Michael KreponIndian Nuclear Strategists

Greetings from Pakistan where, when it comes to nuclear strategy, people say little but act expeditiously. In India, on the other hand, people write much and act slowly.

India now has a coterie of first-rate thinkers on nuclear issues besides K. Subrahmanyam, including Raja Mohan, Rear Adm. (ret.) Raja Menon, Rajesh Basrur, Gurmeet Kanwal, and Bharat Karnad (who had a class with Bernard Brodie but thinks more like Herman Kahn).

In my view, one of the best and most overlooked Indian strategic analysts is Vice Adm. (ret.) Verghese Koithara. His book, Crafting Peace in Kashmir, Through a Realist Lens (2004), has a chapter on “Nuclear Danger” that is well worth reading. Here’s a sampler:

“Till it acquired nuclear weapons, Pakistan had been protecting its highly vulnerable nuclear facilities in Kahuta and elsewhere through conventional deterrence, not defence. Its high card had been the vulnerability of a big concentration of Indian nuclear assets, close to the economically central city of Mumbai, to Pakistan F-16s coming over the sea.”

“The requirement to keep warheads and delivery systems (and perhaps even the fissile and non-fissile sections of the warhead) separate for reasons of security and survival could add to design and maintenance problems relating to safety. The relatively small number (six at best) of explosive tests carried out by each country, and that too in a time-constrained manner, raises worries about design safety, as well.”

“As far as continuous real-time monitoring of the opponent’s nuclear delivery systems is concerned, both sides are effectively blind.”

“Pakistan’s strategy is aimed at deterring a conventional threat from India, while India’s is aimed at deterring a nuclear one from Pakistan. Since a conventional confrontation is easier to develop and must almost invariably precede a nuclear one, Pakistan’s deterrence has to function much more actively than India’s.”

“As the conventional military balance continues to shift in India’s favor, Pakistan’s reliance on its nuclear capability will increase and so will its effort to lower the nuclear threshold. Thus Pakistan’s strategy is likely to emphasize not just ‘first use’ but ‘early first use’ in the coming years.”

“Pakistan’s effort would be to maximize nuclear uncertainty in times of crisis while India’s would be to minimize it… Pakistan would like to establish that nuclear risk-taking and its consequences in South Asia resemble Russian roulette with the outcome relying on chance, while India would want to prove that it would resemble a game of chess with the outcome determined by rational logic and relative superiority.”

Verghese writes that further Indian nuclear testing of thermonuclear weapons would depend on confidence levels from prior tests. Indian strategic analysts are divided on whether such testing is necessary. Raja Mohan is satisfied with boosted fission-type yields; Bharat Karnad is not.


  1. RAJ47

    Pakistan trying to equalize asymmetry in conventional forces with India by acquiring more and more nukes is not a new matter. But what is concerning and worrying is that, Pakistani proliferation is prompted by religious zeal alone!
    Nuclear abstinence cannot be found in Pakistani dictionaries. Pakistan couldn’t care less if nuclear abstinence means totally forsaking nuclear weapons or accepting a “No First Use” or stopping nuclear weapon production or pronouncing a self imposed moratorium on nuclear tests. Pakistan’s India centric policies and religious zealot polity will not permit it to choose any of these options.
    Pakistan would go to any extent to fulfill its ambitions of achieving nuclear parity with India. Pakistan PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had once said that, “We will eat grass but will have the bomb”.
    Pakistan has been working assiduously to safeguard its nuclear capability from first strike and to acquire second strike survivability. Pakistan has at least two safe havens constructed to ensure first strike survivability. They are also constructed close to airstrips so that they can be loaded on to fighters or carried to their destinations at the earliest. The latest high-tech ADA centers constructed at various places in Pakistan make Pakistani government intentions of fighting a nuclear war very obvious.
    The Chinese engineers have assisted Pakistan tremendously in provisioning of tunneling technology in many a mountain like Kirana Hills. The US too has been assisting Pakistan to acquire a long range EW capability by selling radars like AN/TPS-77. The US has also been very keen to provide military hardware and monetary assistance to Pakistan which has always been used against India. The latest being 1000 LGB kits in this month. Pakistan Air Defenses have been upgraded to a large extent in every sphere like acquisition of SAMs from China, upgradation of AAA from 37/57mm to Crotale/Skyguard and purchase of modern aircrafts like JF-17. PAF has been practicing toss bombing since a very long time, probably early 1990s. Pakistani missile program has been designed to achieve excellence in long range delivery systems.
    There is much credence to the theory of proliferation to non-state actors or terrorists. A failed or rouge state may resort to such coercive or blackmailing tactics. Pakistani universities teach subjects like nuclear electronics, metallurgy etc with great emphasis on practical learning. It is surprising to note that even small universities like Allama Iqbal Open University of AzaKhel has a department of Nuclear Sciences along with Department of Hadith and Seerah and Department of Islamic Thought, Islamic Law and Jurisprudence. The students in such Universities are generally from lower middle class who are imbibed with such great religious hatred towards India as if it runs in their genes. A Q Khan, Bashir‑ud‑Din Mahmood and the likes will not hesitate to proliferate at the slightest religious stimulus.
    The complete issue is topped by the corrupt political leadership under the strict rule of the Pakistani Armed Forces. Almost all Pakistani PMs and Presidents have beaten the drum of Indian threat whenever there was slightest of danger to their governments. General (Retired) Musharraf has disarmed India a number of times by threatening the first use of nuclear arsenal.
    Pakistan has always followed the policy of maximum nuclear deterrence, no matter what relations India has with US or Russia or China.
    India cannot and should not remain a mute spectator to such a religiously charged neighbor Pakistan and ever growing Chinese nuclear arsenal.

  2. bradley laing (History)

    If I had the ability to ask for a U.S. government classified study to be made for me, I’d ask for one about how much radioactive fallout an India-Pakistan nuclear war would create, and where, within and outside of the two countries, it would go.
    The example of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, with piracy, toxic waste dumping, and illegal fishing should make everyone wonder how difficult it would be to deal with the nuclear fallout after an India-Pakistan nuclear war. The political fallout would need a seperate study.

  3. Idiots (History)

    Some people are ignorant of history…

    India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974 – many years before Pakistan.

    India illegally stole technology from civilian reactors to create its nuclear bomb.

    India is the AGGRESSIVE WAR MONGERING nation.

    And for the people that do NOT know – the WIND BLOWS from West to East – radioactive dust would cover India, not Pakistan.

  4. Anil (History)

    @ Idiots · Mar 6, 12:42 AM

    India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974 – many years before Pakistan.
    -So what???

    India illegally stole technology from civilian reactors to create its nuclear bomb.
    -we stoled technology ??? ok. you don’t know anything about history. please read it through the link :http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers38%5Cpaper3711.html

    India is the AGGRESSIVE WAR MONGERING nation.
    -the world over knows who started Kargil. do i need to say more ???

    WIND BLOWS from West to East : are you a Pakistani Meteorologist ?

  5. Annie (History)

    Well guys India started the nuclear race just to domenate as the hegemon over the south Asian Region and to counter china as a regional and global power.Pakistan had to give a sensible response that we gave on May 28 1998. about nuclear technology its like any other scientific technology and as a procedure to attain it you ve to do what is being devised by the makers sellers and so called” forebearers” of the technology… indians were supported more by imperielistic powers than pakistan but pakistan got better technology in less time.
    Indians i must say are not War Mongering coz u have to be brave and sensible for that you should know the workable strategies at least unlike cold start doctrine.

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