Balance the Two Make deterrence and disarmament parallel goals

The launch of INS Arihant, India's first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, has added a new dimension to the country's nuclear deterrence. Given the military threats and challenges India faces from its nuclear-armed neighbours, credible minimum nuclear deterrence is a fundamental national security requirement. As India follows a 'no first use' nuclear doctrine and is willing to absorb a nuclear strike that may cause large-scale destruction and cripple substantial elements of its nuclear forces, nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear-tipped submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) provide genuine deterrent capability that is robust, infallible and potentially insuperable. 

The current international trend is towards development of more modern, high quality nuclear forces. The US is working on the Reliable Replacement Warhead programme. China and Pakistan are upgrading their nuclear warheads and delivery systems. India must close the missile technology gap with them as early as possible, or else the credibility of its nuclear deterrence will remain suspect. 

As India has conducted only six nuclear tests so far, its nuclear warhead designs are based on a small database. Hence, despite the availability of sophisticated computer modelling and simulation for improving warhead designs, India must retain the option to carry out further nuclear tests as and when it is considered technically necessary by scientists of the Atomic Energy Commission and is politically feasible to do so. 

Similarly, India's Agni-I and Agni-II intermediate-range ballistic missiles have been inducted into service after a limited number of flight tests. Additional tests of the Agni series of missiles should continue both to enhance the credibility of nuclear deterrence by showcasing their technological maturity and accuracy of delivery and to inspire confidence among the armed forces personnel manning them. It is also imperative to redouble efforts to acquire SLBMs with a range of 3,500 km. Sagarika, the present submarine-launched missile, has a range of only 700 km. Meanwhile, a small number of surface combatants in the eastern and western naval fleets must be equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles to add to the uncertainties of the direction of launch that an adversary must consider. 

India must step up efforts to acquire intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for long-range deterrence against possible future adversaries. The Surya ICBM programme, which can benefit from the polar and geostationary series of satellite launch vehicles, needs to be given the highest research and development (R&D) priority. In view of the R&D developments in China, it would be prudent to start a research programme on multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle technologies as a technology demonstrator. 

The deployment of effective ballistic missile defence systems to defend value targets and provide point defence to strategically important installations will considerably enhance the quality of India's deterrence. Effort must be made to acquire this capability through imports as well as indigenous R&D. 

India should cooperate with the international community in furthering non-proliferation efforts even while remaining outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For counter-proliferation efforts to succeed, global support is needed for the Proliferation Security Initiative and Container Security Initiative launched by the US. India should join these initiatives as an equal partner after ensuring that Indian interests are safeguarded. 

Nuclear terrorism presents a credible threat, particularly the possibility of radiological dispersal devices or 'dirty nukes' being exploded by Islamist terrorist organisations active in India like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. The agencies concerned should aim at prevention through a widespread human intelligence network. And radiation disaster management capabilities must be established in the battalions being raised by the National Disaster Management Authority. Also, India must strengthen security arrangements around civilian nuclear reactors so as to prevent Chernobyl-like consequences through a terrorist attack. In the eventuality of Pakistan's nuclear warheads falling into jihadi hands, India should be prepared to extend all help to the international community to secure these warheads, including logistics support and military assistance. 

India must continue to make efforts to enhance confidence-building and nuclear risk reduction measures with Pakistan so as to reduce the risk of accidental and inadvertent nuclear war and must extend these efforts to negotiating similar measures with China despite that country's insistence that India is not a nuclear weapons state. 

It is not in India's interest to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It is important to keep the option for further nuclear testing open for political and technological reasons. However, India should consider joining the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty after sufficient fissile material has been stockpiled to produce the number of warheads considered adequate for credible minimum deterrence. Meanwhile, India should participate in negotiations that are likely to go on for five to 10 years. 

To aid 'operationalisation' of India's nuclear arsenal, the Nuclear Command Authority must be given a permanent nuclear planning staff. Finally, India's nuclear weapons policy should proceed along parallel tracks: continue to enhance the quality of nuclear deterrence while simultaneously working to achieve total nuclear disarmament in as early a timeframe as possible. 

The writer is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi