India and Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrines: A Comparative Analysis

April 11, 2012

In 1974, India conducted a nuclear test that is termed as a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’. However, in 1998, India conducted a full-scale nuclear test and consequently claimed to attain nuclear capability. It was soon followed by its neighbour, Pakistan, also opting for the same nuclear route. A year later, the draft on nuclear doctrine was presented in August 1999 to the Indian Prime Minister. Subsequently, the Cabinet released it for public debate by the National Security Advisory Board.

The nuclear doctrine of India was perhaps the first of its kind among the known nuclear weapon states of the world. India prepared the expansive nuclear doctrine document before obtaining the capability mentioned in it. This draft, with minor alternations, effectively became India's nuclear doctrine on January 4, 2003, when the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs (CSA) reviewed the operationalisation of India's nuclear doctrine.

A number of scholars including Sumit Ganugly, Kanti Bajpai and Subhash Kapila had been studying on various nuances of nuclear doctrines of the two South Asian neighbours. The following are some of the highlights of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine on a comparative note.

  • India’s strategic perspective for its nuclear doctrine encompasses wider latitude than South Asia in keeping with its strategic potential. Pakistan's perspective as presently evident that it is India-specific.
  • India proclaims "no-first-use ' as a matter of principle. Pakistan is averse to it and disinclined to give any such guarantees, feeling that a bland ‘no-first use’ policy invalidates its deterrence advantage against India.
  • India’s nuclear weapons system will be "TRIAD" (land based ballistic missiles, sea based assets and airborne platforms). Pakistan’s current capacity in this regard is limited to land based and aircraft delivery systems.
  • India and Pakistan’s nuclear doctrines emphasize a 'credible minimum deterrent.’ However, Pakistan’s capabilities in this direction may be questionable.
  • India has revised its nuclear doctrine in 2003 by including any chemical, biological and nuclear attack on its territory to be responded through massive nuclear retaliation. Pakistan has not made any such specific formulations so far.
  • India’s nuclear arsenal will be under civil political control at all times. Pakistani's nuclear arsenal is under a fragile civilian leadership and will remain to be under the de-facto control of the Army Chief and ISI.
  • India will not resort to use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons state or those not aligned with nuclear weapon powers. Pakistan has not made any such explicit pledge in its nuclear policy.

‘Kargil’(1999) and 'Operation Parakram'(2001-02) crises demonstrated that Mutually Assured Destruction deterrence is operating in South Asia and that both sides have fairly recessed redlines for launching a nuclear strike on the other side. But it remains unclear how much of their restraint is not a fallout of direct deterrence, rather a lack of political will or external intervention. Both India and Pakistan seem to be eager to engage in dangerous brinkmanship. Elite leaderships of both countries are acutely aware of the utility of nuclear weapons as a political tool rather than their military implications. Provocative statements are made, often for the consumption of domestic or third-party audiences, which has the potential of sending mixed signals to the adversary.

On the positive side, recent crises have shown three potentially stabilising trends between India and Pakistan: a growing sense of strategic restraint in each country's crisis management behaviour, growing transparency and openness in their strategies, and growing US involvement in crisis resolution.

The incentives to persist with unconventional and low-intensity conflict in the form of state-supported terrorism, state-supported insurgency and cross-border terrorism are likely to continue at the lower end of the conflict spectrum as large scale conventional wars remain risky. This may result in conventional deterrence stability even though the stability might be construed as ‘ugly’ and less than perfect peace with possible ramifications for nuclear doctrines.

Author Note
Dr.Mohammed Badrul Alam is Professor of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.