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.