Vipin spills the beans

Published: March 29, 2017
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The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan. The views expressed here are his own

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan. The views expressed here are his own

By all accounts Vipin Narang is an outstanding scholar at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) specialising in South Asian strategic issues. At a recent conference on Nuclear Policy hosted by Washington’s Carnegie Endowment this Indian-American academic spilled the beans about the true nature of Indian nuclear doctrine by questioning its fundamental aspect of No-First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons. He disclosed that in a confrontation with Pakistan, India would use nuclear weapons first to “completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons”. Given that Narang sourced his presentation on official Indian statements, he needs to be taken seriously.

Since the nuclear tests in 1998, Indian governments have espoused a NFU policy as part of their nuclear doctrine generating Western appreciation for India as a “responsible” nuclear weapon State. By contrast, Pakistan has been chided for its refusal to accept NFU despite the fact that Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear weapons is driven by the objective of cost — effectively deterring the much larger Indian conventional forces backed by a huge nuclear arsenal. This is based on the same logic that US/Nato have used against the larger Soviet conventional forces and continue to do so against Russia. Moreover, Pakistan has offered instead of NFU of nuclear weapons, which is essentially a political commitment by India, a policy of No First Use of Force to ensure regional security and stability — an offer that India has consistently rejected.

On the contrary, India has come up with its Cold Start doctrine to fight a limited conventional war with Pakistan despite the existence of nuclear deterrence between them. In response, Pakistan has been forced to pursue its Full Spectrum deterrence policy to deter any aggression by India — whether conventional or nuclear. Accordingly, the operationalisation of India’s Cold Start capability has been countered by Pakistan’s low yield nuclear weapons and delivery systems — termed Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) by Western commentators — which are essentially designed to ensure the strategic objective of preventing conflict, whether conventional or nuclear. It is against this back-drop that Narang’s disclosures must be viewed — as essentially to re-establish the salience of Cold Start.

For Pakistan, ofcourse, these disclosures do not come as a surprise since Indian NFU is really a sham and political rhetoric. Besides, no responsible defence planners any where would accept political assertions from the opponent, especially since these are non-verifiable. For instance, the Indians themselves have not accepted the Chinese NFU policy which is much more credible since it is backed up by the necessary deterrent posture. By spilling the beans, Narang has only validated Pakistan’s deterrence policy.

Accordingly, in a damage limitation exercise, Indian officials have denied Narang’s arguments but his claims are based on undeniable facts. Firstly, as he points out, India’s NFU is already eroded because it is qualified by threatening nuclear use against chemical and biological weapons, the other two weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, he quotes then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that “India should not declare whether it has a NFU policy” and questions Parrikar’s subsequent claim that this was his “personal” view on the grounds that a serving minister cannot articulate any “personal” opinion. Then there are comments by former chief of India’s Strategic Forces, General Nagal, questioning the “morality” of a NFU policy. Narang also goes on to quote former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon that “there is a political grey area as to when India could use nuclear weapons first against a nuclear weapon State” and that “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”.

Having de-bunked Indian NFU policy, Narang projects the manner in which India would “go first” against Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Terming it a “Preemptive nuclear Counter Force”, he claims that any “imminent” Pakistani use of its TNWs in response to an Indian conventional attack (under Cold Start) would lead India to initiate a “preemptive” nuclear first strike against Pakistan’s nuclear assets so that Pakistan is unable to strike back at India with nuclear weapons.

However, in an unintended and implicit acknowledgement of Pakistan’s deterrence capabilities, Narang admits that India cannot yet implement such a strategy. This is because India does not have “a good fix on all the locations of Pakistan’s strategic forces”, since these are deliberately dispersed and not kept in static locations. To overcome this, Narang advocates increase in numbers of Indian nuclear warheads, building Ballistic Missile Defences and acquiring Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) capability which he says, and as Pakistan knows, are already under development in addition to India’s triad of land, air and sea based nuclear delivery systems.

These developments underscore the importance and fore-sight of Pakistan’s policy of credible Full Spectrum deterrence to neutralise Indian threats at the conventional, tactical and strategic levels. To ensure continuing credibility and effectiveness of this policy, Pakistan will have to take into account the dynamic nature of deterrence depending upon doctrinal and technological developments by India. Of primary importance is the need to ensure a credible second-strike capability to deter any type of Indian aggression.

Accordingly, the obvious conclusion is that India’s attempts to achieve strategic superiority against Pakistan are futile. For every more there is a counter-move. Deterrence stability can only be enhanced through credible mutual assured destruction. This was possible after the 1998 nuclear tests when Pakistan offered India a Strategic Restraint Regime to prevent a strategic arms race. Rejecting this offer, India proceeded to develop de-stabilising weapon systems like the nuclear triad and missile defence apart from operationalising its dangerous Cold Start doctrine only to be neutralised by Pakistan’s Full Spectrum deterrence. This spiral can go on, leading to another round of a deadly and destabilising strategic arms race. Or India can take up Pakistan’s concurrent offer of dialogue to stabilise mutual deterrence and resolve outstanding disputes like Kashmir for the sake of strategic stability in South Asia.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2017.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Insaaf Hussain
    Mar 30, 2017 - 12:28AM

    And the game continues. The real benefactors are the super powers who sell weapons to both sides and laugh as they watch us destroying the future of our coming generations.Recommend

  • Seadorff
    Mar 30, 2017 - 1:56AM

    Pakistan will go broke in this race like soviet union went against US.Recommend

  • sm
    Mar 30, 2017 - 2:10AM

    Be afraid and resolve Kashmir according to Pakistan’s wishes or else South Asia is doomed.
    This is the above message of the author. Same old threats. Nothing new.Recommend

  • PrakashG
    Mar 30, 2017 - 9:30AM

    A beggar with a gun may claim that he has achieved ‘parity’ with the rich guy down the street; but, that parity will come into play only if they come to a fight and are suicidal enough to use that gun. In normal living, there is no parity between the two.
    Has North Korea any parity with US? Only North Korea thinks so.
    India has no intention of entering into any fight with Pakistan, and so is unconcerned with any claims of ‘parity’ or ‘superiority’ on part of Pakistan.Recommend

  • NK
    Mar 30, 2017 - 9:50AM

    India’s No First Use mantra is a sham and a big lie…

    Pakistan is fully prepared … India will regret any such moves!!!Recommend

  • zoro zoro
    Mar 30, 2017 - 11:11AM

    @NK:
    Well India never threatened anyone with nuclear bomb … Pakistan does …
    And well everybody knows what will happen if Pakistan uses her nuclear bomb on anyone …including India …Recommend

  • Manoj
    Mar 30, 2017 - 12:14PM

    One question I want to ask all so called strategic commentators that is nuclear war feasible between India & Pak. Both being adjacant neighbour and Pak having very small geographical width and also having heavily pouplated neighbourhood nation.
    Any nuclear attack by India on Lahor will wipe out Indian Punjab/ Haryana. similary attack on Peshawar or queta will have impact on Afganistan & Iran.

    Same applies to Pakistan, any attack on northern India will impact Pak pouplation, pollute the river system supplying water to Pakistan and also impact it’s Dear friend China and attack on eastern India will impact Bangladesh and south east asian nation.

    To curb the impact, it’s obvious that attack / counter attack will be thru low yield devices, whcih may prolong war and convert it a real world war III.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    Mar 30, 2017 - 12:47PM

    Pakistan seems to threaten every other company with Nukes, first it was India then Israel, next USA?Recommend

  • Sheikh Sa'adi
    Mar 30, 2017 - 1:33PM

    Accordingly, in a damage limitation exercise, Indian officials have denied Narang’s arguments but his claims are based on undeniable facts. Firstly, as he points out, India’s NFU is already eroded because it is qualified by threatening nuclear use against chemical and biological weapons, the other two weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, he quotes then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that “India should not declare whether it has a NFU policy”

    OK.

    Take a deep breath.
    Stop hyperventilating.

    And ponder this,

    A. Pakistan OVERTLY believes in First Strike.

    B. India ALLEGEDLY COVERTLY believes in First Strike.

    C. In the Worst Case Scenario, India beleives what Pakistan believes in.

    So Why this hyperventilation???Recommend

  • R.Subramanian
    Mar 30, 2017 - 2:08PM

    Pakistan is no match for India in either nuclear or conventional warfare… more over India does not talks about nuclear weapon usage it is Pakistanis who always used to talk about usage of nuclear weapon against India… Pakistan has to come out from its old Islamic mindset, it has to see the realityRecommend

  • Yousaf Ali
    Mar 30, 2017 - 2:30PM

    @PrakashG:
    You are living in fool’s paradiseRecommend

  • Pukubanger
    Mar 30, 2017 - 3:02PM

    “Or India can take up Pakistan’s concurrent offer of dialogue to stabilise mutual deterrence and resolve outstanding disputes like Kashmir for the sake of strategic stability in South Asia”
    The author has no clue of Indian mind, that is the reason the last paragraph quoted above looks like a joke. Ambassador Zamir Akram and Analyst Vipin Narang have overlooked one issue. When India resorts to first strike, it will be simultaneous attack on China and Pakistan. But China knows that. The cold start is a response to Terrorists crossing into India as quasi state actors of Pakistan. If Pakistan does not want a cold start, they have to simply close the terror factories, there lies the peace. There is no deterrence to India, wait and see. Recommend

  • Syed Sharfuddin
    Mar 30, 2017 - 11:22PM

    Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence against India is defensive and virtually prevents a full scale war between the two countries because of its total and indiscriminate nuclear response policy. There are saner minds in Indian democracy who understand what it means. The war mongers in India might shout loud and the Indian military establishment may play its imaginary war games but a mutually assured destruction scenario will remain the basis of status quo in South Asia for a foreseeable future no matter how many more missiles are tested and N bombs are manufactured and stored in the underground cellars of both countries. India is also strategically in a difficult position with regards to China which is another big country to reckon with not too close to its borders. Recommend

  • Planet Earth Realist
    Mar 31, 2017 - 7:30AM

    @Seadorff, that was probably before the CPEC and Pakistan-Russia coming together. The post 911 False Flag opportunity has now fizzled out in multiple dimensions.Recommend

  • Zuha
    Mar 31, 2017 - 10:00AM

    India’s statements regarding its changing the nuclear policy from no first use to first use is something which seems to be quite disturbing for the regional environment and for its neighbors particularly. These statements are quite immature in dealing with state issues at regional levels. Pakistan and India are both nuclear weapon states and these statements would only disturb the already turmoil situation in the region and would worsen the situation between the two. Recommend

  • Feroz
    Mar 31, 2017 - 2:52PM

    On a tricky pitch a straight delivery can bowl you, at times a googly can also stump you. Narang may be a good MIT scholar but he represents himself and as with most self made people will promote himself. He has not been made a spokesperson and can talk what ever his mind and imagination dictates. India has dozens of Narang’s spread across the world, if we hear or believe what they say, we will only fool ourselves and nobody else. Recommend

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