[ The following document on nuclear risk reduction measures between India and Pakistan was released by the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament (MIND) in Delhi on June 18, 2002. Other organisations which have endorsed this text in India are the following: Corpwatch, Saheli for Women, Womenís Initiative for Peace in South Asia, Indian Social Action Forum, Popular Education and Action Centre, Focus, Movement Against Nuclear Weapons (Tamil Nadu), Janeethi (Kerala).]



1. There is a special danger of nuclear conflict breaking out in South Asia. This is not simply Western propaganda but simple common sense. Nuclear weapons are most likely to be used in wartime or near-wartime conditions when mutual suspicions and tensions are greatest. It is the continuous hot-cold war that has been going on between India and Pakistan for 55 years, and which shows no signs of diminishing, that makes the face-off between these two nuclear equipped rivals so serious.
2. There is an acute need, therefore to prevent through design, miscalculation or accident, nuclear conflict between these two countries. We need therefore to put in place nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs). However, we must be clear about the limitations of NRRMs. We can try and make South Asia less unsafe, nuclearly speaking, but we cannot make it nuclear-safe except by making it nuclear-free, i.e., eliminating nuclear weapons from the region and from the world. NRRMs must be seen as transitional measures we adopt while constantly pursuing disarmament. They are not a substitute for nuclear disarmament.
3. As a form of confidence building measures or CBMs they suffer from the basic problem facing CBMs, namely that it is the political context in which they operate that establishes how effectively they will work. It is not the effective verifiability of CBMs that creates trust but the pre-disposition to trust that is the best guarantee that CBMs will work effectively and promote even greater trust. Thus throughout the Cold War, NRRMs between the US and USSR were few and feeble. It was only after the end of the Cold War that most effective NRRMs were put in place. Similarly, the whole history of CBMs between India and Pakistan has been dismal. Nevertheless, insofar as NRRMs can raise the threshold of nuclear safety even if only by some degree, they are valuable and necessary.
4. Apart from the deliberate use of nuclear weapons by one side or the other, there are four potential risks that NRRMs must address. This is a) use through miscalculation because of faulty information processing or faulty technologies; b) unauthorized use of nuclear weapons; c) accidents, fires and explosions in the vicinity of nuclear weapons; d) rumours of imminent use and as result of this, panic behaviour in crowed urban centers.
5. The best and strongest form of NRRMs is to separate the nuclear warheads from the delivery systems (missiles, planes, boats) and store them and monitor them elsewhere. This means, in effect, their non-deployment and would be the best precaution to ensure the needed safety.
6. However, since improving safety from inadvertent use or accidents requires reducing the state of readiness of the nuclear weapons system there is always a trade-off between the demands of safety and the demands of having an active nuclear deterrent system. This is why there can never be complete or assured safety as long as one also wants to have a serviceable nuclear deterrent system. Actually, security through nuclear deterrence is an illusion and this doctrine as well as nuclear weapons should be discarded. But if one believes in this doctrine then it is still best to sacrifice a considerable measure of readiness in the interests of securing a greater measure of safety.
7. India and Pakistan should strive to secure an agreement to reciprocate such safety measures and establish procedures to confirm that each side is doing what it is supposed to do. It is India that must take the initiative since Pakistan officially has already declared it will not be the first to openly deploy nuclear weapons, nor the first to undertake further nuclear tests.
8. Since India says it only wants a minimum nuclear deterrent and that it does not need to have further tests to establish this minimum, it should immediately and permanently close down the Pokharan Test site. This would make it much more likely that Pakistan would do the same. Both governments could also negotiate to bring this about.
9. Transparency and accountability to the Indian public demands that India do two things. a) It should replace the inordinately secretive1962 atomic Energy Act with new legislation separating the military and civilian dimensions, making the civilian sector accountable to Parliament and the public on the lines of procedures and laws governing civilian atomic energy establishments elsewhere such as in the US and Britain. b) If India is genuine about its commitment to No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons to any nuclear weapons state and No Use towards any non-nuclear state then the government must repudiate the Draft Nuclear Doctrine which aims to develop a whole range of weaponry, tactical nuclear weapons, battlefield nuclear weapons, etc. Instead it should together with Pakistan initiate steps for fulfilling the objectives outlined in the preamble to the resolution on Reducing Nuclear Danger - A/56/24C - adopted on 29 November 2001 in the UN General Assembly.


The Special Danger in South Asia

Nuclear conflict is most likely to break out between two nuclear weapons states at political loggerheads with each other. For the Cold War period, it was the face-off between the former Soviet Union and the USA that was correctly considered the most dangerous confrontation. Though the systemic rivalry between these two giants meant involvement on opposing sides in Third World wars and conflicts, the two countries shared no common border, their troops were not deployed directly against each otherís, and the ëwarí between them remained a ëcoldí (essentially ideological) one. Even so, it was still a close run matter with the October Cuban missile crisis of 1962 leaving them and the world a hairís breadth away from a nuclear holocaust.

In South Asia there is every reason for alarm. India and Pakistan are territorially contiguous countries, sharing a long common border. Moreover, from their very inception as independent countries there has been a bitter, ongoing and unresolved dispute over Kashmir. Already four wars (1948, 1965, 1971, 1999) have taken place between them with Kashmir at the heart of three of these wars. The last one took place after both had become declared nuclear powers. From December 2001, the two countries have placed their armies on high alert and have deployed them all along the border. Never before in peacetime have their respective troops been placed on such high alert and at such levels of preparedness and mobilization for so long and so continuously. The India-China dispute is by contrast far less dangerous. Since it is in wartime or near-wartime conditions that mutual tensions and hostilities are greatest and therefore the temptation to use nuclear weapons greatest, the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in the world today is South Asia precisely because of this face-off between India and Pakistan. This is after all the only part of the world that has had a continuous hot-cold war (which shows no signs of diminishing) between the same two rivals, each of which is now nuclearly equipped.

In such a situation when the possibility of use of nuclear weapons whether by design, miscalculation or accident is so real, there is a vital need for establishing, to whatever extent possible, nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs). This much even the pro-nuclear bomb lobbies in both countries can accept and endorse. However, in contrast to nuclear disarmers they believe that this is enough to make the region ënuclear safeí and that one can then go on comfortably ëliving with nuclear weaponsí. This is dangerous thinking. Real safety comes only from total elimination of nuclear weapons. Talk of institutionalizing NRRMs can, in the wrong circles, serve to legitimize having them in the first place. All the more reason, therefore, why the nuclear disarmament and peace movement, when talking about NRRMs must properly contextualise the whole issue.

The Political Context of NRRMs

We must never allow NRRMs to become a substitute or diversion from the necessity of constantly focusing on the effort to bring about total regional (and global) disarmament. That is to say, NRRMs are to be seen as, at best, transitional measures to lower dangers while the pursuit of full disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons in South Asia and the world at large continues. Moreover, we must constantly remind people that it is an illusion to think NRRMs provide adequate assurances of safety. They can, properly instituted, make the situation less bad than one without NRRMs in place. But they do not reduce risk to the point of making living with nuclear weapons acceptable. And of course, they cannot guarantee safety because they cannot guarantee non-use of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the extent to which NRRMs can be instituted are themselves limited by the very nature of the political context which calls for their establishment!

This point needs to be clearly understood. NRRMs are also supposed to act as crucial confidence-building measures (CBMs). They are supposed to operate in such a way that each side believes the other will not ëcheatí and will comply by their respective obligations. That is to say, NRRMs to work properly must promote trust through assurances of compliance. Technical verification of NRRMs is thus meant to show that there is such proper compliance. Unfortunately, this is putting the cart before the horse! In order to put a full array of comprehensive and desirable NRRMs in place you first need to have a considerable measure of political trust existing between rivals. And in order for both sides to believe that there is proper compliance and no cheating, there has to be some considerable measure of political trust and respect of the other side, since no amount of technical verification can guarantee the complete absence of cheating, or the impossibility of doing so without detection. Verification techniques can at most provide very reasonable assurances of compliance or of detection if there is non-compliance, not absolute certainty.

This is the key point, which bedevils all forms of confidence-building measures between hostile opponents: it is not CBMs that effectively create political trust, but the pre-disposition to trust that makes CBMs, including NRRMs, effective and ever more acceptable. The whole history of both the Cold War and of India-Pakistan relations confirms this crucial point. Despite constant talk and some limited practice of CBMs between these two countries over the decades, these have never gone far; they have not significantly or crucially promoted trust but have themselves repeatedly been hostages to the lack of trust between the two sides. Similarly, it is vital to remember that throughout the Cold War both sides had their nuclear missiles on high alert (indeed, launch on warning); that whatever NRRMs existed during the Cold War era were very feeble; and that the real breakthrough in the establishment of a serious and comprehensive set of necessary NRRMs between Russia and the USA only took place after the Cold War began to be dismantled. It was not the establishment of greater nuclear safety through the installment of NRRMs that led to greater trust between the two countries, but the prior breakthrough in politics (the ending of the Cold War) and the establishment of greater trust between the two countries that led to the establishment of more and better NRRMs and therefore greater nuclear safety. Even so, both countries still retain their weapons on high alert.

So even as we try to put forward and establish NRRMs between India and Pakistan, we should be under no illusions that we can go very far along this course or that they will work as well as we would want them to, in the absence of sufficient political trust between the two countries. In short, NRRMs are not a substitute for disarmament which itself both promotes, and comes from, better political relations. Even with the best will in the world or with some NRRMs in place, the risks of a nuclear outbreak between politically hostile rivals remains real and therefore there is vital need to continue focussing on nuclear disarmament as the only real method of reliable and assured nuclear safety.

Potential Risks Needing To Be Tackled

1) The danger of miscalculation through faulty information processing and thereby the launching of a nuclear weapons delivery system.

During the Cold War, just for the period between 1977 and 1984, there were 20,000 false alarms of which 1000 were serious enough in the US to have to go to the next higher level of command for evaluation. For Russia the time between warning and possible attack by the US was shorter since American submarines were much closer to the USSR than vice versa. Here the warning time instead of the 25 minutes taken for a Soviet missile to reach the US was only 10 minutes. But regardless of whether the time was 25 minutes or only 10, there is a disturbing problem here that greatly weakens the claim of the pro-nuclear lobby everywhere. The usual argument between pro-bomb and anti-bomb exponents revolves around the issue of whether or not nuclear deterrence works? But the very practice of the nuclear systems of the USSR and the USA raised another question: did nuclear deterrence even exist when there was simply not enough time to properly decide whether or not oneís enemy had launched a nuclear attack and therefore whether or not one was retaliating or, in fact, mistakenly initiating an attack?

Assume that there existed 25 minutes before the time a Soviet missile was launched and landed on a possible US target. 10-12 minutes would need to elapse in order for the missile to be identified, its path tracked and this necessary information to be relayed to top command. Another 2-3 minutes would elapse before this could be communicated to the President. Any decision by the President in order to be communicated and then properly conveyed to all necessary stations (whether or not to retaliate or whether this was to be treated as a false alarm) required another 8-10 minutes. This means that even if the President had the communications apparatus to be able to immediately consult with his top political staff by phone, he had literally 1 or 2 minutes at the most to take a decision before a possible landing of a Soviet missile or missiles which could be directed at the countryís main nuclear command, control and communications posts. In short, there is no way that any President within 25 minutes could properly judge and decide on whether deterrence was working and this was a false alarm, or not. For Russia, even the couple of minutes to decide did not exist. Both the USSR and the USA established throughout the Cold War era, ëlaunch-on-warningí systems which meant that even before the short time taken for an opponentís missile to land, their own systems of launching would take place. Thus the space and time to allow for human decision was immensely shortened. So what is all this business about deterrence operating when there was never throughout the Cold War period any real check on accidental launch by an opponent or false alarm by oneís own system?

In the face of this stark reality, a desperate counter argument would be the claim that deterrence is essentially a political-psychological phenomenon. So as long as one side had ëenoughí nuclear weapons of sufficient sophistication and readiness, then this would ensure that no political decision to attack would be taken by the opponent. However, on closer inspection this argument also breaks down. Since ëenoughí and ësufficientí are not absolute measures but are relative to what the opposition has, then oneís own side in order to feel ësecureí must feel confident of ëriding outí a first-strike by the opponent and still being able to inflict ëunacceptableí damage on it in a second-strike. But if the opponentís arsenal is constantly improving, quantitatively and qualitatively, then one has to improve/expand oneís own arsenal. This becomes yet another dimension making the arms race inevitable.

But, just as we clarified earlier that trust is a pre-requisite for NRRMs to properly work rather than their consequence, here too the issue of trust becomes central. Neither side can ëtrustí what it ëseesí of the weapons-preparedness of the other side nor trust its opponentís bona fides regarding its willingness to use its weapons in a first strike, even if there exists a No First Use commitment. So both sides will not only invest constantly in improving/expanding their arsenals but also in enhancing the ëuse-readinessí of these arsenals. This is the other level of practical behaviour that is imposed by the ëlogicí of deterrence thinking. In this constant pressure for foreshortening the time taken for initiation or retaliation ëdeterrenceí itself becomes irrelevant since the steadily growing danger now comes from the ever-decreasing margins for errors of many kinds. The less sophisticated the nuclear weapons systems of a country the more easily will a catastrophically dangerous level of error-proneness be reached. This is obviously the case in South Asia.

In the case of India and Pakistan, not only does neither country have the sophisticated early warning systems that the USSR and the USA had, but the flight times of missiles between the two countries is as little as 5 to 8 minutes. Correction for launch by miscalculation through false alarm is hardly possible if here too both countries establish nuclear missile systems based on the principle of ëlaunch on warningí. Indiaís declaration of No First Use (NFU) is not an assurance that Pakistan will trust India not to make a first strike. Nor will India trust Pakistan not to use its missiles first. Both countries will thus be pushed to make preparations like ëlaunch on warningí. In 1982, Russia declared a No First Use policy (which was rescinded only in the early nineties) but that did not stop either Russia or the US from resorting to ëlaunch on warningí postures throughout the eighties.

This problem of inadvertent launch through failure of technology is particularly serious for countries like India and Pakistan. Nuclear weapons systems require a vast array of very sensitive high-tech components for all phases of command, control, communications, intelligence gathering, information processing or C3I2. Any survey of the past record of performance of India and Pakistan shows how routine are their technology failures. Though Indiaís record is good in certain high-tech areas, there is a big difference between space launches and nuclear weapons systems. Failure in the former domain merely leads to ëdoing it againí. Not so if missiles/bombs are launched. Also, unlike space launches in which launches are made periodically, with nuclear weapons systems, launches are never supposed to be made. But once decided upon are supposed to work with full efficiency. That is to say, these are not ëactiveí but ëdormantí systems that are expected to be fully efficient and operational if and when required. But by virtue of their dormant character, alertness in respect to safety erodes over time. This is the problem of almost inevitable fatigue in respect of maintaining effective watchfulness over systems that are dormant and in fact not ever supposed to be used.

2) The danger of nuclear weapons being used without authorization.

In this time of heightened alarm over terrorism and of terrorist groups/individuals getting hold of nuclear weapons, the more likely danger of unauthorized use tends to become obscured. Every country that has a nuclear weapons system has to be worried about a pre-emptive strike of massive or significant proportions from its opponent aimed at decapitating its command structure as well as its deployed military and missile installations. This possibility is sought to be countered by establishing some balance between centralization and de-centralisation of command, communications and control systems, e.g., through the existence of a hierarchy of alternative chains of command. But the basic dilemma remains. There has to be a considerable degree of dispersion of not just deployed nuclear weapons and their delivery systems but also of their command and control. This always raises the spectre of both unauthorized use of such weapons in certain tension-ridden circumstances (especially during what is called the ëfogí of wartime conditions) by someone lower down the chain of command, as well as the spectre of such dispersed components of the nuclear weapons system falling into other unofficial hands. Whatever the precautions taken there is simply no guarantee that either or both of these eventualities will never occur. They can occur.

3) Accidents, fires and fuel explosions in the vicinity of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear warhead is a shell of powerful chemical high explosive (HE) surrounding a core of plutonium or enriched uranium. This HE is meant to trigger the nuclear chain reaction. Though separated from the core, this HE can be ignited by fires/explosions in the vicinity of the bomb or warhead. This vulnerability is greater when the nuclear weapons are kept on high alert and especially when rockets are liquid-fuelled. Both the Prithvi short-range missiles of India and the Ghauri short-range missiles of Pakistan are as yet liquid-fuelled rockets. There is a long history of HE detonations for both the US and the USSR despite their efforts to hush this up.

If the HE is ignited it can result in any of the following: a) the HE burns but does not detonate. Limited amounts of plutonium or enriched uranium are released into the environment causing local radioactive pollution. b) There is detonation of the HE with resulting vaporization of plutonium and its release into the atmosphere. This leads by ordinary standards into massive damage with inhalation and ingestion into the body and increased risk of cancers. c) There is the kind of detonation that actually brings about a nuclear chain reaction and explosion of the nuclear bomb. This is the least likely of the three scenarios detailed but, of course, it cannot be ruled out from taking place.

4) Rumours and panic behaviour, e.g., stampedes (ërush to get outí) in crowded urban centers.

This is the kind of scenario that can develop in wartime or near-wartime conditions when such rumours are likely to become most believable. The bigger and more crowded the metropolises the more damaging the consequences of such panic. And of course, it is the bigger metropolises that are the routine and natural targets of the nuclear weapons systems of the rival country or countries.

What Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures (NRRMs) Can Be taken?

2) The best form of risk reduction is to carry out a strong form of de-alerting of nuclear weapons systems. De-alerting means that the weapons should not ever be put in a state of instant readiness to use. This can take three forms, ranging from the mildest to the strongest. The weakest measure is simply to de-target, i.e. not have the missiles already targeted on the enemy sites. However, re-targeting involves adjustments that take only minutes, so this doesnít amount to much. Better is to extend the time between deployment and launching so that preparing the final launch can be a matter of hours, days or more. Best and safest of all, is de-mating or separating the warheads from the delivery systems so that a much longer time, not just days or hours but weeks, are required to get things ready. Storing the warheads well away from the delivery systems and carefully monitoring their storage means in effect, non-deployment of nuclear weapons and is, from the safety point of view, far and away the most sensible approach. Incidentally, both India and Pakistan have themselves endorsed resolutions at the UN (A/c.1/55/L.32/Rev.1, 23 October 2000) calling for de-alerting measures even if the specific forms of de-alerting have not been spelled out.
3) The safety provided by this separation of warheads from delivery systems can be further reinforced by keeping the warhead in a disassembled state with the HE separated from the nuclear core. This would increase the time that it would take for a country to launch a nuclear attack, and thus lower the probability of an accidental initiation of nuclear war. This, of course, is the central point. There is an inevitable trade-off between the claims of nuclear weapons safety and nuclear weapons readiness as required by doctrines of security based on the principle of nuclear deterrence! You can only go so far in trying to make nuclear weapons systems ësafeí and still try to retain a deterrent system. So donít fool yourself or others into thinking a nuclear weapons system can be completely or even reliably safe. But you can try and make things less unsafe and in doing so you have to sacrifice speed of readiness. This is a sacrifice that is worth making in the interests of greater safety and sanity.

4) There should also be some form of transparency and verifiability between India and Pakistan in regard to the de-alerting measures each adopts. It is not enough to have a governmental agreement in principle but to institutionalize ways for both countries to reassure themselves to at least some extent that the other side is doing what they are supposed to be doing. Moreover, transparency is not an issue only between governments. There must also be transparency in respect of oneís own population. In respect of political democracies like India there can be no excuse from the responsibility of being transparent with the Indian public. This means that there has to be a new Atomic Energy Act replacing the 1962 one, separating the civilian and military dimensions. The civilian sector must now be open to the kind of public and parliamentary scrutiny that the secrecy surrounding the existing Act does not allow. Now that a military nuclear arsenal has been declared, this can no longer be even remotely justified.

5) While China is the only other nuclear power to have declared a No First Use (NFU) policy, India is the only democracy to have declared this. If India is really serious about its NFU claim then there are two basic ways to go about ensuring this. The first is that technical measures should be established which provide a warning that an unwarranted launch is being prepared, and at the same time provide enough time for this to be checked so that a possible launch can be detected and prevented. Warning sensors on launch systems e.g. missile silos or on systems preparing to arm delivery systems with warheads, well ahead of the launching or arming process would be one form that such technical transparency measures could take. These warning sensors could then enable the watchdog body to check on what is happening. If the Indian government is truly sincere about NFU and genuinely believes in democratic accountability then these are the kind of measures it should accept and establish.

6) Moreover, there are also non-intrusive, non-technical assurances that the Indian government can give to show that it is sincere about its NFU commitment. To uphold a policy of NFU is to declare that your nuclear weapons system is meant only for retaliation and not for first strike or first use. Therefore, a NFU commitment is logically connected to upholding a posture of minimum nuclear deterrent and arsenal. However, Indiaís Draft Nuclear Doctrine which talks precisely of building a full triadic range of nuclear weaponry, of going in, if necessary, for tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons, of keeping up with all kinds of possible nuclear weapons advancement, etc. is simply an outright, flagrant and inexcusable refutation of the claims to moderation and to being sincere about its NFU commitment that the Indian government has made. These extravagant ambitions in the DND are partly justified in the name of assuring the ësurvivabilityí of the Indian arsenal so that it can carry out an effective second-strike. But this wonít do. The ambitions go well beyond the requirements of ësurvivabilityí needs. Instead the DND rules nothing out and leaves all frontiers of exploration and expansion open. In the DND, there is even an explicit dilution of the commitment not to ever use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear statesóthe exception being where non-nuclear states are allied to nuclear ones.

7) Finally, if the Indian government is sincere in its claim that it only wants to have a minimal nuclear deterrent and that it does not need to conduct anymore nuclear tests to build such a minimum deterrent, and that it wishes to lower the nuclear temperature in the region, then it should immediately and permanently close the Pokharan nuclear test site. The French have permanently closed their nuclear test site in the South Pacific. This would also put great pressure on Pakistan to reciprocate by closing down its Chagai site, especially since officially its has said it will neither test further nor openly deploy its nuclear weapons if India does not first do so. There should at least be a serious Indian initiative to discuss with Pakistan the joint closing down, on a permanent basis, of both their respective test sites.

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