India could launch 'preemptive' nuclear strike against Pakistan, says expert

Published: March 21, 2017
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India could launch a pre-emptive first strike against Pakistan if it feared a nuclear attack was imminent, a leading nuclear strategist has suggested.

This first strike, however, will not be aimed at urban centres and conventional targets but against Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. The strategic assessment is in clear contrast to New Delhi’s ‘no-first strike’ policy of 2003.

“There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said at a conference on nuclear policy hosted by Carnegie, a think tank, on Monday, according to the Hindustan Times.

“India’s opening salvo may not be conventional strikes trying to pick off just Nasr batteries (launch vehicles for Pakistan’s tactical battlefield nuclear warheads) in the theatre, but a full ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does not have to engage in iterative tit-for-tat exchanges and expose its own cities to nuclear destruction,” he said.

Nuclear war over water?

Relations between the neighbours are at the lowest ebb since the attack on Indian military base of Uri in occupied Kashmir last year. Following the attack, India claimed to have carried out ‘surgical strikes’ against militant launch pads in Kashmir, which were denied by the government, as well as the military.

However, in February, both countries extended a bilateral pact, dealing with reducing the risk of nuclear weapon-related accidents including a war, for a period of five years.

Narang cited recent remarks and policy prescriptions from leading Indian strategists and a book by Shivshankar Menon, who oversaw nuclear targeting for India as National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Narang also quoted Menon as telling Ajai Shukla, a defense analyst with Business Standard, that “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”.

New Delhi declared the ‘no-first strike’ policy, undertaking not to start a nuclear war in a neighbourhood packed with nuclear actors such as China and Pakistan.

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Reader Comments (46)

  • Khan
    Mar 21, 2017 - 10:29PM

    hahahahah….HINDUSLUM JOKERS.Recommend

  • Shah
    Mar 21, 2017 - 10:35PM

    COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA; Keep Talking and Talking; Specially it gives a feeling of being SuperHuman; but just a feeling; It is an old habit of Hindus-tanis to release lots and lots of Gas from the mouth; Since these Hindus-tanis cannot do anything to Pakis-tan like they are doing and did to suppress their smaller neighbors like Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, BD and SL, they keep Vomiting from their Mouth; Having Loose Motions and screaming that they will do this and that; DO IT; what is holding you back; Why are you so scared of my country; You know my country will use it first before you even go to the toilet in the jungles; You know us, we will not wait for a second; So, keep vomiting; No problem; Recommend

  • Akshay
    Mar 21, 2017 - 11:15PM

    First of all this is the issue concerning the security of 1.6 billion people in Indian subcontinent. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. Both sides don’t want war. No one wants to be vapourized in a nano second in an event of a nuclear explosion. People ranting on here seems unaware how devastating a nuclear warfare is. The nuclear option is the last resort for a countries security. One would only use that if they’ve got left with nothing to lose. Its not wise to think that nuclear war can be won. Preemptive strike never guarantees the elimination of entire nuclear arsenal of the enemy. I’d rather have us be diplomatic and de escalate tensions reducing the risk of a nuclear war just like civilized persons. Nukes are weapon of mass destruction, million lives are at stake. No government is insane enough to go nuclear first. Hence Indian government has maintained no first use policy. Nukes are for detterence against aggression. Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Mar 21, 2017 - 11:35PM

    India is a threat to world peace

    Both countries should disarm and implement UN Resolutions on KashmirRecommend

  • KANISHKA
    Mar 21, 2017 - 11:58PM

    @Shah: This is called verbal diarrhea. Have you read about the achievement of the author Vipin Narang in the MIT, USA? Recommend

  • Thinker
    Mar 22, 2017 - 12:17AM

    War strategy between Pakistan and India is in the favor of Pakistan due to absence of no first use of nukes guaranty and having no problem from world due to it. Indian strategists are desperate about it. First cold start and stop and now this, all India is looking for is a leverage over Pakistan to create pressure to act according to India’s wish. Now look at this strategy, how will India destroy all Pakistani nukes at once while Pakistan having well over hundred of them and that too without having killed masses in Pakistani cities? so is it reversing policy of no first nuclear strike? if so, where it leaves China? India has committed a strategic blunder by choosing a policy of enmity with its neighbors and siding with US who got nothing vital to lose in south Asia. Pakistan on other hand has joined hands with China who is challenging US itself. CPEC is a nightmare for both India and US and there is nothing worth mentioning they can do about it while Pakistan and China are joined in fashion that once security is vital for other so instead of making this sort of stupid effort better to consider your geography when making strategic decisions next time. Recommend

  • Sid
    Mar 22, 2017 - 12:41AM

    @Pakistani:
    Pakistan keeps on supporting terorrists in it’s country for anti India activity and India is a threat to the world ? No doubt the only twisted country which supports you is China.Recommend

  • Sandip
    Mar 22, 2017 - 1:02AM

    @Pakistani: Simply denuclearizing Pakistan is enough to protect world peace. Don’t waste your energy trying to wish the same for India – simply not needed.Recommend

  • Mex Rinor
    Mar 22, 2017 - 1:27AM

    India never attacks other ountries unless attacked by others first.Recommend

  • Sharma K
    Mar 22, 2017 - 3:14AM

    Pak will be under Chinese never ending debt / CPEC
    India has nothing to worry
    Pak is going to divide on it’s own
    Have no worry on this . !!Recommend

  • Punjabi
    Mar 22, 2017 - 4:21AM

    @Pakistani:
    As per the UN resolution on Kashmir, Pakistan needs to withdraw all of its armed forces from Kashmir but India only needs to withdraw bulk of its armed forces. Is Pakistan willing to withdraw its forces from Kashmir?Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Mar 22, 2017 - 4:41AM

    @Akshay:
    If one had to go, being “vaporized in a nano second..” doesn’t sound half bad. But it seems from this new talk of preemptive strikes India is being emboldened by its pals in Tel Aviv and those at MIT, because that’s exactly the way they would handle the situation if they were in India’s shoes.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Mar 22, 2017 - 4:51AM

    @Shah:
    I would tend to disagree; unlike us, and the way they play cricket, Indians tend to do things with cold calculation, so I would take this preemptive talk seriously. In fact, this is exactly the way their pals in Tel Aviv and at MIT would handle the situation should they be in India’s shoes. Recommend

  • Mahmood
    Mar 22, 2017 - 4:51AM

    “There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first,” Vipin Narang.
    Since India could misjudge Pakistan’s intention of the first (imminent) use of nuclear weapons and launch a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike, it would be advisable for Pakistan to develop submarine-launched nuclear weapons capability for assured retaliation so as to deter India from initiating a nuclear war. It is sad but mutually assured destruction (MAD) capabilities of both India and Pakistan has now become necessary to deter nuclear war.Recommend

  • Pukhtoon
    Mar 22, 2017 - 5:55AM

    Pity the first two who commented some useless blabbering as if it’s some Youtube channel where kids fight and taunt each other from both side of the border.

    No first use policy is just a policy and in reality means nothing .. having said that, I do feel people in our region are still very immature in their behavior and are fighting on non issues instead of using their energies for future of their generation.Recommend

  • Pukubanger
    Mar 22, 2017 - 8:22AM

    How (whether conventional, or nuclear) we are going to fight could be debatable, but whether we are going to fight or not is not debatable. We will go to war, sooner or later, that is for sure. My opinion, sooner the better. My opinion, nuclear is better than conventional. The reason is, when fight breaks out it will be Pak+China that we will be taking on simultaneously and putting every nuclear ton preemptively will assure us with enemy’s destruction. We are ready whatever happens to us subsequently. Amen. Recommend

  • Sandeep
    Mar 22, 2017 - 8:50AM

    @Pakistani:
    Pakistan has signed 1971-Shimla agreement which supersedes the 1948-UN resolutionRecommend

  • FAZ
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:11AM

    @Akshay:
    Making Tactical nuclear weapons is a sign of Pakistan’s responsible use of nuclear weapons in the worst case scenario facing an outnumbered Indian army. Its ironic that superpowers that have actually used nuclear weapons on civilians and have developed weapons of super mass destruction dictate the policies of nuclear disarmament!Recommend

  • Giri
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:23AM

    Nuclear war between India and Pakistan is inevitable. It is just matter of time. Indians are itching to teach Pakistan a lesson that they do not forget for next 10 generations. Recommend

  • Oommen
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:24AM

    India just uses Pakistan for “practice”. India is having bigger plans for itself. Its aim is not to contain or occupy Pakistan.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:35AM

    I suggest that governments and related people who want war can head to the arctic or antarctic, as they wish and fight off.

    Let the civilians and normal citizens make peace and live in harmony as they are very much willing and capable of this!!!!Recommend

  • So
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:39AM

    So what can Pakistan do to deter such “preemptive” nuclear strike? Should there not be a hotline between the PMs of both countries to avoid nuclear misunderstanding; or that would not be trust-worthy?Recommend

  • Indian
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:46AM

    @Pakistani: Read and fully understand what has written in UN resolution on Kashmir.Recommend

  • So
    Mar 22, 2017 - 9:51AM

    So, Pakistan must have an assured second (retaliatory) strike capability to deter India from the first strike option.Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:08AM

    @Shah:
    No one is scared of your country. But if you don’t want to live in peace with all your neighbours (India, Iran and Afghanistan) such doctrine will emerge. I thought you forgot East Pakistan.Recommend

  • Zahid
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:12AM

    What a useless article. If India is going away from “no first strike doctrine”, will they publicise it or inform the author of the article? Is Pakistan naive to keep all their nuclear eggs at one or two addresses and put a signboard outside that this is what you should target? Assumptions and speculations that are so stupid almost comical. Nuclear is not child play. Both countries have “mutually assured destruction” capability. They should behave like mature countries and so should their people.Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:34AM

    @Pakistani:
    @Shah:
    No one is scared of your country. But if you don’t want to live in peace with all your neighbours (India, Iran and Afghanistan) such doctrine will emerge. I thought you forgot East Pakistan.Recommend

  • Virkaul
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:37AM

    @Zahid:
    I agree with you Zahid. The best course is to have peace, stop proxy wars, eliminate jihadi groups and it gives rise to radicalism in India too. Come ncentrating on progress of our people is the key and not threatening anyone of a nuclear flash point.Recommend

  • Pakistani 2
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:45AM

    @KANISHKA:
    If Indians for once stop their hypocrisy, there is a very good chance of having peace in this region. Recommend

  • Asad
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:46AM

    @Akshay:
    Don’t you think India can do it, they way it carried our surgical strike? I believe if nuclear strike is carried out the same way India carried out surgical strike, there will be no harm, not even to plants. Recommend

  • Human First
    Mar 22, 2017 - 10:52AM

    Nothing but…conspiracy theories. No nation wants & can dare to use nuke weapons. It will be chain reaction and will take/include many countries into nuke conflict and devastation. So there are sensible pl around who will not allow to press Nuke button.Recommend

  • Pukubanger
    Mar 22, 2017 - 11:21AM

    @So:
    “So, Pakistan must have an assured second (retaliatory) strike capability to deter India from the first strike option.”
    What will be left of Pakistan to fight for, with a second strike? You don’t want to really live after Indian first preemptive strike, that is the point. Recommend

  • Vectra
    Mar 22, 2017 - 11:51AM

    This per-emptive strategy is as dangerous as TNW because this per-emptive strategy is very effective to really not give a chance if really implemented.This per-emptive strategy is not new but is there since cold war times and is present till now.This per-emptive strategy is the reason why US,UK,France,Russia,NATO have refused to adopt NFU in the 1st place.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Mar 22, 2017 - 12:15PM

    Pakistan has been focusing on tactical miniature nukes (read Nasr) for its nuclear strategy as a defence against the supposed cold start doctrine, while India’s strategy has been on massive disproportionate response by increasing the yield of its nukes by focusing on the development of thermonuclear weapons.

    While Pakistan has been making pebbles, India has been making rocks.Recommend

  • rich
    Mar 22, 2017 - 12:18PM

    the pakistani should chill

    this is a usa MIT report not india, their assesment

    and assesment are not always correct

    sometimes its to create mischief, someteine they genuinely wrong, very few times they are correctRecommend

  • Zahid
    Mar 22, 2017 - 12:57PM

    @Virkaul:
    Yes Virkaul, instead of myopic fighting the people of entire South Asian nations should consider forming a Union of South Asia like erstwhile enemies did in European Union. Petty geographical disputes will become redundant and prosperity in our region will be such that we will become the future USA right here.Recommend

  • chinto
    Mar 22, 2017 - 1:22PM

    @Punjabi:
    So you want plebiscite in Kashmir under indian army just like they held rigged elections in the 1987? Recommend

  • Prespective
    Mar 22, 2017 - 6:19PM

    @Pukubanger: Don’t know are you joking or just came from some no-toilet hole…Pakistan completed its “Trident nuclear programme” at this point it doesn’t even matter who go first.. comprendoRecommend

  • Ch. K. A. Nye
    Mar 23, 2017 - 12:58PM

    @Pukhtoon:
    It is precisely the sort of comments from the likes of @Khan, @Shah, @giri and @oomen whose blustering rhetoric (incidentally liked by quite a few) shows the sort of mind-set that has developed. No analysis, no thought, no real education, just mindless spewing of hate. Sad….. Recommend

  • Farah
    Mar 23, 2017 - 5:44PM

    India needs to build washrooms for their 60% percent population who are living without them. Its a shame that instead of doing that they are wasting their time in a meaningless debate…Recommend

  • Agreed
    Mar 24, 2017 - 12:15AM

    @Mahmood. Yes, submarine – launched ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads would assure retaliatory capability and deter India from initiating nuclear warfare. Recommend

  • So
    Mar 24, 2017 - 12:50AM

    @ Pukubanger. With assured retaliatory capability, India is wise enough not muck with nuclear weapons. Comprendo. Recommend

  • So
    Mar 24, 2017 - 3:31AM

    ET: Please help me with my right to reply to someone who has written to me.
    @Pukubanger:
    “What will be left of Pakistan to fight for, with a second strike? You don’t want to really live after Indian first preemptive strike, that is the point.”
    You cannot assume that India would be tempted launch a first strike, which shall never happen if Pakistan had an assured retaliatory capability. Indians would not want to initiate a mutual suicide and neither would Pakistan want to. Balance of terror would deter nuclear war from taking place. You have only tried to twist the argument. Try to get the drift.Recommend

  • Mahmood
    Mar 24, 2017 - 7:38AM

    Some people have commented without reading/understanding the article properly. Nowhere, did Vipin Narang say that all of Pakistan would be wiped out but he only says that in a preemptive strike, India would wipe out all of Pakistan’s nuclear capability of retaliation.
    He says: ” ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does not have to engage in iterative tit-for-tat exchanges and expose its own cities to nuclear destruction,”” So all talk of Pakistan evaporating in a nanosecond is not derivable from Narang’s analysis.
    Now, the nuclear strategist should have considered that Pakistan has Babur 111 (https://tribune.com.pk/story/1289288/pakistan-successfully-test-fires-babur-iii-cruise-missile/) which is a submarine-launched cruise missile that can reach Indian cities. And, Pakistan is negotiating with China for a nuclear-powered submarine that can stay underwater undetected for a long period and would assure a nuclear retaliation option if India destroys Pakistan land and air based nuclear retaliation systems. (https://tribune.com.pk/story/1292733/pakistan-pose-bigger-threat-india-babur-iii-launch/).
    Given such retaliation capability, India would not launch a preemptive strike. Needless to say, that both countries can destroy each other with nuclear weapons therefore none is likely to resort to this madness.Recommend

  • Ch. K. A. Nye
    Apr 7, 2017 - 1:05AM

    @Agreed:

    Brilliant idea… just one little thing: where are we going to get the couple of billion (yes Billion) dollars from to pay for the submarinesw and ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads that such a programme would cost?

    We’re already in debt big-time and this debt is only going to get larger with the CPEC.

    What next??Recommend

  • Sajid Ansari
    Jun 3, 2017 - 7:14PM

    @So:
    Well, Pakistan has 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strikes capability, the which India can’t think of. However, the better side of it will be that UN will get its Resolution 1948 of Plebiscite in Kashmir, implemented. Recommend

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