More, Mr. Parrikar

He is duty-bound to confound assessments of India’s nuclear deterrent.
Deterrence is a mind game. Nuclear deterrence is even more psychologically weighted because at stake, quite literally, is a nation’s survival as a “social organism”, to use the words of the geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder.

What makes nuclear deterrence work is the ambiguity and opacity shrouding its every aspect. These range from weapons/warheads, delivery systems, their deployment pattern, command and control system to details about storage, reaction time, and physical, electronic and cyber security schemes, the weapons production processes, the personnel involved and policies relating to all these elements. The more anything remotely connected with nuclear hardware and software, strategy, policies, plans and posture is a black hole, the greater is the uncertainty in the adversary’s mind and the unpredictability attending on the deterrent. Moreover, pronouncements emanating from official quarters that obfuscate matters and generate unease, especially about India’s nuclear weapons-use initiation and nuclear response calculi, enhance the sense of dread in the minds of adversary governments. Dread is at the heart of successful nuclear deterrence.

It is the responsibility of the Indian government to make the ambiguity-opacity-uncertainty-unpredictability matrix denser, not make it easier for adversaries to plumb its political will and to read its strategic intentions by clarifying nuclear issues. The adversaries one needs to keep in mind are as much the obvious ones — China and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan — as the “friendly” countries, such as the US. The US, in particular, was at the forefront of preventing India from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold, failing in which enterprise, it has done everything to ensure India stays stuck at the low-end of the nuclear weapons technology development curve. It insisted that India does not resume underground nuclear testing, or depart from the US understanding of limited nuclear deterrence. It may also be recalled that, for geopolitical reasons of containing India to the subcontinent during the Cold War, Washington disregarded its own proliferation concerns and watched China nuclear missile-arm Pakistan even as it preached responsible behaviour to New Delhi.

In this context, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s wondering why no-first-use (NFU) is assumed to be a restraint on the Indian nuclear forces is just the monkey wrench that needed to be thrown into the Western considerations of this country’s nuclear security. American think-tanks help the US government to achieve its nuclear non-proliferation objectives, propagating, for instance, the hollow India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” thesis that Washington has often used to pressure a usually diffident and malleable New Delhi. Pakistan naturally supports this thesis as a means of legitimating its fast-growing nuclear arsenal, as do many Indian analysts for their own reasons.

No surprise, then, that Parrikar’s stray thoughts on NFU have shocked the large community of flashpoint believers and acted as bait for George Perkovich, one of the stalwart proponents of this idea, to rise to it. He uses the morality card — the loss of India’s supposed “high ground” which has been sufficient by itself in the past to subdue the Indian government — and labels Parrikar’s statements as “superficial, perhaps, dangerously so” (see his “Impolitic musings”, The Indian Express, November 15, at The truth, however, is that Perkovich — and by extension, Washington — is worried that Parrikar has upended the US-qua-Western nuclear construct for South Asia.

But NFU is less of an issue for Perkovich than his desire to get Parrikar to explain “whether and how” India means to enlarge its nuclear forces and infrastructure and “revise its operational plans” contingent on New Delhi’s apparent jettisoning of NFU. In this respect, it is pertinent to note that besides its intelligence agencies, Washington has always relied on American think-tankers and gullible Indians to help winkle out details of the Indian nuclear deterrent — Perkovich’s primary intent. I recall that at a 1.5 track meet held under the US government’s aegis in San Diego in December 1998 the hosts called in a surviving Manhattan Project biggie, Herbert York, to impress on the Indians there the dangers of the nuclear course India was embarked upon. They banked on an Indian patsy — the joint secretary (Americas), MEA — to repeatedly ask K. Subrahmanyam and me to speculate about what weapons strength constituted a “minimum” deterrent.

Indeed, far from being under any obligation to throw light on NFU or any other nuclear issue, Parrikar is almost duty-bound to air his “personal views” more frequently on the subject and thus keep confounding assessments regarding India’s deterrent.
Published in the Indian Express on November 21, 2016, at

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, China, China military, disarmament, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to More, Mr. Parrikar


    Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, May 26, 1971, 10:38-10:44 a.m.

    Kissinger: Indira Gandhi has written you a letter.
    Nixon: I know about—
    Kissinger: Well, no. We should answer it. Let me say one other thing.
    Nixon: [unclear]
    Kissinger: Well you can tell her—you can use it to bring pressure on her not to take military action. Also, I talked to the Pakistan Ambassador. He said that Yahya might appreciate a letter, which would give him an excuse to answer all the things by saying, listing all the things he’s doing because he can’t get any publicity here.
    Nixon: No.
    Kissinger: And conversely, Indira Gandhi, I checked with the Indian Ambassador, they’re getting so devious now—
    Nixon: She wants—
    Kissinger: She would like to be able to say that one result of her letter was—
    Nixon: Yeah.
    Kissinger: —that you’ve written to Yahya. So everybody’s happy. The Pakistanis—
    Nixon: But we don’t say anything against Yahya?
    Kissinger: No, no. You just say you hope the refugees will soon be able to go back to East Pakistan. He will then reply to you that’s exactly what he wants. I’ve got it all arranged with the—
    Nixon: Good. Go ahead.
    Kissinger: —Embassy. Then you can take credit. You can tell the Indians to pipe down—
    Nixon: Yeah.
    Kissinger: And we’ll keep Yahya happy.
    Nixon: The Indians need—what they need really is a—
    Kissinger: They’re such bastards.
    Nixon: A mass famine. But they aren’t going to get that. We’re going to feed them—a new kind of wheat. But if they’re not going to have a famine the last thing they need is another war. Let the goddamn Indians fight a war [unclear].
    Kissinger: They are the most aggressive goddamn people around there.
    Nixon: The Indians?
    Kissinger: Yeah.
    Nixon: Sure.

  2. When Trump begin to show his true China, Pakistan colors he is for a big surprise. He will find out Indians aren’t lotus eaters any more the hard way. Modi has Russia, Israel cards ready.
    Sure, new avatars of Robert Blackwill, Ashley J Tellis and Robin Raphael will land in Delhi in January 20, 2017, to insult India at our expense. They will preach India should cap Agni, Nuclear testing, devalue Re to 1 dollar = Rs 100, shut down Koodankulam, ISRO and DRDO, free R&R for Yankees, and will demand tech specs of Triumf, Yasen of and so on.
    Modi will show them and their sermons the door politely.

    • KsytriaKhalsa says:

      India without the Indians – Anglo us just continues british thoughts.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Very thought provoking post. Could you please further develop/explain in some detail on the Russia and Israel cards you have mentioned? Thanks in advance.

      • Sir, I am a humble follower of Karnad sir. Yes Americans are cunning. 13 billion dollar deal between Essar and Rosneft was almost killed by Saudi and CIA. Modi and Putin showed them might is right. CIA, China, Saudi, Pakistan and OIC front against India to box us in is here to stay for at least two decades. I will elaborate later. Jai Hind.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      BTW, is it true that Indian will be getting the Yasen class submarine? If so, then that would be wonderful.

      • Sir, I am a humble follower of Karnad sir. Yes Americans are cunning. 13 billion dollar deal between Essar and Rosneft was almost killed by Saudi and CIA. Modi and Putin showed them might is right. CIA, China, Saudi, Pakistan and OIC front against India to box us in is here to stay for at least two decades. I will elaborate later. Jai Hind.

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Ir, Bir and Phatey, all lived in the same village. Just not happily. Ir would keep hitting Bir every now and then. Bir hated it. Ir also went onto play gay boys games with Phatey.

    Bir was puzzled – was Phatey top-side or bottom-side? Or was Bir bottom side!

    Pah! Bir decided let me make up my muscles. If top side is good I will be top side, he thought and if bottom side is good I will go on a crash diet and become bottom side. And if buffed up guys are good, bottom side, II will get a windfall. I am smart – Bir thought.

    A few years hence Bir got big muscles. Not as big as Ir though. Ir got still bigger muscles. Bir was was puzzled still. What the hell I get bigger but he gets bigger still!!!

    Bir thought why not make a show of my power to convince Ir not to hit me again and again. So Bir did 6 push-ups.

    Now Ir thought what the hell is Bir upto. Does Bir want to hit me? Does Bir want to be top side or bottom side?

    Phatey too was puzzled. Phathey thought WTH! I have already been both top-side and bottom-side with Ir – what the hell will Bir do for Ir?

    Meantime Bir thinks wow! I have got both the gay boys thinking. Now I have The Deterrent. With just 6 pushups, I could do so much – I must have done something really smart. So Deterrence means uncertainty. How can I increase this uncertainty or better still control it for both Ir and Phatey. That way I won’t just be safe I will be master of both Ir and Phatey despite my dedh-pasli (aka one and and half muscle).

    Bir goes to Ir and says, look while was building up my dedh-pasli, to protect myself from you. I can also join you in your gay games and then you will have both me and Phatey to play these games with. Bang! Ir knew one thing clearly now – crystal clear – Bir doesn’t have it in him to counter me – Bir will always rationalize and trade in his capacity in future too, just a matter of habit.

    Phatey too goes to Ir and both of them decide let us just let Bir into this threesome. Whatever he does in future, he will turn to any one of us and the we can decide what to do with him.

    Bir is happy too – he believes he will go onto dhai pasli (two and a half muscles) from his earlier dedh pasli with Ir and Phatey not noticing and he can enjoy a threesome too.

    Ir still beats Bir – also a matter of habit. Phatey too does it now – a keep’s jealousy, nothing more. Bir is still justifying his act to himself and his family. Bir thinks that if he can keep repeating it all then the whole family can join him and then there would be one large orgy – sabka sath sabka vikas.

  4. &^%$#@! says:

    I have always wondered as to the credibility/sense of a NFU doctrine by countries having both qualitative and quantitative inferiority vis-a-vis potential antagonists. But then again, India may be a different case and I am sure there are experts who are assiduously working on these matters.

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