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Limitation in Nuclear War: Doctrinal Implication for India of Pakistani Nuclear Use

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  • October 23, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Aditya Singh
    Discussants: R. Dahiya and Gaurav Kampani

    Aim and Scope

    Implications of Pakistani nuclear use for India’s nuclear and conventional doctrine. This paper revisits the ‘Sundarji doctrine’ to assess its suitability for limitation and termination of nuclear war. In a nutshell, the ‘Sundarji doctrine’ calls for termination of a nuclear war at the lowest level of escalation.

    The paper then intends to recommend the institution of a standing strategic dialogue mechanism with Pakistan to enable limitation in conflict, even a nuclear one. The continuing imperative of limitation even in nuclear war compels a review of India’s conventional and nuclear doctrines.


    The speaker validated the argument that nuclear initiation, in the context of a future India-Pakistan war, is with Pakistan. Therefore its implication on India’s nuclear and conventional doctrine would emerge. While validating such an argument the speaker put forth the following arguments.

    1. Democracy as the chosen political system in India
    2. India’s war strategy which is offensive, broad front, highly lethal, short duration and red line cognisant vis-à-vis Pakistan’s counter strategy which is likely to comprise war avoidance, conventional defence, counter offensive with strategic reserves if possible, and a resort to asymmetric war.
    3. Nine factors which contribute to deterrence instability are:
      • ‘First use’ not ruled out by Pakistan
      • Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth
      • Questions about the credibility of India’s nuclear doctrine
      • Momentum of conflict
      • Strategic rationale of the Pakistan army
      • Right wing pressure in Pakistan
      • Fog of war
      • Nuclear signaling
    4. The possibility of nuclear use increases with the increase in threat to vital interests. Nuclear threat would heighten as the war progresses and the weaker the Pakistan army gets, especially if it is apprehensive about India’s aims.

    Having put forth the context of future conflict dimensions between India and Pakistan, the speaker then described the “nuclear dimension of the conflict” and nuclear strike (first) options located within it.

    The speaker downplayed “decapitation strike” and “first strike” as viable options. Thereby arguing that nuclear use options of a lower order may appear more attractive. The speaker cited the advantages of late nuclear use as it would not be unambiguously illegitimate in case Pakistan is faced with extinction as a state. Pakistan would be resorting to it at a stage in the war when it is vulnerable, possibly having exhausted other military options.

    In essence the paper argued that late nuclear use could prove more dangerous and damaging to India than early use.

    External Discussant I (R. Dahiya)

    • Nuclear weapons are not for use, but to deter others from using them.
    • Will rationality prevail in a scenario of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan?
    • The imperative of controlling the escalation ladder especially by India at every stage of the conflict.

    External Discussant II (Gaurav Kampani)

    • The paper must also include the naval and air dimensions and not restrict itself to the land component.
    • Include a discussion on Pakistan’s civil-military relations
    • The paper must reduce its dependence on secondary sources and include primary sources such as interviews of retired and serving officers of the armed forces.
    • The paper also needs to be clear as to what “cold-start” doctrine actually is.

    Prepared by S.Rajasimman, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.