REAL DETERRENCE AVOIDS CONFLICT
Mr Saran maintains that India does not make a distinction between strategic and tactical nukes in its nuclear doctrine of assured second strike capability. Does this mean if the Pakistani Army uses a TNW (less than one kiloton) to wipe out most of an offensive division (about 10,000) of the Indian Army in a battlefield, India will drop a 20 kiloton bomb on a Pakistani city, instantly killing over 1,00,000 innocent civilians and three times the numbers dying slowly because of poor civil-defence and medical infrastructure? Such disproportionate Indian response appears less of a deterrence, and more of pretence.
Considering that Pakistan has created a theatre-imbalance in conventional war with tactical nukes, real deterrence lies in a befitting response and not by upping the ante. So what should India do? Develop theatre or sub-kiloton or tactical nuclear weapons with strategic level control. This means that unlike the Cold War when Nato held TNWs with its field commanders in eastern Europe, India should retain command and control of tactical weapons similar to its strategic nukes. This is doable and will not impinge upon India’s No First Use declaratory policy.
Mulling about the adversary, it is difficult to believe that Pakistan’s General Headquarters would have outsourced command and control of its TNWs to field commanders especially when the the Pakistani Army has veered towards extreme religiosity. Pakistan’s army chief is more powerful than his corps commanders because he controls the nukes. Thus, logic dictates that the means for delivery of Pakistani TNWs would be its turbofan-propelled Babur long-range cruise missile rather than its 60km range Nasr ballistic missiles held with field commanders.
Once India balances Pakistan’s TNWs with TNWs of its own, the next step should be to get the three defence service chiefs in the nuclear policy and execution loop. In the existing set-up, only the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee is in the nuclear execution loop; the other two service chiefs are outside the nuclear delivery chain which runs upwards from the Strategic Forces Command to the National Security Adviser through the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. Moreover, each service headquarters should have a nuclear warfare cell to familiarise officers and all ranks with various aspects of a nuclear war. The Army, with boots on ground, not only needs assured anti-nuclear radiation equipment for its mechanised forces it also requires to understand the extent of disaster which will befall a battlefield hit by TNW. Thus, when senior officers opine that forces will zoom past a TNW devastated battlefield, and battles in other theatres will not be affected, they sound incredible.
It needs to be remembered that TNWs have never been used in the world. During the Cold War, the biggest challenge before the Soviet General Staff was to device substitutability of doctrine and highly accurate conventional munitions to discourage Nato from using TNWs. Taking cue, it is time for the Indian Army to modify its Cold Start or pro-active doctrine. Formulated after learning lessons from the 10-month long Operation Parakram, the Cold Start doctrine has been overtaken by the arrival of Pakistan’s TNWs. If Pakistan’s TNWs are a response to the Cold Start, as Pakistani analysts close to its Army smugly pronounce, the Indian Army should brace itself for the future war which should aim to discourage Pakistan’s Army from using this new weapon.
This is possible if the Indian Army’s war aim is modified: From occupation of enemy territory and destruction of his offensive forces, it should be maximum destruction of enemy’s offensive forces only. While capture of territory across the border in the backdrop of TNWs carries risks of high penalty, war across the Line of Control in the Jammu & Kashmir mountainous region will be a different ball-game. The modified war aim will require a preponderance of firepower, both land and air power for simultaneous destruction across the contact battles to depth battles. It will even be possible to have a joint fire-plan directive for the air force and the artillery.
With punishment by attrition being the war aim, New Delhi will have little reason to defy world opinion by a prolonged war and increase Pakistan’s threat to use TNW. Going by the experience of Operation Parakram, of the three strike corps, 21 Corps located from Hissar to Thiruvananthapuram due to various commitments took the maximum time to mobilise. At present, realistically, it will need a minimum two weeks to get launched; in all probability it will take much more time.
This could be a blessing in disguise. India could offer a powerful confidence-building measure in terms of mutual reduction of mechanised forces. This is actually what the Pakistani Army has been asking for from time to time, and is at the heart of its acquisition of TNWs. Talks on this issue could be held under the ambit of the memorandum of understanding signed as part of the Lahore Declaration in February 1999. This fits well with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s call to pick up threads from the 1999 bilateral peace talks when he was the head of Government. For India, it would be killing two birds with one stone. Once the Pakistani Army realises that the Cold Start has been modified taking into account its TNW capability, India would be talking from a position of strength. And, bilateral peace talks on which both the Pakistani Government and its Army are on board will commence. It will be a win-win situation for India and Pakistan.