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News Review Special Edition

Back to the Contents of News Review Special Edition

International Developments, November 15, 2002 - February 1, 2003

Chilling Nuclear Rhetoric, Ongoing Nuclearisation in South Asia

The period under review saw fierce rhetorical exchanges between India and Pakistan over their willingness to use nuclear weapons in defence or retaliation, further missile tests and the formal adoption of a nuclear command-and-control structure by India, resurgent international doubts about the safety and security of nuclear weapons and material in Pakistan, and persistent suggestions of links between the Pakistani and North Korean nuclear and missile programmes.

On December 30, Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, apparently confirmed that he had been prepared to order the use of nuclear weapons if the political crisis and military standoff between Islamabad and New Delhi in December 2002 and January 2003 had triggered an Indian attack. Addressing Pakistani Air Force veterans in Karachi, Musharraf stated; "I personally conveyed messages to [Indian] Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee, through every international leader who came to Pakistan, that if Indian troops moved a single step across the international border or Line of Control [in Kashmir], they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan." Almost immediately, however, Pakistani Army spokesperson General Rashid Quereshi told reporters that the President had been referring solely to the determination of the whole nation to resist aggression. "Nowhere," General Quereshi stated, "did he say that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons at all." On January 3, Musharraf insisted that his comments had been misconstrued: "No one in his right state of mind can talk of a nuclear war."

India, however, reacted with a mix of anger and dismissal. On January 7, Defence Minister George Fernandes was quoted by the Press Trust of India (PTI) as snapping: "They should not make such irresponsible statements. They don't help them, don't help us, don't help the world... We can take a bomb or two or more...but when we respond there will be no Pakistan..."

Visiting India in early December, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated Moscow's concern over the possible diversion of nuclear weapons or materials from Pakistan to non-state groups. During a press conference in New Delhi (December 4), Putin was asked: "You have recently voiced concern over the danger of Pakistan's weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands... What concrete steps [does] Russia...plan to take to [help improve the situation]?" Putin replied: "We really think there is a problem to which we all should react. And this danger is called the danger of the spreading and proliferation of mass-destruction means and the possibility of use of such means by terrorists." The President identified three main, general steps to be taken: "introducing into international public opinion the understanding of the presence of such a threat", "strengthening the international non-proliferation mechanism in the field of mass-destruction weapons", and providing "a system of international safeguards...especially in the field of mass-destruction weapons." Also on December 4, Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali told reporters: "Pakistan's nuclear assets are in safe hands. Pakistan is a positive thinking country and there is no need to worry about the country's nuclear program." The Prime Minister was speaking on the same day as talks in Islamabad between himself, President Musharraf and US Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. According to a US Embassy spokesperson, the talks focussed on "issues like Afghanistan, the war against terrorism, and the safety of Pakistan's nuclear assets."

Russia alarm was voiced again on January 16. Speaking after the inaugural meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Consultative Group for Strategic Stability in Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov observed: "It is well known that Russia and Pakistan are both in a zone of vigorous activity of terrorist organisations, this being due to the situation in Afghanistan, as well as the fact that on the territory of Afghanistan there are surviving remnants of armed bands collaborating with Al Qaeda, which infiltrate into Pakistan. Russia has always been greatly worried by the possibility of these terror organisations gaining access to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, which exist in the region, in particular in Pakistan. The consultations [today] were helpful in resolving a number of our concerns. On certain other questions we have received substantive answers, which we will examine. From the point of view of both sides the consultations were important and timely. It has been agreed to continue them. The next meeting will be held in Pakistan."

The other cloud hanging over Pakistan's nuclear programme is its possible past connection to North Korea. In the January 27 edition of The New Yorker magazine, published on January 20, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh set out a detailed case aiming to confirm a strong relationship of mutual support. Hersh writes: "North Korea is economically isolated; one of its main sources of export income is arms sales, and its most sought-after products are missiles. And one of its customers has been Pakistan, which has a nuclear arsenal of its own but needs the missiles to more effectively deliver the warheads to the interior of its rival, India." According to Hersh, Pakistan's major contribution to the North Korean nuclear programme has probably taken the form of detailed technical and/or design assistance enabling Pyongyang to "produce reliable centrifuges". Hersh quoted an unnamed US intelligence official as claiming that Pakistani assistance had "chopped many years off" North Korea's centrifuge-development programme. Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Khurseed Kasuri, promptly (January 20) dismissed the Hersh article as "utter rubbish" and "totally without foundation". According to the Minister: "Obviously there are parties that are interested in driving a wedge between Pakistan and the United States and between Pakistan and Japan".

On January 4, India's Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Vajpayee, released details of a review of the "operationalization of India's nuclear doctrine". With regard to nuclear policy and posture, a CCS statement read:

"India's nuclear doctrine can be summarized as follows:

(i) Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;

(ii) A posture of 'No First Use': nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere;

(iii) Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage;

(iv) Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority;

(v) Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states;

(vi) However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons;

(vii) A continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests;

(viii) Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament."

With regard to the country's nuclear command-and-control structure, the statement declared:

"The Nuclear Command Authority comprises a Political Council and an Executive Council. The Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister. It is the sole body which can authorize the use of nuclear weapons.

The Executive Council is chaired by the National Security Advisor. It provides inputs for decision making by the Nuclear Command Authority and executes the directives given to it by the Political Council.

The CCS reviewed the existing command and control structures, the state of readiness, the targetting strategy for a retaliatory attack, and operating procedures for various stages of alert and launch. The Committee expressed satisfaction with the overall preparedness. The CCS approved the appointment of a Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command, to manage and administer all Strategic Forces.

The CCS also reviewed and approved the arrangements for alternate chains of command for retaliatory nuclear strikes in all eventualities."

On January 10, the Indian Defence Ministry announced the appointment of Air Marshal T.M. Asthana as the Commander-in Chief of the new Strategic Forces Command.

The announcement was made the day after India conducted the latest test firing of its nuclear-capable Agni-I missile. The country is currently developing two Agni (the Hindu word for fire) missiles: the Agni-I, a mobile land-based system with a one-ton payload and a range of around 500 miles (800 kilometres), and the longer-range (1,562 miles/2,500 kilometres), land-based Agni-II. Reports suggest that the Defence Ministry is aiming to introduce the Agni-I into operational service by the end of the year.

International reaction was muted but critical. Responding to reports of an imminent test, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham (January 8) said his government "deeply regrets that India is once again planning to test nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, particularly at a time when tensions with Pakistan remain high." Graham added: "As was the case with Pakistan's missile tests in October 2002, we fear that these tests will exacerbate tensions in an already volatile region and detract from constructive efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution."

Following the test, US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher pronounced the Bush administration "disappointed" at the development. Boucher noted (January 9): "India did issue a public notice that this test would occur. Nonetheless, we think tests like this contribute to a charged atmosphere...[and] make it harder to prevent a costly and destabilising nuclear and missile arms race. We urge both India and Pakistan to take steps to restrain their nuclear weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and we've urged them to begin a dialogue on confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that such weapons might be used. This, obviously, could be part of a broader dialogue to help reduce tensions." The same day, a British Foreign Office spokesperson observed: "The UK regrets India's decision... We believe that restraint in developing possible nuclear weapon delivery systems is in the long-term interest of India and the region. The test sends the wrong signal within the region and beyond." On January 10, Hatsuhisa Takashima, chief spokesperson of Japan's Foreign Ministry, told reporters that Tokyo had "expressed our concern to the government of India because this is quite contrary to our wish of easing the tension between India and Pakistan."

On January 18 and 20, India conducted test firings of the Akash surface-to-air missile, capable of hitting multiple targets at a range of 15 miles (32 kilometres). The missile's 50-kilogram payload is not believed to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Referring to all three tests, Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters on January 20: "This reflects India's obsession with war. We will not be intimidated no matter how many tests India conducts. ... We do not want to join the arms race - but we know how to defend Pakistan." Speaking in London the same day, Foreign Minister Kasuri stated: "I do not think we should be forced into a tit-for-tat reaction... We will take whatever [action] is required to ensure that the strategic balance in the subcontinent is maintained. We have our own timetable and we will proceed according to our timetable..."

The period under review also saw the continued, significant strengthening of military and political ties between India and both the United States and Russia.

On January 27, addressing the Institute for Defense Analyses in New Delhi, US Ambassador Robert Blackwill observed that, particularly in the wake of 9/11, "President Bush and Prime Minister Vajpayee...gave a historic impulse to US-India diplomatic collaboration, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, defense and military-to-military teamwork, intelligence exchange, and law enforcement." Blackwill continued: "Two years ago, under the 1998 US sanctions regime, the United States and India seemed constantly at odds. ... The President waived the 1998 sanctions...and drastically trimmed the long 'Entity List' which barred Americans from doing business with certain Indian entities from over 150 entities to less than 20. Two years ago, the American and Indian militaries conducted no joint operations. Today, they have completed six major training exercises." The Ambassador then painted a strategic 'big picture': "With respect to overlapping US-India vital national interests, my 'Big Three' for the next decade and beyond are to promote peace and freedom in Asia, combat international terrorism, and slow the spread of weapons of mass destruction."

Pakistan fears that major arms transfers will soon emerge as part of the dramatic warming of US-India ties. On November 18, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aziz Ahmad Khan cautioned: "The acquisition of weapons by India from the United States will make it more belligerent. The world community should be mindful of India's attitude toward Pakistan."

On December 4, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Putin signed a wide-ranging 'Delhi Declaration on Further Consolidation of Strategic Partnership Between the Republic of India and the Russian Federation'. The Declaration pledges joint work to achieve "a new cooperative security order that recognizes the legitimate security interests of all countries and promotes global peace and stability at lower levels of armaments, and strengthens non-proliferation and disarmament goals." Specifically: "India and Russia are convinced that the promotion of the disarmament process, including reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, is one of the most important components of security both in Asia and in the world at large. We call for the early start of multilateral talks aimed at preparing a comprehensive arrangement on non-deployment of weapons in outer space, non-use or threat of use of force in respect of space-based objects, and preserving the use of space for [a] full range of cooperative, peaceful and developmental activities."

On January 20, The Guardian reported that New Delhi had reached preliminary agreement with Moscow on the terms of a £1.9 billion arms deal involving the leasing to India of four long-range nuclear-capable Tu22 M3 bombers and two Akula-II nuclear-powered and -capable submarines. In addition, New Delhi will receive an "ageing" aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov, inoperative since a fire in the early 1990s and requiring substantial refurbishment and repair. According to the report, the deal - agreed in outline on January 19 during a visit to Moscow by Defence Minister Fernandes - may be officially confirmed by the end of March. Interviewed by the newspaper, anti-nuclear writer and activist Praful Bidwai, a leading member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) in India, reacted with dismay: "I think it is terrible... We are just going into a vortex that steps up the nuclear and missile arms race. They are actually moving towards a high level of readiness to use nuclear weapons. You are not talking about deterrence." On January 25, also responded to the apparently imminent introduction of nuclear-armed submarines into the region, the head of the Pakistani Navy, Admiral Shahid Karimullah, noted equivocally: "We don't have any plan to tip our submarines with nuclear weapons, but would only consider it if we were forced to do it".

Note: amid the gloom and tension, India and Pakistan continue to abide by the 1991 Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities. Under the agreement, each New Year's Day since 1992 the two states have exchanged lists of those nuclear installations and facilities to be guaranteed immunity from attack in the event of any conflict.

Related material on Acronym website:

Reports: Pakistan expresses concern over possible US military sales to India, Associated Press, November 18; Putin visits India after voicing concern over Pakistan's nuclear weapons, Associated Press, December 2; Joint press interaction of H.E. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, and H.E. Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, held at Hyderabad House, December 4, 2002, Indian Ministry of External Affairs transcript; Delhi Declaration on further consolidation of strategic partnership between the Republic of India and the Russian Federation, New Delhi, December 4, 2002, Indian Ministry of External Affairs transcript; Russia, India oppose unilateral action against Iraq, Reuters, December 4; Senior US official holds talks with Pakistan on bilateral issue, Associated Press, December 4; Pakistan Premier says nuclear arms in safe hands, Reuters, December 4; Pakistani leader says for the first time that nuclear Pakistan was ready to wage non-conventional war with India, Associated Press, December 30; India and Pakistan exchange lists of nuclear installations and facilities, Indian Ministry of External Affairs Press Release, January 1; Agni 1 may become operational this year, official says, Global Security Newswire, January 2; The Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India's Nuclear Doctrine, Indian Ministry of External Affairs Press Release, January 4; India sets up nuclear weapons command chain, Reuters, January 4; Pakistani President says he never meant to imply country was close to nuclear war with India, Associated Press, January 5; India's defense minister says Pakistan's leader's comments were irresponsible, Associated Press, January 7; Canada regrets India's decision to test missiles, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade News Release No. 3 (2003), January 8; Indian missile test, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Statement, January 9; Excerpt - US 'disappointed' by Indian ballistic missile test, Washington File, January 9; Question concerning ballistic missile test launch by India, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Conference, January 10; India names first chief of nuclear forces command, Reuters, January 10; India wrestles with nuclear arms paradox, Reuters, January 13; Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov statement to the Russian media, Moscow, January 16, 2003, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript; Russia worried al-Qaida could get Pakistani nuclear weapons, Associated Press, January 16; Pakistan denies aiding N. Korea on nuclear arms, Reuters, January 20; India tests surface-to-surface missile for second time in three days, Associated Press, January 20; Pakistan says India's missile tests betray 'obsession for war', Associated Press, January 20; Russia leases nuclear bombers to India, The Guardian, January 20; Pakistan will not arm submarines with nuclear warheads - naval chief, Associated Press, January 25; The Cold Test, by Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, January 27; Transcript - Ambassador outlines US, India 'strategic cooperation', Washington File, January 27.

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