Deception of Nuclear ‘no first use’ | Hasan Ehtisham and Ahsan Ali Zahid

Nuclear deterrence can only be established when there is considerable threat of nuclear escalation during any crisis

Sandy Berger would turn in his grave and be utterly disappointed that Bruce Riedel had used his obituary to perjure against Pakistan. In a previous article, ‘Riedel’s mythmaking and Pakistan’, we discussed how Riedel was pointing towards the flaws of the US department of state. This time he is pointing towards the flaws of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and how easily the US’ National Security Advisor (NSA) can play with the mind of the US president. With former CIA official like Bruce still on wheels, it is no wonder the US is stuck in so many problems in so many countries.

It seems like no coincidence that days after Barkha Dutt revealed the Indian side in her book, Riedel revealed his side. When Sandy Berger’s obituary surfaced, international and Indian media outlets went berserk taking snipes at Pakistan. Bruce’s spark spurred the media into action on how Pakistan was ready to use nuclear weapons during the Kargil War, which is far from the truth.

Interestingly, the fact is that Pakistani and Indian nuclear capabilities were not fully operational during the Kargil War. This has been stated by General Musharraf, General Kidwai and even the former Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh. These persons are primary sources, not the CIA’s Bruce Riedel and a person who is no more alive to confirm or deny what is being said about him.

According to Barkha Dutt, President Clinton sent Anthony Zinni, the commander-in-chief of the US central command, to Pakistan. There, Zinni warned General Musharaf to pull back troops, otherwise nuclear annihilation would be perpetrated against Pakistan by India. All the way India had been threatening Pakistan with use of nuclear weapons. Yet the CIA, in its top-secret daily brief, wrote that Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment and possible use! In our opinion, Riedel’s story is rather ordinary because everyone knows that Pakistan has neither confirmed nor denied having a nuclear first use policy since the inception of its nuclear weapon programme. What amazes us is that Burkha Datt’s revelation of possible Indian nuclear first use did not trigger any debate in the global arena. If what Datt says is true – which we believe it is – then India and its apologists are lying through their teeth in efforts to make others believe that India has a policy of no first use (NFU).

While NFU has an assured innate fascination for strategists, it is a flawed idea. First, nuclear deterrence can only be established when there is considerable threat of nuclear escalation during any crisis. Second, NFU is a dangerous deception and there is no assurance that even a country that has given such a pledge will not use nuclear weapons once in a crisis. The NFU constraint in India’s nuclear doctrine is just a pretense to win western support for greater access to civil nuclear technology. If India were such a great proponent of NFU, it would not have doubted the Chinese NFU pledge.

Pakistan’s ambiguity towards NFU is more realistic and close to the concept of deterrence. Most nuclear weapons’ states reject the idea of NFU but India and China accepted this notion only at the declaratory level. Pakistan has no reason to feel apologetic about its ambiguity. NFU is a duplicitous policy rather than reliable obligation asserted by realists that first-use posture is mandatory when your survival is at stake.

Genuine first use of nuclear weapons cannot be utterly eradicated by a declaratory policy of NFU. Meanwhile, outstanding vagueness and flattering uncertainty of NFU would perhaps have some deleterious impact on deterrence.

When India revised its nuclear doctrine in 2002 there was pressure building up by many hawks within the National Security Advisory Board for the abandonment of NFU by the Indian government. The board, headed by C V Ranganathan, recommended that “India must consider withdrawing from this commitment as the other nuclear weapons’ states have not accepted this policy.”

The Indian draft of the nuclear doctrine of 1999 advocated first use of nuclear weapons against countries allied to nuclear states. It will not be a coincidence if India abandons its NFU commitment against Pakistan and China in the near future. Contrary to the Indian NFU policy, some analysts are contemplating an alarming shift in Indian strategic thinking from a strict NFU policy.

Ahsan Ali Zahid is a M Phil scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. Hasan Ehtisham is a M Phil scholar at the Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan


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