Interpreting India

A Nuclear World with Vipin Narang

Episode Summary

Vipin Narang joins Srinath Raghavan to discuss India's evolving nuclear strategy and the impact of nuclear weapons around the world.

Episode Notes

Vipin Narang  joins  Srinath Raghavan sits to discuss India's evolving nuclear strategy and the impact of nuclear weapons around the world.



Vipin Narang is a nonresident scholar in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the Frank Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security and Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a member of MIT’s Security Studies Program. His research interests include nuclear proliferation and strategy, South Asian security, and general security studies.

Srinath Raghavan is a nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie India. He is also a professor of International Relations and History at Ashoka University. His primary research focus is on the contemporary and historical aspects of India’s foreign and security policies. He has written a number of books spanning international relations, strategic studies and modern South Asian history. 


Additional Reading:

  1. Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict by Vipin Narang
  2. India's Counterforce Temptations: Strategic Dilemmas, Doctrine, and Capabilities by Christopher Clary and Vipin Narang
  3. Stopping the Bomb: The Sources and Effectiveness of US Nonproliferation Policy by Nicholas L. Miller
  4. The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis


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Episode Transcription

(Intro) Srinath Raghavan: Hello and welcome to Interpreting India. I'm Srinath Raghavan, and this is the podcast presented by Carnegie India. Every two weeks we bring to you voices from India and around the world as we unpack the role of technology, the economy, and foreign policy in shaping India's relationship with the world.

It's been seventy-four years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This year, 2019, also marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War in Europe. Back then, it seemed that the shadow of nuclear weapons that had hung over international politics for almost half a century had begun to recede. Yet today, issues of nuclear strategy proliferation and nuclear security have returned to the center stage of global politics. From North Korea, through Iran, to Russia, the United States is embroiled in negotiation and confrontation over nuclear issues.

Closer home in India a long running debate about India's ‘No First Use’ policy has been rekindled by Defense minister Rajnath Singh’s recent statement, and I quote, “till today our nuclear policy is 'No First Use', what happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” Coming against the backdrop of India's evolving punitive strategy towards terrorism emanating from Pakistan, this raises many important questions. To talk about these issues today, I'm joined by Professor Vipin Narang, who is one of the foremost experts on nuclear proliferation and strategy, South Asian security, and security studies, more broadly. Vipin is an associate professor of political science at MIT and is a member of MIT's security studies program. He is also a non-resident scholar in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. Vipin is the author of a book 'Nuclear strategy in the Modern Era', which won the 2015 ISA International Security Studies Section, Best Book Award. His forthcoming book 'Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation' analyzes how states pursue nuclear weapons. Vipin, welcome to interpreting India.

Vipin Narang: Thanks for having me, Srinath. It's a real pleasure to be here.

Srinath Raghavan: Let's start by taking stock of the bigger picture. I want you to sort of reflect a little bit on what is so distinctive about the current wave of nuclear security issues. A bit has cropped up literally in the last 24 months and have come to the center stage of global politics, when you look back at the kinds of challenges that we faced during the Cold War and in the post-Cold War period.

Vipin Narang: Yeah. So, I've recently started arguing, and characterizing, and thinking about what I call a third nuclear age, and I think we're on the cusp of entering that era. In a lot of ways it's the most severe and significant challenges of the first two nuclear ages. The first nuclear age was essentially the Cold War superpower competition, and that was marked by arms races, destabilizing strategies, like US counter force strategies and damage limitation. The second nuclear age was really about, in the post-Cold War era, stopping new states from acquiring nuclear weapons. US policy was keyed. If you look at the 25 year arc after the Cold War, really it's stopping, you know, so-called rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea. These were the challenges of the second nuclear age. But in the last 24 months we've seen a renewed great power nuclear arms competition and the emergence of new nuclear powers, particularly North Korea and the challenges with Iran.
There's a third feature of this third nuclear age, which I think is also important that mirrors some, maybe the worst practices of the Cold War, and that's a diffusion of technologies to regional powers like in South Asia or Israel, where some of the more destabilizing nuclear strategies might be finding temptation, particularly with the diffusion and the falling costs of surveillance and reconnaissance technologies, accuracy delivery systems. And so, strategies that were probably very expensive for regional powers to think about or pursue are becoming more attractive. And you know, damage limitation strategies that include missile defenses and counterforce strategies are becoming more plausible potentially for regional powers. And so, in the last 24 months we've seen that the INF treaty has dissipated. There's a question about whether the New START treaty will be extended. If it's not, the US-Russia arms competition may for the first time in decades not have a cap on strategic deployed systems. All the while, China, while not necessarily nuclear peer competitor of the US and Russia, is rapidly modernizing and expanding its nuclear delivery systems, if not its nuclear warhead stockpile. North Korea in the last 24 months has announced itself as a de facto nuclear weapons power with an ICBM capability, a thermonuclear weapons capability, and it is the first, at least for the United States, adversarial state since China in 1964 to acquire nuclear weapons. So, for 25 years the United States has tried to stop a state from getting out of the barn, and we have one now that's out of the barn. If you're Iran and see the red carpet laid out for Kim Jong Un while you're getting tweet threats from president Trump, you're thinking it's good to be a nuclear weapons power. And so for at least a quarter century, there had been an effort to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in international politics, but I think there's a renewed interest at the great power level, at the regional level, and the new technologies that are now available to all states in the system make certain strategies, that were destabilizing but may have strategic logic to them, more attractive. So those three features I think really put us on the cusp of a new nuclear era right now, which is essentially a combination of the worst features of the first and the second nuclear age.

Srinath Raghavan: Oh, that's great, and we'll come to many of these specific issues in just a moment, but I want to stay with this point about the sort of technological character of what you call the third nuclear age, because nuclear technology per se is pretty old now, right?

Vipin Narang: Nuclear Weapons are 1950s technology, 1940 is technology, right? It's the bells and whistles and the associated architectures that are becoming more sophisticated, becoming more accurate. The accuracy revolution in the US nuclear force posture was really in the late seventies, early eighties with the Pershing missiles, and then missile defenses. Missile defenses are often not characterized or thought of as, related to nuclear weapons strategy and systems, but they're critical to this concept of 'Splendid First Strike' and missile defenses are very sophisticated technologies and the advances in AI are going to help, with tracking discrimination interception. But without missile defenses, if you're really interested in so-called counterforce strategies, you have to go and get everything. But missile defenses allow you to keep or miss a residual force. Maybe missile defenses aren't perfect, but you may tell yourself in an extreme situation, I might have a sporting chance of intercepting two or three adversarial nuclear systems headed my way. If I can't get them all, at least I can limit the damage significantly. And missile defenses kind of compliment the symphony of counter force strategies. We're seeing advances in all of these systems associated with the targeting piece for nuclear weapons, but also the interception piece with missile defenses.
In the 1950s and sixties, the United States played around with the idea of developing a cruise missile with unlimited range. So the Russians got this idea based on what the US did in the 1960s of putting a mini nuclear reactor, essentially, on a cruise missile to give it unlimited range so that it could penetrate American national missile defenses. The idea of putting an unshielded nuclear reactor, a mini reactor, on a cruise missile with all that hot air flying through, spewing out radiation, leads to the kinds of tragedies and accidents that we saw last week in Russia where five scientists were killed. We may never really know the precise design that the Russians were working on, but it shows two things; One, that the Russians are very scared, and I think the Chinese as well, of future US missile defenses, and two that they're willing to go to great lengths, and costly lengths, to try to defeat the systems. You know, the US experimented with this project Pluto in the fifties and sixties and gave up very quickly because when you do, when you have this kind of design, you're spewing radiation underneath everything the missile flies over, and to date the Russians haven't had great success with this missile. I think the longest test fly was about two minutes and the missile flew about 22 miles. In this latest test it had tragic consequences.

Srinath Raghavan: And how much of this is also a reaction by Russia to the American decision to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty?

Vipin Narang: Yeah, I think part of this, you know, we should step back a second. So the INF treaty was a 1987 arms control treaty, which is often characterized as a nuclear arms control treaty, but it's really about missiles. The INF treaty prohibited the US and Soviet Union at the time and then later Russia from deploying ground launched missiles between five hundred and fifty-five hundred miles. And it's kind of an artifact and arbitrary designation in the Cold War context about why that range was chosen, but it was really so that the United States would remove missiles from Europe that could threaten deep into the Russian homeland and vice versa with the Russians and the European allies. So the footnote to all of this is every other country has a huge inventory of missiles in the intermediate range because their threat environment basically requires intermediate range missiles. Pakistan, India, China, Israel, France may be did at one point, but the treaty was really about missiles and it didn't prohibit air launch or sea launch missiles in this range, just ground launch missiles. Some point in the post-Cold War era, Russia decided it might be useful to have conventional missiles in this range to threaten NATO countries, or the Baltics, or NATO forces, or the US in Europe. And so in the early 2010s, a missile system designated the 9M729 was developed, tested, and we believe deployed by Russia at some point, which violated the INF treaty.

Srinath Raghavan: But that's an American intelligence assessment.

Vipin Narang: That's an American intelligence assessment. And you know, Russia really has implausible denials about the 9M729. So, if we stipulate that Russia developed this and was unilaterally violating the treaty, it would put a lot of pressure on the Obama Administration on how do you deal with a violation in a bilateral treaty where one party is cheating but won't admit it. That kind of led, I think, to the Trump administration's decision to say, look it's a bilateral treaty that one party is violating, and we can either just ignore the violation and let it lapse and not formally withdraw from the treaty. or we can try to put pressure to put Russia to come back into compliance by threatening to withdraw and giving a window. It was kind of a ham-handed strategy at first. The Trump administration announced that it was going to withdraw, but they didn't announce a window. Then under pressure from European allies they said, okay we'll do it six months from now to give the Russians time to come into compliance. The Russians decided to take the gift horse that it was and just say if you're going to withdraw, go for it. We're not going to come back into compliance. As of last month, the INF treaty lapsed as the US withdrew, and my characterization, or reading, of it is that I'm not going to die on a hill for the INF treaty. It prohibited a very small and limited class of missiles that Russia decided it wanted to pursue and develop, and a bilateral treaty where one party is secretly or quietly cheating may not be worth trying to preserve. The bigger issue coming down the road though, is New START. That is a bilateral arms control treaty, nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia, that limits strategic nuclear deployments to 1550. There are some weird accounting rules but that's probably the simplest way to say it. And I will die on a hill for New START because there's a broad bipartisan constituency which supported in the United States the extension of New START. If you're a counter-forcer, you like New START because you know exactly how many Soviet or Russian systems there are, where they are, and it's small and you can go get it. If you're an arms controller, you like New START because it keeps both sides at Cap deployments. So the constituency that opposes New START is the one that believes that the US, in the US at least, can win an unlimited arms race with Russia, and that the US is competitively fitter to do that. But that's a scary prospect that takes us back to an era where the US and Russia may have, it puts so much pressure on Russia, but you know, they may not have a choice, you find yourself in a pretty significant numerical and quantitative arms race in addition to this qualitative arms race that we're seeing with the INF treaty.

Srinath Raghavan: And do you think there are any sort of knock on repercussions of the INF treaty vis-a-vis China's nuclear position?

Vipin Narang: Yeah, I'd say 80% of the rationale for those who, in the US, wanted to pull out of the INF treaty, they use the Russian violations to basically open up the possibility of ground-based deployments in East Asia. Although the US has a significant air and sea launch capability in East Asia, there are advantages to having ground based systems. They're cheaper, they're easier to deploy. You can surge up. If you have places you can deploy them in hosts, which is a big problem for ground-based systems, who's going to host these systems? You can put a knife to the Chinese throat in ways that China is doing to US assets and the region. That is probably going to be the biggest consequence of the INF treaty lapsing. So, I think East Asia is probably where the greatest action and dynamism is going to be with the lapse of the INF treaty.

Srinath Raghavan: And, and let's just maybe stay with North Korea for a moment. You have been tracking the negotiations between the United States and North Korea very closely. You've commented on it very regularly. As of now does that look like there is a method to what is happening or is it a series of steps which are primarily aimed at assuaging various kinds of domestic constituencies that is being played out on both sides and how exactly does Seoul look at all of this, South Korea.

Vipin Narang: Well, Kim Jong Un has a method, and his method is to build nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at all ranges while the process is ongoing, because he never said he was going to stop. I think the easiest way I think to characterize where we are with North Korea today is that there was a real possibility of a so-called interim deal over key facilities in North Korea. Particularly the Yongbyon facility. Opening up and dismantling them ], and taking them away by force is too risky, which I think has meaningful objectives for global security. We don't want North Korea proliferating in other countries like Pakistan or Syria or Iran, and should, God forbid, North Korea ever implode, you don't want it to have a monster size force that you have to secure. So everything seemed like it was leading up to Hanoi, where president Trump had basically indicated that he was willing to accept, not maybe formally or openly, but live with or coexist with a nuclear North Korea, so long as it slowed his program down. But in Hanoi, President Trump decided to swing for the fences and demanded the North Korea give up its entire program.

Srinath Raghavan: But was that on the table from the very beginning? Because there've been voices in the administration which said that that's what we have asked of North Korea all along and that's what they've signed up for and so on.

Vipin Narang: Well, North Korea never signed up for that. North Korea signed up to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is basically, I call it the Baskin Robbins of phrases, because it’s the 31 flavors of denuclearization. That doesn't mean that North Korea is going to unilaterally disarm. Despite what the United States and Secretary Pompeo may say, North Korea has only committed very vaguely to this concept. And to this date, we don't have a definition, a common definition, let alone a North Korean definition of what denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula means. We can infer what they mean from it, and it means basically arms control. It means as long as the US doesn't deploy nuclear assets in the region and doesn't pursue a hostile policy, as North Koreans call it, towards North Korea, it is willing to place limits on testing its weapons, maybe on fissile material production. But it has never said it's going to give up his nuclear weapons program. So, Hanoi is probably the best deal where we're going to get, and we may look back at Hanoi with regret that we passed up on it because it's unclear whether that deal will be back on the table. But since Hanoi fell apart, Kim Jong Un, I think was at home, was humiliated and the North Koreans kind of went into hibernation for a little while to figure out why they walked away from Hanoi empty handed. A lot of people lost a lot of face in the North Korean system because everyone, I think, thought that president Trump was going to go there to ratify Kim Jong Un as a nuclear weapons power. When he walked away empty handed, we've seen the consequences. North Korea said that the US has until the end of the year to so-called change its calculation towards North Korea on scoping and sequencing. But we've also seen, and these are short range missiles and president Trump can deny that and rightfully say, look, they're not ICBM, so Kim Jong Un never said he would stop testing these, but there they're new systems that Kim Jong Un has developed while this process has been ongoing. They're solid fuel, they can maneuver in flight. They're a nightmare for regional missile defenses. And they display this prototype of, what they want us to think is, an SSBN. All of those are indicators that Kim Jong Un can put the pressure on the United States and South Korea also. Not only are those missiles a nightmare for regional missile defenses, but if those missiles show up in other countries, there's a lot of demand for very sophisticated maneuverable, short range ballistic missiles out there. Iran, Syria, Pakistan may all be interested in this kind of technology. So without a deal, there's a real concern that some of these missiles and this technology may show up somewhere else. And this puts, as we said, South Korea in a very difficult position. In fact, I was just in Seoul right before I came here and my sympathies go out to South Korea. They find themselves in a very difficult position. President Moon and the administration is fighting, has opened fronts with Japan, the United States over cost sharing, North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and the peace process. So if you're a South Korea right now you have a very bad hand to play. You're being shaken down by your formal ally. The East Asia security architecture is crumbling because of the fight between Japan and South Korea. All the while, North Korea basically, has signaled to President Moon that he's unwilling to talk to President Moon anymore, because why should he? He's gotten President Trump. So President Moon gives this speech on August 15th in Seoul extending the olive branch to Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong on basically slapped him in the face with it.

Srinath Raghavan: And if you are Iran, how are you going to be looking at these negotiations between the United States and North Korea at a time when the United States has torn up what seemed like a perfectly fine agreement.

Vipin Narang: Squaring the circle on the strategies between North Korea and Iran is very difficult because you know, the reason why the US and, I think, the international community in general is so keyed up on stopping states from getting nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War era is because you don't want to deal with a horse that gets out of the barn. Because once it does everybody recognizes you can't do much to put it back in. You can only slow it down. And all of the benefits that North Korea is getting, red carpet treatment at Singapore, a lot of love, literally love, from president Trump, are things that a state like Iran would love to get. So what is the message and the signal? Well, if you get nuclear weapons and you succeed, then maybe you can get it. So I may threaten you before it but if you can successfully acquire nuclear weapons, surreptitiously or outflank the United States, then there's actually recognition at the end of the tunnel, and potentially some rewards. And so the strategy with North Korea actually undermines the strategy with Iran, and incentivizes Iran to move beyond just what it had in the JCPOA, which was essentially a very small nuclear hedge. By all accounts that JCPOA is working when one accepts what the point of the JCPOA was, and that's the Iran-US nuclear deal with the P5 plus 1. The point of the JCPOA was not to eliminate Iran's intent to pursue nuclear weapons, which is a misnomer. It was designed to incentivize Iran from acting on that intent, catch it if it did, and punish it severely if it was caught cheating. And by all accounts it was working. So best case scenario, I think for the Trump administration with Iran right now, given that President Trump doesn't want a war with Iran, and another war in the Middle East would be a disaster for the United States. I think that would probably be pretty much the decline in the end of the United States as a superpower. I don't think we can afford it. So what does that leave you? It leaves you with essentially rebooting the JCPOA and calling it something else. I think that's probably where this ends up with Iran.

Srinath Raghavan: Okay, let's talk a little bit about South Asia. You've recently co-authored an article in the Journal of International Security with Chris Clary, where you somewhat presciently argued that India is demonstrating a discernible interest in pursuing counterforce nuclear posture up. Just to explain to our listeners a counterforce nuclear posture is one which is aimed at the adversary's nuclear capabilities, whereas a counter value in the jargon is basically targeting population centers and so on. And in this article, Vipin, you mentioned that it is extremely difficult to execute such a strategy, but why then is India looking to go in that direction? And it seems that the recent statements by the Indian Defense minister, you know, which kind of put a bit of a question mark without wanting to do so perhaps on India's 'No First Use' policy seems to support your argument that there is at least a degree of rethinking within the system about the utility or perhaps even the wisdom of having a policy like that. So what is triggering all of this?

Vipin Narang: Right. So, I think let's start at the beginning. India's security dilemma with Kargil. So the year after Indian and Pakistan test nuclear weapons, Pakistan takes its nuclear weapons capability out for a test drive and initiates the Kargil war. So you say, okay, we've seen this before, but it was under the nuclear overhang and there was a lot of caution and concern about what this would look like with two mutual nuclear powers. Then in 2001, Pakistan took its nuclear weapons out for another test drive and sponsored the terrorist attack on Parliament in Delhi. That led to Operation Parakram where Indian strike force stood poised and ready for 10 months, and then were sent back home. The narrative Pakistan had was, wow, this Ferrari really has some speed and that began India's first search for a solution to the security problem of how you retaliate against terrorist attacks in your main land under the nuclear overhang. That birth basically the concept of Cold START, right? So, the initial push was maybe we can develop conventional strategies to punish Pakistan under the nuclear overhang. And all of that reorganization, rethinking was about developing credible, conventional retaliatory options to deter Pakistan from doing it again. So for several years, this was the effort, I think, while India's nuclear weapons program was slowly growing and developing reach, and looked like an assured retaliation strategy, which is, look we have this conventional strategy, but if you use nuclear weapons on our forces or our territory, we are going to retaliate massively. We have a no first use policy, but you know, the conventional retaliation is going to have space because if you try to defeat or deter that with nuclear use, Pakistan, we will destroy seven of your cities. Then comes a Bombay attack, an audacious attack by any accounts, right? If this, if a Lashkar-e-Taiba type of outfit had done this, if something like this had happened in New York, can you imagine the American reaction? If there was ever an opportunity or a justification for taking Cold START out for a test drive, it was the Bombay attack, and the Indian Government didn't do it. There are good reasons why I think India was restrained in that particular episode. What would it achieve at that point, right? And there was a lot of work on intelligence afterwards and developing more rapid responses, and prevention was basically the best defense. But, Pakistan walks away from 2008 saying, wow, you know, this was an audacious attack and there was nothing. India's conventional options, the Cold START options were neutralized. I think that began a push on two separate doors which were related, which was, okay, your ground option is probably not available or practical because it doesn't solve the fundamental problem. How do you signal? You have limited aims, how do you signal or restrain yourself if you start getting drunk on success? You have ground forces operating in Pakistan, so it's very difficult to convince the adversary that you'll stop or where the limited aims are. And so you inherently run up on the nuclear red lines. But standoff strikes may not, right? I think what we saw in Balakot was the culmination of a decades’ worth of thinking and development of standoff capability, where you can hit limited targets from the air, and where the nuclear threat is irrelevant. But coupled with that, I think as well you have to worry about what happens if there is escalation. And I think this is where the thinking about counter force may have started getting attractive. And let me be clear, I don't know or think that India has a full counter force capability. Our article was identifying a lot of the trends that suggest that it might be thinking about it. There is a strategic attraction of it, even despite all the major downsides to it. That is, if you get escalation rather than trying to calibrate your response below the nuclear threshold or the nuclear overhang, just get rid of it altogether, right? Or at least credibly threaten to do it. Right. Exactly. And so here are the scenario is if Pakistan is seen to be operationalizing its nuclear capabilities, you don't give it a chance to get any off and you have limited number of, especially Pakistani, strategic nuclear forces. If you're in Delhi, you know, the Nasrs are deployed in the theatre, but they can't range your cities, right? Sixty, seventy kilometres can't range the cities particularly well. So if you're a planner in Delhi, you're really worried about the forces that can hit your cities. Those systems number in the tens, not the tens of thousands that the US and Russia were dealing with. And so it's not implausible that you think, look, I've invested a lot in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance. I have an a growing array of pretty sophisticated missile defenses for my key cities. I have accurate systems. In extremists, if I have to go and get, you know, if I can get 80 or 90% of Pakistan strategic nuclear force and eliminate the nuclear overhang, if it looks like they're going to use those nuclear weapons, better to have to intercept three or four rather than 30 or 40. That by itself, I think there's a deterrent logic. You know, if you put pressure on Pakistan that look, you may not have this nuclear capability to deter our conventional retaliation and opens up the space for conventional retaliation. There is not a complete, there's not an insane logic there about why India might be interested in counterforce. I mean, there's a reason why the United States has persistently had huge doses of counterforce in its nuclear strategy.

Srinath Raghavan: But then the problem would be that Pakistan would have, what you would call, a 'use it or lose it' dilemma, right? They'd want to sort of look to using nuclear weapons early on in a crisis rather than reserve them.

Vipin Narang: And this is where the linkage to 'No First Use' comes in, that I think wasn't appreciated, or was appreciated by a very small number of people because they're often viewed as independent. If you do have an interesting counterforce, you have to go first. You cannot allow the adversary to get any of its weapons off because you have a very tight accounting of how many weapons you have to assign to their weapons, and you basically have to, I mean, ideally you catch them napping, but if you can't catch them napping, you have to go get them before they get any off. So you have to leave open this possibility of pre-emption. From the beginnings, although India had a 'No First Use' declaration and the official docker in 2003, minus the chem bio caveat, so let's leave that aside. India and Indian leaders, Chris and I argue and show, have been persistently and consistently uncomfortable with an absolute no first use policy and have always argued about this preemption exception. If you have evidence that Pakistan is about to use nuclear weapons and you knew it, you can't sit back and let them do it. Vajpayee stood there in Jalandhar in 2000 after Kargil and said, essentially, if you think we're going to sit back and let you drop a bomb on our citizens and we know it, you have another thing coming. And then there's a spin the steady erosion for especially a preemption exemption. Shivshankar Menon, in his memoirs, a general noggle in his writings. Then defense minister Parikar talked very clearly about why should I bind myself when push comes to shove, it's very hard to make credible in practice. Nothing physically would stop any country from using nuclear weapons as and when it chooses to do so. And ironically, I think Indian strategic planners have discounted China's NFU for the very same reasons that many people questioned the sanctity of India's NFU, which is when push comes to shove, what stops China from using nuclear weapons first. And then we had the RM statement, which was, I think, the clearest erosion of the official doctrine, which basically said, look, we have 'No First Use' up until now, but you know, what we do in the future depends on the circumstances. Which is stating the obvious in many ways, but explicitly doing so, I think, you know, essentially renders the 'No First Use' pledge to India's adversaries hollow and meaningless. I mean, it was crumbling anyway, but I think this was essentially the highest level and most official erosion of it. Because, there are two options; one, you can do what India has done, which is steadily inject ambiguity into it, or revise the doctrine. The problem with revising the doctrine is if you actually formally rolled back NFU it is much more aggressive and much more provocative than if you just inject ambiguity into it and render it a hollow for de-turn purposes.

Srinath Raghavan: So I suppose in the post-Balakot scenario, particularly with kind of this ambiguity around the NFU being articulated in somewhat different ways. So we are talking about a situation where any future, God forbid, a crisis between India and Pakistan is likely to look somewhat different, at least from New Delhi and Islamabad's perspective in terms of the kinds of incentives that they have, I don't think the earlier threshold is, can be quite taken for granted. So, we are entering somewhat new terrain now.

Vipin Narang: Right. And I think, I think the impact will not be necessarily on use in a conflict. It will be about preparation for use. And, in Balakot to this day, there's still been no clarity on, Admiral Lanba's statement that India may have deployed the INS Arihant in the middle of the crisis. You know, the statement was that India deployed its plural nuclear submarines. There are only two, a conventional SSN, the INS Chakra, and then the SSBN, the nuclear arms submarine, the INS Arihant. That was never clarified even when he was asked. And I think the aim was to inject ambiguity, or maybe it was deployed and everybody saw it, maybe nobody knows whether weapons were on board. I for one would bet that nuclear weapons were not put on board, but we don't know. They wanted Pakistan and the world to know that India was preparing in the event that Pakistan did anything with nuclear weapons, and I think Pakistan took note of that. So in future crises we may see operationalization, and dispersal and deployment of nuclear weapons earlier than we have in the past and I think that's a real concern, especially if Pakistan is worried about Indian preemption. There is another potential implication of the RM statement which is, are there other circumstances in which India may find it useful to use nuclear weapons first besides preemption? And this has opened the door to a whole other possibility in the China scenario, if there is, God forbid, ever a significant conventional war and India finds itself, you know, on the back foot of that, would it ever consider using nuclear weapons first on Chinese conventional forces? Would it ever consider using nuclear weapons first in a Pakistan contingency in a conventional war and not just for nuclear preemption? These are open questions. Personally, I think my reading of it is, a lot of this is about preemption towards Pakistan. But one of the problems with ambiguity is that at this point I think adversaries are probably ruling nothing out. And if that was the aim of the RM statement, which was very carefully scripted, by the way, I mean, this isn't an off the cuff remark. He goes to Pokhran on the death anniversary of Vajpayee, says 'No First Use' was great up until now, but what we do in the future will depend on the circumstances. No one can say this is a personal opinion. This is an official Government of India Policy Statement. It was not a change in doctrine, I get attacked and saying, "oh, the doctrine is not going." I don't think any will ever change the doctrine, but these policy statements have meaning and go a long way in eroding the sanctity of the 'No First Use' pledge.

Srinath Raghavan: We will link your article with Chris Clary on this, in the show notes, so that our readers can follow up and see how you sort of make the case that you do. Vipin, tell us, what are you reading these days? Is there anything that you'd recommend to our listeners to help them make sense of all of this stuff?

Vipin Narang: Uh, both terrifying and wonderful to see a lot of great scholarship out there by young scholars working on a variety of issue areas. Two of my students have new books out that are well worth reading and buying. Nick Miller's 'Stopping the Bomb' about US not nuclear, nonproliferation policy. Mark Bell has a book soon coming out with Cornell press on emboldenment, which is, I think, really timely. Jeffrey Lewis is 2020 commission on North Korea was a fiction book about how we ended up with an accidental or inadvertent North Korea nuclear use on the United States. There's a lot of, uh, both heavy scholarship and more fun reading on all of these topics.

Srinath Raghavan: Great. And we'll link to all of those books and recommendations on the show notes. Vipin Narang, it’s been a pleasure to have you at Interpreting India.

Vipin Narang: Thank you, Srinath. Thank you, Carnegie India.

(Outro) Srinath Raghavan: Thank you for listening to this episode of Interpreting India. A podcast presented every two weeks, by Carnegie India. I'm Srinath Raghavan, for more information about the podcast and the production team, you can follow us on social media and visit our webpage.