New Delhi: India's nuclear deterrent is based on a credible nuclear doctrine and is sustained by a "systematic drive to operationalize" its various delivery components, including a sea-based one by 2015-16, Shyam Saran, chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, said in Delhi on Wednesday.
Countering critics of India's nuclear weapons programme that it was driven by notions of prestige rather than considerations of national security, Saran, also a former foreign secetary who was closely connected with the negotiation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, said India's nuclear doctrine is based on the current geopolitical environment, especially with Pakistan actively building up its nuclear arsenal and keeping its aggressive actions and strategies against India in mind.
Giving a talk on "Is India's nuclear deterrent credible?", at the India Habitat Centre, Saran said: "India does have a credible theory of how its nuclear weapons may be used and that is spelt out in its nuclear doctrine."
He said India's nuclear doctrine, which was formally adopted at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in Jan 4, 2003, and the regular checks that are held have strengthened the level of confidence in India's nuclear deterrent.
While further reforms would be required "to make our deterrent more robust, it is unhelpful to peddle the impression that it is dysfunctional or worse that it is non-existent", he said at the lecture, held in collaboration with the Subbu Forum and the Society for Policy Studies (SPS).
He said since the May 1998 nuclear tests, India has demonstrated "quite clearly a sustained and systematic drive to operationalize the various components of the nuclear deterrent in a manner best suited to India's security environment. This is not the record of a state which considers nuclear weapons an instrument of national pride and propaganda".
"It is expected that a modest sea-based deterrence will be in place by 2015 or 2016," Saran said and termed the development of the "third leg of the triad (of nuclear delivery systems) which is submarine based" as "work in progress".
He said Pakistan has given the excuse of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal as the reason for the "relentless build up of its nuclear arsenal", its refusal to allow the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to undertake multilateral negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) as well as its threat to deploy theatre nuclear weapons to meet a so-called conventional Indian armed thrust across the border.
"The votaries of non-proliferation in the West have criticised the Indo-US civil nucear agreement as having allowed exceptionalism in favour of India, which has encouraged a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan," Saran said.
The exception provided to India in clinching the deal "rests on India's universally acknowledged and exceptional record as a responsible nuclear state as contrasted with Pakistan's equally exceptional record as a source of serial proliferation and in possession of a nuclear programme born in deceit and deception", he said.
"There is no moral equivalence in this respect between the two countries and this point must be driven home every time Pakistan claims parity. We should not allow such an insiduous campaign to affect our proposed membership of the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime)".
Saran said Pakistan's nuclear weapons are focused in large part on the threat from India, real or imagined.
In the buildup of its nuclear arsenal, "what Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level".
This he said, is "nothing short of nuclear blackmail, no different from the irresponsible behaviour one witnesses in North Korea" and deserves condemnation by the international community as it is a threat not just to India but to international peace and security".
Saran said Pakistan's nuclear build-up is "driven by a mind-set which seeks parity with and even overtaking India, irrespective of the cost this entails".
Islamabad is also driven by the fear that the US may carry out an operation, like the top secret one to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, "to disable, destroy or confiscate, its nuclear weapons".
Saran added that "in the current world scenario of multiple nuclear actors, there is pervasive uncertainty about how the nuclear dynamics will play itself out even if a nuclear exchange commenced with only two actors".
Saran said the "mostly self-serving and misconceived notions" about India's nuclear deterrent "have much to do with the failure on the part of both the state as well as India's strategic community to confront and to refute them".
He termed the "motivated assessments" and "speculative judments" as "deeply troubling".
He blamed it on an "information vaccum" and hoped the government makes public its nuclear doctrine and releases data regularly on what steps have been taken and are being taken to put the requirements of the doctrine in place.
"It is not necessary to share operational details but an overall survey, such as an annual Strategic Posture Review, should be shared with the citizens of the country who, after all, pay for the security which the deterrent is supposed to provide to them.
Another welcome step would be to hold an "informed and vigorous debate based on accurate and factual information". The people of the country also need to be taken into confidence about the risks and benefits of maintaining a nuclear deterrent.