ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Enduring Contradictions

Some degree of deterrence, perhaps a more nuanced understanding than is evident in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine, is desirable. For, however abhorrent nuclear weapons may be it would hardly be advisable to depend entirely on the morality of adversaries to feel secure from nuclear threats.

We have crossed the nuclear Rubicon, but where are we going? The Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) formulated by the National Security Advisory Board and released for public debate by the departing Vajpayee government in August 1999, is a remarkable document [National Security Advisory Board 1999]. Not only has it in simple, clear language brought together very divergent views on the controversial issue of nuclear policy, it has shifted the intellectual level of debate, so heated in the aftermath of Pokhran-II, from the polemical to the thoughtful [Basrur 1998]. Its critical importance – and that of the public discussion it has evoked – lies in its agenda-setting role: the consensus it eventually generates within the security elite will lay the foundation for India’s nuclear posture in years to come.

Unfortunately, the discourse so far has not focused adequately on the problematic nature of deterrence theory, on which all nuclear strategy is based. Below, I will argue that deterrence harbours a fundamental and unresolved – indeed, unresolvable – contradiction between its political and operational components. Each carries with it a distinctive logic. The political component impels strategy in a minimalist direction; the operational one toward maximalism. Actual nuclear strategies, reflecting an uneasy balance between the two, are determined by a combination of historical factors, economic and technological capability, and the symbolic value placed upon nuclear weapons. I will conclude by showing that, by tackling the above-mentioned contradiction directly, and in particular by prioritising the components to privilege the political over the operational, it is possible to maximise security by means of an economical and stable minimalist posture.

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