ACDC-ISSI Webinar on
“Shifting Indian Nuclear Doctrine: Implications for Regional Stability”
July 2, 2020
“While India has moved from counter-value to counterforce strategy, it still does not have an assured first-strike capability against Pakistan. It definitely does not have an assured first-strike capability against China,” stated Professor Han Hua, Director, Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, Peking University, China, in her keynote address. She was speaking at the webinar held by Arms Control and Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) on “Shifting Indian Nuclear Doctrine: Implications for Regional Stability” on July 2, 2020.
Malik Qasim Mustafa, Director ACDC, at the ISSI, in his welcome remarks, said that vagueness and ambiguity surrounding the Indian No First Use (NFU) policy continues. The Indian officials and nuclear experts have been debating a review of India’s Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) doctrine and criticising the effectiveness of its NFU policy. He said that recent developments indicate that India is abandoning its so-called NFU with a more aggressive policy of first use or pre-emptive counterforce strike and developing new and advanced nuclear weapons programme, as well as, modern delivery capabilities. Any such transformations in the Indian nuclear doctrine and force posture will bring severe implications for regional peace and deterrence stability. It will introduce further instability by generating an open-ended arms race.
In her briefing, Ghazala Yasmin Jalil, Research Fellow at the ACDC-ISSI said that the Indian doctrine is moving towards a policy of nuclear pre-emption against Pakistan. Evidence also suggests that India seems to be developing a nuclear arsenal that goes beyond its policies of credible deterrence and NFU. She said that India has been investing in new precision weaponry, as well as, space-based and ground-based surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities that would support any move towards first use and pre-emption.
Dr Ghulam Mujaddid, Dean Faculty of DASSS, Air University, spoke on “No First Use: Continuity or Change in Indian Nuclear Doctrine” and asserted that India will retain NFU for the moment. He said that there is enough leeway or ambiguity within the doctrine to allow India to move towards first-use without officially declaring it. He said that India wants to retain its moral high ground vis-à-vis NFU. For Pakistan, the important thing is to watch for the capabilities India is building.
Air Vice Marshal Faaiz Amir (Retd), former Vice Chancellor, Air University, in his remarks on “Preemption and Indian Nuclear Doctrine: Implications for Pakistan” said that South Asia is one of the most unstable and dangerous regions. While India poses a security threat for Pakistan, China does not regard India as a significant threat. He said that India has an evolving doctrine in both nuclear and conventional realm, which increasingly favours escalation dominance and deterrence by punishment. He said that technological advancements, developments in remote sensing technology, and cyberwarfare will evolve and erode nuclear deterrence. Moreover, India is also building up its conventional and nuclear capabilities. Pakistan needs to develop countermeasures against the range of capabilities India is building including investing in space capabilities.
Dr Rabia Akhtar, Director CSSPR, University of Lahore, while speaking on “India Nuclear Weapons Modernisation: Implications for Deterrence Stability” said that South Asia has two dyads of conflict – India and China and India and Pakistan. The Indian policies and doctrinal posture and capabilities that are adequate against Pakistan are inadequate against China. India is, thus, faced with a dilemma where it needs to have one policy vis-à-vis China and another against Pakistan. The Indian capabilities are inadequate against China as its recent clash with China has amply exposed. She said that India has built an international narrative where its move from NFU to first-use would not elicit any negative response.
Air Marshal (Retd) M Ashfaque Arain, Director CASS, talking on “Shift in Indian Nuclear Doctrine and Deterrence Stability: Option for Pakistan” said that it is unlikely that India will abandon NFU or make any drastic changes to its nuclear doctrine since it would like to maintain its image of a “responsible nuclear state” and the advantages that incur from it. Pakistan must, however, prepare against the Indian capabilities. Pakistan needs to maintain a second-strike capability, a robust command and control system and a posture of credible minimum deterrence against India without getting into a costly arms race.
Professor Han Hua, in her keynote remarks, said that the conventional deterrence in South Asia is very important presently. She expressed concern that while the last conventional conflict between India and Pakistan did not escalate but the next conventional conflict could very well turn into a nuclear exchange. She pointed out that there are three factors that are important in nuclear South Asia – national interest, a capability, which India does not have now vis-à-vis escalation dominance, and political resolve to use nuclear weapons. Even India does not have a conventional capability to simultaneously use against Pakistan or China.
Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BoG ISSI, in his concluding remarks, said that the imminent changes in the Indian nuclear doctrine and force posture have made South Asia a much more dangerous place. India will continue to harp on declaratory NFU but will pursue modernisation of nuclear and conventional capabilities. At some stage, it will move seamlessly to first-use policy. This has a number of implications for Pakistan’s security and its nuclear strategy. It would accelerate an arms race in the region and will necessitate adjustment by Pakistan to its force postures and doctrine.