Mistaken nuclear strategy or mistaken media management?
It might well be that General Deepak Kapoor’s remarks on Pakistan’s fast-expanding nuclear arsenal were blown out of proportion by the media. A Times News Network (TNN) headline in the Times of India yesterday said that India “(may) have to revisit nuclear no-first use policy: Army chief” but the accompanying report did not quote him as having said that. The report says that “Kapoor’s implied suggestion that India could have to revisit its no-first use policy in case the strength of Pakistan’s nuclear was close to what had been claimed, will challenge a long held position.” But since it does not carry his words verbatim, the reader must rely on the reporter’s opinion on what the army chief might have implied.
There is a difference between having a degree of deterrence, which is required for one’s own protection, and going beyond that. If news reports of them having 70-90 atomic bombs are correct then, I think, they are going well beyond the so-called requirement of deterrence and that is something which is of concern to all of us.” [ET]
Unless there are other reports it does appear that the general fell victim to some irresponsible sensationalisation and media malpractice. General Kapoor’s comment that Pakistan’s nuclear expansion is “of concern” is reasonable, although this blog has argued that it is more of a concern to the international community than to India. But from what can be gathered from other reports, he did not specifically mention or imply that India should review its no-first-use nuclear doctrine. Perhaps he should have been more careful in choosing his words and fully account for the possibility that sections of the Indian media would think nothing of putting words into his mouth merely to create a sensation.
In the event that General Kapoor did say or imply that an increase in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal warrants a review of the no-first-use doctrine, he would not only be wrong, but irresponsible (which, in this context, might be worse than being merely wrong). As K Subrahmanyam points out in a magesterial op-ed in the Indian Express today:
If today an increase in the Pakistani nuclear stockpile and the development of Babar cruise missile cause concern about a decapitating first strike, then the logical remedy is not to abandon our NFU but to provide for credible, visible succession for both political and military command, and to streamline the chain of command. [IE]
If General Kapoor was misquoted, the army headquarters would do well to issue a clarification. To the extent that the episode draws attention to the need for better governance of India’s strategic arsenal, some good might yet come of it. (See my article on the lines of nuclear succession)