At the heart of a nation's targeting philosophy is the question: what deters? Is the adversary to be deterred by threatening his major cities with annihilation? Or, is he to be deterred by threatening decapitating strikes against his political and military leadership? Or, would he be deterred by rendering his strategic nuclear forces and conventional offensive strike corps incapable of effective and coherent action? Civilian and military nuclear planners have for long wrestled with the dilemma of whether to base their targeting philosophies on "Value targets" or on "Counter force" targets or a judicious mix of the two. Since 1974, national guidance for the preparation of the SIOP is provided to the JSTPs through a three-tiered process: Presidential Decision Memorandum or Directives on Nuclear Employment Policy, which set in 3-5 pages the broad national policy regarding employment concepts for meeting U5 strategic nuclear objectives; the Nuclear Weapons Employment Plan issued by the Secretary of Defence to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which sets out the planning assumptions, attack options, targeting objectives and damage levels needed to satisfy the presidential guidance; and, Annexure C to the annual Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan, which translates the NUWEP into more specific operational requirements and directs implementation by the JSTPS. Soviet nuclear forces.
A decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb over one city of one’s Own country would be recognised in advance as a catastrophic blunder; ten bombs on ten cities would be a disaster beyond history; and a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are unthinkable
– McGeorge Bundy
Counter Value or Counter Force?
At the heart of a nation’s targeting philosophy is the question: what deters? Is the adversary to be deterred by threatening his major cities with annihilation? Or, is he to be deterred by threatening decapitating strikes against his political and military leadership? Or, would he be deterred by rendering his strategic nuclear forces and conventional offensive strike corps incapable of effective and coherent action? Civilian and military nuclear planners have for long wrestled with the dilemma of whether to base their targeting philosophies on “value targets” or on “counter force” targets or a judicious mix of the two.
Value targets consist of major population centres and industrial installations and are the ones that exemplify terror in the “balance of terror” equation. After the horror of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, ordinary people the world over find it easy to understand what might happen if portions of their own city were to be flattened by a nuclear weapon. “Counter force” targets are primarily strategic military targets and are generally those that are connected with the storage, launching and delivery of nuclear weapons and their command, control and communications (C3). Large mechanised military formations in the field, particularly when concentrated before or during employment, are also classified as counter force targets. Even if counter force targets are attacked exclusively, there is an inherent danger of “Collateral” civilian casualties since most of these are likely to be located close to cities and small towns.
Democratic states, in particular, are increasingly placing much greater emphasis on the value of human life than was the case even a few decades ago and are most uncomfortable with the concept of massive urban and industrial destruction that was the hallmark of Cold War strategies such as “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD). Robert McNamara’s concept of MAD was the assured destruction of one-fifth to one-fourth of the population and half of the industry of USSR in a second strike, after absorbing a Soviet first strike. One of the reasons given in justification of such a massive nuclear strike was that the damage acceptability threshold of totalitarian states is much higher than that of democratic states where the government is directly answerable to the people. India has been blessed with two non-democratic nuclear armed neighbours and Indian nuclear planners have no option but to take this reality into account while formulating a targeting philosophy.
At the peak of the Cold War, the United States (US) and the erstwhile Soviet Union had between them about 50,000 to 60,000 nuclear warheads. For them, a “mix and match” option between counter value and counter force targets and between various types of land, sea and air-delivered warheads was not only practically feasible but also eminently desirable.However, no Western analyst has as yet been able to advance a convincing argument justifying the necessity of employing such a large number of warheads to deter the adversary when it was widely accepted that one nuclear bomb on one city was one too many. On the other hand, China, France and the United Kingdom, with their small nuclear forces: (SNF), are all known to have opted for an exclusive counter value (city-busting) targeting policy and correctly so.
Another major advantage of targeting mainly counter value objectives is that, being fixed targets, their planning parameters can be determined accurately during peace time and detailed prioritised plans for engaging them can be drawn up well in advance of likely hostilities. Several options can be worked out for engaging fixed value targets with widely dispersed nuclear forces of the triad as per pre-determined priorities so that the destruction of some of the nuclear forces assets in a first strike does not completely jeopardise the country’s ability to destroy those targets that have been assigned the highest priority. A counter value targeting policy also makes it unnecessary to invest in elaborate surveillance and tracking systems capable of providing real-time intelligence about the location, posture and state of readiness of mobile targets.
However, a counter value targeting policy need not rule out nuclear strikes on counter force targets whenever these are considered necessary. For example, if it ever becomes necessary to launch a retaliatory strike against Pakistan, Indian military planners may consider it desirable to include the Pakistan army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) at Rawalpindi in the Priority I target list as that country is run primarily from its GHQ and to a much lesser extent from its political capital at Islamabad, regardless of the dispensation that may happen to be in power at a particular point in time. A decapitating retaliatory strike that endeavours to cripple the adversary country’s leadership, would almost certainly include its military headquarters complex, even though it may otherwise be classified as a counter force target. Similarly, other counter force targets, some of them mobile, may also be included with a lower priority so as to ensure that the adversary country’s war waging potential, particularly its remaining nuclear forces, are crippled into ineffectiveness to the extent possible.
Nations with large nuclear arsenals, such as the US and Russia, can choose from a range of responses whenever warning is received about the likelihood of a nuclear attack. Even if nuclear weapons release orders are finally given, there is a fair likelihood of a graduated response through counter force attacks, with attacks on cities at the bottom end of the list of options. Herman Kahn, one of the foremost thinkers on nuclear war, lists eight different types of reaction to warning of eminent attack:
• Increase alert.
• Decrease vulnerability.
• Initiate “positive control” (bombers airborne towards targets but without final attack orders).
• Local counter force (shooting down intruding aircraft not positively identified as hostile).
• Institute negotiations.
• Limited counter force (in case of reasonable doubt about hostile enemy intentions in firing a few missiles vis a vis accidental firing).
• Controlled war (all-out counter force attacks for intra-war deterrence plus reasonable peace offers).
• Unlimited retaliation (attacks on cities).
Besides counter force and counter value targets, nuclear analysts include several other areas for possible strikes. Theodore A. Postol has written: “…many other applications of nuclear weapons could in principle be included in a discussion of targeting. These may be aimed at clearing large areas of ocean from threatening surface or undersea forces, or large volumes of air and space from threatening aircraft, missiles, or incoming re-entry vehicles. Targeting nuclear weapons in such circumstances also presents a rich and diverse set of operational and technical problems that have policy implications.” These postulations appear to be too far-fetched in the Indian context and are not considered further. In fact, in the changed circumstances after the end of the Cold War and heightened environmental consciousness, they are largely irrelevant in the Western context too.
The Targeting Process
Though the process of planning attacks by nuclear forces against the adversary’s targets is essentially simple in concept, it presents complex challenges in filling in the detail necessary to ensure a successful strike. Postol has formulated the following criteria for selecting nuclear targets:
• The direct military value of targets.
• Their contribution in performing important functions for the civilian or military leadership (protection, communications Support and so on).
• The indirect support provided to the enemy’s war effort.
• Their importance in assisting post-war recovery.
• Energy production centres (electricity and petroleum production facilities).
• Heavy and light civilian and military production centres (steel, transportation equipment, electronics and chemicals factories).
• Military and industrial storage sites (petroleum and chemical storage sites and storages sites for tanks, trucks, ships and nuclear weapons).
It may be necessary to individually destroy several of these targets located within a single enemy military complex or city. Contrary to popular belief, a single nuclear bomb of a yield of 10 to 20 kilotons is not sufficiently powerful to destroy a complete military-industrial complex, leave alone a city. If that city is a large population and industrial centre, it would be necessary to plan nearly simultaneous strikes with two or more nuclear warheads to ensure that all the key targets in the group are effectively destroyed. These warheads may be of varying yields ranging from tens of kilotons to one or more megatons. Judgement regarding the exact type of warhead and the type of burst necessary would have to be based on the level of damage required to be inflicted and the need to deny the target the ability to recuperate for a given length of time. The military planner dealing with nuclear targeting must also take into account
Circular Error Probable (CEP)
The Circular Error Probable (CEP) is a measure of delivery accuracy. It is the radius of a circle about the centre point of a target within which, on average, half of the bombs will fall. The other half, on average, fall outside. For manned bombers, the CEP of delivery of a nuclear bomb is normally between 500 and 1,000 metres. Missiles are, of course, claimed to possess much greater accuracies of delivery. However, it must be stated that neither the US nor Russia has actually fired an ICBM over the North Pole; hence, these accuracies have not been practically tested.
If the enemy increases the resistance of his nuclear hardened shelters by a factor of four, the attacker would have to either halve the CEP of his delivery system or increase the yield of the warhead fourfold to achieve the same efficiency of destruction. “…The efficiency of a ballistic missile goes as the square of its CEP. For a two mile CEP it would take four missiles to achieve the same kill probability (as for a missile with a one mile CEP), while for 1/2 mile CEP it would only take one-fourth as many missiles, and so on.” Further, if the enemy adopts camouflage, concealment and dispersion measures to deceive the attacker regarding the exact location of his hardened shelters, the problem of achieving the desired degree of destruction is further compounded and a still larger number of warheads with higher yields would be necessary.
Hence, successfully executing nuclear strikes against hardened counter force targets is extremely difficult and expensive in terms of larger financial outlays on warheads and delivery systems and intelligence assets.
the inherent inaccuracy of the delivery system (the Circular Error Probable—CEP, also called the “miss distance” from “ground zero”— GZ) and the probability of interception of the delivery vehicle carrying the warhead before the weapon has been effectively released. Besides yield and accuracy, the effectiveness of a nuclear strike also depends on the “hardness” of the target. Counter force targets, in particular, are usually hardened to withstand blast intensities of between 30 to 50 pounds per square inch (psi). Since he will have only a finite nuclear arsenal to draw from, he must also decide the inter se priorities of various target groups and of individual targets within each group.
Another key decision to be made is whether to attack a given group of targets only with land-based ballistic missiles, or with a mix of land and sea-based ballistic missiles or with a mix of nuclear warheads from all the three elements of the triad. Since different delivery systems have varying times of flight to target (aircraft may take six to eight hours against the flight time of 10 to 20 minutes for Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles—SLBMs—and 20 to 30 minutes for Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles—ICBMs), the need to use a mix of delivery systems poses its own challenges.
Effect of Nuclear Detonations
Nuclear detonations result in many secondary effects of blast, heat and radioactivity…these secondary nuclear effects can have consequences as significant as those associated with blast alone. The intense flash of light from a detonation can set fires at great range from the detonation point. For the fifty kiloton airburst in clear weather, fires can be set at ranges of about two to two and a half miles (3 to 4 km), and for the one megaton airburst.
Fires can be set at seven to nine miles (11 to 14.5 km).
Bursts above the ground maximise the area subjected to the blast effects that destroy most buildings. As the hardness of a target increases, the height of burst that maximises the probability of damage decreases. For targets of extreme hardness, or for circumstances in which it is desirable to crater targets such as runways, surface bursts are required. For yet more fortified targets, such as deep underground bunkers, earth-penetrating warheads may give the highest probability of target destruction. When target hardness is more than 100 to 200 psi, the fireball will be close enough to the ground for debris from the target area to mix with radioactive bomb residues, resulting in the formation of large, highly radioactive particles of dust…Even if a nuclear detonation is a high airburst, considerable radioactive fallout could occur downwind of the target area, since rain can be induced by the seeding effects of a rising radioactive cloud…Thus, whether an airburst or a surface burst is used, intense fallout in and around the target area is possible.
— Theodore A. Postol
However, for many targets it would be unavoidable. The military planner must also consider the engineering reliability of each delivery system as “a certain number of missiles, bombers, cruise missiles and short-range attack missiles can be expected to suffer mechanical failure during their flight to target, and some warheads might not explode when delivered.” All of the above factors influence the probability regarding the achievement of the desired level of damage against each target or target group. This probability is generally referred to as “damage expectancy” (DE) and is usually expressed as a product of the probability of killing a target (PK—weapon yield, accuracy, height of burst, and target hardness) the probability of penetrating air defences (PTP), the probability that systems function reliably (PRE) and pre-launch survivability (PLS—the probability that systems survive enemy preemptive actions).
An example would help to illustrate the inter-play of various probabilities. Taking the analogy to eliminate the Pakistan army GHQ first in a retaliatory Indian strike further, if a bomber aircraft was to be directed to the target, it may have a PLS of 0.8, a PIP of 0.7 and a PRE of 0.9. The resulting DE would then be 0.5 (1×0.8×0.7×0.9=0.5). In case the Commander Strategic Forces Command had laid down the probability of damage to be achieved on this target as 0.9, a larger number of warheads would be required. Two nuclear warheads would achieve a damage expectancy (DE) of only 0.75; three would achieve a DE of 0.875 and four would take the figure to 0.94. Hence, it would be necessary to allocate at least four warheads to this target to achieve a DE of 0.9 which provides an assurance level of almost complete destruction. These four weapons would, naturally, need to be delivered by different delivery systems “to hedge against the complete failure of an entire weapon type .
United States Targeting Policy
US strategic nuclear war plans have undergone several major revisions since 1945. Till 1961, various agencies in possession of nuclear weapons had their own target lists and had individual operational plans to destroy those targets. This had led to a fair amount of duplication and lack of coordination. On April 15, 1961, the first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) was instituted (see box.) In January 1988, President Reagan directed the following:
“Our strategic forces and the associated targeting policy must, by any calculation, be perceived as making warfare a totally unacceptable and unrewarding proposition for the Soviet leadership. Accordingly, our targeting policy:
• Denies the Soviets the ability to achieve essential military objectives by holding at risk Soviet war-making capabilities, including both the full range of Soviet military forces and war-supporting industry which provides the foundation for Soviet military power and supports its capability to conduct a protracted conflict; and
• Places at risk those political entities the Soviet leadership values most: the mechanisms for ensuring survival of the Communist Party and its leadership cadres, and for retention of the Party’s control over the Soviet and Soviet Bloc peoples.
Successive US administrations had been of the view that the “Kremlin would be more deterred from starting a war by threats to its control structure and its physical survival than to the lives of millions of Soviet citizens.” As such, the US followed a policy of “withholding attacks” on Soviet cities till such attacks became absolutely unavoidable. The US SIOP is known to have four basic target categories (excluding cities), as under:
Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP)
The Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) is the US strategic nuclear war plan. It contains a target list with data on all targets that might need to be attacked in a strategic nuclear war, programmes for the assignment of all US strategic weapons to various targets, and a wide variety of options for the actual employment of these weapons against designated targets. Construction of the SIOP is the domain of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff STPS) located at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Offut Air Force Base at Omaha, Nebraska.
The JSTPS has two working divisions: the National Strategic Target List (NSTL) Division, which processes and analyses the target data; and the SIOP Division, which prepares and maintains the war plan. Since 1974, national guidance for the preparation of the SIOP is provided to the JSTPs through a three-tiered process: Presidential Decision Memorandum or Directives on Nuclear Employment Policy, which set in 3-5 pages the broad national policy regarding employment concepts for meeting U5 strategic nuclear objectives; the Nuclear Weapons Employment Plan (NUWEP) issued by the Secretary of Defence to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), which sets out the planning assumptions, attack options, targeting objectives and damage levels needed to satisfy the presidential guidance; and, Annexure C (Nuclear) to the annual Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP), which translates the NUWEP into more specific operational requirements and directs implementation by the JSTPS.
• Soviet nuclear forces.
• Other military targets (OMT).
• Military and political leadership facilities (including C3 systems).
• Economic and industrial installations.
The US JSTPS was briefed that the “central purpose of the SIOP was deterrence or, if war came, war termination.” Several analysts were critical of a targeting policy in which marginal industrial facilities derided as “shoe factories” were targeted with strategic nuclear weapons as part of a “counter-recovery” mission, the aim of which was to effectively impede Soviet recovery after full-scale nuclear exchanges had taken place. After the counter-recovery mission was rescinded in the late 1980s, close to 15,000 economic-industrial targets were eliminated. Thousands of minor military installations were also eliminated, reducing the US National Strategic Target Data Base (NSTDB) from more than 50,000 targets to about 14,000 targets by 1988. On the other hand, since the institution of SIOP-6, the number of mobile targets (also called re-locatable-RT-targets) has grown exponentially from some 4,000 in 1984 to almost twice that number at the turn of the century. “These include mobile air defence batteries, bombers scattered among smaller airfields, submarines hidden up coastal inlets, and conventional forces of soldiers and tanks moved out of their barracks.”
New additions include mobile C3 and satellite ground control stations and SS-24 and SS-25 mobile ICBMs. Locating and attacking highly mobile missiles is extremely complex if a reasonable degree of assurance is to be achieved. As President Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War, look-alike decoys and dummies can be easily manufactured and moved around at will for deception purposes. It Is also questionable whether the targeting of widely dispersed individual ballistic missiles, that are difficult to locate and even more difficult to hit accurately, would contribute seriously to furthering deterrence. The required number of warheads could certainly be better utilised to place at risk a larger number of value targets. It would be a fair assumption to make that with the Russian Duma’s recent ratification of the START-II agreement, the number of strategic nuclear targets, particularly RTs, would be reduced considerably.
Options for India
The draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine formulated by India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), part of India’s National Security Council (NSC) in August 1999, laid down the following objectives for India’s nuclear policy:”
India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors, India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that:
(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat, and
(b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.
The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.
India’s “minimum deterrence” nuclear policy and declared “no first use—punitive retaliation” doctrine appears to suggest retaliation mainly against the large population and industrial centres of its adversaries to obtain maximum payoffs with its small nuclear force, after absorbing the full impact of what may be a massive first strike. However, it needs to be rationalised whether that is a viable doctrine in all contingencies, or whether a doctrine of proportionate and graduated retaliation will suffice in certain scenarios. For example, if deterrence was to fail and an adversary country was to launch a single counter force nuclear strike on an Indian military target, whether inside Indian territory or within its own territory, it could be argued that India should then retaliate only with a similar counter force strike, though of a higher yield on a much larger military target, rather than attack one or more of the adversary’s cities and itself risk the destruction of one or more Indian cities. The adoption of such a retaliatory posture would nullify the validity of India’s “no first use” nuclear policy. In such a scenario, India would have lost a lot in adopting a no first use policy. India’s nuclear adversaries may then find it relatively more tempting to launch a first strike on India to achieve their political and military aims, secure in the knowledge that their cities and industrial assets would be safe since India would respond only lightly. The level of damage inflicted by India on a military target may well be acceptable to them. Also, India would lose escalation control which would then automatically pass to the adversary who may decide to respond with more counter force strikes or may upgrade his second strike to counter value targets in India. India’s gains would be virtually nil.
A doctrine of “proportionate response” would also seriously undermine the credibility of India’s deterrence by considerably lowering the threshold level for India’s adversaries to launch a first strike on India. If, on the other hand, India was to adopt the approach that, as stated, the sole reason for India’s possession of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons against India and that this deterrence would be premised on massive “punitive retaliation” to inflict “unacceptable damage” against the adversary’s large cities and industrial assets regardless of the level (quantum, yield, type of target, location) of a first strike against India and Indian armed forces, the credibility of India’s deterrence would be qualitatively enhanced. India’s adversaries would then be quite clear that the consequences of launching a first strike against India would be disastrous to them and that the level of damage likely to be inflicted by a retaliatory Indian strike would be definitely unacceptable. After all, no rational government, and perhaps even an irrational one for that matter, would be willing to countenance a “disaster beyond history”, particularly as the leadership of the governing regime and its organisational structure might itself be decapitated.
It is well known that during the Cuban missile crisis the US was deterred, despite its overwhelming nuclear superiority at that time and the capacity to inflict unimaginable damage on the USSR, because the US President wanted a guarantee that not even one Soviet missile or bomber should be able to drop one bomb on an American city and the Joint Chiefs of Staff could not provide such a guarantee.” The days of planning for nuclear warfighting, hypothesising about multiple nuclear exchanges and the obscene massing of unusable nuclear power have passed into history with the end of the Cold War. The only way to ensure that deterrence does not fail, particularly for SNFs such as India’s with a publicly stated no first use policy, is by putting into effect a counter value nuclear targeting policy. Hence, despite its historic abhorrence for large-scale violence and the centrality of ahimsa as its defining national characteristic, India has only one viable option and that is to base its retaliatory nuclear targeting philosophy primarily on targeting counter value targets (large cities and industrial centres). India’s adversaries need to clearly understand that minimum deterrence is not synonymous with proportionate deterrence as some analysts erroneously make it out to be.
Detailed Target Planning
The level of “unacceptable damage” may vary from one country to another and may also depend upon the type of regime in power in a country. With development taking place and the transformation of a country’s economy from a predominantly agrarian to an industrial one, it would also vary over the years. For example, what the Chinese leadership considers unacceptable today would be far different from what was unacceptable in Mao’s China. The story is perhaps apocryphal but Mao is reported to have said that even if the whole world was to be destroyed in a nuclear war, enough Chinese would survive to rule the world. The McNamara level of unacceptable damage had been calculated to be between 200 to 300 Megaton Equivalent (MTE) by Geoffrey Kemp.” General Sundarji has worked out that “in the case of an adversary being a small country, even up to 1 MTE (say 50×20 KT weapons) might do. Even for deterring a large country, One is most unlikely to require more than 4 MTE (200×20 KT weapons).”
The ability to inflict unacceptable damage is not related to the size and diversity of the adversary’s nuclear force. The cause of deterrence is sufficiently served if the level of damage likely to be inflicted is perceived to be unacceptable. This is why a nuclear arms race, a pet paranoia of Western governments and analysts, is neither necessary nor likely in Southern Asia despite India and Pakistan ‘having overtly declared themselves to be states with nuclear weapons. Kenneth Waltz has written famously “more is not better if less is enough”
“Those who foresee intense arms racing among new nuclear states, fail to make the distinction between war fighting and war deterring capabilities. Forces designed for war fighting have to be compared with each other. Forces designed for war deterring need not be compared. The question is not whether one country has less than another, but whether it can do unacceptable damage sensibly defined. More is not better if less is enough.”
There has not been much Indian writing on the issue of nuclear targeting. Brahma Chellaney, a defence analyst of repute, favours a graduated response to a nuclear strike on India and for this reason advocates the introduction of tactical (or ‘battlefield’) nuclear weapons into India’s nuclear inventory. He writes:
“Without tactical nuclear weapons, a failed-deterrent situation could uncontrollably spark counter-city attacks, wreaking limitless destruction…After failing to deter an adversary from committing aggression, efforts have to shift to force him to halt aggression. Such intra-war deterrence or compellence can succeed if responses are judiciously modulated to allow for only a stage-by-stage escalation, with (the) opponent’s civilian population held hostage but not under attack. If cities are already under attack, the adversary will have little else to lose.”
However, the prevalent view of other Indian analysts appears to be opposite to that of Brahma Chellaney. Bharat Karnad, Research Professor, National Security Studies, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, has advocated a primarily counter value targeting philosophy. He writes:
“(India’s) nuclear ordnance will have to be aimed to take out large enemy cities. To, in the main, deter China, for instance, Beijing and the commercial and industrial concentrations on the eastern, southeastern and southern seaboard, including Hong Kong (which sources a third of the burgeoning Chinese exports) and Shanghai, suggest themselves as obvious targets. A secondary list should include prominent Chinese military and weapons complexes, among them, the North West Nuclear Weapons Research and Development Academy (the so-called Ninth Academy) inclusive of the testing site at Lop Nor in Xinjiang, the various aircraft production complexes in Sichuan and Yunnan, which are provinces adjoining India, and specifically the regional military command in Chengdu, the Naval base on Hainan Island and the Bohai shipyard in Huludao, Laoning province, constructed with Soviet help to manufacture nuclear submarines.”
Brigadier Vijay K. Nair did pioneering work in analysing the nuclear threats faced by India and in recommending policy options and a force structure during the early 1990s when nuclear weapons were under wraps in both India and Pakistan and to even talk about them was considered an anathema by the Indian intelligentsia. Should deterrence fail, in a retaliatory strike, he recommends:
Against Pakistan: The assured destruction of six to ten metropolitan centres, the destruction of a minimum of one corps sized offensive formation in its concentration area, the neutralisation of a large number of communications centres, industrial facilities, strategic bridges, military airfields, nuclear installations, hydroelectric and thermal power stations, railway centres and ports which would critically limit Pakistan’s war potential.
Against China: The destruction of four to five of her metropolitan centres and nine to ten of her strategic industrial centres, thereby radically degrading China’s economic growth.
In Brigadier Nair’s view, “The core of India’s deterrent strategy, to counter the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike by Pakistan, must rest on an assured ability to administer retribution of a magnitude that would demolish the national fabric of that country—the deterree (sic) should perceive a threat to its ability to continue to exist as a viable socio-economic system…If India can pose a credible threat of this nature, the political leadership in Pakistan will be suitably deterred.” However, in the case of China he feels that the threat of destruction of four to five of her metropolitan centres and some strategic industries would be adequate to achieve deterrence. Despite several references to the complete destruction of Pakistan as a viable political entity, Brigadier Nair offers no justification for these varying perceptions of deterrence between Pakistan and China. (Brigadier Nair has listed 17 targets in Pakistan and only eight in China for a retaliatory Indian nuclear strike.)”
Perhaps the distinction is predicated on a deeply ingrained mindset that India has had enough trouble from Pakistan since its independence in 1947 and if Pakistan was to cross the ultimate Lakshman Rekha (famous in Indian mythology as a line the crossing of which would destroy the intruder through instantaneous combustion; the Indian equivalent of the Rubicon) and resort to the unthinkable, then India might as well ensure that Pakistan finally ceases to exist as a nation state. This view is fairly widespread among Indian analysts. In private conversations with the author, many of them stated that if Pakistan starts a nuclear war, India must ensure that that nation ceases to exist as a political entity; however, none of them was willing to go on record. The ability to cause unacceptable damage does not necessarily mean that a complete nation must be made to pay for the follies of its ruling elite. The modern day dictum that “one nuclear bomb on one city is one too many” is increasingly gaining currency. A credible threat of this nature posed by India would be adequate to deter India’s adversaries from uncorking the nuclear genie.
Squeamishness Does Not Pay
Being confronted by viable and credible nuclear threats, India has no option but to evolve a sensible targeting policy that takes into account India’s no first use policy and minimum deterrent based on a small nuclear force structure. “A targeting philosophy,” Bharat Karnad writes, “to make deterrence credible and ensure that it works in all circumstances, requires that the nuclear stockpile be large enough to be consequential and that it should be perceived by potential adversaries as being capable of being delivered on target.” Nuclear targeting is a function that is best performed by a military Joint Planning Staff under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or, at present, under the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), till India’s higher defence organisation graduates to the CDS system. The credibility of the targeting philosophy, as indeed that of India’s deterrence, will also depend on the assessment of the adversaries regarding India’s political leaders ability to take hard decisions in consultation with the Services Chiefs and the ability of the armed forces to execute those decisions resolutely.
Nuclear targeting is undoubtedly a complex subject to analyse. Even for a detached professional analyst, it is not easy to write about city busting counter value strategies. It is quite understandable that civilian analysts and academics should find it difficult to come to terms with the functional details of nuclear targeting—a subject they consider abhorrent. However, most pacifists are so emotionally and intellectually hostile to even a detached discussion of this subject that they appear to lose a sense of balance. In an imperfect world, governed more by the rules of realpolitik than by altruistic and Utopian conditions, it does not pay to be squeamish. Since it is nobody’s case that India does not face a clear nuclear threat, including the threat of nuclear blackmail, it should be simple to see that all available intellectual and management talent in the country must be harnessed to draw up coherent plans to vacate those threats.
Herman Kahn has written: “To the extent that certain idealists are willing to come to grips with the real world, their suggestions and programmes are much more likely to prove helpful. To the extent that they are unwilling to do this I would suspect that they are, likely to do as much harm as good, but this kind of judgement is so uncertain that I advance it more as a warning than as a criticism…just as it would do the ‘militarists’ some good to be exposed to some Utopian thinking, it will do the ‘Utopians’ even more good to be exposed to some military thinking.” It is to be hoped that this article has presented neither a militaristic nor a Utopian approach, but a balanced, rational one, to evolving a viable nuclear targeting philosophy for India.