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Going MAD: Ten Years of the Bomb in South Asia

Going MAD: Ten Years of the Bomb in South Asia

India and Pakistan have been talking peace since 2003, yet they have continued to expand their nuclear arsenals. This suggests a failure both of imagination and of political will to seriously engage with the nuclear danger. The peace process does not seem to recognise the fact that since the two countries conducted their nuclear tests in 1998 there has been a war and a major military crisis, both prominently featuring nuclear threats. Nuclear denial in south Asia is not a symptom of inattention, or passivity in the face of an overwhelming problem. It is deliberate blindness to the contradiction between word and deed. India and Pakistan talk of peace while pouring scarce resources into developing their nuclear arsenals, the infrastructure for producing and using them, and doctrines aimed at fighting a nuclear war.

(zia@princeton.edu ramana@isec.ac.in

SPECIAL ARTICLEjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly202building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at preven-tion of conflict”, the actual commitments by the two countries have amounted to only very limited transparency measures [Mian and Ramana 1999]. Subsequent talks went no further and offered steps that were insignificant in the face of the nuclear crises that the two countries had gone through and the arms race underway between them [Mian et al 2001; Mian, Nayyar and Ramana 2004]. The continued unwillingness to grapple with the bomb was revealed most recently in the May 2008 meeting of the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in Islamabad. Their joint state-ment said “the talks were held in a friendly and constructive atmosphere” and that they “resolved to carry forward the peace process and to maintain its momentum”.3 The ministers noted “a number of important bilateral achievements”, the first of these was a memorandum of understanding to allow more air travel between the two countries, the second was an agreement for trucks to cross at the Wagah-Attari border, and the third accord was to allow the Delhi-Lahore bus to make an additional trip a week. The 2007 agreement on “Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons” only made number four on the list of achievements.But this is to be expected. Almost 10 years after the com-mencement of nuclear talks, all that there is to show are an agreement to inform each other about missile tests and a nuclear hotline in case of accidents. This suggests a failure both of imagi-nation and of political will to seriously engage with the nuclear danger. The peace process does not seem to recognise the fact that since 1998 there has been a war and a major military crisis, both prominently featuring nuclear threats [Ramana and Mian 2003]. Nuclear denial in south Asia is not a symptom of inattention, or passivity in the face of an overwhelming problem. It is deliberate blindness to the contradiction between word and deed. Pakistan and India talk of peace while pouring scarce resources into deve-loping their nuclear arsenals, the infrastructure for producing and using them, and doctrines aimed at fighting nuclear war. As the two states lay the technical and organisational basis for what was aptly labelled during the superpower cold war as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the foreign ministers’ joint statement could only manage to agree that “The Expert Groups on Nuclear and ConventionalCBMs [confidence building measures] should consider existing and additional proposals by both sides with a view to developing further confidence building measures in the nuclear and conventional fields”. The nuclear arms race is part of a larger military build-up since the tests. Contrary to claims by nuclear weapons advocates that building nuclear weapons would reduce conventional military expenditures,4 actual figures for both countries show significant and consistent increases. Lacking the capacity to build many major conventional weapons systems for themselves, the two countries have been investing heavily in importing arms from various countries. Much more is in the pipeline. A September 2007 US Congres-sional Research Service noted that in 2006 Pakistan was ranked first among third world countries in terms of the value of arms purchase agreements, having signed $ 5.1 billion in such agree-ments while India was ranked second with $ 3.5 billion of arms purchase agreements [Grimmett 2007].The high levels of military expenditure and arms purchases go hand in hand with widespread poverty and misery in both coun-tries, and a continued reliance, especially in Pakistan, on inter-national development aid to help provide basic services such as healthcare and education. Crossing Nuclear ThresholdsThe promise offered by nuclear weapons advocates has always been that nuclear weapons would prevent war, if not bring peace. The simple argument was that fearing destruction by the other side’s nuclear weapons, no country would risk war. And yet, within a year of the tests, India and Pakistan went to war in the Kargil region of Kashmir. Though limited geographically, the war claimed perhaps several thousand lives. Air strikes were mounted for the first time since the 1971 war. Nuclear weapons served to encourage senior Indian and Pakistani officials to issue nuclear threats; by one reckoning, at least 13 indirect and direct nuclear threats were made [Bidwai and Vanaik 1999, p vii].The crisis was not resolved by either nuclear threats or mutual diplomacy. Pakistan sought American intervention to stop the fighting and to help resolve the Kashmir dispute. Prime minister Nawaz Sharif is described as becoming “desperate” in his appeals for help and flew to Washington to meet withUS president Bill Clinton [Riedel 2002]. Clinton refused to become involved unless Pakistan withdrew its forces from Kargil without preconditions, and confronted Sharif with the information that the Pakistani army had mobilised its nuclear tipped missiles. Sharif reportedly seemed “taken aback” when confronted with this fact, and argued that India was likely to be doing the same, but denied having given the order to arm Pakistan’s missiles. Failing to get support from the US for a face-saving way to an end the fighting, Pakistan agreed to an immediate withdrawal. A militant attack on the Parliament building in Delhi in Decem-ber 2001 triggered another crisis. Over half a million troops, about two-thirds of them Indian, were moved to the border. Senior offi-cials and politicians on both sides invoked nuclear weapons on a number of occasions. Prime minister Vajpayee warned: “no weapon would be spared in self-defence. Whatever weapon was available, it would be used no matter how it wounded the enemy” [Shukla 2002]. Many around the world rightly feared the worst. Table 1: Military Expenditure(local currency, current prices for calendar years) 199819992000200120022003200420052006India (billion rupees) 492 598 642 689 717 761 812 982 1,102Pakistan (billion rupees) 140 147 154 170 188 210 240 270 290Source:SIPRI Yearbook 2007: Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security (Oxford University Press, 2007), Table 8A.2, pp 303-09. In both countries, spending on nuclear weapons programmes is spread across various departments and is not publicly accounted for. Table 2: Arms Imports(million US$ at constant 1990 prices) 1998 1999 2000200120022003 20042005 2006India 5511,0625311,0641,6592,9282,4761,4171,672Pakistan 588 797 163 759 528 592 373 236 309Sources:SIPRI Yearbook 2002: Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security (Oxford University Press, 2002), Table 8A.1, p 403 and SIPRI Yearbook 2007: Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security (Oxford University Press, 2007), Table 10A.1, pp 418-19.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 2008203The military confrontations in 1999 and 2001-02 offer impor-tant lessons. The first lesson is that, having nuclear weapons at hand, leaders in both India and Pakistan are willing to use them to make threats during a crisis to try to force a resolution on their own terms and to incite international attention and intervention. This is a way of using nuclear weapons separate from exploding them. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, “a gun is used when you point it at someone’s head in a direct confrontation, whether or not the trigger is pulled” [Ellsberg 1981]. Kargil also showed that nuclear weapons have changed the calculus of risk for generals and policymakers. The late Benazir Bhutto revealed that in 1996 Pakistani generals had presen-ted plans for a Kargil style operation, which she vetoed [Anonymous 2000]. It would seem then that the 1998 tests convinced Pakistan’s leaders that the operation might be feasible with nuclear weapons to restrict any possibly decisive Indian riposte. The Kargil war was seen in very different ways by leaders in the two countries. Simply put, for Pakistan, Kargil represented proof that its nuclear weapons would prevent India from launch-ing a massive military attack. For India, Kargil meant that it would have to find ways of waging limited war that would not lead to the eventual use of nuclear weapons.Although it did not develop into war, a number of factors make the 2002 crisis a more dangerous portent for the future than the Kargil war. Unlike Kargil, where Pakistan is clearly seen to have lost, especially politically, both sides claim the 2002 crisis as a victory. Some in India see general Musharraf’s promise that he would rein in Pakistan-based militant organisations as proof that Indian “coercive diplomacy” worked despite Pakistan having nuclear weapons. In Pakistan, some see nuclear weapons having deterred India from crossing the border despite its huge build-up of forces and threats to attack militant camps in Pakistan. That a massive military confrontation with strong nuclear overtones is seen by both sides as a victory increases the likelihood that simi-lar incidents will occur in the future.While Pakistan’s leaders stress the utility of their nuclear weapons in 1999 and 2001-02, Indian leaders have made a point of denying a role for such threats. Prime minister Vajpayee claimed that the 2001-02 crisis showed that India had success-fully called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff [Vanaik 2002]. General V P Malik, former chief of army staff, stated that nuclear weapons were largely irrelevant and played no deterrent role during the Kargil war or in the 2002 crisis. This position was echoed by other senior Indian military officials [Mehta 2003]. Responding to Pakistan’s strategy of using nuclear threats to incite international intervention, in 2004 the Indian army adopted a new and dangerous war doctrine called “Cold Start” – which aims to give India the ability to “shift from defensive to offensive operations at the very outset of a conflict, relying on the element of surprise and not giving Pakistan any time to bring diplomatic leverages into play vis-a-vis India” [Pant 2007]. The offensive operations would involve a very quick, decisive attack across the border with Pakistan and, some analysts argue, to “bring about a favourable war termination, a favourite scenario being to cut Pakistan into two at its midriff” [Ahmed 2004]. The strike is meant to be so swift and decisive that it would “preempt a nuclear retaliation” [IE 2006]. A trial version of this was on display in May 2006, when India carried out a major military exercise close to its border with Paki-stan [ToI 2006]. The ‘Sanghe Shakti’ (joint power) exercise brought together strike aircraft, tanks, and over 40,000 soldiers from the Second Strike Corps in a war game whose purpose was described by an Indian commander as “to test our 2004 war doc-trine to dismember a not-so-friendly nation effectively and at the shortest possible time” [DN 2006]. General Daulat Shekhawat, commander of the corps explained that “We firmly believe that there is room for a swift strike even in case of a nuclear attack, and it is to validate this doctrine that we conducted this opera-tion” [IANS 2006]. The danger with such a policy is that Pakistani generals are likely to adopt policies that involve using their nuclear weapons early in the conflict, rather than lose both the weapons and the war. And sure enough, for their part, Pakistani military planners have been publicly laying out various “red lines” that might result in their use of nuclear weapons. General Khalid Kidwai, director of the Pakistani Army Strategic Plans Division, has explained that Pakistan might be forced to use nuclear weapons if: (a) India attacks Pakistan and takes a large part of its territory; (b) India destroys a large part of Pakistan’s armed forces; (c) India imposes an economic blockade or limits access to river waters; or (d) India creates political instability or large-scale internal subversion in Pakistan [Martellini and Cotta-Ramusino 2002]. The two sets of military plans carry the potential for catastro-phe if they encounter each other on the battlefield. Indian gener-als may hope for, and promise their leaders, a decisive but limited attack that will not trigger Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons.5 But in any crisis, inadvertent or deliberate escalation is always a risk. Nuclear thresholds might well be crossed without anyone actually intending to, by mistake, by one side misunderstanding what the other is planning and doing, or in the heat of the moment. The Kargil war offers examples. In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif did not know what his generals were doing. In India, con-cerns about escalation gave way to a perceived need to prevail as the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) recommended against the use of airpower from fear that it would enlarge the scope of the conflict, only to reconsider its decision and give the go-ahead after a week of ground fighting brought no gains [Ganguly and Hagerty 2005: 154].Planning Mass DestructionAll nuclear-armed states learn quickly that having the bomb and the will to threaten to use it are not enough. It only functions as a threat when the adversary believes it can be used as intended. It must take on all the attributes of a weapon. Since 1998, India and Pakistan have set up formal organisational structures to plan and manage their use of nuclear weapons. IndiaSome months after ordering the nuclear tests, the Bharatiya Janata Party government set up a National Security Council, which included a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB).6 In
SPECIAL ARTICLEjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly204August 1999, the NSAB released its draft report on a nuclear doc-trine (DND) for India [NSAB 1999]. In January 2003, the Indian government’s cabinet committee on national security published a brief official statement on the nuclear doctrine [PMO 2003]. The relationship between the two has been elucidated by the first convenor of the NSAB, who argued that the latter document shows that “the cabinet committee on national security has… accepted the draft nuclear doctrine” [Subrahmanyam 2003]. TheDND echoes the postures of the nuclear weapon states. It declared: “India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence”. According to the DND, this pursuit requires: (a) sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared nuclear forces; (b) a robust command and control system; (c) effective intelligence and early-warning capabilities; (d) planning and training for nuclear operations; and (e) the will to employ nuclear weapons. These nuclear forces are to be deployed on a triad of delivery vehicles of “aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets” that are structured for “punitive retaliation” so as to “inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor”. TheDND called for an “assured capability to shift from peace-time deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time”. The three armed service headquarters were subsequently reported to be “drawing up detailed schemes for inducting a variety of nuclear armaments and ancillary and support equip-ment in their orders-of-battle…[and] appropriate command and control frameworks” [Karnad 2002: 108].The Indian government’s formal embrace of a nuclear deter-rence doctrine is in marked contrast with the public positions taken by previous governments. As recently as 1995, at the Inter-national Court of Justice (the “World Court”), India’s representa-tive described nuclear deterrence as “abhorrent to human senti-ment since it implies that a state if required to defend its own existence will act with pitiless disregard for the consequences to its own and adversary’s people”. Apart from basic strategic and ethical problems with deter-rence, the notion that there is or can be a stable “minimum deter-rent” is unfounded. It is not enough to put up a “beware of the nuclear weapons” sign for all to read and take heed. Nuclear his-tory suggests that what seems acceptable to one leadership may seem intolerable to another and may depend on circumstance. In a telling observation, the head of US strategic air command, gen-eral Thomas Power, observed in 1960 that “The closest to one man who would know what the minimum deterrent is would be [Soviet leader] Mr Khrushchev, and frankly I don’t think he knows from one week to another. He might be able to absorb more punishment next week than he wants to absorb today. Therefore a deterrent is not a concrete or finite amount” [Schwartz 1998]. We leave it to the reader to consider how, if he or she were given the responsibility, they would determine the number of cities they would be willing to destroy to produce a deterrent effect in the leadership of another country. Would they consider it sufficient to threaten to destroy Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad for Pakistan’s generals to be deterred? And, conversely, how many Indian cities would they be willing to see destroyed before they would be deterred – would the riskofthe destruction of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore be sufficient? Despite government plans, there is no prospect of an effective civil defence against such a nuclear attack [Rajaraman, Mian and Nayyar 2004]. Table 3 (p 205) gives estimates for the casualties that would result from a nuclear attack with just one Hiroshima-sized weapon on each of these cities [McKinzie et al 2001].Recognising that the word “minimum” has little or no meaning in the context of nuclear deterrence, it is not surprising that India’s nuclear doctrine documents do not assign a number to the term, minimum. Nor do most nuclear strategists or policymakers.7 If one were to go by public articles by some of the authors of the doctrine, the planned arsenal could number hundreds of nuclear weapons, and include several different types. The negotiations on the Indo-US nuclear deal suggest that Indian policymakers seem to be interested in having the option to build up stocks of nuclear weapons material to allow for such a large arsenal [Mian et al 2006]. India’s nuclear doctrine affirms a commitment to no first use (NFU) of nuclear weapons in a conflict. Many aver that this is proof India does not intend to attack anyone with its nuclear weapons, and that its weapons are meant as a defence. However, this may be harder to implement in a crisis than its supporters claim and may in any case not be convincing to others. In a conflict between two nuclear armed states, a strictNFU policy would entail waiting for the other’s bomb to explode before responding. Experience since 1998 suggests policymakers may not be planning to do so. In February 2000, responding to threats of a Pakistani nuclear attack, prime minister A B Vajpayee said, “If they think we will wait for them to drop a bomb and face destruction, they are mistaken” [Gardner 2000]. Pakistan claims that India’sNFU position is not credible. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament has argued that “India itself places no credibility in ‘no-first-use’. If it did, it should have accepted China’s assurance of ‘no-first-use’ and of non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. This would have obviated the need for India’s nuclear weapons acquisition” [Akram 1999]. India has put conditions on its NFU policy in its nuclear doctrine. It expanded the range of circumstances that could draw a nuclear response to include attacks with chemical and biological weapons (CBW). This caveat aboutCBW attacks may well be the first step to completely repudiating theNFU policy.The 2003 nuclear doctrine statement also included a descrip-tion of the organisations set up to manage the nuclear and missile arsenals. These were to be under a two-layered structure called the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA), which comprises the political council, chaired by the prime minister, and the executive council, chaired by the national security adviser to the prime minister. The political council is the sole body able to authorise the use of nuclear weapons. However, “arrangements for alternate chains of command for retaliatory nuclear strikes inall eventualities” are also mentioned; that is, it antici-pates contingencies in which someone other than the prime minister may have to, and will be able to, order the use of nuclear weapons.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 2008205PakistanThe organisation responsible for formulating policy and exercising control over the development and use of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is the National Command Authority (NCA). Created in February 2000, the NCA has three components: the Employment Control Committee (ECC), the Development Con-trol Committee (DCC) and the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). The military’s representatives are in a majority in all of them. The authority is meant to be chaired by the prime minister as head of government. But, in December 2007, president Pervez Musharraf issued the NCA ordinance, which gave official cover to the body, removed it from any legal challenge, and made him (as president) the chairman. The authority has “complete command and control over research, development, production and use of nuclear and space technologies and…the safety and security of all personnel, facilities, information, installa-tions or organisations.”8TheECC includes the head of the government and includes the cabinet ministers of foreign affairs, defence and interior; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC); the military service chiefs; the director-general of SPD (a senior army officer), who acts as secretary; and technicaladvisers. This committee is thought to have been charged with making nuclear weapon policy, including the formulation of policy on the decision to use nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s conditions for use of its nuclear weapons have been outlined above.TheDCC manages the nuclear weapon complex and the devel-opment of nuclear weapon systems. It has the same military and technical members as the employment committee but lacks the cabinet ministers that represent the other parts of government. TheDCC is chaired by the head of the government and includes theCJCSC (as its deputy chairman), the military service chiefs, the director-general of the SPD and representatives of the weapon research, development and production organisations. These organisations include the A Q Khan research laboratory in Kahuta, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Engineering and Scientific Commission (which is responsible for weapons development). The SPD was established in the joint services headquarters under the CJCSC and is led by a senior army officer (who contin-ues to lead it after his retirement). It has responsibility for plan-ning and coordination and, in particular, for establishing the lower tiers of the command and control system and its physical infrastructure.The 2003 revelations that while he was head of the uranium enrichment programme, A Q Khan had been selling and shar-ing enrichment technology and weapons information with Iran, Libya and North Korea and perhaps others have raised important questions about Pakistan’s control over its nuclear complex. The US has been helping Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons complex. This has involved supply of about $ 100 million worth of support and equipment since September 11, 2001, includingintrusion detectors and ID systems, and nuclear detection equipment. The Machinery of Mass DestructionThe most visible sign of the growing capability of the respective nuclear complexes is the frequent testing of a diverse array of nuclear capable missiles. Some of these tests are now carried out by military units rather than scientists and engineers, and implies some missiles are deployed as military systems with attendantcommand and control structures. India has also devel-oped or otherwise acquired components of an early warning system andan anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defence system [Ramana, Rajaraman and Mian 2004].The development of missiles carries grave risks in south Asia. Geography makes ballistic missile flight times from India or Pakistan to the other country’s cities as short as five minutes and possible warning times would be shorter [Mian, Rajaraman and Ramana 2003]. There would be no time at all for decision-makers to check the facts, to assess the situation, to consult, or weigh options. There will be pressure to move to a planned, predeter-mined, response. If such a response involved launch on warning, a posture that might have military backing [Ramana 2003], there would be a significant possibility of acci-dental nuclear war. IndiaIndia has been developing land-based missiles and missiles that can be fired from sea, including from submarines. It also has air-craft able to drop nuclear bombs. The main land-based nuclear delivery system is the Agni series of missiles. Work on the Agni started as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme in 1983, but the missile has been substantially redesigned since the 1998 nuclear tests. The early Agni had both solid and liquid propellants and was never deployed. Chronologically, the first of the missiles currently in the arse-nal is Agni-2 with a range of 2,500 km. The first test of this mis-sile was in April 1999, and the second test was in January 2001 [Mehta 2004]. The third test was conducted in August 2004 with participation from the armed forces [Subramanian 2005]. In October 1999, Agni-1 was “undertaken as a crash project…to cover the gap in range between the Prithvi-2 (250 km) and the Agni-2 (2,500 km)” missiles. The missile was first tested in Janu-ary 2002 with a range of 700 km [Aneja and Dikshit 2002]. The army and the air force are known to have fought over who would get control over these missiles [Sawant 2002]. The most recent missile in this series is Agni-3 with a range of 3,500 km which was first tested in June 2006; the test was a failure [Special Correspondent 2007]. The next tests in April 2007 and May 2008 were declared successful [Subramanian and Mallikarjun 2008]. Defence officials claim Agni-3 “can destroy targets in any country in south, east and south-east Asia” [ENS 2008]. Agni-3 is still under development and is Table 3: Estimated Nuclear CasualtiesCity Killed Severely InjuredIndia Bangalore 3,14,000 1,75,000 Mumbai 4,77,000 2,29,000 Kolkata 3,57,000 1,98,000 Chennai 3,64,000 1,96,000 New Delhi 1,76,000 94,000Pakistan Faisalabad 3,36,000 1,74,000 Islamabad 1,54,000 67,000 Karachi 2,40,000 1,27,000 Lahore 2,58,000 1,50,000 Rawalpindi 1,84,000 97,000

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