Military & Aerospace

Indian Nuclear Command and Control - II
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 13 Jul , 2011

This is imperative in light of tendencies in the Indian system. The technological and financial planes having somewhat stabilised over the last decade, India may be moving towards a larger arsenal than originally envisioned. Seen in the context of the ongoing cold war with Pakistan and the possible one with China and the “two front” formulation ending up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it would appear that such an expansion is required.

However, this recreation in a minimal form of the cold war situation is not in India’s best interest. It would place an undue reliance on deterrence. As argued in theory, deterrence has its limitations.36 The argument heard earlier was that once India reaches a semblance of parity with China, it would have the self-assurance to engage it to solve the border problem. With the problem out of the way, there would be no risk to the economic trajectories of both nations. This is persuasive, but it bears attention that a three-front arms dynamic, if not arms race, does not catch on. Some such tendencies are in the push for higher numbers, currently advocacy in the range of 200;37 the push for testing and for the thermonuclear weapons, despite it not being essential to deterrence;38 the change in strategic culture brought about by growing Indian power credentials; advocacy from time to time of jettisoning NFU; work towards ballistic missile defences, etc.

The case against expansion under the logic of certainty and “credibility” is that the numbers and force postures make the deterrent resemble a first-strike posture. By disturbing the nuclear equanimity of threatened neighbours, it does not increase the nuclear security of the state. These aspects presently are balanced by “political SOPs”39 of restraint on the pace of nuclear developments. Nuclear C2 requires covering the peacetime profile of the nuclear deterrent also lest the quest for “credibility” truncate the “minimum” in the formulation of “credible minimum deterrence.”

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Lastly, there is a case for thinking through aspects of transparency through national technical means and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the nuclear sector. This may require some verification mechanisms down the road. One such CBM is a nuclear risk reduction center.40 This would require a C2 link to the nuclear complex, since it would be critical in crisis and in conflict.


Since not enough is known about nuclear developments, it cannot be said that there is any push towards expansion of the nuclear complex beyond the “minimum” as stipulated in India’s long-standing nuclear doctrine. However, if compulsions in the security situation and technological momentum combine with political inattention, India could well end up on a slippery slope. For instance, Pakistan is reportedly ahead of India in numbers of both weapons and missiles.41 Combined with the “two front” nexus, there would be pressure citing security to move the goalposts. As it is, the possibility has been built in with the “minimum” being deliberately left undefined. Therefore, institutionalised political oversight is necessary. The prime minister is currently responsible for this, with the NSA to assist.

The technological and financial planes having somewhat stabilised over the last decade, India may be moving towards a larger arsenal than originally envisioned.

The military has been incorporated through inclusion in the Strategic Policy Group along with about a dozen other secretary-level officers. This would obscure the military input at a time when the conventional-nuclear interface has become a live one. Continuing nonresolution of India’s outstanding issues with both its nuclear neighbours mean that crises could occur and any of these may eventuate in conflict. The NSC system is currently outside of parliamentary scrutiny, even though the defence function is scrutinised by a standing committee.42 This could be extended to cover the NSC system so that benefits of democratic check and balances and the Indian genius attend the nuclear complex also. In nutshell, strategic logic should not over-ride political logic. Political logic has to be anchored in India’s condition and aspirations. Any tendency away from the minimalist formulation of thinkers as Sundarji, Subrahmanyam and Jasjit Singh needs check.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed

 is a retired infantryman, blogs on security issues at He is author of India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). 

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