Robert Wrong

Why the discourse over nuclear arms controls needs to start with objectivity

Over at the New York Times Opinionator, Robert Wright gives you a timesaving preview of his deep thoughts before Armageddon. The NPT review conference next month will amount to nothing because, essentially, because “change is impossible when lots of those 189 nations are annoyed with the nations that are pushing for change.”

So far, so good. But Mr Wright gets the whole plot wrong as to why many nations are annoyed with the nations pushing for the change. “(Some) nuclear have-nots unhappy with the United States,” he writes, because “we seem to be fine with India, Pakistan and Israel having nukes, whereas we go ballistic (figuratively) over the possession of nukes by North Korea.”

It doesn’t cross Mr Wright’s mind that the annoyance could be due the fact that there is no real sign that “pledge that the big five would gradually get rid of all their nukes” will ever be redeemed. This is typical of what some Indian commentators term “non-proliferation ayatollahs” (why insult ayatollahs?). So steeped is their sense of entitlement to nuclear weapons, so complete is their rewriting of nuclear history, that the NPT is presented merely as an instrument to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of everyone but the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The reality that it represents a bargain—disarmament (by the five countries that had tested nuclear weapons before 1969) for non-development of nuclear weapons (by the rest)—is distorted into a discourse over who can ‘legitimately’ have nuclear weapons.

Mr Wright goes on. North Korea, he writes “having dropped out of the treaty around the time it got a nuke, has the same status in international law as India, Pakistan and Israel.” This is not only smugness and ignorance. It is a failure to apply elementary logic. There is a huge difference in international law between a countries that have willfully violated a treaty it has signed—North Korea and Iran—and a country that have not signed the treaty at all. Anthropomorphic analogies are best avoided while discussing international relations, but this one makes sense: It is absurd to accuse an unmarried person of adultery.

Mr Wright might argue that his point was that he meant that North Korea was a sovereign state, just like India, Pakistan and Israel. In which case, he should know, that so is the United States. If his point is that the United States shouldn’t discriminate between allies and non-allies when it comes to accepting their ownership of nuclear weapons, then he should answer just why the United States should accept its own nuclear status.

If all this stinks of hypocrisy, it is because that’s what it is. Realists will have no problems with that—in the amoral world of international relations, discriminatory behaviour in the pursuit of self-interest is par for the course. But in that tragically amusing world of US politics, ‘liberals’ like Mr Wright will argue that it is only the conservatives that do the hypocrisy thing. That is hypocrisy.

NB: The NPT is bunk. If those genuinely concerned about nuclear disarmament don’t think different, like in this modest proposal, just be ready for more blows like the one China is set to deliver.

Nuclear candour with Chinese characteristics

China signals that its nuclear support to Pakistan is about weapons

Mark Hibbs has news on the two new nuclear reactors that China is selling to Pakistan in blatant violation of its non-proliferation commitments:

Chinese officials said last month that export of the reactors to Pakistan would be justified in consideration of political developments in South Asia, including the entry into force of the U.S.–India deal and the NSG exemption for India. Western diplomats said China would not strongly favor an NSG exemption for Pakistan matching India’s because that would not additionally benefit Chinese industry and because Pakistan, compared to India, is a limited nuclear power market with far less infrastructure and far fewer financial resources.

China in 2004 did not claim that more power reactors after Chashma-2 would be “grandfathered” by the prior Sino–Pakistan nuclear accord, and China has argued instead that there are compelling political reasons concerning the stability of South Asia to justify the exports. China will therefore not justify the transactions on the basis of any confidential commercial agreements between China and Pakistan, NSG state representatives said. [CEIP]

As brazen has China’s attitude towards nuclear proliferation continues to be, it is nevertheless good to see Beijing openly reveal why it is abetting Pakistan’s fissile material factory. It’s not about nuclear energy. It’s about nuclear weapons. For if you have “compelling political reasons concerning the stability of South Asia” helping Pakistan build more electricity generation plants is not what you would do.

The incredulous attempt to claim that its new reactor sales are actually part of a deal it signed with Pakistan before accepting NSG obligations appears to have been discarded. China’s brazenness is supposedly due to the fact that the United States needs its support at the United Nations Security Council to place sanctions against Iran.

Mr Hibbs writes that if the United States failed to object to China’s flouting of its obligations it would mean “Obama was prepared to brush off an important nuclear nonproliferation norm on grounds of political expediency.”

In other words, Beijing is counting on President Obama being okay with the certainty of allowing an unstable, adventurous, military-ruled Pakistan to build more nuclear weapons as the price of the possibility of preventing Iran from building one.

The nuclear arms race that Pakistan is running

…is not as much against India as it is against Iran (by proxy)

That old canard is being repeated again. Pakistan, we are told, is cranking up a fissile material because “because India has the power to mount a lightning invasion with conventional forces” and that the India-US nuclear deal “frees up older facilities that India can devote to making its own new generation of weapons”. But you would expect the New York Times to lose objectivity and journalistic scepticism of official claims and take its old dogmatic ‘non-proliferation’ line on these matters, when even President Barack Obama says that the danger is about nuclear terrorism.

Now, to contend that there is an arms race between India and Pakistan requires the presentation of two bits of evidence. First, that Pakistan is cranking up its production of fissile materials in response to, second, the growth in India’s. Now, satellite images have shown that Pakistan is activating new reactors and production facilities—built with China’s grandfathering assistance, so check the first requirement.

But where is evidence of the other runner in the race? India, it turns out, has not built a single reprocessing facility over the last decade, despite having the capability to do so. When you consider this, you realise that the claim that “Pakistan is running an arms race because of India” is spurious. It requires either analytical laziness or intellectual dishonesty or both to make such a claim.

Worse, it distracts attention from the real reasons why Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex might be producing fissile material and warheads.

There are two serious possibilities: first, that it is building them for Saudi Arabia so that they can be transferred to Riyadh’s operational control should Iran weaponise its nuclear capability; and second, that it is building a secret second arsenal away from American scrutiny. [See this post and op-ed for details]

Papers like the New York Times will not publish reports about a Pakistan-Saudi nuclear nexus for want of citable evidence. Strangely, they do not require the same standards when it comes to asserting that India is running a nuclear arms race.

The real tragedy has to be the fact that when Mr Obama wants to discuss nuclear terrorism, the biggest risk (not least for the United States)—of Pakistan’s possible secret second arsenal falling into the control of some extreme elements of its military-jihadi complex—goes unnoticed and without comment. There’s a precedent for this: throughout the 1990s, US analysts and newspapers were focussed on the India-Pakistan ‘rivalry’ over Kashmir, totally ignoring Pakistan’s nexus with al-Qaeda until one day in the month of September, 2001.

Arms control, Enron style

It’s not a New START. It’s a False START.

It’s funny. The United States (and Russia) agree that when placed on bomber aircraft, as many as twenty warheads count as one. They then announce that the New START treaty has reduced the binding caps on deployed warheads by 30% and congratulate themselves. The New York Times helpfully informs us that the “history of arms control is replete with quirky counting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and the “New Start” treaty completed last week is no different.”

That’s like saying that the history of Wall Street is replete with quirky accounting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and Enron is no different.

The experts it quotes do a much better job in describing this scam.

“It’s creative accounting,” said Pavel Podvig, a longtime arms researcher from Russia who is now on leave from Stanford University. “They found a way of making reductions without actually making them, and they were happy to accept that because nobody wanted to go to more serious measures.”

“On paper, the White House has been saying it’s a 30 percent cut in warheads” said Kingston Reif, deputy director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. “Well, it is on paper. But when you break it down, you see that the cut isn’t quite as significant.”

Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Mr. Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia’s 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190. [NYT]

Let’s put this in perspective: under the New START treaty the number of US warheads “not counted” is around the same as China’s entire nuclear arsenal.

Just remember this the next time Mr Obama gives a rousing speech on nuclear disarmament. At this time though, White House officials are apparently engaged in trying to justify why nuclear warheads on bombers are somehow more okay than nuclear warheads on missiles. Will they accept this reasoning if it came from Tehran?

Related Links: Marko Beljac at The Nuke Strategy Wonk and Pavel Podvig at his Russian strategic nuclear forces blog

Riyadh passes the buck, and wins a round

Understanding the Saudi Arabian position on sanctions on Iran

Just what did the Saudi foreign minister mean when he refused to back international sanctions on Iran “because we are closer to the threat (and therefore an ) need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution”? Riyadh’s position is surprising not least because, as it transpired at a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, organised by NYU’s Centre for International Co-operation and Brookings, the Gulf states stridently called upon China to recognise which side of the Persian Gulf it had more at stake and stop shielding Iran from UN sanctions. [Richard Gowan has more about the conference over at Global Dashboard]

And more importantly, just what does is the “immediate resolution” that Prince Saud al-Faisal called for? As Dan Drezner suggests (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony) these could only mean a deniable nod for preventive air strikes by Israel or a signal that Riyadh will activate its contingency plan for its own nuclear deterrent.

So what could this be about? The answer, in all likelihood, is that Saudi Arabia just passed the buck.

In the event this is about encouraging the United States and Israel to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Saudi Arabia benefits to the extent its regional rival suffers while it is the United States and Israel that will attract Muslim anger across the world.

If, on the other hand, the United States & Israel—wisely—do not use force against Iran, Riyadh can blame Washington for being unable to prevent Iran’s nuclearisation and exercise its options to procure its own deterrent. Iran is unlikely to attack Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons anyway, leaving Israel as the net loser. Like India, Israel will have to contend with “jihad under the protection of a nuclear umbrella”.

Either way, Saudi Arabia wins.

In contrast, if it indeed had backed sanctions against Iran, it would have to do its share of the dirty work of having to persuade China to stop protecting Iran. Beijing would extract a price for its acquiescence equal to, if not exceeding the loss to its commercial interests in Iran, which Riyadh would have to substantially bear. In the end, all these costs would come to nought, because sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that sanctions do work, the outcome would effectively be one where Saudi Arabia would have paid for Israel’s security. It’s not hard to see why the Saudis didn’t back sanctions.

What happens next? It’s unlikely that Riyadh will be satisfied with a US nuclear umbrella even if it were offered by Washington. If Iran proceeds with its plans to build a nuclear weapon, we will discover who Pakistan was making all that fissile material for.

Schelling questions the abolition of nuclear weapons

First check if there is better than here

The professor has set the question paper. And it’s not an easy exam.

The desirability of a world without nuclear weapons, Thomas Schelling argues in a brilliant essay in Daedalus, is being treated as axiomatic, and “hardly any of the analyses or policy statements that I have come across question overtly the ultimate goal of total nuclear disarmament.” After pointing out that nuclear deterrence has prevented major wars on the scale of the Second World War, he warns that “this nuclear quiet should not be traded away for a world in which a brief race to reacquire nuclear weapons could become every former nuclear state’s overriding preoccupation.”

Excerpts:

If a “world without nuclear weapons” means no mobilization bases, there can be no such world. Even starting in 1940 the mobilization base was built. And would minimizing mobilization potential serve the purpose ? To answer this requires working through various scenarios involving the expectation of war, the outbreak of war, and the conduct of war. That is the kind of analysis I haven’t seen.

A crucial question is whether a government could hide weapons-grade fissile material from any possible inspection verification. Considering that enough plutonium to make a bomb could be hidden in the freezing compartment of my refrigerator or to evade radiation detection could be hidden at the bottom of the water in a well, I think only the fear of a whistle-blower could possibly make success at all questionable. I believe that a “responsible” government would make sure that fissile material would be available in an international crisis or war itself. A responsible government must at least assume that other responsible governments will do so.

We are so used to thinking in terms of thousands, or at least hundreds, of nuclear warheads that a few dozen may offer a sense of relief. But if, at the outset of what appears to be a major war, or the imminent possibility of major war, every responsible government must consider that other responsible governments will mobilize their nuclear weapons base as soon as war erupts, or as soon as war appears likely, there will be at least covert frantic efforts, or perhaps purposely conspicuous efforts, to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible. And what then?

In summary, a “world without nuclear weapons” would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations’ nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.[Daedalus/BNet]

It’s a brilliant piece—not only for the intellectual content—but also for its debating strategy. Prof Schelling challenges the proponents of complete nuclear disarmament to prove, analytically, that their desired outcome is actually better than a world where mutual deterrence keeps a lid on the outbreak of major war. In doing so, he exposes how the bandwagon of the Global Zero has gained momentum in the last two years—not because everyone on it believes that it is desirable even if it were possible, but because the perception that the world is negotiating complete disarmament is useful to many. For instance, as Prof Schelling himself points out—the possibility that the Global Zero project might be motivated by a need for the world to perceive that the nuclear weapons states are keeping their end of the NPT bargain. In addition to being consistent with its long held position, India will go with the new disarmament discussions out of pragmatism—there are tangible benefits to be had by being part of a nuclear technological mainstream. (See M Vidyasagar’s article in the January 2010 issue of Pragati)

The Acorn has argued that nuclear weapons are the New Himalayas—preventing the outbreak of direct military conflict between India and China. It is important that the new strategic barrier remain high. Perhaps China’s transformation into a liberal democracy, as K Subrahmanyam mentioned at December’s Takshashila event in New Delhi, might make the need for this barrier less salient. Perhaps, but it is unlikely to entirely eliminate the need for it.

Related Post: A modest proposal to create disincentives for the usage of nuclear weapons

Crown Jewel Panic

Joint India-US planning is a must given the asymmetric risks of snatch operations

The only interesting new thing in Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker report on the issue of the security of Pakistan’s crown jewels is that a US nuclear emergency response team was activated recently but asked to stand down before it landed in Pakistan. The existence of such teams is not in doubt—NEST, for instance, even has a web page. If, as Mr Hersh claims, a snatch team was indeed activated earlier this year, the United States might have, paradoxically, increased the risk of a nuclear explosion in the region. Crown Jewel Panic is perhaps the most dangerous game in the world today.

But the risks are asymmetric: India within easy reach of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, not to mention Pakistan itself, are at a greater risk, compared to the American homeland, of being attacked with a nuclear weapon because of a crisis caused by a US nuclear snatch operation in Pakistan. The Acorn has long argued that alarming Pakistan’s nuclear custodians might actualise a “use it or lose it” psychology in their minds. This sets of a number of risk pathways: mating of warheads and delivery systems; movement of missiles and aircraft to deployment locations and interception/hijacking by ‘unauthorised’ factions of the military-jihadi complex. Such risks get magnified if, as this blog has argued, there is a secret arsenal-within-an-arsenal—and Mr Hersh’s report suggests that some Pentagon officials think so too.

Loose talk about snatch plans, leave alone actual snatch missions, is likely to spook commanders of the Pakistani army charged with managing the nuclear arsenal. Given that these people have been selected on the basis of personnel reliability programmes designed by General Musharraf (notice the irony?) spooking them is not a good idea.

Given the asymmetry of the risks, and the apparent readiness in the United States to activate NEST-like teams, there is a case for India to be very concerned about such operations. There is a clear and urgent case for joint planning between the Indian and US military and political authorities, even if such operations are entirely carried out by US personnel. If this isn’t already happening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would do well to place it on the top of the agenda of his upcoming meeting with President Barack Obama.

In his comments to Dawn Mr Hersh connects US ‘oversight’ of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as allowing India to pull away from the border.

The (Obama administration’s) policy required Pakistan to deploy more troops at the Afghan border to go after the Taliban.

The Americans, he said, wanted the Indians to pull away first, so that Pakistan could focus on the Afghan border. “The Indians said, no. We have 80 nuke weapons pointed at us, we cannot pull back.”

The Americans thought they could encourage the Indians to do so if somehow they had “some control or insight into Pakistan’s nuclear command and control system,” Mr Hersh said.

“The idea is to reassure the Indians that we are in a position to prevent someone from doing something crazy,” he said. “If the Indians are satisfied, it will allow Pakistan to focus on the Afghan border.”

To enable the Indians to reach that point of comfort, the Americans needed to “reassure India that nothing crazy will not happen (sic). After all only target of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is India, not America,” said Mr Hersh. [Dawn]

Now, no serious Indian strategist would be convinced that Pakistan would reveal all its nuclear assets to the Americans. Similarly, no serious Indian strategist would take US reassurances that it has ‘some control and insight’ over Pakistan’s nukes—it is not even clear how many nukes Pakistan has in the first place. It’s not likely that they’ll want to hear “Sorry folks, we missed that one!”

When Bill Clinton had to be scared

Being prepared to press the red button ensures that it doesn’t have to be pressed

So Bill Clinton has revealed that “Indian officials spoke of knowing roughly how many nuclear bombs the Pakistanis possessed, from which they calculated that a doomsday nuclear volley would kill 300 [million] to 500 million Indians while annihilating all 120 million Pakistanis. The Indians would thus claim ‘victory'”. This is from Taylor Branch’s new book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, and is presumably in the context of the 1999 Kargil war. (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony)

In her report, DNA‘s Uttara Chowdhury leads readers to thinking that this should anger the Indian government. “New Delhi,” she writes, “is likely to be furious with the observation, which portrays it as a government willing to play fast and loose with its citizens lives to notch up a bizarre win against Pakistan.”

Why should New Delhi be furious when Mr Clinton’s words show that Indian officials ensured that the psychological aspect of nuclear deterrence was maintained during the crisis? For a country with a no-first use policy, it is imperative that there is no ambiguity in the minds of adversaries and observers with regard to its commitment to a retaliatory strike. If Mr Clinton was convinced that the red button would be pressed in retaliation, regardless—and perhaps more importantly, in spite of knowledge of the damage assessments—New Delhi should be pleased. Given his subsequent actions, this might have well been the case.

It is unclear who made these statements to the Clinton administration—whether they were made by government officials or by interlocutors outside the government. Also, the damage assessment of 300 to 500 million Indian casualties appears overstated (given the state of Pakistan’s arsenal in 1999, at least)—it is unclear if this was a case of Indian officials deliberately overstating it to signal how much damage India was willing to accept; or indeed, a case of Mr Clinton exaggerating the numbers to show how abominable the Indian position was. (See an earlier post on MUD or mutually unacceptable destruction).

The paradox of nuclear deterrence requires India to credibly demonstrate the unflinching resolve to cause mindless destruction in order to forestall it. To see this as playing “fast and loose” to notch a “bizarre win” is an uninformed, superficial and incorrect way to look at this issue.

In fact, these revelations highlight an important aspect germane to the current public discussion over the minimum credible deterrent. Much of it revolves around the adequacy of the nuclear arsenal—despite broad consensus that the garden-variety 20kT fission warheads are deployed on multiple platforms. The crucial question is: can Indian officials continue to convince the Clintons of the world, like they did in 1999? The business of convincing cannot be left to serendipity—it must be institutionalised.

Sunday Levity: Ten reasons why Bappi Lahiri is better than a thermonuclear bomb

A National Humour Rights Commission Report

At the sidelines of a G-20 summit, two bhais, one Hindi, one Chini, meet at an abandoned temple.

Mere Paas Bappi Hai
Mere Paas Bappi Hai

Chinibhai: “Look, we both rose from the same per-capita GDP rate. But see where you are now, and where I am now. Today I have tall buildings, Olympic stadiums, trade surpluses, Sovereign Wealth Funds, ICBMs and thermonuclear bombs. What do you have?”

Hindibhai: “Mere paas Bappi hai

Contrary to popular belief, the Indian interlocutor was not making a emotional argument. He was engaged in strategic signaling—sounding a subtle warning that even if the thermonuclear design didn’t deliver the expected bang, we have Bappi on our side. A keen scholar of Indian history and culture, the Indian diplomat was drawing attention to the ancient Reality Show in which the Kauravas might well have had the biggest army, but the Pandavas had The Charioteer. We all know how that war ended.

You don’t have to be a Bappitva fundamentalist to understand why Bappi Lahiri is better than a thermonuclear bomb. At the broadest strategic level, this is because while a nuclear weapon is merely an instrument of hard power, Bappida is that and more. For ten important reasons:

First, because a thermonuclear bomb has to be developed indigenously it is very hard and expensive to build one. On the other hand, not only do we already have Bappida, but he himself has never been moved by indigenousness, swadeshi and other forms of irrelevant parochialism. He’ll take whatever, from wherever and make it rock.

Second, even if you design a thermonuclear bomb, it is very difficult and very costly to test it. Bappida doesn’t suffer from similar constraints. He’ll just go ahead and test his designs—if you think it is successful, you’ll get on your feet and dance. If you don’t, then it cost you Rs 25 (in 1985 rupees) or less to figure out that you are on the sad side of the generation gap. No one will demand a ban on his tests.

Third, how easy do you think it is to increase the yield of a thermonuclear bomb? The correct answer is “not at all”. But to improve Bappida’s yield you just need to turn the knob (of the 1985 amplifier) clockwise, slowly. (Those who have done this will know that it will set-off explosions in the adjacent room, flat or town. In some localities in Tamil Nadu, it will even cause mass migrations radiating away from the said amplifier.)

Fourth, you can’t put dark glasses on a thermonuclear bomb.

Fifth, a thermonuclear bomb is useless as a store of wealth. But Bappida is India’s secret Sovereign Wealth Fund. All that gold jewelry can defend the rupee, the Indian government and the Indian film industry.

Sixth, the bomb doesn’t have a son called Bappa.

Seventh, nobody in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Hollywood or South Bombay knows, or gives a damn about, India’s thermonuclear bomb. But they are passionate about Jimmy.

Eighth, try getting a thermonuclear bomb to sue Dr Dre for plagiarism. It can’t, and even if it did, no California jury will side with an ugly beast that doesn’t sport dark glasses indoors and wear heavy gold jewelry.

Ninth, a hydrogen bomb can’t judge a reality show.

And finally, the thermonuclear bomb can never—not in a million years—sing “Yaad aa raha hai, tera pyaar”. See for yourself:

Actually, astute as they are, the Chinibhais have known all this for some time. But they couldn’t do much about it. Not that they didn’t try—surely, you don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that that Dear Leader chap wears dark glasses—but not every charioteer is The Charioteer. Till that time, India is safe.

On minimum credible deterrence

It’s not so much about bigger bombs. It’s about improving command & control.

In an op-ed in The Hindu today, K Santhanam & Ashok Parthasarathi make a compelling case that the thermonuclear bomb tested in May 1998 at Pokhran was not only fizzled, but “actually failed”. They also go on to conclude that “no country having undertaken only two weapon related tests of which the core (thermonuclear) device failed, can claim to have a (CMD or credible minimum deterrence).” They arrive at this assessment despite observing that “the 25 kiloton fission device has been fully weaponised and operationally deployed on (multiple) weapon platforms.” You will be forgiven for reading this article and believing that unless India has a 300kT or megaton thermonuclear bomb fitted on a 3500-km range missile, India’s nuclear deterrence capacity is not credible.

But back in July 2007, you would have reached the opposite conclusion. “On the national security front,” Dr Santhanam then wrote in Mint “there are reasons to believe that India’s Minimum Credible Deterrent (MCD) would not be affected by turn-key power reactors built by other countries. The accumulated weapons-grade plutonium in about 40 years of operating the CIRUS reactor (40MWt) and the relatively new Dhruv reactor (100MWt) has been estimated to be sufficient for the MCD.” What he didn’t say then, and is saying now, is that yes, we have accumulated sufficient weapons-grade plutonium for minimum credible deterrence, but was half the story. The other half is that we need to build more powerful bombs, which requires more testing.

Dr Santhanam’s 2007 intervention was in support of the India-US nuclear deal. His 2009 intervention is an initial salvo in the renewed domestic debate on India’s signing the comprehensive test-ban treaty (CTBT). His silence from May 1998 till this month was perhaps due to a combination of the official secrets act, loyalties, exigencies of service and regard for the national interest.

Now, unless Dr Santhanam has another twist in the tale to be revealed at a later date, the fact that he admits that there are 25kT fission bombs “fully weaponised and operationally deployed on multiple weapon platforms” should end the debate on whether India’s deterrence is credible. As argued earlier, India’s strategic adversaries are unlikely to rest any easier knowing that their cities are threatened by mere 25kT fission bombs. They are, with India, in MUD. In a two part essay in the Indian Express, K Subrahmanyam explains the logic of India’s nuclear doctrine and why a minimum credible deterrence can be had without the need for a thermonuclear bomb.

Developing, testing and deploying a thermonuclear bomb involves grand trade-offs. But those who are interested in ensuring that India’s deterrent capacity is robust should focus on an issue that is right in the backyard. Mr Subrahmanyam points out that “a continuity in respect of succession in both political and military commands” is the “most effective way of ensuring that the adversary will not succeed in his objective in carrying out such a decapitating strike.” Why is there no pressure on the UPA government to come clear on the lines of nuclear succession?