US arm-twisting India to buy Patriot-3 systems instead of Russian S-400

Image result for pics of the Pac-3 INTERCEPTOR


Late last year, the Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a Burqan-2 missile (a Scud variant) aimed at the international airport in Riyadh some 600 miles  to the northeast. The missile got to its target alright but due to the strains in the metal canister induced by the flight, blew apart with the debris  littering parts of the runway and the  road outside the airport. The Saudis, however, claimed that they had fired five Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) interceptor at the intruder and had destroyed the Houthi Burqan.

US President Donald Trump visiting Saudi Arabia not long after that event crowed that  “Our system knocked the missile out of the air. That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” Trump is a loud, less than, credible snake oil salesman at the best of times. As promoter of the PAC-3 he is eminently ignorable, as is any US official urging friendly countries to buy this air defence system whose worldwide publicity is far better than its performance.

Except, and this is a kicker, an analysis by air defence experts of the debris distribution and of the parts of the Burqan system that the Saudis proudly displayed days after the attack, came to the conclusion, as reported in the American press, that the incoming missile had come apart by itself at the end of its trajectory and, more shocking still to Trump Admin officials, the Pentagon, and Raytheon — the maker of the Patriot, that all the five PAC-3 interceptors the Saudis fired had missed the target!

Last month  Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, came to Delhi on a triple-pronged mission — to press Delhi to sign the remaining two “foundational” agreements —  COMCASA and BECA as follow up to the LSA, and to prevent India signing up to buy the Russian counterpart of the PAC-3, the S-400, for $5 billion, and to persuade the Modi government to buy instead the American product, PAC-3, that doesn’t work. While Kaidanow’s visit wasn’t reported by the Indian media, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that India would go in for the Russian item even if it attracted US sanctions under the 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was.

Apparently, the US State Dept official’s muffled threat of CAATSA did not work, nor did it “engender a willingness” on the part of the Indian government to think about the US PAC-3 system as replacement. And as regards COMCASA and BECA she was told nothing she could be reassured by.

As a function of trying to move the defense relationship forward — and certainly the defense trade relationship — it is important that those foundational agreements are considered by the Indian government, they are acted on hopefully as expeditiously as possible,” Kaidanow told the Washington defence media. “Of course it is their sovereign right to decide on these things, but our hope is that we have presented to them some good options and some ways forward. Hopefully we can make some progress in that relatively soon.”

And pertaining to the F-16 and perhaps also the PAC-3, she said “American defense product is great product — it is the best in the world. It’s central that countries really think about when they acquire these things — and particularly when we’re talking about important systems … — that they think about the quality and the interoperability piece and all of the things that we know come with the acquisition of American products.”

Kaidanow is right. Buying military goods from the US comes with lot of attached baggage and just too many do’s and don’t’s, inclusive of the uncertainty attending on the spares supply, which can be stopped at any time on Congressional whim and an Administration’s fancy. And worst of all, the PAC-3 does not work as advertised. Whether Prime Minister Narendra  Modi is convinced about the cons outweighing the pros or not, the political scene at home tilting against him suggests his government is unlikely during the remainder of its first term at least to sign any accords, or buy anything big from America, let alone nix the S-400 deal, go in for the PAC-3, and permanently turn Russia into an enemy.

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India needs a reasonable small arms policy


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Army marches on its stomach, but needs an uninterrupted supply of small arms and ammunition to fight. Besides the army, seven para-military organizations, and innumerable state police forces, as also military Special Forces and in the states, have to be equipped. Some two million pieces, ranging from 5.56mm to 12mm, and hundreds of thousands of tons of matching ammunition, are required every year by all armed forces in the country. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) seems incapable of meeting this demand or satisfying its customers in terms of product quality (INSAS 5.56mm rifle) or quantity.

Frustrated armed services, paramilitary units, and Special Forces have learned to buy weapons of their choice to supposedly meet time-critical needs by importing them in small enough tranches at high prices to avoid censure. It has multiplied hard currency expenditures and logistics headaches owing to the sheer diversity of weapons, and highlighted the absence of a reasonable national small arms policy.

The defence public sector (DPS)is beyond repair. According to a Niti Ayog study, the value produced per worker in ordnance factories is a meagre Rs. 6 lakhs versus the minimum of Rs. 40-50 lakhs in value that is required to be produced per employee to make even a micro, small, and medium enterprise financially viable. A far reaching solution has been bruited about within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) ever since the previous defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed about a unique ‘strategic partner’ model stressing economies of scale to drive the flagship‘Make in India’ programme and to generate millions of jobs.

Per this model, the partner-company is selected on the basis of its versatile portfolio to manufacture not just one kind of weapon, hardware, or piece of military equipment but the entire family of weaponry and systems. Such schemes would cover the gamut of military use items, where the country is deficient. The selected foreign company would be helped to secure land and the basics (power, water, etc.), but would be free to choose its Indian collaborator– a private company or DPS unit –and to run its business as it sees fit without any Indian government interference, and to export what it produces after meeting the country’s requirements; in other words, to make India a global manufacturing hub.

In the small arms field India’s estimated demand in the next five years will be for eight million assault rifles worth a billion dollars with the strategic partner expected to manufacture the full panoply of automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, carbines, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns. The 2016 Arms Act now permits Indian private sector involvement. There are four principal non-US sources – the German company Heckler and Koch (HK), the Belgian corporation Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN), the Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) and Rosoboronexport representing the Russian Kalashnikov systems.

HK has decided not to sell its wares to corrupt, undemocratic, non-NATO countries, including India (with a recent order by the Border Security Force being turned down). FN is ruled out because it owns the American arms-making companies, Browning and the firm that once produced Winchester repeater rifles and,inthe context of the 2018 Countering Adversaries of America Through Sanctions Act, is susceptible to American pressure. IWI got a drop on the competition by first tying up with OFB to produce the ‘Zittara’ assault rifle, which was rejected by the army. Having learned its lesson, it next tied up with Punj-Lloyd to locally produce its X-95 Tavor family of weapons and has fared better.

But because the requirements for small arms and ammo are large and recurring, the country should ensure competition by also selecting, if belatedly, the Kalashnikov Concern as a second strategic partner to produce its range of weapons based on the ‘Avtomatni Kalashnikova’ (AK) series of weapons, famed for their ruggedness, ease of operation, and low cost of production,for local use and for exports. This strategic partner model can be applied to the production of ammunition too. Commonality in arms and ammo should lead to shared armouries and logistics system for all forces –military, paramilitary, and police, and to the more economical use of the Indian national security rupee.

This solution has not found traction because the government is keen on diversifying sources of arms supply. The real reason is that procurement is zealously protected turf for all organizations and ministries. More frequent tenders and acquisitions deals mean greater opportunity for more people in the decision loops to make money. Fully indigenizing supply sources will end this nefarious business. Who wants that?


[A version of this piece published in the Hindustan Times, June 14, 2018, also reproduced with the title “India needs to find a solution for its arms and ammo shortages” in the net version of the paper at



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Satisfied with small concessions

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[Still no doubts, Mr Modi?]

One cannot but admire how smoothly and with what relish the supremo-for-life, Xi Jinping, and his Zhongnanhai are playing Modi, aided and abetted by the Çhina-wallahs — the Mandarin-speaking section of the country’s diplomatic corps headed by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale. This mini-summit on the sidelines of the SCO meet in Chingdao was supposedly to further the “Wuhan” agenda. Chingdao confirmed what was evident after Wuhan — the last one-on-one meet by the East Lake-side — that Delhi is being taken for a ride.

At Wuhan, so at Chingdao, if Prime Minister Modi raised any troubling issues — unbalanced and unequal trade, and the matter of the de facto Chinese recognition of Pakistan’s claims on Gilgit-Baltistan and, by extension, on all of Jammu & Kashmir in contravention of Beijing’s commitment vide the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai agreement. The territorial compromise Pakistan made was to  cede certain parts of the Aksai Chin under Islamabad’s control to China pending formal and final solution for the dispute over the erstwhile “princely kingdom” of Kashmir. So,  no final Kashmir solution in sight, and, legally, there should be no Chinese projects, such as the Belt Road Initiative-China-Pakistan Corridor and a Division strong PLA force present in Baltistan  ostensibly to safeguard the CPEC construction. The final Chingdao statement says nothing about any of these issues other than the stock, tiresome, reference to continuing with the Special Representative-level talks to resolve the border dispute which has not moved an inch at any level over the last 70 years. The Baltistan-BRI issue, for example, was raised by MEA in talks leading up to Chingdao but was contemptuously swatted away by Beijing. The important thing to note is Modi  did not raise hell about the lack of movement on ANY of these issues of concern to India.

So, what has the Prime Minister come away with? Well, if truth be told, with crumbs. Consider the Chinese giveaways — permission for India to sell short-grained “sticky rice” grown in Assam and the Indian northeast, a promise to release hydrographic data for Yarlung-Tsangpo River that becomes the Brahmaputra at the great bend before entering Arunachal Pradesh — part of which China claims as “southern Tibet” — this data becoming necessary because of the mighty civil works China has already built and is continuing to build to divert this river northwards to supply its water-starved provinces, all the while assuring Delhi — starting from when there were no dams and hydroelectric projects whatsoever — that it would act as a responsible upper riparian state mindful of the lower riparian countries — India and Bangladesh. And, mind you, this promise of hydrographic data  is as per a previous accord Beijing did not respect and according to which it had to periodically pass on this data, but did not. The water flow in the Brahmaputra has reduced and will reduce once the Chinese network of dams and civil works is fully realized by more than 30%, endangering downstream riverine Indian and Bangladeshi economies. Incidentally, an upper riparian state hindering the flow of life-giving water can, under international law, be a cause for war. The reason Delhi is letting Beijing have its ways is, presumably, to not weaken its case in the west. India’s constructions on the upper western rivers passing through Indian Kashmir but allotted Pakistan per the Indus Water Treaty are a point of contention, and if Delhi protests Chinese constructions upstream of Brahmaputra then it’d weaken the Indian case regarding the dams/hydroelectric plants (Baglihar, Kishanganga, etc.)  built in Kashmir on the Jhelum. The difference between the eastern and western scenarios that Delhi has insufficiently emphasized is the fact that China makes no bones about their constructions stopping and diverting the Brahmaputra water even as Delhi claims its dams in Kashmir in no way obstruct  the flow in the Jhelum  or deplete the water available to Pakistan. So, where was the need for Modi not to  talk to Xi in terms of cease and desist?

The main political concession the PM has been able to extract from Xi — and it is no big deal really but important for Modi — who finds the political ground slipping from underneath him and needs this visit no doubt conveniently scheduled in the month or so before the May 2019 general elections are due, so the latter can crow about his successful diplomacy. That’s how desperate Modi seems now that he espies his chances for a second term dimming.

If Modi wanted to really impress the Indian people and show them that he’d take no guff from China or anybody else, he could have begun by doing several things this analyst has long been  recommending: (1) stop talking about it and start delivering strategically empowering Brahmos cruise missiles to any and all Southeast Asian countries that evince an interest in it, especially Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and anybody else. It will bottle up the Chinese South Sea Fleet faster, and more effectively, than almost any other single action this country can take, and  crank up the production of the Brahmos by transferring its production technology to several private sector companies, (2) launch regular FONOPs (freedom of navigation patrols by strong Indian navy flotillas through the “narrow seas” deliberately created by the synthetic islands that China has built on a central verge in the South China Sea, (3) join the littoral and island states in this region to construct air and naval bases that the IAF and IN assets can use to mark an Indian presence in China’s backyard to counter the Chinese military presence west of the Malacca Strait in the Indian Ocean.

Except, Modi has shown no stomach for such hard measures but rather a penchant for talking incessantly about “peaceful” ventures WITH China! In the PM’s mind positioning India as a vishwa guru” and being fobbed off by China with small, piddling, concessions, and relying on the infirm US, which is too frightened of an affray with China to credibly fight India’s fight with the same entity, serves India’s interest. How this is so should be explained by Modi and his PMO — Doval and this lot of “national security advisers”.

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Slumping Modi needs thermonuclear tests

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Modi’s political stock is falling. From being hailed as invincible just a few months back to now being considered vulnerable to a straggly unified opposition front in the 2019 general elections is a reflection of his rapid decline and his government’s failure marked by big talk and small achievement.  Over-confidence in Karnataka followed by a series of BJP Lok Sabha by-election defeats in UP following the earlier trouncings in Phulpur and Gorakhpur — under the disastrous RSS selection as chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, that he endorsed, has had no little role in oiling Modi’s slide.

The appointment of RSS pracharak Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana and the ‘Yogi’ in Lucknow marked the beginning of the downward spiral for the PM. His calculation that some level of communal polarization is electorally helpful in the 2014 general elections and since didn’t reckon with the mayhem precipitated by the dark forces unleashed by the Hindu fringe that feasted on tertiary political issues — beef slaughter ban, “love jihad”, related anti-Muslim issues, that led to the strangulation of the leather and bovine meat export industry (annually generating some $5 billion in revenue for the country) dominated by the Muslim community. Combined with the farmer and caste agitations it has stirred an embittered reaction against the ruling party in the cow belt and elsewhere that may end up reducing BJP’s national footprint and Modi’s credibility as leader and modernizer. Had Modi’s political instincts been better a scenario minus such excesses combined with the outreach to Muslim womenfolk (‘triple talaq’ and Ujjwala type programmes of free LPG canisters and his focus on economic development for all,  he’d have formalised a pan-India, non-communal, political support base for the BJP, and  permanently pushed Congress and SP surviving on minority grievance to the sidelines.

His loss of appeal as modernizer is a particularly serious matter that’s been aided by the PM’s jaw-dropping anti-science statements equating Indian myth with scientific accomplishment, such as his claims before an AIIMS audience that in the godly pantheon the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha proved plastic surgery was rife in ancient India, or that the great Kaurava warrior Karna’s being born outside of his mother’s womb suggested expertise in genetics — the sort of nonsense that is in sync with Adityanath’s more recent claim that Lord Ram’s wife Sita was a test tube baby!

For the hundreds of millions of aspiring youth and for the upwardly mobile middle classes in the country this tilt towards an idiotic, lumpen, brand of nativism, has come as a betrayal and shock. Combine this with his election promise of creating crores of jobs proving hollow — 400 million unemployed and under-employed youth in the job market versus 12 million jobs actually created during his tenure (Nitin Gadkari’s figures), and one can see why there’s  a steady drop in Modi’s popularity.

There’s some 11 months to the elections — too short a time for Modi to turn around his government or its performance. Whatever new schemes he will announce hereafter with 2019 in mind will be undermined by the popular perception of failure to do anything much with the kind of sweeping mandate the people had given him to reorder the system and revolutionize the government’s way of working.

So what can Modi do to revive his prospects in the short time available to him? New and catchy, alliterative, slogan-promises — yawn! — of radical big bang reforms won’t cut the mustard. Political leaders who have found themselves in Modi’s dilemma have done the obvious thing — started a small war — not rinky-dink “surgical strikes”. A war with China is not practicable. A small war with Pakistan — six months before election date —  is an attractive proposition to restore his reputation and get the people behind him. Except the Indian Army and the other two armed services are in no fit state — given the “voids” — to prosecute one that can last more than a week or two. In a conflict of one week or two week duration — which is the most the country can afford and  the Indian military can manage, zilch will be achieved against the ready Pakistani forces. In other words, no meaningful objectives can be attained  by this option.

There’s another more doable option that will fetch Modi the political results he wants. He can order a genuine big bang — the Big Bang that comes from a resumption of underground testing of big yield thermonuclear weapons that, besides obtaining a proven, reliable, and respect-inducing hydrogen weapons inventory for the country, will mobilize the people (voters) behind him in the face of the expected adverse reaction by the US and the West. If this includes economic sanctions so much the better because then Modi can reasonably make the case for the country coming together to thwart foreign adversaries of India. The more Washington and Western governments threaten and act up the more Modi can stoke the fear of the country under siege, and to paint the opposition parties into a corner as providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

The resumption of thermonuclear testing as a means of strengthening his chances of regaining power in 2019 cannot, however, be too much on the eve of the elections, because then not enough time will be available for the popular feelings to stand by the government in a crisis to naturally congeal into mass support for Modi in elections, because the N-tests will be seen as too obvious an electoral ploy to win votes. So if the elections are called on due date in May 2019, the tests will have to be conducted by December 2018-January 2019 at the latest, with instructions issued immediately to BARC and DRDO to begin preparations. There is, moreover, no dearth of reasons for the tests — China’s assistance to North Korea to secure proven thermonuclear prowess and to Pakistan to build a formidable arsenal of short range tactical nukes, and China’s own nuclear build-up.

And this time the thermonuclear tests have to be full bore, full yield, to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to their attributes. DRDO head Christopher Raj has said that tests can be undertaken at a short notice, implying there are spare L-shaped tunnels in Pokhran to set off these test explosions. (See        and  .)

The question as always is can Modi, will Modi, do the right thing by the country and reassert India’s stature as an independent would-be great power and risk upsetting the US and the West — relations with whom he puts much store by — by taking such a course of action, and one which guarantees him an extended stay in office?


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Wages of getting close to US

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(Headed in different directions — India and the US)

Have sounded the tocsin time and again in my books and other writings since the post-1998 tests when the Indian government  under the Vajpayee-Brijesh Mishra-duo began the country’s tilt America-wards about getting too close to the United States. A whole chapter in my last book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, was devoted to Washington’s awful record of hurting and trying to harm India’s interests, and why the US is the most feckless of friends and unreliable strategic partner, and  a whole host of substantial reasons why it is advisable for this country to keep its distance from Uncle Sam. I have been arguing that Washington’s main agenda point is to somehow and by any means to replace Russia as the premier supplier of military goods to India believing, perhaps, incorrectly, that this is the vantage point that Moscow gained in the early 1960s when it jumped in with the offer of licensed production of MiG-21s at a time when the US rejected India’s demand of the F-104, and has never vacated since. What the US has never appreciated is just why the Indo-Russian relationship grew, despite initial mutual suspicions, into a solid edifice that will not easily be shaken built as it is not just on the sale of hardware but, more importantly, on the transfer of military technology of the kind that the US cannot even contemplate. This extraordinary access to technology afforded India is crowned by nearly unstinted help and assistance in the most sensitive and strategic indigenous programmes that resulted in an array of effective Agni missiles, the Arihant-class SSBN.

It is another matter that India did not use this access to technology to build up an innovation-centered defence industrial base of the kind China managed to do with exactly the same sort of resources available to India when in 1979 Dengxiaoping started the ‘Four Modernizations’ Programme.  Nearly 40 years later the Chinese military has advanced to a state where it is giving Washington the willies, while India wallows in the shallows screwdrivering items of foreign origin — which mode is likely to be formalized by Modi’s Make in India policy with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman giving the armed services the license to import whatever they wished from wherever they wished, ensuring India remains an arms dependency for the next 100 years. Or, forever.

So what was the difference — why did China rocket into the stratosphere even as India stumbled with one wrong decision after another. There’s one and only one decisive  factor: Deng and the Chinese leadership had the POLITICAL WILL and the aim to best the best (the US) by being disruptive as hell — it was the Chinese bull in a Western china shop. The Indian government was led by a succession of small-minded, null-visioned, pygmies who have been content to be patted on their backs by the West and happy to join Western clubs and technology cartels (NSG, Wassenar, MTCR, etc) on their terms, and to crow about this as some singular achievement.

But why did this happen? Who or what are the enablers in the Indian system? The fact is  Indian leaders and those manning the apparatus of the Indian state — the horde of civil servants, military brass, and DRDO elite all are afflicted by one fatal weakness — their desire for their progeny and family members to have a better life in the US and Western Europe. It is the promise of the ‘promised land’  (green card, H1B or work visa, permanent resident status) laced with scholarship to average sons/daughters of secretaries to GOI, senior diplomats, top military and civilian officers, to Ivy League and similar institutions of higher learning, discretely dangled before the country’s interlocuters when interacting with their American and West European counterparts, that lubricates the passage of US-tilting policies through the byzantine bureaucratic maze that is GOI.

To add to this are similar aspirations  of the upwardly mobile political class and what we have is a policy environment so bending over backwards to accommodate Washington it is surprising there’s still something left in the Indian cupboard to be sold! This entire milieu is helmed by the Delhi chapters of Washington thinktanks — Carnegie and Brookings, set up in the last decade with financial contributions by Indian corporates. Thus, not only is GOI willing to put India’s neck in the noose but Indian financiers in the private sector are willing to buy the rope!  This is in brief the US-leaning policy eco-system that I have detailed and analysed in my forthcoming book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, and which system cannot easily be thwarted.

If one were to critically assess the relationships the US has forged with its European and Asian allies, one thing is clear — America’s friends have to fall in line, toe the US line, or get punished as any adversary would. Thus, when the visiting chairman of the House armed services committee of the US Congress, William Thornberry, asks Delhi to desist from buying the Russian S-400 air defence system, the “or else” is par for the course. And when, as is now demanded, that India sign on the dotted line of COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security) Agreement and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation) — the remaining two “foundational accords”, the Logistics Support Agreement being already in America’s bag, it is with the accompanying threat that otherwise the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) will come down hard on India because of its ongoing ties with  Russia and Iran — two policy pillars of India’s independent stance. CAATSA in any case will hang over India’s head as long as Delhi wants to do business with Moscow and Tehran and anybody else Washington doesn’t want India to transact with. This mind you despite the anxieties in the more nationalist quarters of the military — yes, these still survive! — that COMCASA will assist the US to penetrate — horizontally and vertically –the most secret communications links, including the command and control net involving the strategic forces!

So, it isn’t really about the S-400 — a damn good air defence system that can bring down any aircraft now flying. It is about Washington seeking to impose its will on the Modi government. If Modi bends on this issue, India has to be prepared to concede more and more on everything hereafter, and will indicate the direction in which India is headed. Up or down.


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Project 75i submarine — How defence monies are squandered

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(an illustration of a possible 75i sub)

India has indigenously designed and built (mostly in the private sector) the Arihant-class nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarine (SSBN), the most potent weapon system in any arsenal. And yet the Government has agreed with the Navy that India cannot build the 70 per cent less complex conventional diesel submarine (Project 75i) and that another Scorpene-like exorbitantly-priced contract costing tens of billions of dollars is necessary.

In 1998, the country obtained the Kilo-class boats from Russia for Rs 100 crore each, but
subsequently forked out Rs 6,000 crore per French Scorpene submarine (Project 75) put
together by the defence public sector unit (DPSU), Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd (MDL). It took
15 years to build the first Arihant SSBN, and only 12 years to construct the second of this
type (Arighat), exactly the time taken by MDL to deliver the first Scorpene submersible
(Kalvari). This is normal for DPSUs with no known talent for technology absorption. The
private sector giant Larsen &Toubro (L&T), having mastered the complicated production
schemata of multiple redundancies for each system in nuclear-powered vessels, has
produced the Arihant with 80 per cent indigenous content by value; and Arighat with 85
per cent. Compare this with the Indian Scorpene with 85 per cent foreign content, which
will decrease to 30 per cent by the sixth and last Scorpene.


Compare this state of affairs with the country’s design, development and production capabilities where SSBNs are concerned: India is completely self-sufficient in propulsion systems, control technology, and most of the assemblies in the boat. What will continue to be imported for the foreseeable future are diesel engines for support functions, motors, the optronic head of the mast, and a communications sub-system. L&T, moreover, has a 3-D fully digitalised submarine design facility that is as technologically advanced as any in the world, and can convert a ‘basic’ design into a production-ready engineering design.

It would have been commonsensical, under these circumstances, for the conventional diesel submarine project to be also assigned to L&T, which has the requisite production experience, design-development wherewithal, and excess manufacturing capacity. It would be in line with the trend to consolidate national resources in single submarine design-cum-production units, like Kockums in Sweden, the Vickers-Barrow combine in the UK, and the Rubin Bureau-Severodvinsk complex in Russia.

The previous Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, keeping in mind economies of scale and a viable indigenous industry, surveyed the existing capabilities in the country, analysed the cost advantages, and concluded that L&T would spearhead the Project 75i. A combined L&T-Defence Ministry team was then to negotiate the purchase of just the design of an advanced conventional submarine from interested suppliers along with the few select technologies the country is still deficient in. The German firm, Thyssen-Krupp, with its HDW-series of submarines—the HDW 209 submarine bought in the 1980s is still in service and a darling of the Navy—was identified as a firm that could be induced to sell the design of its HDW-214 boat. This was an imaginative tweaking of the foreign ‘strategic partner’ concept central to the Defence Procurement Procedure, 2016.

Once Parrikar departed, Arun Jaitley, reassuming concurrent charge as Defence Minister, reverted to global tendering and the lowest tender (L-1) process. This tendency will be reinforced by the current Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s declaration at the 2018 Defence Expo in Chennai that the armed services can’t be compelled to buy Indian.

What L1 also means is that there will be no scrutiny of the technical capacity and capability of the Indian companies bidding for the contract, and permit a company with no experience in building submarines. The lowest bidder will become hostage to the interests of the foreign submarine supplier who will decide what technologies to pass on, including those that India already has, and what to sell as ‘black boxes’ for the duration of the production run, as has happened with all defence Transfer-of-Technology deals to date. So the 75i boat will have 100 per cent foreign-sourced content because the supplier knows the bid-winner has zero assets, zero production experience, and untested specialised manufacturing capacity.

India and the Indian military will remain foreign dependencies, national wealth will continue to be drained to enrich foreign defence industries, and the empowered supplier countries, holding all the high cards, will ensure that indigenous capabilities are scuppered and India’s national security compromised. The newly founded Defence Planning Committee, under the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval can, in theory, insist on the Parrikar prescription as the defence procurement template but, the odds are, it won’t.

The waste of public monies may be gauged by the fact that the design of the HDW-214 (or the Russian ‘Amur’ or the French ‘Barracuda’) equipped with air independent propulsion system can be bought for some $500 million or Rs 3,200 crore, which along with the cost of the one-off buys of only select technologies will mean a total hard currency outgo not exceeding Rs 8,000 crore. Except, a nearly ten times bigger sum of Rs 70,000 crore is already allotted Project 75i, most of which will enrich the foreign vendor.

Consider also that the Scorpenes of the Navy’s Project 75 were seriously compromised as a fighting platform in August 2016 when 22,000 documents relating to the stealth, ‘signature’, and other critical aspects of this boat were published by an Australian newspaper. This leak was attributed to a disgruntled employee of DCNS Naval Group, the Scorpene supplier. But the Indian Navy and Government, risk-tolerant when it comes to Western vendors and deals amounting to humungous amounts of hard currency, shrugged it off, not even penalising or blacklisting DCNS, and requiring it to redesign and change the basic characteristics of this vessel at the French company’s cost. So instead of one or two submarines of this type being an operational liability, all six Scorpenes will be. So, India’s sea-denial force will be anything but.

This was possibly the result of 2 to 3 per cent of the total Scorpene contract (or, as much as Rs. 900 crores) as is usual in the arms business, being earmarked and available as the ‘commission’ component for parcelling out to various vested interests and facilitators within the country. For Project 75i the outgo on commissions and such would total some Rs 2,250 crores! One can see why defence acquisition decisions can be so easily engineered even and specifically at the expense of achieving arms self-sufficiency. It is a process foreign arms suppliers have turned into a fine art and roaring business with lots of help from the inside.

[A different version published with title “The Problem with Defence Acquisitions” in ‘Open’ magazine, May 17, 2018, ]

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Walking Back Delusional Nuclear Policies

Research article by Bharat Karnad for the Special Issue of the Journal ‘Strategic Analysis’ 
Pages 181-193 | Published online: 08 May 2018


India’s ‘dual use’ nuclear policy has been strung out from the beginning between the peaceful atom and military atom as illustrated in Jawaharlal Nehru’s use of the phrase for the country’s nuclear energy programme—‘Janus-faced’. However, the Indian Government has been too influenced by its own rhetoric of peaceful use to equally emphasise the security aspects that the phrase implied.

While Nehru championed disarmament, he did so in the 1950s in the United Nations’ First Committee as cover for the military capability being developed under Homi Bhabha’s astute leadership. But the myth about disarmament leadership meant that even after Indira Gandhi refrained from signing the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty because it sought to freeze the ‘have and have-not’ divide, Delhi has been pusillanimous about weaponisation but gung-ho about beefing up its non-proliferation credentials by joining or seeking to join the very technology denial regimes (Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenar Arrangement, Australia Group) that have victimised the country. The desire to please the US and the West has to end and national security aspects prioritised as all weapons states are doing.

It is time for India to resume nuclear testing to equip the arsenal with proven, reliable and safe thermonuclear weapons/warheads, and limit damage and recover strategic space by ensuring that neither the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty nor the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty happens.

North Korea conducted a successful underground thermonuclear explosion of a staged device on September 2, 2017, and test-fired three Hwasong intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on July 4, July 28 and November 29, 2017, emerging in the process as a credible threat to American allies in Asia and for the first time, to continental US. It is a threat made real by the reputation for unpredictability and ruthlessness that its leader, Kim Jong-un, has cultivated over the years. Jong-un burnished his image some more by boldly calling the 72-year-old US President ‘a mentally deranged dotard’, in response to Donald J. Trump mocking him as ‘rocket man’ and vowing to rain down ‘fire and fury’.1 To show his defiance, Jong-un communicated the possibility of implementing his army’s strike plan to take out the mid-Pacific island of Guam, housing a large US military base.2

Pyongyang used irrationality—an old trope in nuclear deterrence literature—to signal readiness for a nuclear rumble, to deter the US. Pakistan is equally vocal in emphasising its tactical nuclear weapons hoard both as means of absolute security and for quelling such conventional military threat as it believes is posed by the Indian Army’s three strike corps, pivot formations and their ‘Cold Start’ strategy. Islamabad has been equally open about developing warheads of various yields, other than the Nasr short-range rocket, for sea-based and air-launched cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.Whether the US armed services are cowed by Kim Jong-un’s bluster, or the Indian military impressed by Pakistani warnings of first use is not the point. What is, is the fact that these relatively small and weak states, out of desperation and instinct for survival, grasped the essence of nuclear deterrence which has completely escaped India that has had usable nuclear weapons since 1974 (and formalised by Rajiv Gandhi’s decision in 1988).4 The essence is that an overbearing adversary can be brought to heel if gall is shown, albeit in a declaratory sense, to go first, even if such nuclear initiation would eventually be a suicidal move. Projecting the readiness to give as good as one gets while going down is the obvious way of playing the mind game of strategic deterrence in a weak state–strong state conflict dyad in which nuclear weapons otherwise have no utility.

Twenty years after the Shakti-series of tests in Pokhran, there is little understanding in India about nuclear weapons, and even less about the uses they can be put to. There is no appreciation of the fact that strategic weapons are not for reduction of a tactical-level foe, Pakistan, but for strategically jousting with China and militarily holding off a power superior to India in every respect. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it never was, is not now and can never be a credible conventional or nuclear military threat to India. This much is self-evident, and a point that will not be belaboured here, notwithstanding great amounts of ink expended, metaphorically speaking, on exaggerating a paper-thin threat by think tanks and the academic industry in the West, particularly the US and imitatively, in India. These experts are mostly mis-adapting Cold War notions to the subcontinent and creating more alarm about ‘a nuclear flashpoint’ than clarity.5

India has been on the wrong track from the start, believing that its nuclear reticence is a political virtue that has created diplomatic leverage and somehow elevated the country as a morally ‘responsible’ state, a cut above the North Koreas and Pakistans of the world.6

The truth, however, is that the Indian Government has hobbled the country’s strategic deterrent by:

  1. not actualising a weapons capability when its ‘Janus-faced’ nuclear energy programme reached the weapons threshold in Spring 1964;

  2. not carrying on with open-ending testing, after the first test in May 1974 to obtain fully fledged nuclear weaponisation;

  3. repeating this strategic mistake 25 years later by announcing a ‘voluntary moratorium’ on tests in 1998 despite information available to the government that the weaponised thermonuclear device that was tested was a dud;

  4. fixating politically on minimum deterrence and No First Use;

  5. making public the draft nuclear doctrine and thereby exposing the Indian Government to increased US-directed international pressure to reveal more, be more transparent and to further minimise the nuclear deterrent;

  6. not periodically revising the doctrine in line with the country’s evolving weapons technology and capability;

  7. signing the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US predicated on India not resuming nuclear testing; and

  8. not using the ample provocations offered by China’s aggressive moves (pre- and post-Doklam) and the China-fuelled North Korean fusion test and Pakistani nuclear build-up as political cover for resuming hydrogen weapon tests. These tests are important, especially for the Indian military, to secure proven and tested thermonuclear and fission weapons of varying weight-to-yield ratios for different missions ranging from city-busting strategic to tactical weapons for battlefield use.

Rethinking the basic disarmament-non-proliferation thrust of nuclear policy is a must. To do so requires jettisoning strongly held but historically suspect views, puncturing a few delusional beliefs and walking back some of the less productive notions lovingly held and nurtured by the Indian policy establishment, military and the academe and more realistically reorienting India’s nuclear weapons policy and posture.

Pet delusions

India’s nuclear weapons policy is studded with unsupportable views that need debunking to free it of its disarmament-non-proliferation shackles: First is the view that Jawaharlal Nehru’s advocacy of a ‘standstill’ agreement on nuclear testing was instrumental in obtaining the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) prohibiting atomic testing in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater.7 The disarmament-non-proliferation slant of Indian foreign policy thus got linked to virtuous behaviour and to promoting a universal good that was its own best justification. The truth: it was President John F. Kennedy’s concurring with his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, that restricting the Soviet Union to underground testing would keep its weapons programme lagging behind America’s that did the trick. Russia had out-exploded the US. The 60-megaton ‘Tsar Bomba’ in October 1961 dwarfed the US’ 15 MT ‘Castle Bravo’ shot in the Bikini Atoll in March 1954.Second, it is often held that Indira Gandhi’s use of America’s ‘Plowshare programme’ as screen for India’s first nuclear test in 1974 was clever statecraft. After all, labelling the Pokhran explosion as ‘peaceful’ hoist the US with its own petard and retained for the Indian nuclear energy programme its connection to the idea of a ‘peaceful atom’. Western analysts argue that the idea that atomic devices could be used to dig canals, tunnels, etc. had a ‘pernicious’ effect because something so obviously of military utility was passed off as benign.9 Its negative impact on Indian policy was graver still because the nonsense about ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ got so internalised that it reinforced thereafter the supposed peaceful nature of Indian nuclear activity, undermined the deterrence value of the test and reinforced inhibitions against further testing that took 25 years to overcome. And it spawned nuclear regressivism in the nuclear community, throwing up leaders such as R. Chidambaram, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who as science and technology adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi minimised the need for testing and in effect, has saddled India with the pretensions of a thermonuclear weapon power without proven thermonuclear weapons in the arsenal.

Third is the view that Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 ‘Action Plan’ for time-bound disarmament created ripples when in reality it was generally ignored in international circles when not dismissed outright as a quixotic attempt at reviving the international movement to eliminate nuclear weapons. Its insistence that the Big Five draw down their nuclear arms stockpiles to zero within a negotiated time frame had as much chance of realisation as Nehru’s campaign for ‘general and complete disarmament’ of the 1950s. It encouraged the unreconstructed disarmers, mainly within the Congress Party, into righteous frenzy, even though ‘Ban the Bomb’, as Harold Macmillan, the British Foreign Secretary, noted in his diary in the early 1950s is ‘a syllogism’—‘If we abolish the nuclear bomb (which has abolished war) shall we not bring back war?’10It inflicted damage in terms of Indian foreign policy that was getting unmoored from an ideological interpretation of Nehruvian moralpolitik becoming schizoid. After all, Rajiv Gandhi that same year formally approved weaponisation.11

And, finally, the extraneous baggage of morality attached to Indian nuclear weapons and the confusion attending on it meant that when the country came out of the nuclear closet, its deterrence rationale was fated to be minimalist. The minimum deterrence trap is particularly insidious because it is premised on the fallacious belief that given the scale of destruction a few nuclear weapons are as effective as many nuclear weapons to deter even a powerful adversary. It permits the political class and government to have a hands-off attitude, leaving it to nuclear scientists, such as Chidambaram, with little knowledge of military deterrence and nuclear deterrence history and literature, to decide the country’s nuclear stance. Moreover, what also gets ignored is the fact that like any other technology, nuclear weapons and nuclear command, control and communications, too, need to be continually modernised to remain relevant. And, for this purpose, the country needs to have technology to refine weapons designs short of explosive testing, such as the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Testing facility, which has so far been deemed unnecessary.

In the new century, the three countries with the largest, most lethal nuclear weapons inventories—the US, Russia and China—are re-legitimating the Bomb as an instrument of military coercion and foreign policy leverage. Alexei Arbatov, the former deputy chairman of the Defence Committee of the Russian Duma, after surveying the international security landscape was the first to announce the ‘end of history for nuclear arms control’.12 The prevailing circumstances constitute a crisis and ‘may quite possibly result’, he concluded glumly, ‘in the total disintegration of the existing framework of treaties and regimes’.13 It is in this context that India’s support for the extant non-proliferation order makes so little sense and needs re-examining.

A brief history of the evolution of India’s nuclear policy and capability

Realpolitik is obviously the propellant of non-proliferation policies, treaties and regimes promoted by the five Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-legitimated weapons states (P-5). Nothing has transpired and no initiative has succeeded in the non-proliferation realm that hasn’t safeguarded the P-5’s strategic interests. Nehru was on to this big power game before anybody else and accordingly fashioned his approach. While vociferously advocating a testing ban as a step towards nuclear disarmament, which kept the weapons states on the back foot, and muted suspicions about what India was up to in the nuclear field, he laid the foundations for a ‘Janus-faced’ Indian programme capable equally of producing nuclear power plants and bombs. It reached the weapons threshold in March 1964 with the commissioning of the plutonium reprocessing unit in Trombay. It was a remarkably nuanced and sophisticated foreign policy that used disarmament advocacy as political screen for nuclear weapons capacity building and reflected the realist precepts of international affairs mostly missing from Indian foreign and nuclear policy post-Nehru.14

The 1974 atomic test ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for example, instead of leading logically to open-ended testing and speedy weaponisation ended in the follow-on tests she had approved being abruptly cancelled, leaving India to face the worst possible situation—economic and technology sanctions, no nuclear arsenal to fend off politico-military pressure and no means to force an entry into the nuclear weapons club. She took this decision to stave off termination of Western aid. Henry Kissinger later admitted that Washington was in no real position then to prevent India from securing a nuclear arsenal and forcing an entry into the nuclear weapons club had Delhi proceeded with nuclear force build-up.15 But loss of nerve, infirm will and the sheer ignorance about the political utility of nuclear weapons have, ever since, been the constant companions of India’s nuclear policy.

The non-proliferation peril became real during the Janata Party interregnum when, motivated by his Gandhian belief in nonviolence, Prime Minister Morarji Desai seemed intent on signing the 1968 NPT. His muddle-headed External Affairs Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, inadvertently assisted the prime minister’s moves, expertly orchestrated from the outside by the US Ambassador Robert Goheen, that almost sprang the non-proliferation trap on India. A mixture of luck, Desai’s bullheadedness and plucky rearguard action by M. A. Vellodi, secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), involving inspired bureaucratic flummery pre-empted a denouement the country would, in hindsight, have hugely regretted (on the same scale as Shah Reza Pahlavi’s signing this treaty is hindering present-day Iran’s crossing the nuclear Rubicon to pre-empt US arm-twisting).16

The demise of the Soviet Union and the approaching fin de siècle reignited the cause of a nuclear weapons-free world, this time spurred by the millennial hope that the better angels of our collective nature would dictate national policies. That, of course, didn’t happen. Rather, the hard calculations of advantaging national interest prevailed. However flimsy such a hope, it was reflected in Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 Action Plan for time-bound disarmament that was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly. It was the last, flickering, attempt by the ruling Congress Party to reconnect India with the public activism for nuclear disarmament by Nehru, whose subsurface strategic purpose was largely missing from Rajiv Gandhi’s thinking. It was only the evidence of Pakistan reaching the weapons threshold seminally helped by Chinese nuclear materials, weapons design and Washington’s deliberate inattention—the price that General Zia ul-Haq extracted for helping the US fight the Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan with the mujahideen—that convinced Rajiv Gandhi to go overt with nuclear arming India.

Another shot in exactly the opposite direction to the Action Plan, the Indefinite Extension of the NPT in 1995 succeeded, however, in legally cementing the unfair and unequal international nuclear order of the haves and have-nots for the new century dominated by the P-5.17 As a non-signatory to the NPT but as observer at the Review Conference (RevCon) in New York, India could have played the spoiler from the sidelines, and roused the non-nuclear weapons states on the issue of the P-5 failure over three decades to be in compliance with Article VI requiring substantive progress towards disarmament. Except a deal was cut with the US—India stood aside as the NPT was indefinitely extended in return for the lifting of the technology sanctions.

Tensions nevertheless increased after the Indefinite Extension agreement when the US and the West began ratcheting up pressure on New Delhi to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Thus, in 1996, India once again came perilously close to permanently shackling its weapons programme by sacrificing the testing option. Pushed by external powers and prodded internally by the leading lights of the Indian strategic policy enclave—the late K. Subrahmanyam, the late Air Commodore Jasjit Singh (Retd.) and Chidambaram, the then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission—the Indian Government inclined towards signing the CTBT.18 Chidambaram’s view that testing was unnecessary, as computer simulation would suffice for fashioning credible warheads/weapons was apparently persuasive. Fortunately, H. D. Deve Gowda, a prime minister with common sense, decided it was a bad idea strategically to hobble the country this way, and nixed the deal.

The contrafactual advocacy of crafting a nuclear arsenal without carrying out any tests disappeared from the public discourse, however, once it became clear that the incoming Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Vajpayee was bent on resuming nuclear tests. The same opinion leaders who had opposed testing, in the aftermath of the 1998 tests, now tom-tommed ‘minimum deterrence’, the need to keep nuclear forces small and to join the international mainstream by giving up testing—ideas subscribed to by the then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra. Thereafter history repeated itself, this time as tragedy. Additional underground tests to obtain fully proven and certifiable fission and fusion weapons of various yield-to-weight ratios and for different and distinct missions would have been the reasonable way to proceed. However, to pacify the US and the West and forestall the inevitable economic-technology squeeze, Vajpayee, like Indira Gandhi before him, shut down the testing option by announcing a ‘voluntary moratorium’. This was despite the initial evidence conveyed to the government by K. Santhanam, director (field tests) at the Pokhran test site, that the staged fusion device had fizzled, and that the country needed to test again.19  India’s show of ‘restraint’ resulted in the ‘strategic dialogue’ between Jaswant Singh and the US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and the Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership (NSSP).20 The NSSP paved the way for the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US promoted by the Congress party government of Manmohan Singh as the means to deliver ‘20,000 MW by 2020’ via imported reactors, and predicated on India’s sticking to its moratorium decision. It left the integrity of the country’s nuclear energy programme in tatters, with the surge production capacity of weapon-grade plutonium (WgPu) eliminated, and all but eight of the pressurised heavy water reactors finding themselves in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards net.

More worryingly, the Indian nuclear energy programme was diverted from the plutonium path promising energy sufficiency envisaged by the 1955 three-stage Bhabha Plan based on India’s thorium reserves—estimated as the world’s largest. This Plan emphasising pressurised heavy water reactors, breeder reactors and thorium reactors in the three stages to achieve energy independence was upended. Several downsides of importing low enriched uranium fuel-run reactors were pointed out in the public campaign against the Indo-US nuclear deal. Chief among them: the country would be converted into an energy dependency; its policies would become hostage to US whims and interests; and the in-built dissuader-mechanism of unaffordable economic costs would keep India from testing again. This last drawback was not fully understood, and has to do with Indian tests triggering (1) the cessation of fuel supply, spares and service support, and rendering waste tens of billions of dollars-worth of imported light water reactors; and (2) bringing the industrial zones dependent on this energy to a grinding halt with thousands of megawatts of electricity going off the grid. Such considerations did not apparently figure in the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to accept the nuclear deal.21

The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) negotiations meanwhile got stuck in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) on Pakistan’s insistence, unacceptable to every other country, that the current weapon states disclose the size of, and account for, their total fissile material production. Needing rapidly to enlarge its WgPu holdings to merely stay in place in the context of the rapid nuclear force modernisation/augmentation programmes underway in the P-5 states, Islamabad’s obstructionist tactics served, and continue to serve, India’s interests well, especially as Delhi bears no onus for the works being thus gummed up.22 In case Islamabad is coerced into abandoning its opposition to the FMCT, India should don the mantle and ensure this treaty does not get out of the CD.

The above riff on Indian policy indicates that in the nuclear weapons-related policy fields, balancing national security and the cost of opposing the big powers has too often led New Delhi to err on the side of pacifying the US and the rest of the NPT-ordained nuclear order. Rather than steadfastly advancing the country’s nuclear security and national interest, the Indian Government under alternating BJP and Congress party dispensations has sought to avoid confrontation, curtail the country’s latitude for action, and hew to self-imposed restraint on its nuclear weapons-making capability. This when a more assertive stance would serve the country’s strategic interests better by equipping India to face nuclear crises in which megaton weapons give China marked psychological edge.23

Moreover, the P-5 arms control measures only minimally affect their own weapons capability, and are geared to supporting actions and forging legal instruments to restrain adversary states, non-signatory states and threshold states. This record reveals why New Delhi needs to curb its lingering enthusiasm for nuclear non-proliferation, and adopt the position of shadow-boxing around the issue and agreeing on innocuous steps in lieu of genuine progress towards ‘nuclear zero’ while continually upgrading Indian nuclear weapon designs and production facilities, nuclear forces and associated infrastructure. And why the Indian Government ought to restrict the country’s exposure to imported nuclear reactors and recommit to the Bhabha Plan to restore its energy autonomy. In trying to balance the political and economic costs of importing reactors by approving in mid-2017 the construction of 10 indigenous 700 MWe pressurised reactors to nearly double the nuclear energy production, Prime Minister Modi may ensure that the indigenous stream is underfunded because there simply isn’t enough financial capacity to afford both.24 If the Indian Government still needed to be convinced to be, from here on, no part of any non-proliferation or regional arms control campaign, then the self-serving shenanigans of the P-5 at the 2015 RevCon would have provided proof.

The RevCon scene

The five-yearly NPT RevCon in New York, April 27–May 22, 2015, came and went without creating a stir, which about sums up the prospects for meaningful arms control, leave alone disarmament, in the new century. Predictably, the biggest rift at the meet was caused by two issues—the always contentious Article VI of the NPT and Egypt’s insistence on convening a conference to negotiate a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone within a specified time frame but without a prior conference to agree on a consensus agenda.25 The opposition to it by the US, Canada and other countries led for the first time to the absence of a consensus Final Document at the end of the conference.26 It will be a hard act to live down and may in fact be the beginning of the formal unravelling of the NPT regime.27 

In contrast, the so-called ‘Humanitarian Pledge’ submitted by Austria was endorsed by 109 states, supported by another 50 states, and polarised the conference attended by 188 NPT signatory states, as it demanded that the P-5 meet their Article VI obligations.28 The P-5 are unlikely to relent, however, thereby pushing off the prospect of verifiable disarmament to the indeterminate future, but will try and mollify the more technologically capable signatory states by other means, and continue pressing the non-signatory states, such as India, to refrain from testing just so the CTBT does not blow up and the NPT regime does not come tumbling down. In fact, the offline Western disarmament endeavours such as the ‘Canberra Commission’ study propagated just this line of action.29 In its 300-odd pages, it nowhere explains why Ukraine (or Iran, or North Korea or Pakistan) are wrong in believing that possessing nuclear weapons deters military adventures against them.

Weapons state shenanigans

As long as the Islamic State lasted, terrorists as nuclear menace held sway.30 Western nuclear policies began orientating against this presumed threat with missions conceived for precision nuclear weapon strikes to take out Islamic State strongholds and prevent terrorists from capturing and using nuclear devices and credibly mustering ‘dirty bomb’ threats.31 Russia sees value in refurbishing the Russian strategic forces and renewing military rivalry with the US to revive its international standing and status.32 Post-Crimea, the US–Russian tussle has taken a combative turn.33 The two big powers are racing to upgrade their nuclear weaponry under the rubric of disarming themselves, a lead that other nuclear weapons states—China, UK and France—quickly followed. Former US President Barack Obama extolled the world of ‘nuclear zero’ and proposed a decade-long US nuclear modernisation programme costing some $355 billion, and a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), conveniently for the US and Russia, does not require them to actually get rid of any nuclear armaments but only to curb the numbers of missiles deployed on land or sea to 1,550 each by 2018. What the two powers actually decommissioned or destroyed in the past decades were old, unreliable weapons/warheads that for safety reasons would have been phased out anyway. The replacements are advanced warheads, missiles, nuclear submarines, new-generation strategic bombers and even nuclear torpedo. Not to be left behind, China has built up its Second Artillery Strategic Forces to the 250 nuclear weapons/warheads level.34 Further, the leading nuclear powers are fusing their nuclear arsenals with cyber warfare capabilities and unsettling notions of deterrence.35

Nearer home, Pakistan’s 130 nuclear weapons-strong and rapidly growing arsenal has for many years outpaced the Indian holdings of some 110-odd nuclear weapons.36 While New Delhi goes out of its way to downplay the danger from China, Beijing justifies the increase in, and modernisation of, its nuclear forces by referring to India’s supposed strengthening of its strategic wherewithal.37 ‘Supposed’ because all India has done is infrequently fire off Agni-5 missiles that the Indian media insists on mislabelling as an ICBM which, at 5,000 km range, it is not. Moreover, all the test launches of this intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) will not guarantee that the warheads with yields above the 20 KT level, which alone is tested and proven, will work. Short of a resumption of testing, doubts will continue to swirl around the thermonuclear warheads on Indian missiles. In the wake of the 1998 tests, Chidambaram had stated that India would need to conduct more tests within a decade. But in 2008, the Indian Government foreclosed the country’s testing option with the signing of the civilian nuclear cooperation deal.

Elsewhere, the pumped-up great power tensions legitimated the nuclear augmentation drives in Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, while other nuclear capable Asian states pondered nuclear weapons as the answer to their security concerns revolving around a relentlessly abrasive China. With Article IX of its ‘peace Constitution’ amended, a nuclear weaponised Japan may emerge, possibly followed by other Asian states.Taken in totality, the international arms control and disarmament scene today does seem like ‘an outdated charade’.39

The hopelessness of arms control

In the wake of the 2015 NPT RevCon it is hard to see any glimmer of light at the end of the disarmament tunnel. ‘The notion that we can abolish nuclear weapons’, noted the late James Schlesinger, former nuclear strategist and US Secretary of Defense, ‘is like the [1929] Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy … It’s not based upon an understanding of reality.’40 This is the big power view, whence no serious effort can be expected by the P-5 to disarm themselves to convince other states to do the same.

By any reckoning, the balance sheet on nuclear arms reduction is bleak with no real progress on the disarmament front but ample proof of P-5 backsliding. It should induce caution in the Indian policy establishment that is always ready to compromise to please the US in the guise of furthering the cause of a nuclear weapons-free world, which is a foolhardy thing to do.41 Prudence dictates that India emulates the P-5—say what they say, and do as they do. This is the way to vigilantly serve, protect and advance the national interest.

India’s path ahead

In hindsight, other than Nehru’s dual-purpose nuclear energy programme, the best decision the Indian Government made was not to sign the NPT, because that would not just have written finis to India’s self-reliant nuclear energy future but, by keeping nuclear weapons out of India’s hands, also ended India’s great power ambitions. It proves that not being part of the herd, going it alone if need be, is not a bad policy to follow. By the same token, the worst thing the Indian Government has done in the last decade is agree short-sightedly to the 2008 nuclear deal with the US. That this deal has, a decade later, not delivered on its basic promise of affording India ‘the rights and privileges of a nuclear weapons state’ should have given the Modi government pause. Instead, it joined the various technology denial regimes—Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenar Arrangement, and is seeking membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—thereby giving up the residual leverage that would have accrued from retaining the freedom to sell its indigenously developed nuclear and missile technologies outside the ambit of these accords. We know what is coming down the pike—the decision by the Indian Government to buy six units each of the French Areva light water reactor and of the Westinghouse AP 1000 light water reactor, which last the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority has had trouble certifying for safety reasons and will be a high-risk liability. Worse, Indian consumers will end up having to purchase exorbitantly priced energy from these imported reactors.42

The Indian Government should also make it plain it will not ratify the CTBT under any circumstances short of its own weapons inventory achieving a military-certified status, which will not be possible without open-ended testing, and of the P-5 delivering on the NPT Article VI commitments by zeroing out their nuclear arms inventories on a verifiable basis. And it should recommit to the Bhabha Plan, speedily bringing on stream the breeder and thorium reactors along with the 700 MWe PWRs, while skittering away from buying the French and US reactors. In parallel, it should begin exporting indigenously developed technologies in the three fuel cycles—uranium, plutonium and potentially thorium—it has gained proficiency in. It is incomprehensible that the Indian Government, by imputing too great a value to the NSG membership and seeking acclaim for its restraint, has failed to exercise its inherent right and freedom commercially to sell indigenously produced nuclear materials and locally developed technologies, such as the INDU reactors, which the IAEA has recognised as a new, different and more efficient genus of PWRs, to friendly countries of strategic import to India, such as Vietnam. There is nothing barring such transactions except New Delhi’s pusillanimity.

Indeed, an active programme of exports of nuclear goods will more quickly ease India’s entry into the P-5 club on the principle pithily enunciated by the US President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s that it is better to have a nuclear capable country, such as India, ‘in the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in’! All that India’s submissive attitude and pleadings and supplications have fetched it so far is diplomatic manipulation, finger wagging and counsels of patience by the US and other P-5 states. Why the NSG membership on US terms is so prized is unclear. China’s success in this arena points to success emanating from precisely the opposite policy tack, namely ‘bad boy’ proliferant behaviour. By challenging the existing global nuclear order with policies brazenly transferring nuclear material, technology and expertise especially to the so-called ‘rogue states’ (Pakistan, North Korea, Iran), Beijing has obtained the power to calibrate the resulting turbulence and turmoil, setting itself up thus as an inalienable part of both the problem and of the solution. It has gained enormous diplomatic leverage as mediator with North Korea, and has led to China vaulting into the great power ranks.43 On the issue of new tests to obtain safe and reliable thermonuclear weaponry, the Indian Government has since 1998 been paralysed, unable to summon the courage and the political will to resume testing despite China’s aggressive military posturing and the North Korean tests disrupting the international security situation, providing both strategic provocation and political excuse for such an Indian decision. Lacking boldness and gumption, Delhi can do the next best thing: prepare to resume nuclear testing at an instant’s notice because it is only a matter of time before something gives in the growing US–Russia and US–China military stand-offs, with all these parties racing to upgrade and technologically improve the strategic armaments in their employ. Once India resumes testing, it should be on an open-ended basis to reassure the military end-users that the fission and fusion weapons they fire will in fact work as advertised—confidence the Strategic Forces Command presently lacks!

The danger to the country in the arms control field is the Indian Government’s delusional belief that India is some kind of leader on disarmament issues. In any case, what Delhi decides to do or not do will have no great effect other than crippling India’s own strategic deterrent. Hence, it is foolhardy for the Indian Government to assume either a leadership role or be tempted into conceding more and more to prove its ‘responsible state’ credentials, as it has time and again been lured into doing. It does not strategically or diplomatically pay for a nuclear weapons state with, international law-wise indeterminate status, such as India, to take the lead on any arms control or disarmament issue lest, as the record shows, it redound to the country’s disbenefit. Recall that Nehru’s moralising on nuclear weapons in the 1950s was used to pressure India into joining the NPT and, in the case of the nuclear deal with the US, into accepting IAEA safeguards on most of the dual-use capacity.

The Indian Government should also bear in mind that technological developments relevant to its nuclear weapons have irrevocably changed the policy and negotiating baseline for India. Thus, even interim measures such as de-mating warheads and rockets/missiles are now defunct given the ongoing canisterisation of Indian nuclear missile systems, which requires hermetic sealing of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads. Whether anybody likes it or not, with canisterised nuclear weapons India has attained launch-on-warning (LOW) capability, and a secure, invulnerable second strike capability with the autonomously operating Arihant and Arighat SSBNs joining fleet service.44  The Indian Government’s thinking and the Indian nuclear doctrine stressing only retaliation have still to catch up to these developments.

With canisterised Agni missiles, canvassing for a de-alerting agreement and an international No First Use convention would be to set a trap for ourselves. The 2013 Congress Party government initiative in this regard should, therefore, be quickly and quietly buried.45 India’s qualified support for the draft FMCT is equally problematical. For instance, the Indian representative in the Conference on Disarmament stated that ‘without prejudice to the priority we attach to nuclear disarmament, we support the negotiation in the Conference on Disarmament of an FMCT that meets India’s national security interests’.46 Except, in this construction ‘disarmament’ and ‘national security interests’ undercut each other. It will serve India’s purposes better to issue a statement akin to Pakistan’s—asking only for a global nuclear order that is ‘equitable and non-discriminatory’. Such an anodyne position preserves maximum space to grow and qualitatively improve the Indian nuclear forces, and permits Delhi the freedom to shape the regional and international nuclear orders and agreements to, for a change, suit India’s strategic interests.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.



1. Abby Philip, ‘Trump Trades Insults with “Mad Man” North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’, The Washington Post, September 22, 2017, at

2. Katrina Manson and Bryan Harris, ‘North Korea Threatens Guam after Trump “Fire and Fury” Vow’, Financial Times, August 9, 2017, at

3. ‘Pakistan Developing New Types of Nuclear Weapons, Warns US Intel Chief’,, February 14, 2014, at;Urooj Jawed, ‘Pakistan Has Developed Short-range Nuclear Weapons to Counter India’s “Cold Start” Doctrine: PM Abbasi’, Express Tribune, September 21, 2017, at

4. Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition, Macmillan, New Delhi, 2005, ch. 3.

5. Bharat Karnad, ‘South Asia: The Irrelevance of Classical Deterrence Theory’, India Review, 4 (2), 2005, at

6. For a detailed analysis of the Beijing-primed rogue nuclear triad of China–Pakistan–North Korea, see Bharat Karnad, ‘Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, and North Korea’, The Wire, July 25, 2016, at

7. Bharat Karnad, no. 4, pp. 227–228.

8. Ibid., ch. 2.

9. Michael Barletta, ‘Pernicious Ideas in World Politics: “Peaceful Nuclear Explosions” ’, Monterrey Institute of International Studies, 2001, at

10. Peter Caterall (ed.), The Macmillan Diaries: The Cabinet Years 1950–1957, Pan Books, London, 2003, p. 447.

11. Mani Shankar Aiyar, ‘Failing to Take the Lead’, Indian Express, October 27, 2016, at

12. Alexei Arbatov, ‘Protecting Nuclear Sanity’, Defense News, June 15, 2015, at; Alexei Arbatov, An Unnoticed Crisis: The End of History for Nuclear Arms Control?, Carnegie Moscow Center, Moscow, June 2015.

13. Alexei Arbatov, Unnoticed Crisis, no. 12.

14. Bharat Karnad, no. 4, ch. 3.

15. Ibid., pp. 278–331.

16. Ibid., pp. 332–340.

17. Ibid.

18. Bharat Karnad, ‘The Quality of “Expert” Advice’, Seminar, 444, August 1996.

19. See Ajaz Ashraf and Pranay Sharma, ‘The Myth Bomber: An Interview with K. Santhanam’, Outlook, October 9, 2009, at And, more importantly, for a refutation on the basis of physics by Dr. P.K. Iyengar, former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), who initiated the thermonuclear programme of R. Chidambaram’s and the Department of Atomic Energy’s claims about the ‘success’ of the fusion test (S1) in 1998, see P.K. Iyengar, ‘Non-fissile Doubts’, Outlook, October 26, 2009, at

20. Ibid., pp. 92, 151. For an account of the Jaswant–Talbott talks, see Strobe Talbott, Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And the Bomb, rev. ed., Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2006.

21. P.K. Iyengar, A.N. Prasad, A. Gopalakrishnan and Bharat Karnad, Strategic Sell-out: Indian–US Nuclear Deal, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2009.

22. Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy, Praeger Security International, Westport and London, 2008, pp. 93, 133.

23. Bharat Karnad, no. 4.

24. Anil Sasi and Amitabh Sinha, ‘Govt Clears 10 New Nuclear Reactors in Big Power Push’, Indian Express, May 18, 2017, at

25. Paul R. Pillar, ‘A Missed Nonproliferation Opportunity’, National Interest, June 9, 2015, at

26. See Rose Gottemoeller, US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, ‘Remarks at the Conclusion of the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference’, United Nations, New York City, May 22, 2015, at

27. The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) called the impasse only a ‘midlife crisis’. See ‘NPT Review: Failure Underlines Challenges ahead’, IISS Strategic Comments, 21 (15), June 04, 2015, at

28. See Rose Gottemoeller, no. 27.

29. Gareth Evans, Tanya Ogilvie-White and Ramesh Thakur, Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015, Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University, Canberra, 2015, p. ix, at

30. James Schlesinger warned in 2009 about ‘the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States’. See Melanie Kirkpatrick, ‘Why We Don’t Want a Nuclear-Free World’, Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2009, at; Adam Withnall, ‘Isis’s Dirty Bomb: Jihadists Have Seized Enough Radioactive Material to Build Their First WMD’, Independent, June 10, 2015.

31. The US, British and French governments expressly adduced the terrorist threat as rationale for their nuclear forces. See Bharat Karnad, no. 22, ch. 1.

32. Russia’s National Security Strategy and Military Doctrine and their Implications for the EU, Directorate General for External Policies, Policy Department, European Parliament, February 2017, at

33. ‘European War Games: Responses to Russian Military Drills’, Stratfor Worldview, May 5, 2015 at

34. John Mecklin, ‘Disarm and Modernize’, Foreign Policy, March/April 2015, pp. 54–59. On the modernisation imperative, see ‘Modernizing Nuclear Arsenals: Whether and How’, Development and Disarmament Round Table, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 2015, at

35. Andrew Futter, ‘The Dangers of Using Cyber Attacks to Counter Nuclear Threats’, Arms Control Today, 46, July/August 2016, at

36. Ashley Tellis, ‘China, India, and Pakistan—Growing Capabilities with No End in Sight’, Testimony before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, February 25, 2015, at

37. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, Annual Report to Congress, Office of Secretary of Defence, US Department of Defence, Washington, DC, April 7, 2015, p. 31 at

38. Bharat Karnad, no. 22, pp. 29–32. For a belated recognition of the emerging ‘nuclear crowd’ nuclear reality, see the recent National Bureau of Asian Research ‘Round Table’—‘Approaching Critical Mass: Asia’s Multipolar Nuclear Future’, Asian Policy, 19, January 2015.

39. John Mecklin, no. 34, p. 55.

40. See Melanie Kirkpatrick, no. 30.

41. For a fuller exposition of the argument that disarmament has no future, see Bharat Karnad, ‘Banning Nuclear Weapons: A Hollow Exercise’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 10, 2014; Bharat Karnad, ‘Diagnosis: Tlatelolco-itis’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 25, 2014; Bharat Karnad, ‘Riding the Moral Hobbyhorse’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 15, 2014; ‘Ban the Bomb?’, Development and Disarmament Round Table, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July–August 2014, at

42. Suhasini Haider, ‘Forging a New Nuclear Deal’, The Hindu, February 3, 2018, at

43. See Bharat Karnad, no. 6.

44. Sandeep Unnithan, ‘A Peek into India’s Top Secret and Costliest Defence Project, Nuclear Submarines’, India Today, December 10, 2017, at

45. ‘India Ready to Negotiate Global No-First Use treaty’, Economic Times, September 27, 2013; ‘India Ready for Nuclear No-First Use Agreements’, The Times of India, October 22, 2014.

46. Pakistan’s stand articulated in the United Nations General Assembly is for a non-proliferation system realised ‘through policies that are equitable, criteria-based, and non-discriminatory’. Ibid.

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