Here’s a new development: some in India now worry in public about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. Indian influentials tend to match up to China and look down on Pakistan. Lately, New Delhi’s strategic calculations have become more complicated. Vice Admiral (ret.) Verghese Koithara’s book, Managing India’s Nuclear Forces (2012), details a lethargic Indian approach to operationalizing its deterrent, unlike Pakistan’s determined approach to the Bomb. In an opinion piece written for The Hindu, “Dealing with Pakistan’s Brinkmanship,” former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran warns his readers that “there have been notable shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, away from minimum deterrence to second strike capability and towards expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal to include both strategic and tactical weapons.” Also worth reading is an essay by the former head of India’s Strategic Forces Command, Vice Admiral (ret.) Vijay Shankar, “The Grandmaster’s Pawn,” in Strategic Dialogues. All of these authors emphasize China’s role in Pakistan’s disturbing advances.
What to do? One of Shyam Saran’s conclusions is as follows:
Instead of urging India to respond to Pakistani nuclear escalation through offering mutual restraint, the U.S. should convince Islamabad that a limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms and that it should abandon such reckless brinkmanship. The U.S. knows that India’s nuclear deterrence is not Pakistan-specific. Any misguided attempt to constrain Indian capabilities would undermine, for both, the value of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership in an increasingly uncertain and challenging regional and global security environment.
Put another way, because the United States and China haven’t leveraged Rawalpindi to exercise restraint, don’t be surprised and don’t bother interfering if New Delhi accelerates the pace of its strategic programs. Koithara, Saran, and Shankar seem to presume that Rawalpindi’s expanding nuclear requirements can be influenced by Washington and are still encouraged by Beijing. These assumptions, widely held in India, are suspect elsewhere.
The most likely — albeit brutally difficult — way to moderate a nuclear competition is through top-down, sustained diplomatic engagement. This condition remains unmet fifteen years after India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices. One reason: many in India’s Ministry of External Affairs assume that direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on nuclear risk reduction is unlikely to be useful. This assumption may well be right, but it would be more persuasive if New Delhi worked harder at it.
Since the 1998 tests, nuclear programs on the subcontinent have progressed in Aesopian fashion, with Pakistan being the hare to India’s tortoise. Pakistan is competing effectively on producing nuclear weapons and their means of delivery with a country with an economy that is nine times bigger. India, the tortoise in this instance, is moving ahead quite steadily, but not nearly as fast as its capacity to compete. If India were to move at a pace more commensurate with its size and capacity, Pakistan would be well behind in this competition.
One reason for India’s measured pace is a systemic underestimation of how serious Rawalpindi takes its nuclear requirements. Before the 1998 Pokhran tests, Indian political leaders, civil servants, and defense scientists were surprised by Pakistan’s flight-test of the Ghauri. After the Pokhran tests, they were surprised by Pakistan’s quick rejoinder. They are now surprised by Rawalpindi’s attachment to short-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons.
India’s nuclear program has always been constrained by duality, seeking the moral high ground while still attending to national security imperatives. George Perkovich describes this duality in India’s Nuclear Bomb (1999) as an odd combination of “defiant assertiveness” and “diffident timidity.” These countervailing patterns run so deep that, despite Pakistan’s nuclear exertions, New Delhi’s measured pace of attending to its deterrent might not change appreciably. Koithara, Saran, and Shankar constitute the public vanguard of efforts to rouse Indian decision-makers to quicken their pace and to take operational requirements more seriously.