yet, it is more than that. It also is a valuable addition to the wider political campaign to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

It achieves these goals by inviting contributions from authors of diverse backgrounds, including the military, academia, private research institutes, and many other fields of public service.

The book begins with chapters by Benoît Pelopidas, Goodby, and Steven Pifer that identify the fallacies of nuclear deterrence, including the myth that nuclear weapons are responsible for keeping the “long peace” during the Cold War. Although many self-described realists denigrate disarmament, Pifer offers a defense of the concept as practical, reasonable, and in the interests of the United States and the world community.

The second part of the book delves into specific challenges to disarmament emanating from four regions: Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. The omission of Latin America and Africa is unfortunate, given their long record of support for global nuclear disarmament and their many regional actions to advance that goal.

With respect to Europe, Isabelle Williams and Steven P. Andreasen explain the situation in NATO. They describe the dualism of NATO’s stubborn reaffirmation of the role of nuclear weapons as the “supreme guarantee” of alliance security and the organization’s recent recognition of the desirability of eliminating such weapons globally. Pavel Podvig offers an enlightened discussion of Russian interests and motives in nuclear arms control and disarmament, and in their jointly written chapter, Katarzyna Kubiak and Oliver Meier draw the reader’s attention to the critically important policy positions taken by Germany and Poland concerning the future of nuclear weapons.

The three chapters on the Middle East appear as a dialectic, with the thesis characterizing Israel as the responsible nuclear-weapon custodian (Shlomo Brom), the antithesis emphasizing the reluctance of Arab states to participate in regional peace talks as long as Israel retains its nuclear arsenal (Karim Haggag), and the synthesis being a proposal for a middle course incorporating regional negotiations on many dimensions relating to peace and to disarmament in particular with many timetables (Peter Jones).

 In the one chapter on South Asia, S. Paul Kapur focuses on prospects for decoupling “deterrence” from nuclear weapons. He outlines how deterrence can persist even if nuclear weapons are excluded from the region.

East Asia justifiably receives significant attention in this book. This includes an informative chapter on China’s nuclear policies by Michael S. Gerson, who draws attention to the “increasingly important—and potentially dangerous—interplay between nuclear and conventional forces in the modern era.” Li Bin’s chapter refreshingly mentions Article VI of the NPT. He explains the lack of progress in U.S.-Chinese nuclear arms control and disarmament as largely due to what he calls the contrasting “security paradigms” of the two countries—that is, their fundamentally different perspectives on defense policy and strategy. Peter Hayes and Chung-in Moon go beyond the familiar, customary assessments that simply describe the tensions between North and South Korea. They offer a concrete fix for such tensions in the form of a broad regional security regime that includes but is not limited to a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone. Nobumasa Akiyama discusses how Japan has sought to reconcile its support for global nuclear disarmament with its embrace of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Goodby and Pifer wrap things up with a conclusion setting forth various conditions for the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons. Their proposal emphasizes the role of the great powers, in particular Russia and the United States, the countries with the largest nuclear arsenals. Goodby and Pifer emphasize the importance of a multidimensional approach, arguing that conventional arms control and nuclear disarmament goals must be pursued together. The two analysts argue that these goals must be pursued at the highest level of government in summit meetings, supported politically in many international forums, and advanced through a “joint enterprise,” a term used in a series of Wall Street Journal op-eds written by Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn, involving a coalition of like-minded states. The authors also offer a draft communiqué and work plan to advance their proposals.

The Joint Enterprise in Practice

An Agni-3 missile moves through New Delhi on January 26, 2009, as part of India’s observance of its Republic Day. The Agni-3 is nuclear capable.  (Photo credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)One of the key purposes of this book was to put some flesh on the bones of the joint enterprise proposed in the Wall Street Journal op-eds on nuclear disarmament. The authors deserve credit for taking up this difficult mission and for setting forth some ideas on how to achieve it. The Goodby-Pifer proposal places a strong emphasis on summit meetings between key states with nuclear weapons and their allies. Fair enough; as Pelopides wrote, “engage the expected veto player.”

A popular alternative these days is to build a coalition of like-minded states to advocate a nuclear weapons ban, an approach actively being advanced by many nongovernmental groups. Yet, the great weakness of global nuclear disarmament proposals that involve “coalitions of the willing” minus the nuclear-weapon states is in their inability to establish an irrefutable link between the actions of those coalitions and the necessary achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world. It is difficult to achieve the norm of global nuclear disarmament without the participation of states possessing such weapons. A universal norm, after all, implies universal application.

Aside from the predictable difficulties of engaging the nuclear-weapon states, proponents of this book’s approach will also need a strategy to ensure that the proposed summits will remain focused on nuclear disarmament and not get sidetracked by endless discussions on nonproliferation and nuclear security issues. Most non-nuclear-weapon states oppose the idea that the commitment in the NPT to undertake negotiations in good faith on nuclear disarmament is conditional at all. They are not interested in discussing progress toward disarmament; they want to see progress in disarmament.

These states certainly oppose expanding nonproliferation commitments in the face of what they see as the failure to fulfill the disarmament side of the NPT bargain. While the nuclear-weapon states and their allies are demanding numerous preconditions for fulfilling their disarmament commitments, the non-nuclear-weapon states have not responded in kind by attaching provisos to their own nonproliferation commitments. The longer that disarmament is deferred, however, the more likely it is that this game of “conditions” will be played in the nonproliferation field. The book’s proposed joint enterprise can most successfully address such challenges by remaining a global enterprise with an equitable balance of obligations among all states.

Therefore, it seems that the road to nuclear disarmament will have to involve some players other than the nuclear-weapon states and their allies. In particular, non-nuclear-weapon states and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have important roles to play, as do national legislatures. How they can all fit within the summit proposal offered in this book is unclear.

A protester against NATO nuclear weapons takes part in a demonstration on September 4, 2014, at the alliance’s summit meeting in Newport, Wales. (Photo credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)Non-Nuclear Deterrence

As for the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, its frailties are exceptionally well documented in this book by many authors. Yet, the book’s subtitle, Dilemmas of Nuclear Deterrence, unintentionally diverts attention from another important challenge facing nuclear disarmament, namely, the dilemmas of non-nuclear deterrence.

As the Clinton White House put it in 2000, “Because of [U.S.] conventional military dominance, adversaries are likely to use asymmetric means, such as WMD [weapons of mass destruction], information operations or terrorism.”2 Earlier, Secretary of Defense William Cohen similarly stated that “a paradox of the new strategic environment is that American military superiority actually increases the threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical attack against us by creating incentives for adversaries to challenge us asymmetrically.”3

As these comments suggest, the unconstrained production and improvement of conventional arms can serve as a driver for the proliferation of nuclear and other nonconventional weapons. Thus, the notion that the United States can comfortably rely on expanded and more-capable conventional forces for purposes of deterrence in a nuclear-weapon-free world does not seem to take into account all the possible international responses to this dominant U.S. capability. It is by no means clear that these responses would be fully compatible with global nuclear disarmament.

Beyond Deterrence Alone

In short, deterrence by conventional arms is not necessarily the enabler for global nuclear disarmament that some might wish. More likely, realists in the foreign and defense policy communities will recognize that the global elimination of nonconventional weapons must be accompanied by the regulation and limitation of conventional arms as well as the reduction of military spending.

Furthermore, the realists will have to concede that great progress is needed in establishing mechanisms to advance some fundamental goals of the UN Charter, especially the peaceful resolution of disputes and the ban on threats or use of force. These mechanisms logically would include greater reliance of states on such measures as mediation, adjudication, fact finding, and the “good offices” of globally recognized resources such as the office of the UN secretary-general and regional organizations for international peace and security. Yet, are these institutions prepared to perform that role? This is a work in progress at best, totally dependent on the political will of states to use such resources.

Ironically, WMD disarmament, conventional arms control, the peaceful resolution of disputes, reductions in military expenditures, and strengthening the norm against threats and use of force together comprise the goal of “general and complete disarmament under effective international control,” which is already recognized by all UN member states as their “ultimate goal.”4 Many authors in this volume reach for some form of a “big picture,” but none recalls this particular goal—hence the reader sees Podvig’s “new security framework,” Goodby’s “new global commons,” Brom’s “comprehensive cooperative security regime,” Haggag’s “comprehensive arms control framework,” and Jones’s “inclusive regional security system in the Middle East.” It is not clear what these alternatives offer that are not already intrinsic to the concept of general and complete disarmament, which has been recognized by the General Assembly and enshrined in a dozen multilateral treaties, including the NPT. The key recommendations in this book with respect to nuclear disarmament and, to the extent they are addressed, conventional arms control are fully consistent with general and complete disarmament. What is missing is some recognition of the global support that already exists for this ultimate goal.

Old Challenges, New Openings

Pessimists and optimists will find material in this book to support their views on disarmament. Pessimists will be informed that there is no hope that India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, or NATO will give up its nuclear weapons anytime soon. Reading between the lines, they could also deduce that the absence of nuclear disarmament agencies in the nuclear-weapon states, coupled with the lack of national disarmament legislation, regulations, policies, timetables, and plans, provides some rather compelling grounds to be skeptical about the whole global nuclear disarmament project. To his credit, Gerson addressed this specific challenge in his chapter on China, but the point is valid throughout the nuclear-armed world. Disarmament simply has not been “internalized” in the nuclear-weapon states; until it is, the goal will be all that more elusive.

Catalysts for change, however, should not be underestimated. The determination of NGOs and non-nuclear-weapon states to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament remains strong and is expanding. The rapid growth of the “humanitarian approach” to disarmament is a good case in point, as the vast majority of UN member states have now adopted a joint position in opposition to nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds, a subject already of three major international conferences with more no doubt to come. Although national leadership from within the nuclear-weapon states is indispensable, the willingness of such leaders to launch disarmament initiatives will certainly be shaped by the wider political climate—a climate that includes public opinion and pressure from the diplomatic community. The more persistent and diverse these forces become, the greater will be the incentive for leaders to adopt a more constructive approach to disarmament. Pressure can shape summits.

Material for a Sequel

Without using the term “pax atomica,” this book dissects the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and exposes it for the anachronistic fantasy that it is in the 21st century. It is less strong in identifying the dilemmas of non-nuclear deterrence in a world without nuclear weapons. It does not take very seriously the role of civil society in advancing the global nuclear disarmament agenda and says very little about the international campaign now underway to advance a humanitarian approach to disarmament.

Yet, none of these are critical shortcomings in this excellent book. They are instead guiding lights for a sequel to build on this solid foundation pulled together by Shultz and Goodby, who continue to demonstrate through their actions and principled leadership that nuclear disarmament not only can work better than any alternative response to nuclear weapons threats, but also is the right thing to do.


1.  Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “Freedom From War: The United States Program for General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World,” pub. no. 7277, September 1961. The McCloy-Zorin joint statement of September 20, 1961, outlined a U.S.-Soviet agreement on eight principles to serve as a basis for future negotiations on general and complete disarmament. Its authors were diplomats John McCloy of the United States and Valerian Zorin of the Soviet Union. See “McCloy-Zorin Accords,” n.d., http://www.nucleardarkness.org/solutions/mccloyzorinaccordstext/.

2.  Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “A National Security Strategy for a New Century,” January 5, 2000, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/nss/nss2000.htm.

3.  U.S. Department of Defense, “Proliferation: Threat and Response,” November 1997, http://www.dod.mil/pubs/prolif97/message.html (emphasis in original).

4.  UN General Assembly, “Resolutions and Decisions Adopted by the General Assembly During Its Tenth Special Session, 23 May-30 June 1978,” Supp. No. 4 (A/S-10/4), September 1978, http://www.un.org/disarmament/HomePage/SSOD/A-S-10-4.pdf.

Randy Rydell is an executive adviser to the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation (Mayors for Peace) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association. He served from 1998 to 2014 as senior political affairs officer in the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and was a nonproliferation aide to Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) from 1987 to 1998. He was report director and senior counselor to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, headed by Hans Blix, from 2005 to 2006, when he was also senior fellow at the Arms Control Association. 

Nonproliferation Benefits of India Deal Remain Elusive

The lifting of the barriers to international nuclear cooperation with India was intended to bring New Delhi into the nonproliferation mainstream.

June 2015

By John Carlson

In 2005 the Bush administration decided to normalize India’s participation in international nuclear cooperation. In a joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President George W. Bush announced that he would work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.[1] Singh affirmed that India was “ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices and acquire the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States,” and announced a number of nonproliferation and disarmament commitments.

The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors convenes in Vienna on August 1, 2008, for a meeting during which it approved a safeguards agreement with India. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)In 2007, India and the United States concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement. The following year, at U.S. instigation, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) decided to exempt India from the group’s requirement for comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards as a condition for nuclear supply. Ten countries have since signed nuclear cooperation agreements with India.[2]

As a result of the U.S. initiative, India is now receiving the benefits of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) without assuming any of the NPT’s obligations, a situation widely seen as damaging the NPT. Today, as India seeks to join the NSG, it is timely to reflect whether India can be seen as sufficiently “like-minded” for its bid to gain consensus support.

Commitments Undertaken

A key objective for the 2005 U.S. initiative was to encourage India to meet international nuclear norms. If India really did intend to assume “the same responsibilities and practices…as other leading countries…such as the United States,” what might it be expected to do?

India could reasonably have been expected to assume the same obligations and responsibilities as NPT nuclear-weapon states. There is no justification for India to expect to receive more-favorable treatment than these states if it does not accept obligations that are at least as rigorous.[3] Under the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states have pledged to refrain from transferring nuclear weapons to other states or assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons, to require safeguards on nuclear transfers to non-nuclear-weapon states, and to pursue negotiations on cessation of the nuclear arms race and on nuclear and general disarmament.

In addition to these explicit obligations, the NPT contains implicit principles. For example, in the terms of their voluntary-offer safeguards agreements,[4] the nuclear-weapon states implicitly agree to separate their military and civilian nuclear programs. Another implicit obligation, applicable to all NPT states, is effective control of uranium-enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing, and other sensitive nuclear technologies, a commitment that for nuclear-weapon states arises from the NPT Article I prohibition on assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons. This responsibility encompasses acts of omission, such as inadequate control enabling unauthorized transfer of sensitive technology. Similarly, there is an implicit obligation on all NPT parties to maintain effective security for nuclear materials.

The nuclear-weapon states have incurred further obligations and responsibilities by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and allowing the installation of CTBT monitoring stations, supporting the negotiation and conclusion of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), and placing all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

In the 2005 joint statement, India undertook to identify and separate civilian and military nuclear facilities and programs “in a phased manner,” voluntarily place civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, conclude an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement with respect to civilian facilities, continue its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, work with the United States for the conclusion of a multilateral FMCT, refrain from transferring enrichment and reprocessing technologies to new states and support international efforts to limit their spread, and secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization of and adherence to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and NSG guidelines.

The first three points were reiterated in the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement.

Comparing Commitments

The commitments assumed by India are considerably less than those of the nuclear-weapon states. The analysis below compares the two sets of commitments point by point.

Not transferring nuclear weapons to other states or assisting others to acquire nuclear weapons. India’s commitments not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them, to establish comprehensive export control legislation, and to adhere to the NSG guidelines and MTCR regime are welcome, but only partially correspond to the obligations impose by NPT Article I. The effectiveness of India’s export control arrangements is not clear at this stage.

Pursuing negotiations on disarmament. India has given no commitment comparable to the one in NPT Article VI. In contrast to the nuclear-weapon states, India has avoided any legal obligation to engage in nuclear disarmament efforts. There is a limit to how far nuclear disarmament can proceed without India. India actually is working in the opposite direction, increasing its nuclear arsenal.

Separating military and civilian programs and accepting IAEA safeguards. India released its separation plan, as the document is known, in 2006.[5] Fourteen of the 22 power reactors that were in operation or under construction at that time have been or will be designated for IAEA safeguards, together with some associated facilities.[6] For the future, India reserves the right to decide which additional facilities, if any, it will place under safeguards.

In the case of foreign-supplied facilities, India is obliged by the suppliers to place these under safeguards. For indigenous facilities, which include enrichment facilities, fast breeder reactors, and other power reactors, the separation plan says India will take into account “the nature of the facility concerned, the activities undertaken in it, the national security significance of materials and the location of the facilities.”

Major parts of India’s civilian program remain outside IAEA safeguards and evidently will remain so in the future. The relationship among civilian safeguarded facilities,[7] civilian unsafeguarded facilities, and military facilities is opaque, especially in view of the provisions of the Indian-IAEA safeguards agreement. This agreement allows safeguarded material to be used in normally unsafeguarded facilities and in specified circumstances to produce unsafeguarded plutonium and allows unsafeguarded material to be used in safeguarded facilities. Such flexibility is particularly problematic given that, unlike the nuclear-weapon states, India continues to produce fissile material for weapons.

The scope of the nuclear-weapon states’ voluntary-offer safeguards agreements varies. The Chinese and Russian agreements designate certain facilities as eligible for safeguards, while the United Kingdom and the United States make all civilian facilities eligible for safeguards. France is in between; all facilities with material under bilateral safeguards obligations are designated for IAEA safeguards. In spite of their variations, however, these agreements are consistent in not allowing the use of safeguarded material in unsafeguarded facilities, or vice versa. Facilities either are designated for safeguards, or they are not.

As for India’s additional protocol, New Delhi has reneged on its commitment, made in the 2005 joint statement and the 2007 cooperation agreement, to apply this to its civilian facilities. India’s additional protocol is the most limited of all. The Chinese and Russian additional protocols apply at least to facilities involved in collaborative programs with non-nuclear-weapon states, while the UK and U.S. protocols apply to all the civilian facilities in those countries. India’s additional protocol, however, does not apply to any facilities. This blatant dishonoring of a specific commitment raises questions about India’s attitude toward commitments.

Safeguards in India have some positive aspects. For example, designation of a facility for safeguards is irreversible. In addition, India has placed a larger proportion of facilities under safeguards than China and Russia have, although nowhere near the examples of the UK and the United States, and the IAEA undertakes inspections at all safeguarded facilities. Nevertheless, the separation between military and civilian programs in India has a long way to go compared with the nuclear-weapon states.

Signing the CTBT and hosting CTBT monitoring stations. Signing the CTBT would be a major step in support of nuclear disarmament. The CTBT requires ratification by 44 specified countries before it can enter into force. Eight of those countries have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States, which have signed but not ratified the treaty, and India, North Korea, and Pakistan, which have not signed it.

U.S. ratification depends on gaining the necessary number of votes in the Senate, which the Obama administration is pursuing. The general expectation is that when the United States is able to ratify the treaty, China and most of the others will quickly follow. If India does not ratify the CTBT, however, China could use that as a reason not to do so. India’s position therefore is critical because signing the CTBT will build confidence in its intentions among the other holdouts.

A further negative factor is that late in the CTBT negotiations, India withdrew approval for the four monitoring stations planned for its territory.[8] The absence of these stations detracts from the ability of the CTBT monitoring system to provide effective coverage of a key part of the world—South Asia, China, Central Asia, and the Middle East. India has said it will maintain its unilateral test moratorium, but New Delhi’s refusal to allow these stations can be seen as casting doubt on its commitment to its test moratorium. India should show good faith by allowing the four monitoring stations to proceed and signing the CTBT.

Supporting an FMCT. The effort to achieve a global cutoff of fissile material production for nuclear weapons is another important area in which India could demonstrate its good intentions. Along with North Korea and Pakistan, India is one of only three countries still producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. It is not asking too much for India to seriously consider ceasing production of fissile material now as the nuclear-weapon states did many years ago.[9] Serious moves in this direction would have an immediate effect in reducing tensions with Pakistan. Indeed, India could show leadership by initiating negotiations with Pakistan on a bilateral fissile material cutoff agreement.

Placing all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards. Under its agreement with the IAEA, India accepts safeguards on imported nuclear material only if this is required by an arrangement to which India is a party, such as a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. Today, all established uranium suppliers are NPT parties obliged to require safeguards on all nuclear transfers to a nonparty. It is not known whether all countries supplying uranium to India are insisting on safeguards; if not, they are in violation of their NPT obligations. It would be regrettable if India were taking advantage of this. It would be a welcome gesture of good faith for India to place all imported nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

Bilateral Agreements

A number of major suppliers—Australia, Canada, Japan, the United States, and the European Union—apply similar conditions for the supply of nuclear material and other goods. They require the recipient country to accept conditions covering areas such as peaceful assurances, application of IAEA safeguards, and consent rights for reprocessing, enrichment to levels above 20 percent uranium-235, and retransfers. The agreements include accounting and tracking requirements so that material and items subject to the agreements can be identified.

India has refused to allow suppliers to track nuclear material, maintaining that IAEA safeguards are sufficient. The IAEA, however, does not distinguish between materials of different origins. Without tracking, material covered by particular agreements cannot be readily identified, making it impossible to know if bilateral conditions are being met.

Because of India’s refusal to accept tracking, the administrative arrangement required for the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement to go into effect still has not been concluded.[10] Following President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January, it seems that officials have finally found a practical solution. It appears that the United States would supply nuclear material only in the form of fuel assemblies for U.S.-supplied reactors. This material would stay in a self-contained U.S. bubble within the Indian fuel cycle. India would provide detailed reactor operational information to enable the United States to calculate plutonium production.

It is difficult to understand why India has been so obstinate on this issue. Once India adopts modern nuclear accounting, a step the IAEA is working to help it achieve, New Delhi could easily generate the information required under bilateral agreements in the same way as every other country with such agreements.


On the basis of the terms set by the 2005 joint statement—that India is ready to assume the same responsibilities and practices as other leading countries, such as the United States—lifting the barriers to nuclear cooperation with India cannot be considered a success. The disparity between the commitments assumed by the NPT nuclear-weapon states and those of India clearly shows the opportunity lost in failing to require more of India. As a result of that failure, India has achieved a privileged position, gaining the benefits of the NPT without any of the obligations.

This situation has been exacerbated by the willingness of some governments to compromise nuclear cooperation standards for short-term political gain. Far from assisting India’s integration into the global nuclear community, such compromises will make integration longer and more fraught. Lifting the restrictions on India was intended to bring India into the nonproliferation mainstream. Yet, India has shown limited interest in meeting international nuclear norms and is instead determined to go its own way. This will not be lost on governments considering whether India is sufficiently like-minded to join the NSG.

At a time when Russia and the United States have made very substantial cuts to their nuclear arsenals and the international community is calling for the other nuclear-armed countries to join in arms reductions, India is working in the opposite direction. Indians see access to imported nuclear material as freeing up indigenous material for their weapons program.[11] With its civilian and military programs closely linked, New Delhi is operating on a fuel cycle model that the nuclear-weapon states abandoned decades ago. Moreover, India is increasing production of fissile material, adding to regional tensions.

It is alarming that New Delhi has not articulated the limits of its nuclear ambitions. Indian leaders believe that their country’s principal adversary is not Pakistan, with which it has broad nuclear parity, but China. This suggests India could be considering increasing its nuclear arsenal by a factor of two or three or perhaps more.
It can be hoped that India’s role in international nuclear affairs will be more positive, but a transition from nuclear outlier to leader will require a major change in India’s attitude toward disarmament and regional security.

John Carlson is a counselor to the Nuclear Threat Initiative and nonresident fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. He was director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office and chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation. The views in this article are his own.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” July 18, 2005.

2. In addition to the United States, the countries that have signed and brought into force an agreement with India are Argentina, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Australia has signed an agreement.

3. For more, see John Carlson, “Challenges and Opportunities for Extending NPT-Related Commitments to Non-NPT States,” Policy Brief, No. 15 (September 2014), http://www.a-pln.org/content/policy-brief-no-15-challenges-and-opportunities-extending-npt-related-commitments-non-npt.

4. Under their voluntary-offer safeguards agreements, nuclear-weapon states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty can designate facilities that are eligible for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The IAEA can select from these eligible facilities for conducting safeguards activities. In practice, for reasons of resource limitations, the IAEA conducts safeguards at only a limited number of facilities in nuclear-weapon states.

5. IAEA, “Communication Dated 25 July 2008 Received From the Permanent Mission of India Concerning a Document Entitled ‘Implementation of the India-United States Joint Statement of July 18, 2005: India’s Separation Plan,’” INFCIRC/731, July 25, 2008.

6. Of the 14 reactors designated for safeguards, six already were subject to safeguards because they were supplied by a foreign country. Thus, the net increase for safeguards is eight indigenous reactors.

7. In this context, the term “civilian safeguarded facilities” means the facilities that are listed in the annex to India’s IAEA safeguards agreement.

8. Ramesh Thakur and John Carlson, “How India Can Support the CTBT Before Signing,” Japan Times, April 8, 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/04/08/commentary/world-commentary/india-can-support-ctbt-signing.

9. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have formally declared that they are not producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. China has not made such a declaration, but is believed to be following suit.

10. A further issue, outside the scope of this paper, is India’s nuclear liability laws.

11. See Akhilesh Pillalamarri, “India’s Nuclear-Weapons Program: 5 Things You Need to Know,” The National Interest, April 22, 2015, http://www.nationalinterest.org/feature/indias-nuclear-weapons-program-5-things-you-need-know-12697?page=show.

India’s Nuclear Anxieties: The Debate Over Doctrine

Although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently has decided against an imminent shift in New Delhi’s nuclear doctrine, his party’s manifesto was reflective of a new current...

May 2015

By Shashank Joshi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves at the end of his speech in New Delhi marking the country’s Independence Day on August 15, 2014. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)In April 2014, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which would be swept into office the following month, included in its manifesto a tantalizing promise to “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine “to make it relevant to challenges of current times.”[1] When pressed, party officials suggested they were specifically interested in tinkering with India’s no-first-use policy. 

Almost immediately, Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, clarified that the policy “was a great initiative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” a former BJP prime minister. Modi added that “there is no compromise on that. We are very clear. [It] is a reflection of our cultural inheritance.”[2]

Shortly after taking office as prime minister, in remarks to an audience in Japan in August, Modi said that “there is a tradition of national consensus and continuity on such issues. I can tell you that currently, we are not taking any initiative for a review of our nuclear doctrine.”[3] This would have reassured foreign observers and dismayed some Indians, as it indicated that Modi’s self-assured vision for foreign and security policy probably would not apply to the nuclear realm. Although Modi apparently had decided against an imminent shift, his party’s manifesto nevertheless was reflective of a new current of critical thinking on India’s nuclear doctrine. 

India’s nuclear modernization over the past 15 years has largely been framed in material terms: the rising numbers of warheads, the growing ranges of missiles, and the improving delivery systems. These undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping the triangular deterrent relationship among India, Pakistan, and China. Yet, so do psychological factors, which are shaped in turn by a state’s doctrine, the terms in which the state thinks and talks about potential nuclear use. 

In 1998, just after its nuclear tests, India bowed to U.S. pressure and released a draft nuclear doctrine that ruled out first use and endorsed “credible minimum deterrence” while noting that the latter was “a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security.”[4] That elasticity was exploited in the next iteration of the nuclear doctrine, a terse official statement issued in 2003.[5] By that year, India’s nuclear doctrine stood on two connected pillars: India would not use nuclear weapons first, but if its opponents did so, then India’s response would be overwhelming. 

Pressure on No-First-Use Pledge

Right from the start, the two pillars were under pressure. A no-first-use policy is tantamount to a declaration of nonuse against states that do not possess nuclear weapons. (Because such states cannot use nuclear arms at all, they cannot use these weapons first. Therefore, any use of nuclear weapons by India against these states would be a case of first use.) The 1998 doctrine modified the policy by noting that states that do not have nuclear weapons but are “aligned with” nuclear-weapon states were not covered.[6] The implication was that non-nuclear-weapon states allied with Indian’s nuclear-armed adversaries—realistically, China or Pakistan—could be targeted with Indian nuclear weapons if their ally were to have used nuclear weapons against India first. 

This proviso has very few implications in practice, given the improbability of non-nuclear-weapon states joining hands with China or Pakistan in a war against India, but it demonstrated India’s willingness to experiment with its doctrine. In addition, the 1998 change undercut earlier claims that the no-first-use pledge was “unconditional” because use of nuclear weapons against a third party that did not possess nuclear weapons, even if precipitated by nuclear first use by China or Pakistan, would still constitute Indian first use of a sort.[7] 

In 2003, when a new statement of doctrine was issued, India further diluted the doctrine by warning that it might use nuclear weapons in response to a “major attack” with chemical or biological weapons, possibly mimicking the “calculated ambiguity” of the U.S. nuclear posture in relation to attacks with nonconventional weapons other than nuclear ones.[8] To determine why the no-first-use policy was being whittled down, it helps to break down the types of arguments that critics have presented because these arguments have tended to recur.  

Keeping even with peers. India should reject a stance that is “weaker” than those of its nuclear peers, particularly the United States or China.[9] For instance, when China was mistakenly viewed as having modified its own no-first-use pledge in 2013, some Indians demanded that India follow suit.[10] 

Demonstrating assertiveness. If nuclear adversaries were taking bold steps, India should do so too even if a response, in the form of a more forceful doctrine, would assume a completely different form. For instance, India should respond to an adversary’s warhead buildup (a change in posture) by altering its no-first-use policy (a change in doctrine). 

Broadening the scope of deterrence. India should use nuclear weapons to deter not only nuclear attacks, but also chemical and biological attacks. Such an argument implicitly drove the change in 2003. 

Strengthening deterrence. A threat of first use can instill greater uncertainty in adversaries and thereby deter them from even non-nuclear provocations. The specific concern here tends to be Pakistan and its sponsorship of terrorist groups. 

Maintaining the pre-emption option. First use would allow India to respond to an adversary’s imminent nuclear use, limiting the damage to India, giving India’s relatively small nuclear forces a better chance of survival, or both. 

No individual critic has ever made these five arguments together, but they can all be found, with growing frequency, in Indian writings. A sample of the many cases that could be cited illustrates the point. 

In 2011, Jaswant Singh, India’s former external affairs, defense, and finance minister and a crucial figure in the U.S.-Indian arms control discussions that followed the 1998 tests, addressed the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament. Raising what he called “the most important question that concerns us all globally,” he argued that the policies he had framed in 1998 and 1999 were “very greatly in need of revision because the situation that warranted the enunciation of the policy of ‘no-first-use’ or…‘credible deterrence with minimum force’, etc. has long been overtaken by events.”[11] 

This reassessment and blunt recommendation is significant, coming as it does from a former senior official who as foreign minister was the most prominent public champion of India’s no-first-use commitment and who, in a September 1999 speech to the UN General Assembly, exhorted the established nuclear powers to pledge likewise.[12]

Tellingly, Singh did not explain in his 2011 speech why, precisely, reserving the right to use nuclear weapons first would increase Indian security or address the problems he had earlier identified, such as a growing perceived imbalance in warhead numbers between India and Pakistan in the latter’s favor. He declined a request by the author to elaborate on his logic.[13] 

Singh’s analysis does not make a clear connection between the claimed source of the problem—events that have changed India’s security situation—and his proposed solution of a change in doctrine. This might suggest that Singh’s interest in modifying the no-first-use policy, like the interest of others, arose primarily from a generalized desire for nuclear assertiveness as a response to perceived adverse shifts in India’s security and nuclear environment, rather than from a belief in some specific deterrent benefits of potential first use. Put another way, Singh advocated changing the no-first-use policy not because he objected to the policy per se, but because he sought some means of prominently demonstrating Indian resolve in the nuclear realm. 

In 2012 an influential Indian think tank, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, convened a task force of experts from across India’s governmental and nongovernmental strategic community. The task force, which was chaired by P.R. Chari, a former civil servant in India’s Ministry of Defence and a respected analyst, published “an alternative blueprint” of India’s nuclear doctrine.[14] That blueprint declared that “India will not initiate a nuclear strike,” but added, cryptically, “‘Initiation’ covers the process leading up to the actual use of a nuclear weapon by an adversary. This would include mating component systems and deploying warheads with the intent of using them if required.” 

This reinterpretation of nuclear initiation is tenuous and confusing, but nonetheless far-reaching to the point of absurdity. It suggests that, in a crisis, if Pakistan were merely to mate warheads to missiles or even co-locate previously dispersed nuclear pits and warheads to increase the weapons’ readiness and therefore survivability, this might be interpreted in India as Pakistan having formally “initiated” a nuclear strike. This, in turn, would permit India to launch nuclear weapons first while claiming that it had adhered to its no-first-use policy. Naturally, this amounts to an imprimatur for pre-emption.

Importantly, such arguments are not on the fringe. In June 2014, Lieutenant General B.S. Nagal, head of India’s Strategic Forces Command between 2008 and 2011 and thereafter a department under India’s national security adviser, made a radical argument in India’s Force magazine, saying that India under a no-first-use policy “cannot conduct a first strike on the adversary’s counterforce targets, thus allowing the adversary full capability to attrite [India’s] own capability.” Nagal’s argument is that a no-first-use commitment requires that India potentially absorb a nuclear attack on its own nuclear weapons, leaving New Delhi’s arsenal depleted and therefore incapable of launching a second strike to destroy the adversary’s remaining nuclear forces. This, in turn, forces India to resort to countervalue strikes—that is, strikes against population centers—something Nagal regards as a “moral dilemma.”

Nagal consequently argues in favor of replacing the no-first-use policy with a policy of “ambiguity” that “does not allow destruction of the nation and strategic forces at the outset; hence the arsenal is intact for use.” Ambiguity, Nagal contends, “provides a better range of options to launch decapitating and/or disarming strikes to deal with the adversary leadership/arsenal.”[15] Such drastic language is admittedly rare in the Indian debate, but Nagal is not alone. Another former strategic forces commander, Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar, has argued that Indian forces require “select conventional hardware that tracks and targets [adversary] nuclear forces” to “provide the pre-emptive teeth to a deterrent relationship that leans so heavily” on the no-first-use policy.[16] These are striking arguments, coming from individuals who have served at the apex of India’s nuclear weapons program.

One might reasonably argue that Nagal and Shankar are advancing agendas they could not implement while in office and that their prescriptions place implausibly heavy demands on India’s existing and future intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Yet, their arguments are likely to shape the tone and substance of the public debate over the coming years, a debate that will weigh on future Indian governments. For these critics, the fundamental purpose of diluting the no-first-use policy is to keep India’s adversaries guessing about the nuclear threshold in the hope that the resultant ambiguity deters a greater range of threats.[17] 

Pressure on Massive Retaliation

As described above, Modi appears to have poured cold water on moves to alter the no-first-use policy in the direction urged by critics such as Nagal and Shankar. Barring a significant exogenous shock, such as a successful terrorist attack from Pakistan that is interpreted as a failure of deterrence, this is unlikely to change. There is, however, a second pressure on doctrine, relating to the formulation of the policy of massive retaliation. It is ironic that the stronger party in a potential conflict on the subcontinent—India, in relation to Pakistan—should find itself debating the value of flexible nuclear use doctrines, as such pressures ordinarily fall on the party whose conventional forces are weaker. Yet, this is precisely what has happened. 

Indian national security adviser Brajesh Mishra addresses the media in New Delhi on August 17, 1999, as India released a draft of its nuclear weapons doctrine. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)It is often forgotten that massive retaliation was not always part of India’s doctrine. India’s 1999 draft doctrine promised only “punitive” retaliation, a pliable term consistent with both limited and higher-order nuclear use. It was mentioned three times in the document, indicating that considerable care went into its usage. Yet, four years later, the summary of India’s 2003 revised doctrine stated that “nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.”[18] It is unclear whether the changed wording was intentional or merely a function of the revision process. After all, the 1999 draft was never an official document, and different personnel were involved in the creation of each doctrine.

Indian concerns over the credibility of massive retaliation are long-standing, and one can find Indian thinkers debating its finer points in the 1980s and earlier. These concerns have sharpened in recent years because of Pakistan’s reported cultivation of tactical nuclear weapons, which themselves can be placed under the broader category of limited nuclear options.[19] 

Simply put, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons are perceived to constrain India’s ability to wage limited conventional war in retaliation for terrorist attacks attributed to the Pakistani authorities. This is because if Pakistan employed tactical nuclear weapons, avoiding Indian population centers, a massive Indian nuclear response would not be a proportional and therefore credible response. In addition, Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons ensure that it could then conduct a further round of nuclear retaliation against Indian population centers were India to have first attacked Pakistani population centers, thereby creating a further layer of deterrence against New Delhi.

In addition to this well-worn proportionality-credibility problem, there is a second, strategic problem. Whereas India increasingly prepares itself for limited war, “massive retaliation proposes a war with unlimited means for unlimited ends.”[20] If wars are limited, the logic of punishment must be subordinate to the logic of war termination.[21] In other words, India’s use of a nuclear doctrine that carries a high risk of escalation to high-level nuclear use is dissonant with its broader political-military strategy, which is to avoid the kind of large-scale wars that characterized the subcontinent before the 1970s. Indian wars would have limited aims, such as curbing Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups or satisfying Indian public opinion. 

Limited aims require that a state end a war at the earliest possible opportunity compatible with these aims. Because massive retaliation escalates a conflict or is seen to do so, it precludes this. Gaurav Kampani, who has studied the development of India’s nuclear program, citing multiple former chairmen of India’s Chiefs of Staff Committee, notes that “senior Indian military leaders” favor “highly calibrated Indian counter-response to terminate war at the lowest possible level of nuclear exchange.”[22] 

Thus far, Indian policymakers have publicly reiterated that, despite these complaints, they will not be self-deterred from adhering to the letter of their doctrine on massive retaliation. In an important speech in New Delhi in April 2013, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, presumably speaking with some degree of official sanction, defended India’s nuclear doctrine and posture from a variety of criticisms.

[If India] is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary. As I have pointed out earlier, the label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level. Pakistan would be prudent not to assume otherwise as it sometimes appears to do, most recently by developing and perhaps deploying theatre nuclear weapons.[23]

Saran’s protestations are not taken entirely seriously even within the various branches of India’s nuclear establishment. As Rear Admiral Raja Menon, formerly chairman of the task force on Net Assessment and Simulation in India’s National Security Council, wrote in The Hindu in January 2014, “the ideational systems that will ensure the ‘massive’ retaliation promised in [India’s] doctrine are being increasingly questioned by scholars and analysts worldwide.” He added that “Pakistani observers cannot help but be swayed and dangerously influenced by such literature, thereby inducing them to think the unthinkable,” that a nuclear war, once initiated, could be controlled.[24] Menon later argued that India should replace “massive” with “punitive,” as was the case in India’s 1999 draft doctrine, with the aim of signaling India’s “readiness to fight an escalatory nuclear war.”[25]

Other mainstream analysts have argued likewise. In June 2014, Chari lamented that “the determinism inherent in India’s nuclear doctrine…is too extreme to gain much credibility. It defies logic to threaten an adversary with nuclear annihilation to deter or defend against a tactical nuclear strike on an advancing military formation.”[26] In January 2015, Gurmeet Kanwal, former director of India’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies, repeated that “the word ‘massive’…should be substituted with ‘punitive’ as massive is not credible and limits retaliatory options.”[27] 

Even if India were to change its doctrine to punitive rather than massive retaliation, actually developing a range of nuclear options from limited to massive would still be highly challenging. The United States did not possess credible and sophisticated limited nuclear options for two decades after first deploying nuclear weapons. 

Among the future challenges for India will be reconciling nuclear flexibility with exceptionally strong, positive, civilian control. Retired senior military officers routinely complain that the armed forces must have greater involvement in the formulation of nuclear policies.[28] Although India has indeed involved its military in nuclear policy over the last decade to a greater extent than at any prior time, civilian political leaders continue to place great emphasis on retaining the authority and the time to make any final decision on nuclear use. They insist on preserving that authority until the last possible moment and would refrain from authorizing a series of low-level, tit-for-tat nuclear strikes because such strikes might require selection among a large and changing number of targets and a high degree of responsiveness to adversary decisions. Furthermore, such strikes might initiate a sequence that spirals out of control and reduce civilian management of each step up the escalation ladder. 

These civilian concerns inhibit the prospect of pre-emptive first-use doctrines, but they also restrict India’s ability to employ limited nuclear options in precisely the most likely contingencies—notably, limited Indian offensives on Pakistani territory. This is because limited Indian nuclear use on Pakistani soil could interfere with Indian conventional forces present, but Indian civilians might be reluctant to allow coordination between Indian conventional and nuclear forces in a manner that enhances military authority in the nuclear process. Nevertheless, this would not necessarily rule out relatively simple limited nuclear options, such as the use of lower-yield nuclear weapons against static Pakistani military sites. Such targets could be chosen in advance and would not require a highly sophisticated targeting capability. Moreover, use of nuclear weapons against such targets, depending on location, would not necessarily require a high degree of coordination with conventional forces. In this way, India could reintroduce the possibility of nuclear use that is limited and thus proportional and credible, as described above, thereby addressing the problems identified by critics.  


This article has described a series of arguments against two pillars of India’s nuclear doctrine, namely its no-first-use and massive retaliation policies. Underpinning many of these arguments is a widespread sense that “the strategic environment, technological imperatives and…national security,” the factors to which credible minimum deterrence was pegged in 1998, have evolved in the 17 years since India’s nuclear tests and that India’s psychological and material position with regard to nuclear weapons has eroded. Among the causes of this anxiety are the growth in the size and sophistication of Pakistan’s arsenal, perceived slowness in Indian nuclear modernization, nuclear and conventional advances by China, and a worsening security environment on India’s periphery, notably in Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of these factors are aggravated by the Indian state’s opacity with regard to nuclear affairs. 

Indian critics’ arguments toward Indian nuclear doctrine should be considered with a series of caveats in mind. First, three consecutive prime ministers have reaffirmed the no-first-use policy, and Modi has ruled out its elimination. Second, many of the arguments described in this article assume the existence of capabilities and institutional changes, some of which are not presently feasible and others of which, notably disarming first strikes, may never become so. Third, there are prominent and numerous examples of advocacy for the status quo. These include Saran’s speech, cited above, and writings by former diplomats Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood, all of whom worked on nuclear issues in their careers.[29] 

In 2002 a committee appointed to “review the national security system in its entirety” produced the “Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security.” It noted that “the publication of a white paper on the Indian nuclear weapons programme is highly desirable.”[30] This report was partially implemented, but progress was interrupted by the change of government in 2004. A decade later, if the BJP follows through on its commitment at least to look again at India’s nuclear doctrine, then any future review process could afford an opportunity for revisionist voices to apply pressure on the government. 

It should be remembered that, in the past, reviews by the Indian government have frequently been commissioned and then ignored, the most notable being a series of defense and security reviews stretching back decades.[31] Therefore, even a review recommending modification of the doctrine would not necessarily lead to revision. If it does, then a shift in the policy of massive retaliation toward ambiguity and flexibility—perhaps a reversion to pre-2003 language of “punitive” retaliation—would be the likeliest outcome. Yet, even this might require a catalyst or shock, such as another major act of terrorism on Indian soil, similar to the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, that comes to be seen as a failure of deterrence.

Shashank Joshi is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. He has written previously on Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons and other aspects of Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons. This article is based on ideas first presented in a chapter in the Stimson Center’s edited volume Deterrence Instability and Nuclear Weapons in South Asia (2015).


1. Bharatiya Janata Party, “Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas [One India, great India: With all, development for all]; Election Manifesto 2014,” March 26, 2014, p. 39, http://www.bjp.org/images/pdf_2014/full_manifesto_english_07.04.2014.pdf

2. Douglas Busvine, “Modi Says Committed to No First Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Reuters, April 17, 2014; Manoj Joshi, “The Bigger Picture: Modi’s Prime Ministerial Tone Makes Him a Promising Future Leader,” Daily Mail, April 29, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2615170/THE-BIGGER-PICTURE-Modis-prime-ministerial-tone-makes-promising-future-leader.html

3. Indrani Bagchi, “India Not Revisiting Its Nuclear Doctrine, Modi Assures Japan,” The Times of India, August 30, 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-not-revisiting-its-nuclear-doctrine-Modi-assures-Japan/articleshow/41231521.cms.

4. Indian Ministry of External Affairs, “Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine,” August 17, 1999, clause 2.3, http://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?18916/Draft+Report+of+National+Security+Advisory+Board+on+Indian+Nuclear+Doctrine (hereinafter Indian draft nuclear doctrine).

5. Scott Douglas Sagan, “The Evolution of Pakistani and Indian Nuclear Doctrine,” in Inside Nuclear South Asia, ed. Scott Douglas Sagan (Stanford, CA: Stanford Security Studies, 2009), pp. 245-251. 

6. Indian draft nuclear doctrine, clause 2.5.

7. Brajesh Mishra, “Opening Remarks by National Security Adviser Mr. Brajesh Mishra at the Release of Draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine,” in Selected Documents on Nuclear Disarmament, Vol. 1, ed. K.R. Gupta (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2000), p. 117.

8. Sagan, “Evolution of Pakistani and Indian Nuclear Doctrine,” p. 249; Scott D. Sagan, “The Commitment Trap: Why the United States Should Not Use Nuclear Threats to Deter Biological and Chemical Weapons Attacks,” International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4 (April 1, 2000): 85.

9. For more on the idea of emulating peers, see Theo Farrell, “World Culture and Military Power,” Security Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (2005): 454. 

10. Adityanjee, “No First Use Nuclear Doctrine With ‘Chinese Characteristics,’” Vivekananda International Foundation, May 2, 2013, http://www.vifindia.org/article/2013/may/02/no-first-use-nuclear-doctrine-with-chinese-characteristics

11. Jaswant Singh, Transcript of Lok Sabha Debate, March 15, 2011, p. 114,

12. K.R. Gupta, “Introduction,” in Selected Documents on Nuclear Disarmament, Vol. 1, ed. K.R. Gupta (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2000), p. xvii. 

13. Jaswant Singh, e-mail correspondence with author, July 2014.

14. India’s Nuclear Doctrine: An Alternative Blueprint (New Delhi: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, 2012), http://www.ipcs.org/Indias-Nuclear-Doctrine.pdf

15. B.S. Nagal, “Checks and Balances,” Force, June 2014, http://www.forceindia.net/Checks_and_Balances.aspx

16. Vijay Shankar, “Strategic Non-Nuclear Weapons: An Essential Consort to a Doctrine of No First Use,” Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, January 13, 2014, http://www.ipcs.org/columnist/vice-admiral-vijay-shankar/

17. For a good exposition of this logic, see Bruno Tertrais, “The Trouble With No First Use,” Survival, Vol. 51, No. 5 (2009): 24-25.

18. Indian Prime Minister’s Office, “Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Progress in Operationalizing India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” January 4, 2003, http://pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr2003/rjan2003/04012003/r040120033.html

19. Pakistan uses the term “battlefield weapon system,” not “tactical nuclear weapon.” See Shashank Joshi, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Nightmare: Déjà Vu?” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Summer 2013): 161.

20. Gaurav Kampani, “India: The Challenges of Nuclear Operationalization and Strategic Stability,” in Strategic Asia 2013-14: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner (Washington: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013), p. 118.

21. Ashley J. Tellis, India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Between Recessed Deterrent and Ready Arsenal (Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2001), pp. 364-366.

22. Kampani, “India,” p. 119.

23. Shyam Saran, “Is India’s Nuclear Deterrent Credible?” (speech, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, April 24, 2013), p. 16, http://casi.sas.upenn.edu/system/files/Final-Is-Indias-Nuclear-Deterrent-Credible.pdf

24. Raja Menon, “A Mismatch of Nuclear Doctrines,” The Hindu, January 22, 2014.

25. Raja Menon, “Boxed In by Pakistan,” Indian Express, September 8, 2014.

26. P.R. Chari, “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Stirrings of Change,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 4, 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/06/04/india-s-nuclear-doctrine-stirrings-of-change/hcks

27. Gurmeet Kanwal, “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Reviewing NFU and Massive Retaliation,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, January 7, 2015, http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/indias-nuclear-doctrine-reviewing-nfu-and-massive-retaliation-4798.html

28. Anit Mukherjee, George Perkovich, and Gaurav Kampani, “Correspondence: Secrecy, Civil-Military Relations, and India’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” International Security, Vol. 39, No. 3 (January 1, 2015): 202-214.

29. Jayant Prasad, “For a Clear Nuclear Doctrine,” The Hindu, May 6, 2014; Rakesh Sood, “Should India Revise Its Nuclear Doctrine?” Policy Brief, No. 18 (Canberra: Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, December 2014), p. 11.

30. “Reforming the National Security System: Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security,” 2001, p. 122, http://www.vifindia.org/sites/default/files/GoM%20Report%20on%20National%20Security.pdf

31. Anit Mukherjee, “Failing to Deliver: Post-Crises Defence Reforms in India, 1998-2010,” IDSA Occasional Paper, March 2011.

India, U.S. Cite Progress on Nuclear Deal

India and the United States reached what President Barack Obama described as a “breakthrough understanding” on two issues that have held up nuclear trade between the two countries.

March 2015

By Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on January 25. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)India and the United States in late January reached what President Barack Obama described as a “breakthrough understanding” on two issues that have held up nuclear trade between the two countries under a deal reached under President George W. Bush.

The understandings, announced Jan. 25 during Obama’s visit to India to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deal with the issues of liability in case of an accident at a foreign-supplied reactor in India and with the tracking of U.S. material exported to India.

The second issue concerns the so-called administrative arrangements that are a standard part of U.S. nuclear cooperation with other countries. Like other nuclear exporters, the United States maintains those arrangements to ensure that the material it sends to other countries for their peaceful nuclear programs does not end up in weapons programs.

The two sides released little specific information on what they had agreed, but interviews with sources from industry, Congress, and elsewhere who had been briefed by administration officials provided a generally consistent picture of the U.S.-Indian understandings.

As the sources described it, the approach endorsed by Modi and Obama would provide much of the information obtained from standard U.S. administrative arrangements, but in a more roundabout way. Under standard arrangements, the U.S. partner assumes most of the burden for the tracking, but in the case of India, the United States would have to do much of the work itself, one source said.

India balked at the standard arrangements because New Delhi considered them costly, intrusive, and unnecessary, the source said.

According to several accounts, India insisted that the United States obtain information on the exported material and its course within India from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which applies safeguards to the nuclear facilities that India has designated as civilian. The IAEA information, however, provides only an aggregate picture of the material in the facilities it safeguards rather than identifying the material on the basis of the country that supplied it.

A second source, a former U.S. official, described his conception of the way the arrangement was likely to work in practice. He said the material the United States would send to India would be in the form of fabricated fuel elements. If India reprocessed the spent fuel coming from that fresh fuel, New Delhi would tell Washington the amount of plutonium that was separated and the amount that it fabricated into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel (so called because it is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides), he said. It also would have to report the amount of spent fuel that the reactor had produced, he said.

With that information and knowledge of the characteristics of the fuel and the reactor in which the fuel was irradiated, the U.S. government could make its own calculations of the amount of plutonium contained in the spent fuel, the former official said. From that starting point, the United States could determine how much plutonium was separated and not fabricated into MOX fuel, he said.

The United States is to meet once a year with India to compare figures, the former official said. He said it was not clear to him how the two sides would resolve discrepancies.

Under the 2007 U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement and a follow-on accord from 2010, India has permission to reprocess spent fuel that comes from U.S.-supplied fresh fuel or was irradiated in a U.S.-supplied reactor. (See ACT, May 2010.) But the reprocessing must take place in a facility “dedicated to reprocessing safeguarded nuclear material under IAEA safeguards,” according to the 2007 agreement.

India does not have such a facility and has not begun to build one. Its current reprocessing plants are not under safeguards.

The January announcement is the latest development in a saga that began with a joint July 2005 statement by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laying out a blueprint for easing U.S. and international nuclear trade restrictions on India, which is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In 2006 Congress passed legislation known as the Hyde Act, opening the door to nuclear trade with India but establishing certain reporting and monitoring requirements to ensure that U.S. nuclear exports were used only for peaceful purposes.

One source who was involved in that debate and was critical of the overall deal said the newly announced arrangements appeared to meet the requirements of the Hyde Act.

The former official said that, from the descriptions he had received, the procedure seemed equivalent to the standard administrative arrangements. It “should give us the information we need to know [although] in an unconventional way,” he said. But he emphasized that the recently announced accord is on an understanding in principle. The two sides need to draft the administrative arrangement, and “it remains to be seen” if they can “find language that is mutually acceptable,” he said.

At a Jan. 26 press briefing, Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, said, “The Indians certainly came to the table with increased information-sharing and exchanges that met our concerns.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush arrive for a joint press conference at the White House on July 18, 2005. At the press conference, the two leaders announced a new policy on U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)Congress approved the India agreement in 2008, but U.S. companies have not signed any contracts for significant nuclear exports to India. The questions about U.S. monitoring of exports have been an obstacle, but for the companies—especially General Electric and Westinghouse, which have hopes of selling reactors to India—a larger issue has been their concern that they could be found liable in case of an accident. In most countries with nuclear power plants, the operator, not the supplier, is potentially liable for accidents at nuclear facilities.

To address those concerns, India is proposing to create an insurance pool and to establish that its national law is compatible with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, under which reactor suppliers cannot be held liable. Several of the sources expressed skepticism that the steps would be sufficient to convince General Electric and Westinghouse to build reactors in India, but these sources emphasized that the companies would have to be the ones to decide.

At the Jan. 26 briefing, Rhodes said the Indian and U.S. governments believe that “they have reached an understanding on these critical issues that have been an impediment to moving forward in the last several years.” But he acknowledged that “it’s ultimately up to U.S. companies to make their own determinations about whether and when to invest in India and to move forward.”

India’s Agni-5 Closer to Deployment

India successfully tested its Agni-5 ballistic missile from a road-mobile canister for the first time in January, moving the missile one step closer to deployment, according to an Indian official.

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

India’s January 31 test launch of the Agni-5 is shown in this video image. (DRDO)India successfully tested its Agni-5 ballistic missile from a road-mobile canister for the first time in January, moving the missile one step closer to deployment, according to an Indian official.

Avinash Chander, director-general of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said in Jan. 31 statement that the success of that day’s test from the mobile canister is “a new milestone,” allowing the Indian armed forces to “stop anywhere and launch” the Agni-5.

The Agni-5 is a nuclear-capable ballistic missile first tested by India in April 2012 and then again in September 2013. (See ACT, May 2012; October 2013.)

The three-stage missile is solid fueled and can carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers, according to news reports of past tests and information released by the DRDO. A 5,000-kilometer range puts all of China within reach.

A range of 5,500 kilometers is generally considered the threshold between intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. A missile’s range can be extended by lightening its payload.

Chander said that the road-mobile canister for the Agni-5 makes it “highly survivable” and provides an assured retaliatory capability. Such a capability is important, given India’s no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons, he said.

In a Jan. 31 statement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the DRDO on the successful test and said the Agni-5 is a “prized asset” for India’s forces.

The Modi government terminated Chander’s contract as head of the DRDO earlier in January. Chander left the organization on Jan. 31, after the test was completed.

Chander said that one more test is necessary before the Agni-5 can be deployed as part of India’s nuclear arsenal. After that, “the objective is to begin induction by the end of this year” if possible, he said.

Chander said the DRDO is not currently working on missiles with ranges longer than the Agni-5. Although technically possible, the Agni-5 “takes care of our existing threat perceptions,” he said.

BOOK REVIEW: When Strategic Optimism and Nonproliferation Collide

In his book on the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, Dinshaw Mistry performs a “singular service” in his recounting of “who did what to whom,” particularly in India, but his data do not always reveal which of the political efforts...

January/February 2015

Reviewed by Edward P. Levine

The US-India Nuclear Agreement: Diplomacy and Domestic Politics
By Dinshaw Mistry
Cambridge University Press, 2014, 300 pp.

The U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement had its roots in India’s refusal to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state. Neither the United States, by law, nor other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), under its guidelines, were permitted to engage in peaceful nuclear commerce with India. The Clinton administration began high-level negotiations with India after the United States imposed sanctions following India’s 1998 nuclear tests. Complicated preliminary steps led to the two countries’ July 18, 2005, joint statement, in which Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to take a series of actions to underscore India’s commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to seek legislation authorizing full U.S. peaceful nuclear commerce with India and to press for changes in international regimes to permit other countries to do the same.[1]

To the possible surprise of both leaders, implementation of the joint statement required more than three years of legislating in the United States and politicking in India. On the U.S. side, the politics of the deal involved the executive branch, both houses of Congress, nongovernmental organizations, hired lobbyists, and diplomats around the world. On the Indian side, they involved statements to parliament, threats to the reigning coalition, and a very public dispute over whether one of India’s past nuclear tests was a “fizzle.” Today, more than nine years later, much of the expected nuclear trade between the two countries has yet to materialize.

Enter Dinshaw Mistry, an associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and the author of a previous book on the Missile Technology Control Regime. In The US-India Nuclear Agreement: Diplomacy and Domestic Politics, Mistry has undertaken to chronicle the tortuous process by which the joint statement was developed and implemented, with particular attention to the role of domestic politics in India and the United States. He draws on declassified U.S. diplomatic cables; interviews with 40 participants in the process, including this reviewer; a thorough review of the public record, including the many news accounts, opinion pieces, speeches, and written statements that were part of the political process that he recounts; and other experts’ informed analysis of the process. Mistry has performed a singular service to those who follow U.S.-Indian relations or nonproliferation. At last, they have a place to go when they forget who did what to whom in this saga and when.

Readers may find the chapter “Getting to July 2005” especially interesting. Mistry describes the evolution of the nuclear agreement from an eventual goal for President Bill Clinton, if India first undertook major nonproliferation actions, to an immediate objective for which Bush, in his second term, was willing to set aside most nonproliferation concerns. Mistry recounts a process in which a small number of senior policymakers (plus an ambassador and a consultant) overturned existing policy by keeping the bureaucracy out of the discussions and unaware of months of negotiations. This chapter is a case study in the ability of a determined president and his top advisers to move the ship of state in new directions. It also highlights the fact that when one country becomes intensely committed to a particular outcome in a negotiation, it may have to cede to the other country most or possibly all of the other policy points at issue.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (left) and U.S. President George W. Bush walk together after announcing a new policy on U.S.-Indian nuclear relations during a press conference at the White House on July 18, 2005. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)Most U.S. readers will find much to learn in Mistry’s extensive discussion of Indian politics. Few of us who tried to follow events in India during this period were expert enough to know how particular news outlets were perceived politically, how Indian scientists divided on nuclear issues, and how much flexibility there was in the fractious parties that made up Singh’s coalition government, led by the Congress Party, and its opposition. Thus, it was clear that Singh’s statement to the Indian parliament on July 29, 2005, in which he stated that “[o]ur strategic policies and assets…will remain outside the scope of our discussions with any external interlocutors” and that “the Government will not allow any fissile material shortages or any other material limitations on our strategic programmes in order to meet current or future requirements,”[2] served to paint him into a corner and forced the United States to come closer to his position in subsequent negotiations on numerous points. It was less clear to many Americans whether these statements were made because of Indian domestic politics or for the purpose of improving his negotiating position vis-à-vis the United States. Mistry makes a strong case that Singh had no domestic leeway to make further concessions on U.S. nonproliferation concerns.

Mistry’s book generates great sympathy for Singh, the head of a minority government, who was pressed by his nuclear bureaucracy and the rightist parliamentary opposition on the one hand and by his anti-U.S. leftist coalition partners on the other. Singh had little choice but to take a hard line if he wished to maintain the nuclear deal and his government. The book provides a detailed account of not only the political arguments in India, but also the government’s many failed attempts to broaden its base of support for the agreement before it finally persuaded the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) to join its coalition in July 2008. SP support, which enabled Singh to press ahead with India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) despite leftist opposition, occurred for unrelated political reasons: the SP needed the Congress Party’s electoral help in the SP’s home base of Uttar Pradesh.

Despite the SP’s need for this help, the government had to ease the process along by saying that India would continue to have close relations with Iran, a move designed to keep the agreement from offending the SP’s important Shiite Muslim constituency. Thus, the price paid for Indian ability to implement this aspect of the July 2005 joint statement was India’s continued refusal to fully support the United States on a nuclear nonproliferation issue that was substantively and politically significant.

The chapters recounting the U.S. politics of the nuclear deal may prove less interesting to Americans. There are minor errors in the book—an official given an incorrect title here, a confusion between floor amendments and committee amendments there, a voting rule seemingly ascribed to political dealing but more likely the result of standing rules—that may be attributable to the fact that the book was published and printed in India, probably without benefit of an U.S. editor.

More importantly, despite Mistry’s far-reaching efforts, there are limits to his data. He can say how many meetings an ambassador or a group had with U.S. legislators, but he cannot readily determine which, if any, of these changed any minds. The same is true regarding the many press releases, hearing statements, and opinion pieces that the nuclear deal engendered. Occasional interviewees flagged something as influential, but they did not yield much information regarding changes in the frame of mind of important actors as the political process played out.

This reader would have appreciated more discussion of the way in which the 2006 and 2008 bills—the Hyde Act in 2006, which provided a mechanism for approval of a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with India despite the pact’s failure to meet the requirements of section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, and the 2008 legislation that approved that agreement on an expedited basis before Congress adjourned—were shaped in the back rooms of Congress. What did members say to each other in the party caucuses? Was there ever any real doubt that Congress would support the nuclear deal? Was the process really about seeing how far Congress could press to include in the legislation its nonproliferation or anti-Iran policies without incurring blame for scuttling the agreement, or was it more about members’ views of Bush and his willingness to put Congress in a difficult position? Did witnesses at hearings present new ideas that made a difference, or were they invited for the purpose of providing talking points to one member or another, who had already formed his or her views based on information from other sources? Did the committee reports contain any useful insights or statements of intent? Which amendments were proposed with a sincere hope of success, and which were proposed more for making a record of the member’s concerns?

The book is a most welcome account of formal actions, but it rarely penetrates to the informal and personal level. Perhaps this research was undertaken too soon after the events for the participants to tell the story with the candor and detail that one might wish.[3]

Mistry’s analysis is grounded in the theory of two-level games, which emphasizes the complexity of situations in which a negotiator must juggle the need to reach agreement in a formal negotiation—with another country or with another economic actor as in labor-management negotiations—and the need to obtain ratification of that agreement by the negotiator’s own institutions. The latter need is expressed in the formal negotiation by each side’s “win-set,” that subset of the range of possible outcomes for which the negotiator can secure the needed ratification.[4] Mistry discusses the U.S.-Indian negotiations within that construct, but it does not provide much in the way of new insights or clarity, perhaps because political leaders rarely analyze their actions in as complex a manner as mathematical theories would posit. Bush, at least, appears to have gone step by step, focusing now on India, now on Congress, now on the IAEA or the NSG. There is little to suggest that he allowed concerns about congressional reaction to limit his choices.

The Nuclear Deal in Practice

Formal constructs aside, The US-India Nuclear Agreement certainly underscores the alacrity with which the Bush administration changed the ground rules for dealing with India’s nuclear program. What resulted from that bold step? Was a new partnership forged between India and the United States? Were international nonproliferation norms dealt a crippling blow?

It is too early to give firm answers to those questions, although the opening to India certainly has not produced all the benefits that U.S. officials initially promised. Nicholas Burns, a chief negotiator of the nuclear deal as U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, recently criticized President Barack Obama for an India policy that he termed “currently adrift.”[5]

Burns went on, however, to call India “a difficult and sometimes disputatious friend” and “an irresolute supporter of U.S. efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” He added that “Obama would be within his rights to ask [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi to repeal India’s discriminatory nuclear liability law, which scuttled the historic” nuclear deal. Burns could have added that it took India six years to ratify its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and that India has yet to adhere to the Australia Group guidelines regarding exports of chemical and biological materials and technology, despite what U.S. officials thought was an informal assurance of prompt action in 2005.

India reduced its oil purchases from Iran, and the various Iran-to-India gas pipeline projects that were in play a decade ago still are not making significant headway. India’s improved naval cooperation with the United States in recent years is a net plus for nonproliferation efforts, despite India’s refusal in the 2005 negotiations and since then to join the U.S.-sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative.

U.S. arms sales to India were expected to benefit from the nuclear deal, and to some extent, this has happened. India is currently the world’s largest importer of arms and is the largest customer for U.S. arms as well; the United States has sold helicopters, transport planes, and maritime patrol aircraft to India. Yet, India rejected U.S. bids for two major arms sales, of fighter jets and most recently anti-tank missiles. In part, this reflects India’s effort to acquire advanced foreign technology, which the United States is not as willing to share as other countries are.[6] It may also reflect India’s desire not to depend on the United States to the detriment of such traditional suppliers as Russia and Israel.

The record of arms sales since 2005 suggests that the nuclear agreement did not prompt many sales due to gratitude from India. The agreement was more likely seen in India as a U.S. attempt to right a long-standing wrong, surely nothing more and perhaps something less than India deserved.

It is more difficult and likely too soon to say whether improved U.S.-Indian ties as a result of the nuclear deal are making India a bulwark against China. Occasional incidents on India’s border with China remind India that those two countries are competitors for influence in Asia, but India chooses not to make that competition a formal one or part of a U.S.-Chinese conflict. Modi’s recent outreach to Japan suggests that “not made in America” Indian initiatives can serve common U.S. and Indian objectives. The statement released during Modi’s visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a shared interest in maritime security and a decision to “upgrade and strengthen” defense relations. It welcomed Indian-Japanese Coast Guard maritime exercises and trilateral exercises with the United States.

The impact of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal on other countries, especially Pakistan and China, was notable and unfortunate. Pakistan focused on the risk that India would use imported uranium to fuel its safeguarded reactors, freeing up its limited domestic uranium supplies to fuel its unsafeguarded reactors and increase its fissile material production. Pakistan and China then announced plans to build more nuclear reactors in Pakistan, despite previous promises by China to the NSG. China claimed that the new plants were grandfathered by an existing agreement with Pakistan, but other countries and outside experts found that claim difficult to credit. Pakistan also blocked consideration of a fissile material cutoff treaty in the Conference on Disarmament, and Mistry cites a Pakistani suggestion that Islamabad might reconsider its stand if there were a U.S.-Pakistani nuclear deal analogous to the U.S.-Indian one. Whether the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal was a direct cause of the Pakistani and Chinese actions or merely provided a rationalization for them, the developments were detrimental to regional security and the world’s ability to stem nuclear proliferation.

India reportedly may increase its fissile material production in response to Pakistan’s actions, perhaps by using domestic uranium that is freed up by fueling its safeguarded reactors with uranium from Australia, which recently signed its own nuclear cooperation agreement with India. Mistry makes an interesting case, however, that India could increase its fissile material stockpiles without using more domestic uranium.

The U.S.-Indian agreement is not the only factor moving Pakistan and India toward increased nuclear weapons production. Pakistan appears to be reacting to India’s alleged “Cold Start” military strategy for mounting a limited but devastating conventional attack on Pakistan with little or no warning. India may be reacting to Pakistan’s efforts to develop and field tactical nuclear weapons that would be under the control of field commanders.[7] The nuclear elements of the Indian and Pakistani armies are highly professional, and they have taken these steps without engaging in much bellicose rhetoric. Still, these developments could be part of a slow-motion arms race that will leave Pakistan more reliant on and India more attentive to nuclear posturing and war-fighting capabilities. It is difficult to see how this will benefit either country, let alone the United States.

From the standpoint of U.S. policy, this situation underscores the need to help India and Pakistan settle their disputes peacefully, thereby reducing their desire for more nuclear weapons. That is in keeping with the realist school of thought, which has always viewed nonproliferation as a stopgap effort, buying time in which to address the underlying causes of countries’ aspirations to nuclear weapons development. If the United States wants to encourage serious Indian-Pakistani dialogue and confidence-building measures, it might consider that the current Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has more parliamentary support than any in decades.

Modi might have more leeway to make conciliatory gestures toward Pakistan because he heads a Hindu nationalist party that led the government that approved India’s 1998 nuclear tests. In Mistry’s terms, Modi’s win-set when negotiating with Pakistan might be larger than was the case for previous Indian governments. Finding a Pakistani government with broad leeway to be conciliatory toward India will be more of a challenge unless the issue is one on which Pakistan’s military agrees that a peaceful solution is needed or on which India is unusually sympathetic to Pakistani concerns.

Reactions Beyond South Asia

Other countries have noted the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, including Iran and North Korea. The U.S. willingness to give India the benefits that accrue to an NPT signatory, although India has remained outside the treaty and built a nuclear arsenal, sends an interesting message to other nuclear outliers and to the rest of the world. In a way, it is a message of hope, that eventually all states that build nuclear arsenals will find international acceptance and status. Yet, it can be interpreted, fairly or not, as an indication that U.S. nonproliferation efforts are not an expression of sincere concern, but only a smoke screen for rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies.[8] The nuclear deal has not helped the cause of nonproliferation.

Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and a chief negotiator of the nuclear agreement with India, speaks to reporters in New Delhi on May 31, 2007. At left is David Mumford, U.S. ambassador to India. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)That said, accusations of hypocrisy directed at the United States are nothing new. Much of the world thrives on them, and this is merely one more in a long list. So far, other countries, with the exception of China and Pakistan, as noted above, have not cited the agreement as an excuse for specific acts that are counter to international nonproliferation norms. The lingering suspicions likely make it more important, however, for the United States to justify with some specificity its nonproliferation requests of others. There is perhaps less willingness than before to take U.S. sincerity on faith. That can be a problem when the U.S. requests are part of a time-sensitive interdiction effort and involve a loss of commerce or a risk of backlash for the state whose help is needed.

Another risk is that other countries will conclude that the United States is inherently hypocritical when it comes to nuclear commerce, that Washington really sees such commerce as more important than nonproliferation. The long battle within the U.S. government over whether to require other countries to renounce domestic uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing in their peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States has been similarly detrimental to the image of U.S. nonproliferation leadership. This is so even though the United States recently secured a legally binding commitment from Taiwan and nonbinding preambular language from Vietnam to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing.

There have been many successes in the effort to stem proliferation, including the development of international treaties and institutions to combat it and the decisions of many countries to reject or give up efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, as well as stockpiles accumulated through those efforts and the equipment that makes them possible. Nonproliferation, however, is one of those never-ending challenges, like counterterrorism and the fight against infectious diseases. The ability and the temptation to develop weapons of mass destruction are endemic now in most of the world. For a policymaker, the message from nonproliferation experts sounds like a nagging relative: “What have you done for me lately?”

In The US-India Nuclear Agreement, Mistry shows how strategic optimism triumphed over such naysayers as Americans who worry about nuclear proliferation and Indians who worry that foreign pressures will lead to gaps in India’s nuclear weapons program. If one wants policymakers to give greater weight to nonproliferation concerns, one must create an optimism about nonproliferation that will stand up to such competing optimisms as “a new strategic direction” and “more jobs for Americans.” Whether the challenge is sanctions fatigue, Russian rejection of further nonproliferation assistance, or another country falling off the nonproliferation wagon, the task for those who care about nonproliferation is not to win battles against presidents, but rather to design more positive and practical nonproliferation initiatives, programs that an optimistic president would be proud to include in his or her autobiography.

Edward P. Levine serves on the national advisory board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and is a member of the leadership of the Nuclear Security Working Group. As a senior professional staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was actively involved in legislation dealing with the U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” July 18, 2005.

2. Embassy of India to the United States, “Statement by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in Parliament on His Visit to the United States,” July 29, 2005, https://www.indianembassy.org/archives_details.php?nid=566.

3. See Gerald Felix Warburg, “Nonproliferation Policy Crossroads: Lessons Learned From the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 19, No. 3 (November 2012): 451-471, http://www.batten.virginia.edu/sites/default/files/fwpapers/Warburg%20-%20US-India%20nuclear%20cooperation%20agreement.pdf. This study describes more of the political calculation in Congress, relying in part on House of Representatives interview sources that, as in Mistry’s book, are unnamed.

4. The concept is rooted in mathematical studies of economic negotiations. It was first applied in political science to studies of congressional committees. For its application to the analysis of international negotiations, see Robert D. Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Summer 1988): 427-460, http://www.ou.edu/uschina/texts/Putnam88Diplomacy.pdf.

5. Nicholas Burns, “Obama’s Opportunity With India and Its New Leader,” The Washington Post, September 28, 2014.

6. Sunil Dasgupta and Stephen P. Cohen, “Arms Sales for India: How Military Trade Could Energize U.S.-Indian Relations,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 2 (March/April 2011), http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67462/sunil-dasgupta-and-stephen-p-cohen/arms-sales-for-india.

7. For a discussion of how Pakistan may be reacting to a nonexistent Indian strategy, see Jaganath Sankaran, “The Enduring Power of Bad Ideas: ‘Cold Start’ and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia,” Arms Control Today, November 2014.

8. For example, for a description of Brazilian attitudes, see Togzhan Kassenova, Brazil’s Nuclear Kaleidoscope: An Evolving Identity, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2014, pp. 57-60, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/brazil_nuclear_kaleidoscope_lo_res.pdf.

The Enduring Power of Bad Ideas: ‘Cold Start’ and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Pakistan does not need to pursue development of the Nasr, a battlefield nuclear missile conceived in response to India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine.

November 2014

By Jaganath Sankaran

In April 2011, Pakistan declared that it had tested a short-range battlefield nuclear missile, the Nasr.1 Since then, prominent purveyors of Pakistani nuclear doctrine, including Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai and former diplomat Maleeha Lodhi, have portrayed the Nasr missile as a counter to India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine.2

That doctrine supposedly aims at rapid but limited retaliatory incursions into Pakistan by the Indian army to seize and hold narrow slices of territory in response to a terrorism event in India involving Pakistanis. The rationale is that the seized territory would be returned in exchange for Pakistani extradition of extremists inflicting terrorism onto India. The doctrine is based on the assumption that Pakistan would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons in response to a limited Indian incursion, thereby offering space for conventional conflict even in a nuclearized environment.

Pointing to this Indian war doctrine, Pakistani decision-makers now argue that the deterrent value of their current arsenal operates only at the strategic level. According to this line of reasoning, the gap at the tactical level gives India the freedom to successfully engage in limited Cold Start-style military operations without fear of nuclear escalation. Development of the low-yield, tactical battlefield nuclear weapon, the Nasr missile, is seen as the solution providing “flexible deterrence options”3 for an appropriate response to Cold Start, rather than massive nuclear retaliation against India. Nasr proponents argue that by maintaining “a credible linkage between limited conventional war and nuclear escalation,” the missile will deter India from carrying out its plan.4

This approach might appear to be sensible, but it suffers from two important flaws. First, the Cold Start doctrine has not been actively implemented and therefore does not seem to represent a genuine threat to Pakistan. Second, battlefield nuclear weapons are a key part of the proposed solution, but it may be extremely difficult to establish a command and control system that would effectively preclude the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch.

Is Cold Start Real?

The genesis of the Cold Start doctrine goes back to a conference of Indian army commanders held in April 2004. The media claimed at the time that a new Indian war doctrine was presented at that conference. These sources added that although the full details of the doctrine remained classified and many issues were still being fine-tuned, a briefing by a senior officer had mentioned the concept of eight integrated battle groups being employed in place of the existing three large strike formations. Yet, there is no evidence of an unveiling at the conference of the Cold Start doctrine as it stands now with its various operational details. In fact, the Indian army doctrine document released in October 2004 following the conference makes no mention of the Cold Start doctrine.5

How did the purported Cold Start doctrine gain so much currency? One of the two prime sources to which all writings on the Cold Start doctrine refer is an op-ed piece by Firdaus Ahmed, a writer on security affairs.6 Writing in May 2004, without citing any evidence, he claims that the doctrine comprises two important elements. The integrated battle groups, being smaller than the current strike corps, could be deployed more quickly, and these groups would be able to undercut Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine of first use by striking at narrow pieces of territory along the Indian-Pakistani border that do not necessarily compel Pakistan to cross its nuclear threshold. Ahmed points out that there was no indication that the idea had originated in the Integrated Defence Staff—the joint body serving as India’s unified armed services headquarters—suggesting that the idea did not have the endorsement of the three services. The other prime source to which all later discussions of the Cold Start doctrine refer is an article by Subhash Kapila, a strategic affairs analyst.7 In his piece, Kapila suggests that, in the absence of more details, some aspects of the strategic conceptual underpinnings of India’s new war doctrine can be assumed. One key assumption that he makes is that three of the army’s existing strike corps may be reconstituted and reinforced into eight or so integrated battle groups to launch multiple strikes into Pakistan. Another assumption is that India’s strike corps elements will have to be moved well forward from existing garrisons usually situated deeper inside India. Here again, the author makes assumptions about what he believes to be the elements of an as-yet-undeclared doctrine.

In trying to outline what Cold Start could be, these two sources were at best providing opinion rather than facts. Yet, these pieces have endured and have ended up propagating an idea that apparently does not have support from the armed forces or the political class in India. Recently, the Indian government and military have been striving to deny that Cold Start is an approved doctrine.8 Timothy Roemer, U.S. ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, noted in a leaked assessment that “several very high level officials [including the former Indian national security adviser M.K. Narayanan] have firmly stated, when asked directly about their support for Cold Start, that they have never endorsed, supported or advocated for this doctrine.”9 The Obama administration apparently raised the issue of Cold Start in November 2009 when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington. In a subsequent comment, Indian Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar said, “We don’t know what Cold Start is. Our prime minister has said that Pakistan has nothing to fear.”10 Similarly, General V.K. Singh, who retired in May 2012 as Indian’s chief of army staff, said in 2010, “There is nothing called ‘Cold Start.’ As part of our overall strategy we have a number of contingencies and options, depending on what the aggressor does. In the recent years, we have been improving our systems with respect to mobilization, but our basic military posture is defensive.” He has further said, “I think that ‘Cold Start’ is just a term bandied about by think tanks and media. It is neither a doctrine nor a military term in our glossary.”11

The origins of the Cold Start doctrine therefore are highly suspect. More importantly, there have not been any subsequent observable Indian efforts to operationalize the doctrine. In fact, elements of the Indian army and the Indian air force substantially disagree on how to do this and on whether the doctrine needs to be operationalized at all. The presumed Cold Start doctrine, by design, ties down Indian air force units to missions of close air support in a spatially limited theater of operations in which the army operates rather than allowing the air force to exploit the quantitative and qualitative advantages it possesses against its Pakistani counterpart and launch a wider campaign of strategic attrition and air supremacy.12

The doctrine also underplays strategic bombing, which is a preferred mission for the air force. The Indian air force has balked at this idea, suggesting that its role in the supposed Cold Start is an artificial and gross underutilization of air power. Making this point, Kapil Kak, a retired air vice-marshal who is deputy director of the air force’s Center for Air Power Studies, has said that “there is no question of the air force fitting into a doctrine propounded by the army. That is a concept dead at inception.”13 Furthermore, Kak has argued that there is little necessity for the air force to divert its frontline fighter aircraft to augment the army’s firepower. That task, he says, can be achieved by the army’s own attack helicopters and multiple rocket launchers that now have a 100-kilometer range. Yet, the army’s airborne assets are inferior to those of the air force. In particular, if the Pakistani air force brings its top assets into action in response to a Cold Start-style incursion, the Indian army’s airborne assets will not be able to provide cover for the invading army. Will Cold Start then be implementable?

In addition, Indian military forces have not undertaken any of the changes needed to execute an operation along the lines of Cold Start. The Indian army still maintains its three large offensive corps stationed in the middle of the country, whereas the Cold Start doctrine advocates breaking them into smaller integrated battle groups deployed at the Indian-Pakistani border.

Furthermore, the Indian army has not equipped its forces in a manner that would enable them to mount rapid and aggressive campaigns against Pakistan. For example, main battle tanks—a good indicator of progress—increased in number only slightly between 2003 and 2014 from an estimated 3,898 to approximately 4,000 tanks in working condition. Similarly, in 2003, the army had 320 armored personnel carriers. In 2014, there are approximately 336 active armored personnel carriers. The number of armored infantry fighting vehicles was estimated at 1,600 in 2003 and 1,445 in 2014.14 Although equipment numbers do not always represent military intent, the constancy in equipment inventory again points to a lack of concerted effort to actualize Cold Start.

This lack of effort to re-engineer the Indian military along the lines envisioned in the Cold Start doctrine reflects to some measure the limits of coercive military power. For example, after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, Prime Minister Singh had apparently decided against military action. It is believed that Singh had worried that if India were to launch selective strikes, they would likely only deepen Pakistan’s internal turmoil and probably escalate into a war that could include nuclear deployments, which may be precisely what the terrorists hope to provoke. That is a significant problem to which the Cold Start doctrine has no remedy.

Additionally, India possibly recognizes, given the recent spate of terrorist attacks within Pakistan, that Pakistan is now able to exert much less control over the jihadi elements operating inside its territory. Speaking on the limits of military action after the Mumbai attack, Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador in Washington, said that “there is no military option here. India had to ‘isolate the terrorist elements’ in Pakistan not rally the nation around them.”15

The absence of official approval, the divergent interests of the various branches of the armed services, and the lack of observable military progress toward implementation of the Cold Start doctrine in India should give Pakistani leaders pause with regard to further developing and deploying the Nasr missile. These issues, however, are only part of the reason that battlefield nuclear weapons are a poor choice for Pakistan. The difficulties in managing battlefield nuclear weapons are an equally important aspect.

Pakistani Command and Control

The possession of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons poses one major challenge to Pakistan: effective command and control. The Nasr, which has a short range of about 60 kilometers, is a quick-dispersal system that can be forward deployed near the Indian-Pakistani border, thereby providing ready access to the field commander when he needs it. Although a forward-deployed system could give field commanders quick access and obviate the risk of a communication failure with the political leadership in the midst of combat, ensuring such operational readiness might also require the devolution of command and control to the local field commander and possibly even a prior authorization to use nuclear weapons. That poses the risk of unauthorized or unnecessary use.

A field commander has no way to forecast the outcome of a battle; there is a constant risk of being overrun. He has no way to be absolutely sure that all conventional options have been exhausted and that he is using nuclear weapons only as a last resort. Lacking the overall picture, a regiment or a battalion commander could always be tempted to utilize all his available weapons. While at Harvard University, Henry Kissinger argued that when a commander is hard pressed and facing the prospect of eventual defeat, he would need “superhuman discipline to refrain from using a weapon that he believes may tilt the outcome of the battle in his favor.”16

President Barack Obama (left) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participate in an arrival ceremony at the White House on November 24, 2009. During Singh’s visit, the U.S. side reportedly raised the issue of India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)Even when a local commander has correctly evaluated that he is about to lose, his defeat would not necessarily imply that Pakistan would lose the war. Winning all the battles is not a requirement for winning the war. For example, in the last major Indian-Pakistan war, in 1965, Pakistan suffered a major defeat in Kasur near Lahore. Yet, the next day it won an important battle in Sialkot, thereby bringing the war to a standstill. If the same situation were to unfold in the future, would a Pakistani commander decide to use battlefield nuclear weapons? If so, would India escalate with nuclear retaliation? How would that affect the outcome of the war? Pakistani military decision-makers should explore these questions and determine how they affect the command and control arrangements of the Nasr.

Pakistan’s political and military leaders also should worry about the validity and integrity of any distress signal they would receive in an emerging military crisis or during a war. To illustrate, two days after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack began, someone pretending to be India’s foreign minister telephoned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and threatened war unless Pakistan acted immediately against the perpetrators of the attack. Zardari immediately contacted the country’s military leadership, and the country’s army and air force went to their highest alert status.

In subsequent comments to the Dawn newspaper, a senior Pakistani official defended the high-alert status during the incident, saying that “war may not have been imminent, but it was not possible to take any chances.” Zardari also initiated a diplomatic campaign with the United States to put pressure on India to withdraw the apparent threat. Pakistani leaders warned the United States that if the Pakistani government felt threatened, it would move troops engaged in anti-terrorism operations in the Afghanistan border region to its eastern border with India. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to intervene. Rice called Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the middle of the night to ask him about the call and inquire about the threatening message. Mukherjee reassured Rice that he had not spoken to Zardari.17

A year later, a report in Dawn revealed that an investigation in Pakistan concluded that the call to Zardari was made by Omar Saeed Sheikh, the terrorist held for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl at the Hyderabad prison in Pakistan. Sheikh also seems to have reached General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of army staff.

Apparently, Sheikh was using a cellphone with a SIM registered in the United Kingdom.18 It is still unknown if powerful elements within Pakistan were involved in planning the hoax call. How did the call get through without due diplomatic checks?19 Was it just an oversight, or was there internal involvement? Suggestions were made in India that Zardari was “suckered” into taking the call, hinting at the involvement of “elements” in Pakistan that wanted the situation to escalate.20 Tempting as it may be to characterize this incident as an isolated occurrence, it is not. A number of similar incidents have occurred.21 Given these miscommunications, how can a Pakistani decision-maker be sure that a request to approve use of battlefield nuclear weapons is valid and necessary? Pakistan’s discordant military-civilian relationship also poses challenges to the sensible and safe command and control of forward-deployed battlefield nuclear weapons.22

An Alternative for Pakistan
Two factors should compel Pakistan to reassess its plans for further development and deployment of the Nasr. First, the validity and viability of Cold Start—the primary reason for Pakistan’s development of the Nasr—has been highly overrated. There is no evidence to suggest that it is an official doctrine drawing broad political support or generating interservice enthusiasm. Second, operating a battlefield nuclear weapon such as the Nasr in the absence of a real and current Cold Start threat imposes unnecessary additional stresses on the management of Pakistan’s nuclear command and control.

Click image to enlarge.If Pakistan nevertheless intends to possess a limited battlefield nuclear weapons capability, its current nuclear arsenal can perform that function. There is no particular need to develop new missiles or warheads. Pakistan’s current missile inventory and nuclear arsenal in combination can perform all the intended functions of a battlefield nuclear weapon. Its current long-range missiles can be launched on a lofted trajectory23 to reach locations near the Indian-Pakistani border where the Nasr is meant to be employed. For example, the Abdali missile, which has an optimal range of 180 kilometers, can travel 60 kilometers, the range of the Nasr missile, when launched at a lofted angle of approximately 80 degrees (fig. 1). Similarly, the Ghaznavi missile, which has an optimal range of 290 kilometers, can be launched at a lofted angle of 84 degrees to travel the same distance as the Nasr.24 Another option would be to launch the Babar cruise missile and shut off its booster earlier in the flight to achieve a 60-kilometer range.

Similarly, Pakistan’s current nuclear warheads could be used to produce explosive effects that are similar to those of low-yield nuclear weapons. A typical five-kiloton low-yield weapon, for example, produces an air blast with an overpressure of 20 pounds per square inch (psi)25 felt to a distance of approximately 480 meters when detonated at an altitude of 310 meters. Weapons with higher yields can be made to produce the same overpressure effect by increasing the altitude at which they are detonated.

For example, a 15-kiloton nuclear device can be made to produce the same 20 psi overpressure felt to a distance of approximately 480 meters by exploding it at an altitude of 523 meters. Usually, the maximum distance on the ground to which 20 psi overpressure is felt for a 15-kiloton nuclear device is 690 meters when exploded at an altitude of 450 meters. Therefore, by increasing the explosion altitude, a 15-kiloton weapon is made to function like a five-kiloton weapon. Similarly, a 30-kiloton or even a 50-kiloton weapon could be detonated at a particular altitude—725 meters and 1,200 meters, respectively—to replicate the air blast radius of a five-kiloton device.

The options described above show that Pakistan’s current arsenal already intrinsically possesses the capability to perform the functions of battlefield nuclear weapons. If Pakistani military and government officials decide that the country should have such a capability to offset a sudden invasion by India, they therefore have no need to pursue the development of the Nasr missile.

The larger point of the above analysis, however, is that there is no evidence of a requirement for such a capability. The main impetus for the development of the Nasr was India’s Cold Start doctrine, but it does not appear that this doctrine was fully formed. Perhaps more importantly, India has not taken the key steps for its force posture that would be necessary to implement the doctrine. Pakistan therefore should desist from further pursuit of the Nasr program. Such an action would not only save Pakistan money, but also would help avoid spurring a new nuclear arms race in tactical nuclear weapons in South Asia.

Jaganath Sankaran is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the National Security Education Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He previously was a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. All research and writing for this article was done during the author’s fellowship at the Belfer Center. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s own and do not represent those of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy, or any other U.S. government agency.


1. Inter Services Public Relations, No. PR94/2011-ISPR, April 19, 2011 (press release). Since then, the Nasr missile has been tested three times.

2. Ibid.; Maleeha Lodhi, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Compulsions,” The News, November 6, 2012; Adil Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” Institute for Strategic Studies Islamabad, http://www.issi.org.pk/publication-files/1340000409_86108059.pdf; Zahir Kazmi, “Nothing Tactical About Nuclear Weapons,” The Express Tribune, May 17, 2014.

3. “Flexible deterrence options” is a reference to a NATO term. For more on the comparison between the stances of NATO and Pakistan on battlefield nuclear weapons, see Jaganath Sankaran, “Pakistan’s Battlefield Nuclear Weapons and the Limits of the NATO Analogy,” International Relations and Security Network, August 15, 2014, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=182664.

4. Feroz H. Khan and Nick M. Masellis, “U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Partnership: A Track II Dialogue,” PASCC Report, No. 2012 002, January 2012, p. 26.

5. “Indian Army Doctrine,” Headquarters Army Training Command, Shimla, India, October 2004, ids.nic.in/Indian%20Army%20Doctrine/indianarmydoctrine_1.doc.

6. Firdaus Ahmed, “The Calculus of ‘Cold Start,’” India Together, May 1, 2004, http://indiatogether.org/coldstart-op-ed.

7. Subhash Kapila, “India’s New ‘Cold Start’ War Doctrine Strategically Reviewed,” South Asia Analysis Group Paper, No. 991 (May 4, 2004).

8. The one exception that this author could find is a statement by General Deepak Kapoor, the Indian army chief of staff who served from September 2007 to August 2009. During an army war exercise, he is reported to have said, “A major leap in our approach to conduct of operations has been the successful firming-up of the Cold Start strategy.” For details, see Rajat Pandit, “Army Reworks War Doctrine for Pakistan, China,” The Times of India, December 30, 2009.

9. “Cold Start—A Mixture of Myth and Reality,” February 16, 2010, http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10NEWDELHI295_a.html.

10. Lydia Polgreen and Mark Landler, “Obama Is Not Likely to Push India Hard on Pakistan,” The New York Times, November 5, 2010.

11. “India Has No ‘Cold Start’ Doctrine: Army Chief,” NDTV, December 2, 2010, http://www.ndtv.com/article/wikileaks-revelations/india-has-no-cold-start-doctrine-army-chief-70159.

12. Y.I. Patel, “Dig Vijay to Divya Astra: A Paradigm Shift in the Indian Army’s Doctrine,” Bharat Rakshak, n.d., http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/History/Millenium/324-A-Paradigm-Shift.html.

13. Pinaki Bhattacharya, “Army and IAF Face Off Over New War Plan,” India Today, December 14, 2009.

14. All data were obtained from the Military Balance database published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

15. Sheikh Mushtaq, “India-Pakistan ‘Secret Pact’ – Was Kashmir Accord Just a Signature Away?” Reuters, April 28, 2010.

16. Henry A. Kissinger, “Limited War: Conventional or Nuclear? A Reappraisal,” Daedalus, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Fall 1960): 812.

17. Nirupama Subramaniam, “Hoax Call Fuels Anxiety About Nuclear War,” The Hindu, December 7, 2008.

18. “Jailed Militant’s Hoax Calls Drove India, Pakistan to Brink of War,” Dawn, November 26, 2009.

19. According to a Dawn report, the staff of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had bypassed standard diplomatic verification protocols in allowing the call because of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attack. For details, see “A Hoax Call That Could Have Triggered War,” Dawn, December 6, 2008. Immediately after the incident, however, the Pakistani government claimed that Zardari had received the call only after it had been appropriately vetted. Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman said in a statement that “it is not possible for any call to come through to the President without multiple caller identity verifications. In fact the identity of this particular call, as evident from the CLI (caller’s line identification) device, showed that the call was placed from a verified official phone number of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.” See Simon Cameron-Moore, “Hoax Call to Zardari ‘Put Pakistan on War Alert,’” December 6, 2008.

20. Interestingly enough, a mistake had also occurred on the Indian side. When U.S. diplomats initiated calls with their counterparts in India, before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had spoken directly with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, they were alarmed when Indian Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar mistakenly confirmed that Mukherjee had indeed made that call. Later, however, M.K. Narayan, India’s national security adviser, insisted that no such call had been placed. In a later cable, U.S. Ambassador to India Donald Mulford said he “suspects that [Kumar] incorrectly inferred that a Mukherjee-Zardari call took place from the fact that Mukherjee’s office had, as a precaution, prepared points for him to use if Zardari were to phone [Indian] Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh when he was unavailable, leaving Mukherjee to receive the call.” This incident shows how, in a tense situation, one mistake could provoke another. For details, see Dean Nelson, “WikiLeaks: Hoax Phone Call Brought India and Pakistan to Brink of War,” The Telegraph, March 23, 2011.

21. For a sampling of such incidents, see Zafar Iqbal Cheema, “How to Respond?” The News, May 21, 1998, p. 6; Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, 2002; Steve Coll, “The Back Channel: India and Pakistan’s Secret Talks,” The New Yorker, March 2, 2009; Raj Chengappa and Saurabh Shukla, “Reining in the Rogue,” India Today, December 4, 2008; “COAS Was Unaware of Hoax Call From Mukherjee,” Dawn, May 19, 2011; Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 209-210; Timothy D. Hoyt, “Pakistani Nuclear Doctrine and the Dangers of Strategic Myopia,” Asian Survey, Vol. 41, No. 6 (November-December 2001): 961; Carlotta Gall, “What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden,” The New York Times, March 23, 2014.

22. In the case of the 1999 Indian-Pakistani Kargil war, for example, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Pakistani military leadership acted without political approval. Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister during the Kargil war, claimed that he had no advance knowledge of what the army was planning to do in Kargil. He argued that the “ill-planned and ill-conceived operation was kept so secret that the Prime Minister, some corps commanders and the Chief of Navy and the Air Force were kept in the dark.” In 2010 the chief of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the Kargil war, retired General Ziauddin Butt, accused General Pervez Musharraf, the chief of army staff, of bluffing Sharif into starting the Kargil war. Similarly, as recently as 2013, Lieutenant General Shahid Aziz, who served as director-general of the analysis wing of ISI during the Kargil war, said that the entire operation was a four-man show, with details known initially only to Musharraf, Chief of General Staff Muhammed Aziz, Force Command Northern Areas commander Lieutenant General Javed Hassan, and 10-Corps commander Mahmud Ahmad. For details, see Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, p. 101; Sartaj Aziz, Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 249-276; “Musharraf Responsible for Kargil Conflict: Ex-ISI Chief,” The Siasat Daily, October 31, 2010; Khaleeq Kiani, “Kargil Adventure Was Four-Man Show: General,” Dawn, January 28, 2013.

23. For a given missile, the maximum ground range is achieved when it is launched at a 45-degree angle. When the launch occurs at a higher, or “lofted,” angle, the missile flies higher into the atmosphere and therefore has a reduced ground range, compared to a 45-degree launch angle.

24. Launching missiles at lofted angles forces them to travel to higher altitudes and re-enter the atmosphere at a steeper angle and a faster rate. This, in turn, might impose additional stresses on the missile warhead. In the case of a lofted Ghaznavi missile, which reaches an altitude of approximately 150 kilometers, handling any additional stresses should be within the technological capability of Pakistan’s missile designers. Pakistan’s Ghauri and Shaheen missiles, when launched on their optimal trajectories, already reach altitudes greater than 150 kilometers.

25. Overpressure, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), is one of the standard metrics used to define the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. At 20 psi, most heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished. That overpressure also can cause significant damage to military vehicles.

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