The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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VISION 2100: A STRATEGY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY By General K. Sundarji, Konark, Rs 500

General K. Sundarji was not only India’s most flamboyant chief of staff but also one of the most brilliant theoreticians the Indian army has ever had. During the Rajiv Gandhi regime, he propounded his own theory of involving mechanized force in warfare. He worked on India’s nuclear doctrine post-retirement and died before he could complete the book under review.

In Vision 2100 Sundarji accepts that the world is in the throes of an infotech revolution. He goes on to argue that in the near future, nation-states are going to lose their legitimacy. The rise of subnationalism among various communities would be one of the major reasons for this. One manifestation of the growing political aspiration among communities is the growing insurgencies against multi-ethnic nation-states. In India, support from Pakistan is aggravating the situation. Sundarji believes the trend will continue given the nuclear asymmetry between Pakistan and India. One way out was to acquire nuclear equality with Pakistan over the next 20 years.

India had threatened to attack Pakistan several times during the Eighties if it continued to support insurgents in Kashmir. Pakistan had responded by threatening a nuclear war in exchange. Sundarji writes that in order to prevent Pakistan from using nuclear bombs, India at least requires a limited number of strategic nuclear warheads that are targetted against enemy cities. One of the principal reasons behind Sundarji proposing a “limited” nuclear arsenal for India is the cost factor. Sundarji concludes that a policy of unlimited nuclear weaponization would become unbearable for the Indian economy.

Like all other nuclear theorists of India, Sundarji believed that nuclear weapons serve as deterrence. In their paradigm, nukes cannot be used to win wars. So the Indian theoreticians do not give any importance to costly tactical nuclear weapons designed for use in the battlefield. This is because if nuclear deterrence breaks down during a war between India and Pakistan, then Pakistan would be using strategic nuclear devices against Indian cities. India would then have to respond by targetting Pakistan’s cities.

But Sundarji seems to neglect the principles of the limited nuclear war theory. According to this theory, a nuclear conflagration between India and Pakistan could be confined to the battlefield. If India’s armoured forces, instead of launching deep strikes inside Pakistani territory merely conducted limited penetration, then Pakistan might use tactical nukes only against the Indian military bridgeheads inside its territory. At this stage, Pakistan might not go for a city-busting strategy. But if India used its strategic nuclear bombs against the cities of Pakistan in this scenario, then it would result in an escalation of the conflict. On the other hand, if India does not respond at all with tactical nukes then India’s conventional forces inside Pakistani territory would be wiped out completely. Not only would the morale of the Indian armed forces suffer, but the Indian government could collapse as well. To meet such a contingency, India required tactical nuclear weapons.

India is now moving towards a sort of limited strategic nuclear weaponization probably more due to the economic burden associated with a big nuclear arsenal than because of the conviction of the power elite about the efficacy of Sundarji’s doctrine. One may disagree with Sundarji, but the point remains that the principal aim of the book had been to encourage debate within the civil society regarding the type of nuclear arsenal that India ought to maintain. An adequate nuclear doctrine and force structure are required to maintain deterrence. This is necessary because in case the fragile deterrence between India and Pakistan disintegrates, then the fourth horseman of apocalypse would be in full gallop.

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