New Delhi, Jan. 4: The nuclear command structure announced by India today with a re-assertion of “no-first-use” is aimed at putting the pressure back on Pakistan to give up its low-intensity war in Kashmir.
It is also an attempt on Delhi’s part to establish itself as a responsible nation and reassure the world that its nuclear weapons are in safe hands.
By making it clear that its nuclear posture was that of “no-first-use” but its retaliation to a first strike will be “massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage”, Delhi has given a clear signal to Islamabad to stop cross-border terrorism and infiltration across the Line of Control completely or be prepared for a conventional war.
Significantly, the command structure has been announced less than 24 hours after US secretary of state Colin Powell had a 20-minute telephone conversation with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha.
Indian officials, however, denied that the nuclear issue came up for discussion. The two leaders talked of North Korea’s clandestine nuclear and missile programmes and developments in Iraq, they said.
The announcement also comes at a time when there is serious interaction between Delhi and Washington on security and missile defence system.
The director of the US state department’s policy planning, Richard Haas, who is arriving here tomorrow, will discuss security-related matters with Indian officials on January 6, with special emphasis on South Asia and the Gulf.
Next week, the foreign ministry additional secretary (disarmament and international security affairs), Sheel Kant Sharma, will be off to Washington to hold talks with the Bush administration on missile defence and related issues.
What is also interesting is the addition of the provision that, in the event of a major attack on India by biological or chemical weapons, Delhi will retain its option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.
This stems from the fear, not only in India but also elsewhere in the world specially after the September 11 attack on the US, that the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of terrorists pose a major danger to the international community.
India wants to give out a clear signal to Pakistan and the terrorist outfits operating from its soil that attacks will be fatal for Islamabad.
Apart from India, only Russia and China have a no-first-use nuclear posture. The US and its European allies — Britain and France — insist on first strike. So does Pakistan.
The logic is simple. Countries that feel are superior in conventional war with its rival adopt a no-first-strike posture.
The Indian decision also seeks to show that its nuclear command structure is transparent and, unlike in Pakistan, in the hands of responsible political leader — the Prime Minister.
The US has been asking India to put in place its nuclear command structure as it will help in tightening Delhi’s export control mechanism and provide the opportunity for sophisticated technology transfer.