Countering US pressure

Assuming the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has done its job, the government must be aware of the fact that North Korea is preparing to conduct its third nuclear test, this time of a Chinese-designed boosted fission device. Transferred in toto to Pakistan by Beijing, Islamabad has, in turn, passed it on to Pyongyang for validation by an actual explosive test. China ceaselessly exploits North Korea’s status as a pariah state beyond the pale which can do things other states cannot without incurring cost. From the Chinese perspective, this will further tighten the nuclear screws on India by bringing Pakistan a step closer to the thermonuclear weapons threshold that India crossed in 1998, but not fully. The flawed Indian design did not produce the enhanced yield but has, ever since, been sought to be corrected and configured into a usable weapon, not by actual explosive testing but by simulation. Dr. R. Chidambaram, science & technology adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has been a votary of obtaining nuclear weapons by simulation. But he cannot, in good conscience, guarantee that fusion weapons so produced will actually work as they are supposed to, in real time, in real life. Surprisingly, the users of these weapons — the Strategic Forces Command and the military chiefs of staff — are not making any noise about it, though a minor defect in any conventional weapon has them hitting the rafters.

To begin preparing the ground for testing, as prelude to the next round of strategic dialogue, Delhi should issue a demarche to Washington, making it clear that the next North Korean nuclear test will be considered a Chinese-cum-Pakistani nuclear weapon explosive test, that’s likely to break India’s restraint on nuclear testing. Reminding the US about its complicity in China’s nuclear missile-arming Pakistan, the demarche should also lead to asking the Americans, point blank, just how an infirm Indian thermonuclear weapons capability will help maintain Asia’s balance of power. It is not a question to which India will get a straight answer because the grand US design, as I have maintained from the time the nuclear deal was being negotiated, is to push India, in small stages, into strategic dependency whereby India ultimately has to rely on Washington for its thermonuclear security because its own fusion weapons lack credibility.

By laying down the next North Korean nuclear test as tripwire, India should start pulling up when, for example, the US government — as it is prone to do — goes from friendly to bully in pursuit of its own agenda in double quick time. For instance, for Washington to insist that energy-deficient India must cut off its oil imports from Iran and opt for the “Mission Impossible” TAPI pipeline (Turkmen gas to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan), while allowing Taiwan, Japan and South Korea to import oil and gas from Iran, is a bit rich.

It is very likely that sooner or later Washington and Tehran will come to an understanding, even as India’s stand against Iran will jeopardise our leverage and goodwill in Tehran. All the effort India has made to fill the economic vacuum in Iran by ramping up trade will amount to nought. India learnt nothing from freezing relations with Myanmar to please the West. Nearly 25 years later, Delhi is scrambling to recover its position, only to find the Chinese too well entrenched.

Curtailing China’s ambitions is a convergent interest and, as Leon Panetta, the American defence secretary, said at the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore, India “will play a decisive role” in Asia’s future. But this role will not materialise if India permits itself to be nudged and elbowed into accepting US terms. Two cases in point: the US insistence, in the main, on India signing CISMOA (Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement) and LSA (Logistics Support Agreement) ignores the fact that India does not as yet perceive the US as trustworthy. Why not formalise  workable technical solutions  that have permitted joint military exercises to-date, instead? The other issue is American attempts to shape Indian military requirements. The Indian Army asked for a certain number of Javelin anti-tank, “fire and forget”-missiles, costing roughly $150,000 a piece. Washington, on its own, pared that order by half. Who is to decide on the quantity and quality of weapons purchased from the US  — the Indian military or the US government?  A senior US Defence official travelling with Panetta  explained  this as a snafu, as reflecting “old thinking” and not new ideas in the process of being “phased in”.  US Ambassador Nancy Powell has talked of $8 billion worth of arms deals with American companies in the pipeline. Delhi has to ensure the “old” US thinking does not end up factored into new arms contracts.


The United States cannot be blamed though for trying to get its way. The blame rests entirely with the Indian government for allowing itself to be pushed around. Alas, the Congress coalition government with Manmohan Singh as figurehead Prime Minister is so dead in the water that it cannot even summon the will to resist US-imposed strictures on stuff  India is paying hard cash for. It is frightening to think how much policy ground will be ceded to the US and other foreign governments till the next general elections by an Indian government that has apparently given up protecting this country’s sovereign prerogatives and interests.

The Washington round of the strategic dialogue, other than the demarche on North Korean test, should be about fleshing out cooperative military strategies to distract China and weaken its tendency to hegemonism in South China Sea and elsewhere, and fast-tracking co-development of new military technologies and weapons development, bypassing a series of arms deals that Panetta outlined as a prelude.  Delhi has to be mindful of America’s short-term outlook that can hurt India’s strategic position in the long-term, if Delhi does not push back. On issues where Indian interests are compromised, the US should be told, in plain words, to back off. Given the stakes in Asia, it will.

[Published as “For US, India is doormat to Asia”  June 6, 2012 in the ‘Ásian Age’ at  and the ‘Deccan Chronicle’ ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Countering US pressure

  1. Vihan says:

    Hi Bharat,

    You are among the few sane people who have highlighted our need for further nuclear testing. I fully agree with you, and wanted to add some facts for those who are not or are on the fence.

    I think its about time the Indian public understand how the concepts of simulation, modeling, and real life testing are related. I have done some work in this, though not in Nuclear Physics. However, the basic principles are the same. Thus I feel it should be elucidated :

    1)When we have a given idea for a device based on certain scientific principles we need to make a mathematical and physical model to see how that device may be.

    2)If the device being considered is something new, consequently our knowledge about how many complex scientific principles interact with each other will be limited.

    3)Thus in our model we make **assumptions** this is the key factor in all models. On which **assumptions** does the model depend?

    4)Now, how do we overcome some or most of our assumptions? We do scenario generations, namely simulations. These do give us a very good idea of how the model works, BUT, again, the model is based on **assumptions**.

    5)Finally we need to validate this model. This can be done via some mathematical methods and/or via a real life test. Mathematical validations can only go so far, they tell us how far the practically observed results from the
    simulations are from the theoretical assumptions of the model. Real life tests are preferable provided they are physically feasible(e.g if we want to real life test and validate some models about collapsing starts and need a black hole to practically test this, well, that is just not physically feasible in our current state of technological knowhow, so we have no choice but to make do with the mathematical validation).

    6)Anyway, After the validation we get a good idea of how many **assumptions** were significant and by what factor.

    7)After this, we don’t sit back and enjoy a good drink. We go back and start work on a new and improved model armed with lesser assumptions and go through more iterations starting at the above point 1).

    Moreover, you can very well have a scenario where an even occurs which the model was not designed for. This is called a Black Swan event. You can also have events due to which everything goes wrong, this is called a Perfect Storm event. To give a real life example and some perspective, such events were seen in financial models(most of which are derived from existing models in Physics) during the financial crisis of 2008.

    These are clear scientific facts, and I am open to anyone challenging me on them.

    With this it is abundantly clear than anyone who claims that our nuclear weapons program is hunky dory with simulations and mathematical validation is not giving the full facts. Such claims must be challenged and fought tooth and nail. I applaud K Santhanam for doing this and commend Bharat for making the Indian public aware of it. I mean come on, by this insane logic preached by the powers that be, why do we test any weapon system or for that matter test new washing machines at all? Let there be simulations and mathematical validation for all of them! But they are not because they really are not enough for a device which works within the desired parameters. I will even go to the extent of saying that if we decide to build warheads and trust our deterrence and security based on such an insane logic, we are heading for a disaster. It will only embolden our adversaries to do much worse against us for we demonstrate not just a lack of will, but also a lack of capability.


    – vihan

    • More people need to know the truth about the dangers of claiming a ThN arsenal when the weapons are untested and unproven. For many of us it has been an unending campaign since 1998. But, as long as R Chidambaram occupies that chair and Manmohan goes by his advice, we will be where we are.

  2. Vihan says:

    I made some typos:

    “collapsing starts” should be “collapsing stars”

    and “where an even occurs” should be “where an event occurs”

    Sorry about that.

  3. Ravi says:

    Can’t blame the US for everything. They’ll push for their interests as much as the other side gives in. It’s for the Indians to stand tough and tell them when and where to get off. With the turbaned houseboy whose name in Chinese is Quis-ling-Sing, and who could qualify for the NoKo title “Fearless Leader”, firmly in office, and the powers-that-be whose mumbling mouthpiece this person is continue to loot India of 100’s of thousands of crores of INR/scam, there’s nothing that can be said or done. India will always be under pressures from the West and even Pakistan, who has a pretty good picture of the flow of money through Dubai and the Middle East.

  4. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1. Are Thermonuclear warheads based on the 1998 test actually deployed with SFC ?

    2. If so, are they unto around 200kt yield ?

    3. Do we also hedge with boosted fission/sloika warheads of the 100-200kt yield range ?

    4. What is the yield range of the warhead China transferred to Pak ? Would China transfer thermonuclear weapons as well to Pak ?

    5 Is the pan boosted fission warhead HEU based or Pu based ?

    6. Is the obstacle to our testing again only from RC/MMS or from the political family controlling MMS ?

    7. Is there a danger of Pak attaining nuke superiority over us in the near future ? What is the approx. size of the pak arsenal ?

    8.In the 1998 test, was there any fusion from the secondary as far as you know ? From what you say, the boosted fission primary seems to have worked perfectly.

    • 1. Yes
      2. 125 K and 175 K configurations — from what one can gather.
      3. If by hedging you mean over-compensating in some design aspects, how does it help even if we do?
      4. Not sure, but reasonable to assume the boosted is — in excess of 100 KT
      5. Pu, I believe
      6. RC and MMS fearing US reaction
      7. By many published accounts, Pak is already ahead of us in numbers; quality-wise, with proven and tested Chinese designs on their side – you tell me.
      8. The primary worked fine. The secondary did not.

      • Satyaki says:

        6. How much of the opposition to testing is due to the INC/”first family” as such ? RC/MMS unlikely to continue after 2014 even if UPA returns. Do you say we have a possibility of testing in a situation where it is UPA without RC/MMS ?

        7. You say we have close to 200 warheads. Is Pak ahead in now. and quality, how do you say that Pak can only destroy one or two cities in return for our ability to wipe out Pak as a social organism ? Dosent Pak in that case have the ability to wipe us out as a social organism as well ?

      • It is more a systemic — MEA babus’ inhibition/fear of US sanctions that’s in play as well. It’s nothing a strong-minded govt cannot disregard and bull ahead.

        As to why the Paki 200 cannot make India “extinct” — four assumptions, one,Pak starts an N-affray. This will bring all the world to India’s side. Two, that we have a strongwilled govt that will not cavil from hard decisions. Three, in a really serious situation, 70% of these NWs because already mapped will be wiped out very, very, early in the proceedings in joint ops with Isarel, US, etc.– as Pak SPD expects will happen. That leaves them with only 30% at most to play around with. Re: these the Pakis will have to show their hand some time, in terms of trundling out these N-missiles from their hiding places, and will be picked off by A2G PGMs and loitering IAF, IsAF, USAF aircraft — and 4th assumption — in an environment with complete air superiority established, will be seeking precisely such targets to destroy with their AESAs before they can fire. If things do get to such a pass, one can expect Spl Ops Forces in conjoined missions to also ground-hunt the Paki NWs down. True, the exchange ratio of Indian cities could be 3 or even 4, in which case Pakistan will have to go for broke — an effort they simply cannot muster under any realistic circumstances. But two cities because that’s what a series of realistic gaming exercises indicate.

  5. Satyaki says:

    Let me also clarify what I mean by sloika in qn 3 above: from what I understand, the term “boosted fission” is loosely used. There are gas boosted devices where tritium is used to enhance fission efficiency. There are also single stage thermonuclear devices consisting (roughly speaking) of a core of fissile material surrounded by LiD surrounded by fertile material like U238 all of which is imploded using chemical explosives in order to trigger the nuclear explosion. In such devices, fusion can account for 15-20% of total yield, which can be unto 10 times the yield achieved by the fissile core alone. These devices are called sloikas.

  6. Satyaki says:

    Also, can the Pokhran test site allow for a full yield test of 175 kt ?

    • Well, the fusion device tested in 1998 was designed for — depending on whom you want to believe — between 170 KT and in excess of 250 KT. So, presumably, the shafts were deep enough, etc.

      • Satyaki says:

        And the actual yield of about 40kt was all from the boosted fission primary. Correct ? Shouldn’t they also try for 100-200kt boosted fission devices ? Maybe there would be more confidence in those…

      • Less than 40 KT; actually a real fizzle. Testing 100-200 KT Ws, Of course, if they have any sense.

  7. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1. You explained why Pak cannot use all 200 or so weapons against us. Dosent the same kind of argument apply for us vis a vis Pak ? Maybe Pak and China have 70% of our arsenal mapped: possibly more. Or would the fraction be smaller ?

    2. If we ourselves have 200 as per your claim, won’t Pak have more ?

    3. What is the guarantee that we shall have air superiority over them ? Our air force edge vis a vis theirs is smaller than it used to be. Also, Israeli air force and U.S. air force have to cover long distances before reaching the theatre.

    4. Wont the U.S. look to take out our arsenal in the same way that it tries to take out the Pak arsenal ? The international community may want to restrain us from any retaliation whatsoever even after a pan first use. Why wont it argue like “two wrongs do not make a right ?”

    5. Maybe a handful of genuine ICBMs is the answer to concern 4 about the U.S: given the value any western country places on the life of its people, isn’t it true that a few small nuclear weapons would deter any western country unlike China, which requires true thermonuclear deterrence ?

    • Points 4 & 5 are a few of the foundational reasons in the case I made at very great length for a megaton-ICBM strat force of 400+ weapons/warheads and force scalable depending on Chinese force strength, in my 750-page tome – ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’, published in 2002, revised in 2005.

      1. Assuming they are so mapped, China, Pakistan, singly or together haven’t presently the capability to do much with the info.

      2. The 200 figure was arrived at on the basis of the Pak missile produc rate @ 20/yr over the decade, but Pak may not have enough fissile material to craft N-warheads for all these delivery systems. India, on the other hand, faces no dearth of fissmat but our missile produc rate is abysmal.

      3. Actually, our air superiority edge is increasing. At the moment, PAF has only small nos. of F-16s and the Chinese JF-17 fleet is limited and the aircraft, even if serviceable, is not of hard-tested quality.

  8. Vihan says:

    Hi Bharat,

    A question based on your replies to previous comments. You mention “the exchange ratio of Indian cities could be 3 or even 4″ and “two cities because that’s what a series of realistic gaming exercises indicate”, is this true taking into account our multilayered air defence(assuming it is working fine and not wanting spares and ammo) and the Prithvi/Pradyumna ABM’s(assuming they work as they should) ?

    On a more general note, can we use the terms Anti-Ballistic Missiles(ABM), Ballistic Missile Interceptor interchangeably or is there some esoteric/technical difference between the two?

    Lastly, would it be possible or advisable to suitable modify the in development Brahmos 2 as an interceptor as well? Just to add another layer for the missiles which escape the initial interceptors and are re-entering enroute to their targets.

    Thanks and Regards,

    – vihan

    • The technology of a missile to intercept an incoming ballistic missile is still at the iffy stage, no matter what its promoters say. Any projectile with re-entry speeds greater than 7 kms/sec is, physics-wise, un-interceptable — goes the traditional wisdom. However, some new tech in the future might overcome the difficulties. Unless a densely layered defence fires and keeps on firing for a hit by chance. That’s the reason why I have argued in my books that ABM is cost-ineffective and India can do w/o investing in such a system. Rather have Saraswat’s pet project carry on as a technology demonstrator to incorporate and sharpen evolving technologies in line with advances elsewhere. And that India have a surfeit of missiles. Because offense is always better than defence. Especially where ABM is concerned.

      The interceptor in the nomenclature is the kill vehicle.

      Brahmos is optimised for very low level flights. Whether it can be aerodynamically reconfigured for close-in interception, I am not sure. If it can be done then it will be another type of missile altogether.

  9. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1. Regarding IAF vs. PAF, haven’t our squadron nos. depleted to worrying levels ? PAF will soon get a fairly large no: of JF-17’s + 36 J-10A’s. Plus they have ALCM’s like the 350 km read. How does the claim of an increasing IAF edge stand via a vis these PAF additions ?

    2. You say that we have no shortage of fissile material. Does that mean that the NPA assertions that we have 500kg of WGPu only should be dismissed ? They have been saying 500 kg for the last 10 years or so.

    3. Do the NPA (Nonproliferation Ayatollahs) estimate our fissile stockpiles wrong because of their standard assumption of our sole source of WGPu being CIRUS (in the past) and Dhruva ? If we have close to 200 weapons as you say (and some of them are boosted fission warheads of 100 kt yield or so), then our WGPu stockpiles are likely to be much larger than 500kg.

    • Pts 2 & 3 – This is all in the realm of speculation, of course, but the Indian fissmat stockpile estimates do not factor in all the INDUs run at low burnup to-date — so the figure is obviously low. To reiterate, we have more WGPu than missiles.

      Pt 1 — Don’t go by IAF propaganda — Vayu Bhavan is always in the gimme’ more mode. The JF-17 is untested, how reliable? the J-10 is a Lavi copy and its quality depends on how much seriously cutting-edge stuff our Israeli friends gave the Chinese. The Israeli plan-form is good by all accounts, but compared to 5th gen ac or even the 4,5 gen Tejas — but for its short range — well, I’d vouch for what IAF has and will soon have.

  10. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Is there a danger of Russia strategically leaving its alliance with us and switching over to Pak ? There are rumors of Putin planning to visit Pak in Sep.

    It makes more sense for us to stick with Russia than with the west. Among other things, the west will tend to constrain even our internal response to separatists, maoists, etc. in the name of human rights. Look at the noise the west is making against Sri Lanka when all Rajapakshe has done is to curb terrorists with a strong hand (which is what our leaders should emulate).

    • It is not an alliance, but a warm military-commercial relationship in that India is the main financial prop for the Russian defence industry. They cannot court Pakistan at our expense simply because Pakistan does not and will not ever have the sort of moolah to replace us as buyers of assorted military hardware, and China having brought its own defence industry up to scratch, doesn’t much need Russia anymore.

  11. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    I see that Prof. U R Rao referred indirectly to the DF-5A when he pointed out the synergy between China’s missile and space program (his reference to 13000 km range rockets). Shouldn’t a core alone PSLV be easily capable of conversion into a silo based ICBM of similar performance ?

    The advantage of such an ICBM would be that it is already tried and tested in several orbital flights (20 odd flights for all PSLV variants: no Agni variant has these many flights under its belt). Since only the reentry part requires validation, a couple of tests of such a conversion may suffice. The disadvantage, is of course, lack of mobility. But that can be overcome if we put up additional infrastructure like EW satellites and move to a launch-on-warning position.

    Would this kind of robust rocket be a better option than road mobile further developments of the Agni-V ? Or would this be a liability given U.S. capabilities against fixed targets ?

    • I have always maintained we have all the technologies we need for ICBMs and even a viable design; the country just needs a government with strong political will to order test-firings and production.

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