June 20, 2017

Moving Forward on Defence and Security


The following article, co-authored with Tanvi Madan, originally appeared in Mint on June 20, 2017. The full text is available here

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets US President Donald Trump for the first time, the focus will be on establishing a good rapport between the two leaders. There remain concerns that their two governments’ objectives are not compatible: that Trump’s “America First” approach, which conceives of US interests in narrow, transactional terms, will be at odds with Modi’s agenda to transform India. But one area of natural convergence is in the defence and security realm.

...Modi’s forthcoming visit is, therefore, a chance to boost security cooperation, understand each other’s strategic priorities, and build constituencies for the bilateral relationship in both countries. While greater clarity on issues such as China will facilitate cooperation, uncertainty can impede these efforts. There will continue to be differences, and these too should be addressed candidly. India will also need to follow up words with actions, and promises with performance. But on security and strategic matters, India has a good story to tell. Modi’s visit provides an opportunity to highlight for Trump the value of an India that is willing to buy American military equipment, play a greater burden-sharing role, enhance dialogue on regional security, and work more seamlessly with the US military to meet common objectives.

June 11, 2017

Brexit, Beans and Crumpets


The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times's ET Magazine on June 11. 

By Bertie Wooster


I rather fancy it is Shakespeare who says that when a prime minister is feeling particularly braced with things, Fate sneaks up behind her with a bit of lead piping. I recalled the Bard’s musings on Friday morning after Jeeves trickled in with the Fleet Street rags and the tall glass that heals. The news left me speechless. 

Eventually I found speech. Not much of it, but some. 

“Eh,” I said. 

“Yes, sir?” 

“The elections haven’t gone so dashed well for Theresa, what, what?” 

“No, sir.” 

“And this Corbyn chap. He ought to be pleased as punch.” 

“Tolerably so, sir.” 

It required the better part of the day for me to get the gist of the situ. By sundowners, tucked away in a quiet corner of the Drones Club, I was able to muster the facts. Theresa May is a steely lady who bears an alarming resemblance to my Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth. She would normally be a beastly sort to face over a negotiating table, or breakfast for that matter. But now only a wet cat in a strange backyard bears itself with less jauntiness. The old girl’s not much of a gambler. Besides snap elections, she could only have done worse by betting two-to-one on Gussie Fink-Nottle pinching a policeman’s helmet. Now she’s had to throw in her lot with the Democratic Unionists, a queer tribe composed of dour Northern Irish types. They’re the sort to strike the fear of God in God. 

Meanwhile, Corbyn and his comrades have cast off their gloom and stiffened their spines. I threw the mind back to the days when even the Morning Star said old Jeremy was too Bolshie for Downing Street. He normally looks like one of those things that come out of dead trees after the rain, but the whiff of victory has bucked him up like a tonic. 

The rest appears to be out, if not yet for the count. The Scottish Nationalists find themselves a little less Scottish and little less Nationalist. I imagine they’re all skulking around Glasgow with shifty, hangdog expressions. It is never difficult to distinguish Scottish grievances from rays of sunshine. 

Then there’s UKIP. The trouble with UKIP is that just because they succeeded in inducing a handful of half¬wits to permanently disfigure British politics, they thought they were somebody. They heard “Leave!” and imagined it was the Voice of the People. When what the Voice of the People actually said this week was: “Vote for anyone but those frightful asses.” 

We now find ourselves in a rum situation without the foggiest idea as to what to do. The crumpets on the Continent are apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on the Home Counties, and eager to shut the door on Queen and Country. They’re a vindictive lot. Across the pond, the Yanks remain in thrall to a bovine chappie the colour of turmeric who’s busy applying the scorched earth policy to human dignity. Theresa & Co thought the best thing under the circumstances was to run around the old colonies, waving the flag and fizzing with excitement. A fat lot of good that’ll do. 

I left the Drones, scratching the old bean. “It’s a fairly rummy matter, Jeeves, this Brexit,” I said upon my return. 

“Indeed, sir.” 

“There seems to be a lot of low-spiritedness kicking about these days.” 

“We live in difficult times, sir.” 

I took to an early bed, not wanting to miss my beauty sleep. Conceive my astonishment, therefore, when waking on the morrow and sitting up to dig into the morning teacup, I beheld a card on the tray. 

“Jeeves, who the devil wants to see me so early in the morning?” 

“Lord Buckethead, sir. He was a candidate from Maidenhead.” 

“And what sort of a specimen is he?” 

“I could not say, sir, on such short acquaintance.” 

“He’s not a chum of Spode’s, by any chance?” 

“No, sir. Lord Sidcup is presently in America, where he is enjoying the hospitality of a Mr Richard Spencer.” 

In the sitting-room, I found a breathtaking cove. About seven feet in height, and swathed in black, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if nature had intended to make a human howitzer, but had changed its mind at the last minute. 

“I say, old chap. What are we to do about this dashed Brexit business?” 

“That’s a philosophical question for a Saturday morning,” he said. “I’m here to solicit your support for the legalisation of the hunting of fox¬hunters.” 

He was not the chump I took him for. I lent the good Wooster name to the cause, and for a second I was able to regard the world with some sunny cheeriness. 

(Bertram Wilberforce Wooster has stepped in for Dhruva Jaishankar, who thought it a brainy scheme at the time)

May 23, 2017

Actualising East: India in a Multipolar Asia

The following paper originally appeared as ISAS Insights No. 412, published by the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore on 23 May 2017. The full text can be found here. It is adapted from a presentation made at the 11th ISAS International Conference on South Asia on 3 March 2017. 

After years of a ‘Look East’ policy that recognised the importance of the Asia-Pacific region for Indian interests, the Indian government decided to upgrade it rhetorically to ‘Act East’. The objective of the ‘Act East’ policy is to ensure a multipolar Asia, through deeper institutional engagement, land and maritime connectivity, and security partnerships with Southeast and East Asia. While institutional engagement and security cooperation have improved considerably over the past two decades, connectivity remains a work in progress. For New Delhi to ‘Actualise East,’ it will require a rethinking of the country’s China policy in the light of developments there, putting nuts and bolts to improving India’s connectivity with Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, and prioritising Indian Ocean security.

May 21, 2017

India doesn't have a lot to lose by boycotting OBOR

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on 21 May 2017. The full text can be found here.

What does India want from the world? It’s quite clear, really: international partnerships to accelerate its domestic development, a stable and conducive periphery, a multi-polar Asia, an end to cross-border terrorism and a sufficient role in global governance to enable it to meet these goals. Today, each of these objectives relates in some way to India’s relations with China.

Until recently, India’s aspirations required it to forge a complex and somewhat contradictory relationship with Beijing. From the early 2000s, India deepened trade and economic relations with its northern neighbour and collaborated with China in creating space for rising powers on global governance – including through the BRICS, the BASIC coalition on climate change and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

At the same time, India took measures to address the military imbalance along its disputed border with China, and kept a wary eye on Beijing’s political and military relations in its neighbourhood, especially its support for Pakistan (which extended to the transfer of nuclear and missile technology).

But things have now changed, and faster than many believed possible. The 2008 financial crisis, the half-heartedness of former US president Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and now Donald Trump’s “America First” policy have accelerated China’s relative rise in the international system. And that rise has been accompanied in China by stronger centralised governance, enduring mercantilism, more assertive territorial revisionism with neighbours and a continued disregard for certain international norms, including on cyber security and freedom of navigation.

For India, China now factors everywhere. A balanced and sustainable economic partnership is still necessary for India’s development. At the same time, China plays a more active economic, political and military role in India’s near abroad and Beijing provides cover for Pakistan’s continued support for cross-border terrorism. Under President Xi Jinping, China projects itself as ascendant, leaving little space either in Asia or on the world stage for a rising India, whose transition into a middle-income country will take place over the next two decades.

China’s ascendance is most evidently on display in its plans for One Belt, One Road (OBOR) or the Belt & Road Initiative, the subject of a major summit in Beijing this month. While many of its neighbours sent heads of state or government, or ministerial delegations, India was notably absent. India’s public rationale for its opposition to OBOR has long been that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) ran through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and was thus a violation of Indian sovereignty. But New Delhi’s concerns have long run deeper, and extended both to CPEC and to the Maritime Silk Route.

India’s response to OBOR, by necessity, rests on a set of assessments. Is OBOR a commercial project, with viable financing intended to benefit both China and host countries? The evidence for this is weak. Sri Lanka is but the starkest example. Chinese support to its former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa led to the building of white elephant infrastructure projects (including what has been described as “the most underused international airport on the planet”), massive national debt and the translation of that debt into political influence – which in turn had security implications. The gradual development of Chinese military or “dual use” facilities in Djibouti and Gwadar, and the creeping militarisation of the South China Sea, offer clear indications of long-term Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean region.

While India’s reservations about OBOR have been hinted at for years, including by the prime minister, China’s public exhortations for Indian participation at the May summit required a clearer articulation of Indian concerns. This came in the form of a statement last week that stressed India’s desire for greater regional connectivity, but laid out specific criteria. Connectivity projects must be financially responsible and not create an “unsustainable debt burden”. Additionally, they must reflect environmental considerations, be based upon a “transparent assessment” of costs, and involve the transfer of skills and technology to ensure their long-term maintenance by local communities. And, of course, they must respect countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is a clear set of normative standards, one that China, recipients of OBOR-linked largesse and other actors — including in Europe, Japan, and the United States — would do well to heed. In fact, EU participants echoed these sentiments by blocking a statement at the Belt and Road Summit on trade, on the grounds that it was not based on “transparency and co-ownership”.

Does India have a lot to lose from boycotting OBOR? Not necessarily. China’s investment into India has risen considerably since 2014. According to Indian government figures, $800 million in Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) came into India in just 17 months between April 2014 and September 2015, more than double all previous Chinese FDI to India. This is on a similar scale to estimates of Chinese FDI into Pakistan under CPEC, and is simply indicative of the immense push factor of excess Chinese capital. If it can be invested in India in a manner that meets New Delhi’s stated criteria, it would naturally be mutually beneficial. However, drawing lines upon a map in a unilateral fashion, not just in India, but across Asia and the Indian Ocean region, is a far more sinister matter.


One Belt, One Road will only be a success if it is pursued in a more transparent, status quo-oriented, market-driven and responsible manner. That would be welcome. India has staked out a clear position. Others may arrive at the same conclusions the hard way.

May 20, 2017

A Long Battle Ahead


The following article originally appeared in The Times of India on 20 May 2017. The full text can be found here.

On May 18, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the principal judicial arm of the United Nations – ruled on the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, whom Pakistan alleges is an Indian spy. The court unanimously declared that Pakistan must take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Jadhav is not executed, pending a final judgment of the court. What are we to make of this ICJ decision?

First, the matter is far from over. The court simply determined that it had jurisdiction in this case, despite Pakistan’s arguments to the contrary. It also stated that the rights alleged by India were plausible, that there was a clear link with the measures being sought by India, and that the matter was urgent as Jadhav faced a death sentence which – if carried through – could not be reversed.

Second, India’s case concerns Pakistan’s violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, not so much the merits or circumstances of Jadhav’s death sentence. Since his Indian citizenship was not in question, Pakistan should have allowed Jadhav to meet with Indian government representatives. The recent ICJ ruling should thus be seen as a reprieve that buys India time, and has little direct bearing on the overall circumstances of Jadhav’s arrest and sentencing.

The indirect implications are, however, far more significant, as they raise questions about why Pakistan denied Jadhav consular access in the first place. The element of irreparable prejudice and urgency in ICJ proceedings also highlight just how incredibly unusual it is for any country to execute an alleged foreign spy in peacetime, when life imprisonment is usually the harshest sentence. Moreover, the entire episode portrays the rule of law in Pakistan in an incredibly poor light. Questions remain about the circumstances of Jadhav’s arrest and detention (India believes that he was kidnapped from Iran). A video released by Pakistan in which Jadhav appears to admit his guilt is suspicious, and suggests that it was forced or done under duress. And the opacity of the legal process – in a Pakistani military court, no less – that resulted in his death sentence is very disturbing.

Third, we must look upon this as a political victory for India as much as a legal one. ICJ is an international court, and like much international law, the court lacks appropriate enforcement mechanisms. In the past, parties – including the United States – have ignored ICJ rulings concerning the Vienna Convention and executed citizens of other countries, although not for alleged espionage. Yet should Pakistan now ignore ICJ and execute Jadhav, it will clearly be an act of bad faith.

Two other criticisms that have been made in India concerning the decision to go to ICJ should be addressed. First, concerns have been expressed that India might be unnecessarily internationalising relations with Pakistan by taking this case to ICJ. This should not be a major concern. India’s position on ICJ’s jurisdiction is clearly stated, and based on its declarations recognising the jurisdiction of the court as mandatory, which were submitted in 1974. India’s determination, however, was that a matter related to the Vienna Convention overrode its own stated objections to the jurisdiction of the court, specifically that such jurisdiction would not extend to disputes between two current or former Commonwealth members.

Finally, questions have been raised as to whether this was a necessary step, or the best recourse. For this, the answer must be found in ICJ’s statement. Given that this is a death sentence and that the circumstance of Jadhav’s trial and detention are suspect, it was necessary to do everything possible to delay his execution. Going to the ICJ and thus overriding prior concerns about internationalisation was one way of doing so, and given the court’s stay order, has proved successful for that limited purpose.


Overall, the ICJ stay on Jadhav’s execution is a political victory for India, one that casts aspersions on Pakistan’s goodwill and the rule of law in that country. But it should be seen for what it is: the start of what may still be a long and messy process to bring Jadhav home.

May 18, 2017

Making Sense of Uncertain India-US Relations

The following article originally appeared in the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Jan-Mar 2017. The full text can be accessed here.

What does the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA mean for India? The short answer is that no one knows, not even Trump himself. India was fortunate not to feature prominently during the heated and divisive 2016 US election season. The occasional statements concerning India by President Trump and his advisors during and after the campaign sent mixed and sometimes contradictory signals. Additionally, the belated appointment of senior officials to key government positions after his inauguration (and the profiles of those currently in place) suggest that some of the bigger questions about US engagement with the rest of the world remain unsettled.


In an era of greater flux and uncertainty, it is nonetheless important for India to identify the key variables triggered by President Trump’s election, and their implications. They relate, essentially, to four broad areas: bilateral relations; the Asian balance of power; terrorism; and global governance.

To read more click here.

May 6, 2017

Assessing the Islamic State Threat to India


The following article, coauthored with Sara Perlangeli, originally appeared in The Times of India on 6 May 2017. The full text can be accessed here.

The so-called Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh, is back in the news in India. Recent reports suggest that Indian IS fighters were killed by US forces in Afghanistan, and the Telangana police has been accused of trying to lure and entrap potential IS sympathisers. This raises the question of how big a challenge IS poses to Indian interests and national security.

To investigate, we assessed all Indian citizens confirmed to have affiliated themselves with IS. This includes those who attempted or succeeded in travelling to Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan as recruits, as well as propagandists, recruiters, funders, conspirators and other sympathisers. While acknowledging that this comprises only a sample of actual IS affiliates in India, a few tentative conclusions can nonetheless be drawn.

First, only 142 Indian citizens (132 named) can be confirmed to have affiliated with IS in some way. This suggests that IS has made only scant inroads in India, relative to Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Australia – let alone West Asia and North Africa. In fact, some of these Indians were radicalised abroad, including in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia.

That said, the numbers of Indians linked to IS has steadily grown. From only one confirmed individual in 2013, the numbers grew to six in 2014, 35 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. The trend may now be plateauing, with 25 in the first four months of 2017. The IS challenge is a serious one, but does not yet appear to be on par with other countries or with other terrorist challenges facing India.

Second, certain states in the south and west appear particularly prone to IS-inspired radicalism. We identified 37 recruits or sympathisers from Kerala, 21 from Telangana, 19 from Maharashtra, 16 from Karnataka, 15 from UP, six from MP, five from Tamil Nadu, four from Gujarat, three each from Uttarakhand and Bengal, two from Jammu & Kashmir, and one each from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Rajasthan.
The fact that over three-quarters come from just five states suggests that localised responses may be more beneficial than any national policy. Additionally, with the exception of UP, these states represent among the most prosperous and best-networked parts of the country. This is in line with similar trends elsewhere, with more liberal or developed countries (such as Tunisia and Morocco among Arab states, or Australia, the Nordic nations, France and Belgium globally) among the most vulnerable to IS-inspired radicalisation.

Third, India appears to have a relatively good track record of countering the IS threat. 85 of 142 known IS sympathisers from India (60%) have been arrested or interrogated, while two returned home, although successful cases are probably overrepresented. A significant number of those Indians who have been arrested were intercepted at Indian airports, and several were caught in transit before being deported back to India. Of those that were not arrested or apprehended, 11 have been confirmed killed: six in Syria, three in Afghanistan, one in a police encounter in India, and one in either Iraq or Syria. This means at least 43 are active or at large, although many of these have been reported (but not confirmed) killed.

Finally, despite many cases of self-radicalisation, IS often tends to graft onto pre-existing organisations. About one-third of the reported Indian IS sympathisers have affiliations with other groups, including the Indian Mujahideen (IM), Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), or IS-inspired groups such as Junood ul Khalifa fil Hind (JKH). IS radicalisation also tends to spread through family, school or neighbourhood ties, often coalescing into cells, such as Ansarul Khilafa Kerala.


As IS is defeated as a state – a self-proclaimed Caliphate with defined territory and a military – it could very well morph into a global network, akin to al-Qaida. This presents a new kind of challenge for India and the world. Without unnecessarily exaggerating the threat, details available in public about IS recruitment and propaganda can be a valuable way of anticipating its future challenge to India’s national security.

April 28, 2017

An Assessment of Trump's First 100 Days in Office


The following blog post appeared on Order from Chaos, a blog of the Brookings Institution, on 28 April, 2017. The full text can be found here.

Donald Trump’s first 100 days has witnessed some actual attempts to follow through on his campaign rhetoric. There was the poorly-worded executive order on immigration (the so-called “Muslim ban”), his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and an executive order on Buy American, Hire American. At the same time, confusion has reigned with the sudden replacement of his national security advisor, his walking back on matters such as NATO, and the continued absence of senior policymakers below his cabinet. These factors have contributed to several uncertainties concerning American openness (which is really what makes American great), his China policy, his counterterrorism priorities, and his approach to global governance.


While continuing to try to engage with the White House, countries like India have little choice but to deepen their outreach to the U.S. Congress, state governments, and the American private sector. At the same time, other partners—not least Europe and Japan, but also in some respects Russia and China—have grown in relevance from New Delhi’s point of view. In the long run, a partnership with the United States is still necessary and beneficial. But in the short run, India still needs a backup plan.

April 27, 2017

Coming Up Trumps


The following article appeared in India Today on 27 April 2017. The full text can be found here.

As Donald Trump completes 100 days as US President, what has it meant for India? The short answer is, nobody knows, not even Trump. But in an era of greater uncertainty, it is important for India to identify the key variables triggered by Trump's election. They relate, essentially, to four broad areas: bilateral relations, the Asian balance of power, terrorism and global governance.

On bilateral relations, when market access, investment, technology and the flow of people are taken together, the US stands out as India's most important partner for progress. For America, India's rise presents lucrative opportunities-in infrastructure, energy, financial services and retail. The two countries enjoy an increasingly close private sector-led relationship that encompasses IT, biological sciences, space, energy and defence. This mutually beneficial and reinforcing partnership is premised on two things. First, the factors that constitute American exceptionalism: democracy, liberal internationalism and immigration. Trump has instead projected America as a more 'normal' power, one unwilling to be a model for others, focusing its defence structures on closer, more immediate challenges and conceiving national identity in narrower terms. Additionally, the past three US presidents were guided by the strategic logic, as Ashley Tellis put it, that "a strong, democratic, (even if perpetually) independent India [is] in American national interest". This logic informed Bill Clinton's lifting of sanctions after the 1998 nuclear tests, George W. Bush's offer of a civil nuclear agreement and Barack Obama's agreeing to a Joint Strategic Vision with India. While trying to convince Trump of the merits of American openness and the value of a strong India, New Delhi must work with other American actors (including states, legislators and the private sector), while seeking alternative partners whenever possible.

The US role as a security provider in the Indo-Pacific is also crucial to preserving a regional balance of power. Trump has offered mixed signals on China, but possible outcomes include a more militarised 'pivot to Asia' or a policy of calculated unpredictability. Alternatively, Trump may try to broker a power-sharing arrangement with Beijing, or not match his belligerent rhetoric with the requisite sources, or engage in a ruinous trade and currency war. Those outcomes would be much less welcome to New Delhi. While evaluating the possibilities of each broad scenario and planning accordingly, India must continue its policy of maintaining a favourable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. This means doubling down on an 'Act East' policy: arming the north along the border, connecting east into Southeast Asia, securing the Indian Ocean to the south, partnering farther afield with like-minded actors, deepening institutional links to Asia and continuing to engage and cooperate with Beijing, whenever possible, particularly economically.

Terrorism remains a third major concern. While talking tough, Trump has focused on securing the homeland, defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and countering Iran. India has its own priorities, which place greater stress on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan and, relatedly, on stabilising Afghanistan. However, the US appetite for counter-insurgency in Afghanistan has declined, and several factors, including a nuclear weapons programme, have prevented it from addressing Pakistan-based terrorism. Therefore, while India and the US may find greater agreement at the level of first principles when it comes to terrorism, practical cooperation might be complicated.


Finally, Trump's election will have consequences for global governance. Today, India seeks membership of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; desires a voice and a vote on nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons proliferation through membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (which would cement its 2008 waiver that enables it to conduct civil nuclear commerce); and seeks a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council. While the US has supported India's membership of these forums in the past, it appears a low priority for the Trump Administration. It will have to be seen whether 'America First' can ever align with India's aspiration to be a leading power.

April 7, 2017

Pakistan May Want to Think Twice About US Mediation


The following article originally appeared in The Quint on 7 April 2017. The full text can be found here

Donald Trump, deal-maker. That’s how the president of the United States has long branded himself. But his tenure as deal-maker-in-chief has not gotten off to a great start. Whether it is the defiance of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in conducting missile tests or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons, Trump has not been able to bring such actors to the negotiating table, let alone broker a deal. Nor has he been able to persuade Vladimir Putin to adopt a different line on the United States and the West, despite his lavish praise of the Russian leader. Trump’s mismanaged efforts on immigration policy and healthcare legislation have shown up even his ability to seal a deal with members of his own Republican Party. The notion that Trump may now want to negotiate between India and Pakistan appears both risible and preposterous.

And yet, that’s precisely how some are interpreting a recent statement by his Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” Haley said at a press conference. “We don’t think we should wait till something happens. We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that.” Haley’s statements echo previous utterings by US Vice President Mike Pence who, when asked about India and Pakistan in a television interview, said that Trump “intend[s] to be fully engaged in the region and fully engaged with both nations to advance peace and security.”

The response to Haley’s comment, in both India and Pakistan, has been predictable, and drearily so. In India, it was flashed across television news and appeared in newspaper headlines, with a subtext of grave concern. Pakistan’s officials have unsurprisingly welcomed her words, with the country’s envoy to Washington Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry saying: "Any positive role that the US plays to bring peace and stability in South Asia can serve the region well." Pakistan clearly hopes to exploit Haley’s statement to internationalise the dormant Kashmir dispute.

But beyond the fact that Trump has other priorities and preoccupations – both at home and abroad – there are many reasons to cast doubt upon Haley’s statements being reflective of imminent US mediation. For starters, both Haley and Pence were responding to unscripted questions, rather than making prepared statements, and the absence of clarity in both their responses revealed a lack of preparedness and coordination. Pence was unable to offer any details and appeared visibly eager to end that line of questioning, while Haley seemed primarily keen to suggest that the United States did not want to be left out on regional developments.

There are also at least three problems that the possibility of US diplomatic intervention raises. One, India has been adamant that its differences with Pakistan must be settled bilaterally. This is in contrast to other disputes – say, Northern Ireland or the Middle East peace process – in which both sides have accepted American mediation. In 2009, India successfully resisted much more serious efforts by US diplomat Richard Holbrooke to intervene in the region. Today, in a world in which the United States is relatively weaker and India relatively stronger, New Delhi can be more confident in its ability to deny external involvement in its internal affairs.

Two, the prospect of American mediation – should it involve pressure on India to be more accommodating of Pakistan – would run counter to the Trump administration’s counterterrorism objectives. Such mediation would embolden those seeking to use terrorism to effect political change. American involvement of this sort could unintentionally justify the use of terrorism by Pakistan-based militant separatists. That may not be desirable from Washington’s standpoint.


Finally, given the deterioration in US-Pakistan ties and the widespread perception that Washington now tilts in India’s favour, US intervention may no longer be as welcome in Pakistan as it once was. This is where a portion of Haley’s remarks appears curious. “I think that will be something that you will see members of the National Security Council participate in,” she said, “but also wouldn’t be surprised if the president participates in that as well.” The mention of National Security Council officials is a peculiar detail. Lisa Curtis, a long-time South Asia watcher at the Heritage Foundation, will reportedly be the next Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council. Curtis recently led a task force report that advocated much tougher US measures against Pakistan for its support of terrorism. If anything, Haley’s response may be hinting at steps along those lines. If that is the case, Islamabad – and Rawalpindi – would probably want to think twice before welcoming a more active US diplomatic role in the region.

April 3, 2017

Decoding India's Nuclear Status


The following article originally appeared in The Wire on 3 April 2017. The full text can be accessed here.

India has been a declared nuclear weapon power for almost two decades. And yet, in the intervening period, not very much information has come to light about its nuclear program. The absence of information is deliberate and may even be necessary. Ambiguity confers advantages, particularly when a country has a small nuclear arsenal. Whatever the exact numbers, India’s nuclear weapon stockpile is probably smaller than every declared nuclear weapon power, other than North Korea. This has helped to keep down costs and minimise security risks, while maintaining a basic nuclear deterrent.

But because a small nuclear arsenal has required a great deal of secrecy and ambiguity, the absence of information about India’s nuclear program has opened space for considerable speculation by observers, including in academic circles, both in India and abroad. Some of that speculation is informed, while much is extrapolated from scant statements made by current and former Indian officials. Some of the recent commentary on India’s changing nuclear strategy must be seen in this context. But it is important to highlight what we know about India’s nuclear strategy and why it matters, before analysing some of the present discussions about India’s future nuclear intentions.

India’s official nuclear doctrine and strategy

India was always a reluctant nuclear power. From the 1950s to the 1990s, there was considerable debate – both in public and at the highest levels of government – about the morality of acquiring nuclear weapons. Estimates by foreign governments – including the US – had India acquiring nuclear weapon capability as early as the 1960s. Homi Bhabha, the original driver of India’s nuclear policy, made a decision in 1958 to extract plutonium from spent fuel at Trombay. But India was not relentless in its pursuit of nuclear weapons during this period and had not tested by the time the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into being in 1968. Subsequently, India conducted a “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 – too late to be considered a nuclear weapon state by the NPT – and, unusually, it did not immediately weaponise. The decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapons program was only made in April 1979 in response to intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear development, which accelerated following A.Q. Khan’s stealing of centrifuge technology from the Netherlands and a possible clandestine China-Pakistan agreement in 1976. Throughout the 1980s, India made fitful attempts at developing nuclear weapon capability while pursuing disarmament objectives. At the same time, during the 1980s and early 1990s, China transferred fissile material, missile production facilities and uranium enrichment equipment to Pakistan. Additionally, in Pakistan, nuclear control fell into the hands of the military, causing further anxiety in New Delhi.

The decision for India to test a nuclear weapon was made in November 1995 by P.V. Narasimha Rao and preparations for a test began. This was prompted by two main impetuses. The first was an assessment in the early 1990s that Pakistan had successfully weaponised with Chinese assistance and had the ability to produce at least ten bombs. The other was the risk of being caught between two opposing international developments – the extension in perpetuity of the NPT in 1995, which gave legal sanction to only five nuclear weapon powers, and negotiations towards a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would have prevented all countries from conducting nuclear tests. India thus faced the very real prospect of two nuclear-armed adversaries (China and Pakistan) with which it had major territorial disputes. By being sandwiched between the NPT and CTBT, it also confronted an international regime that threatened to permanently legalise China’s arsenal, while denying India the right to conduct a nuclear test. Under US pressure and heading into elections, Rao deferred the order to test. But in hindsight, these international conditions meant that the 1998 nuclear tests – which were conducted immediately after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the BJP had assumed power and after the Indian economy had strengthened itself enough to withstand international sanctions – were inevitable.

In the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, a semi-official body known as the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) was convened to deliberate a nuclear doctrine. It produced a public draft report in August 1999, which posited that “India’s nuclear forces will be effective, enduring, diverse, flexible, and responsive to the requirements in accordance with the concept of credible minimum deterrence. These forces will be based on a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets.” The draft nuclear doctrine also described the first use of nuclear weapons as “constitute[ing] a threat to peace, stability and sovereignty of states.”

In January 2003, India’s cabinet committee on security issued a short summary of India’s nuclear doctrine. The key tenets included the building and maintenance of a “credible minimum deterrent,” civilian political control, a posture of “no first use,” with retaliation only against a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack on Indian territory or Indian forces. The retaliation to a first strike would be “massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.” The full text of India’s nuclear doctrine has not been publicly released, although it is based on the 1999 draft doctrine.

There is one important wrinkle. In a 2010 speech, then national security advisor Shivshankar Menon described India’s nuclear doctrine as “no first use against non-nuclear weapon states”. This implied that a first use by India of a nuclear weapons was possible against another nuclear-armed competitor. At the time, the shift was meant to be subtle but deliberate. But the fact that this formulation was never repeated – and was, in fact, reversed in subsequent statements – suggests that it is no longer a guiding principle, but should be seen only as a momentary signal against India’s adversaries.

Nonetheless, there was considerable speculation over the next several years, both in India and abroad, about India’s intentions and changes in posture. In 2013, this prompted Shyam Saran, the then chairman of the NSAB, to deliver a speech “in the hope that there could be a more informed discourse…that is truly rooted in India’s own circumstance rather than influenced by external commentaries”. He faulted the “moral equivalence” drawn by “motivated analysts” between India and Pakistan, arguing that it “affect[ed] our proposed membership” of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime. He warned that “The ease with which motivated assessments and speculative judgments…invade our own thinking is deeply troubling”.

In 2003, speculation over India’s nuclear weapons programme prompted Shyam Saran to address the idea that India might respond to Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons.
In part, Saran was addressing the notion that India might respond somehow to Pakistan’s development of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. Sceptics deemed India’s “massive retaliation” to Pakistan’s use of a small nuclear weapon disproportional and not credible. But the logical consequence is that India should either develop tactical nuclear weapons of its own, reconsider no first use, or move to a doctrine of proportional or assured retaliation. Although initially argued by some nuclear experts in the US, it subsequently found resonance with some Indian commentators. Examples include a recent article by Ajai Shukla, a commentary by Arka Biswas and even an editorial in Mint. But this view is dangerous. It begins to recast nuclear weapons as instruments of warfighting and thus opens up the frightening possibility of India believing that a nuclear war can be won – or at least remain limited or contained. This is the start of a slippery slope to a nuclear arms race, which ironically is what non-proliferation advocates have wanted to avoid.

In his 2013 speech, Saran firmly rejected the possibility of Indian doctrinal or strategic change as a response to Pakistan’s development of smaller nuclear weapons. A limited nuclear war, he stated, was not possible – “a contradiction in terms” – and whether the first weapon used was strategic or tactical was “irrelevant from an Indian perspective”. He also described how India, since 1998, had taken steps to move toward a triad of land, air and submarine-based nuclear forces and delivery system “to conform to its declared doctrine of no-first use and retaliation only”. India had also created a survivable command and control infrastructure and secure communications. Additionally, Saran asserted that the Indian armed forces were involved in the strategic decision-making process, but argued that the “exclusive military management of strategic forces” was not necessary for a “credible nuclear deterrent”. He outlined the structure of the National Command Authority. And he reiterated that “the central tenet of [India’s] nuclear doctrine [was] that India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but that if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflect unacceptable damage on the adversary”.

The 1999 draft doctrine, the 2003 statement by the Indian government and Saran’s officially sanctioned speech – all drafted and presented after careful deliberation – constitute almost everything about which we can be certain when it comes to India’s official nuclear doctrine and strategy. But it has not always satisfied many observers. India made a convenient scapegoat for an international nuclear establishment that looked the other way as China and then Pakistan proliferated their nuclear technology. In fact, India followed China’s nuclearisation and its pursuit of weaponisation followed Pakistan’s. The 1998 decision to declare a nuclear weapon capability was primarily a response to India’s external security environment and an adverse international regime, not simply notions of prestige and nationalism, as it is often portrayed.

The critics and their consequences

But critics of India’s nuclear program have not always seen things that way. They have rarely acknowledged India’s restrained post-test behaviour, its separation of civilian and nuclear programs, or its commendable non-proliferation record. Initially, they rubbished India’s no first use pledge as non-binding and essentially meaningless. Arms control groups overestimated India’s nuclear arsenal size in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was often assessed in the mid-2000s as 100, a nice round figure that remains suspiciously resilient. But it has variably been estimated as 50 (1998), 65 (2000), 80-100 (2012), 75-125 (2015) and 110-120 (2015). In fact, the numbers provided in some such estimates have sometimes even declined over time, which calls into question some of the assumptions and methodologies used. Critics have also exaggerated the number of threats made by India and projected a much more aggressive attempt by New Delhi at modernising delivery systems than was feasible. They made extraordinary attempts – using some creative leaps of logic – to tie India to Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan proliferation network. At the same time, they advocated that Pakistan derive the same benefits – in terms of access to civilian nuclear and dual use technologies – as India. And they unfailingly adhere to the continued centrality and inviolability of a regime in which China is a rule-maker, rather than recognise it as a rule-breaker.

Such efforts, based often on a great deal of guesswork about India’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, have had three effects. One, they have complicated India’s quest to be a normal nuclear weapons power: a state that can retain its nuclear weapon arsenal but with which civilian nuclear commerce is permissible. Although India’s entry into the NPT as a nuclear weapon state is all but impossible, it has largely been successful in achieving normal nuclear status, particularly with the 2008 unanimous waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a 48-country cartel initially formed in response to India’s 1974 peaceful nuclear explosion. Nonetheless, India’s waiver remains subject to the whims of other countries, and NSG membership (rather than simply a waiver) represents a way of permanently consolidating India’s nuclear status by giving it a vote and a voice in the international nuclear order. In the run up to the 2016 NSG plenary, at which India’s membership was to be discussed, some countries evinced scepticism about India’s entry due to its being a non-signatory of the NPT. It is therefore important that India’s membership application continue to be assessed on its official behaviour, statements and intentions, rather than conjecture, hearsay, and questionable assumptions and logic.

Two, mischaracterising India’s nuclear program and exaggerating its belligerent intentions justifies Pakistan’s continued nuclear build-up. Already, the past few years have witnessed Pakistan’s shift to plutonium weapons, miniaturisation and the development of smaller ballistic missiles as delivery systems intended for battlefield use. The rapid expansion of nuclear weapons by Pakistan is incredibly destabilising, not least because it increases the chances of their loss, theft, sale, sabotage, or accidental use. It is also quite possibly meant to deter the US as much as India, coming on the heels of the US raid on Abbottabad and a sharp deterioration in ties with Washington. Nonetheless, India – especially when portrayed as an aggressive and irresponsible nuclear power – makes for a good foil. Overstating Indian intentions and abilities serves as ample justification for Pakistan today having the fastest growing – and one of the most dangerous – nuclear weapon arsenals.

Three, the unnecessary undermining of India’s nuclear doctrine and strategy has the effect of empowering hawks in India, who advocate for much greater military spending and a larger nuclear arsenal. It thus serves the opposite of the arms control community’s intended objectives. And it prematurely opens the door to difficult questions about India’s military spending and priorities, and thorny civil-military issues, particularly as they relate to the command and control of nuclear forces. India has, to date, learned the lessons of the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, which played loosely and recklessly with nuclear deterrence as part of their frenzied arms race. The misrepresentation of India’s own stated objectives increases the danger of India unlearning those lessons. Both India – and the international nuclear order – would be worse off for it.

Calling into question India’s stated intentions when it comes to nuclear doctrine and strategy is therefore very serious, as it has important implications for India’s own security and rise, for deterrence stability in South Asia, and for military spending and civil-military relations in India. This does not make India’s doctrine and strategy unquestionable, but simply means that considerable and watertight evidence needs to be marshalled to arrive at even tentative conclusions. Otherwise, the inadvertent beneficiaries are the Pakistan army, China and some of the more hawkish elements of India’s strategic community.

Nor does this mean that India should be given a free pass on its nuclear status. The fact is that it never has. India has had to develop its nuclear technologies – both military and civilian – despite adverse technology denials and has had to work incredibly hard since 1998 to assure the world about its intentions. This has required an open debate and public statement by the government on its nuclear doctrine and posture – which is very unusual – as well as a separation plan, a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and considerable diplomatic efforts with the US, Russia, Japan, France and a host of other countries. The Manmohan Singh government even put its future on the line on this matter in 2008.

Additionally, none of this means that India’s nuclear doctrine and strategy are set in stone. A running debate about its evolution and appropriateness is necessary and healthy. However, those that participate in that debate must remain mindful of India’s security needs, its limited technological and financial resources, and its domestic and international political considerations. They must also accurately interpret and assess the statements upon which their conclusions are based.

Assessing a non-controversy

Recent deliberation about India’s nuclear doctrine and strategy must be considered amid the backdrop of the progression of India’s nuclear development, its officially stated positions, the history of questionable assertions and the potentially dangerous consequences of such conjecture. Over the past several months, further speculation has arisen that India might be reconsidering its nuclear doctrine and strategy. At the very least, the perception has been created that this is the subject of a great deal of debate within India.

A few incidents have given rise to this perception. One involved the BJP manifesto for the 2014 general elections, which stated that the BJP would “Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times [and] Maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostatic realities.” Some interpreted the mention of revising and updating the nuclear doctrine as a signal that no first use would be abandoned. This was countered by then-prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who lauded Vajpayee’s commitment to no first use in an October 2013 speech and stated in an April 2014 interview that “‘no first use’ is a very good initiative of [Vajpayee] and there is no compromise on this. We are very clear on this.”

Another needless controversy was sparked by India’s former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who was infamous for going off-script when speaking off-the-cuff. “A lot of people say that India has No First Use policy,” he said at a 2016 book launch. “Why should I bind myself to [it]… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking. Some of them may immediately tomorrow flash that Parrikar says that nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy but my concept.” Despite Parrikar stating clearly that government policy had not changed, the defence ministry subsequently clarified that the doubts raised about no first use were the personal opinions of the minister.

Along with these, other statements have been used to make the case that India is reconsidering no first use, including one made by former foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh when he was a member of the opposition in 2011. Others point to comments made by Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal – a former head of India’s strategic forces command – in a 2014 interview in Force, a minor defence magazine, where he suggests that rather than no first use, “ambiguity” leaves the option of “decapitating and/or disarming strikes”. In fact, Nagal details his views on this matter in a subsequent journal article and argues quite the opposite: “The most credible option while accepting an NFU policy is to use the weapons for effect, which India defines as “massive retaliation”… The design and strategy of [India’s] strategic forces are predicated on this doctrine.” Some critics even cite a comment by Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar, another former commander of strategic forces, as advocating a pre-emptive nuclear strike. This is confounding, because Shankar specifically discusses pre-emption using conventional – not nuclear – weapons, arguing that this would complement and support a no first use nuclear policy.

These statements all need to be properly assessed. The BJP manifesto made no explicit mention of revising no first use and was quickly negated by the party’s leader. Parrikar actually reiterated that no first use was India’s stated doctrine, even if he did not personally agree with it, and the defence ministry officially confirmed this. Jaswant spoke as an opposition leader, meaning to attack the Indian government of the day. Nagal was laying out scenarios as a retired official in an interview in a small defence magazine and Shankar, also retired, was discussing conventional pre-emption.

The latest round of discussion on the subject has emanated not from New Delhi, but in Washington. At a speech at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argued that “There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first [in a nuclear exchange]. And that India’s opening salvo may not be conventional strikes…but a full ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons”. This is caveated – “This would mark a major shift in Indian strategy if adopted and implemented” – but it is nonetheless a striking and bold claim. Some of the evidence that Narang employs comes from Parrikar and Nagal’s statements. But most of it derives from a recent book by Menon, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy. This is peculiar, because Menon’s primary point in the book’s relevant chapter is to offer a detailed explanation and justification of India’s adoption of no first use.

Nonetheless, it is important to address Narang’s argument. It relies solely on three short passages from the book, as well as another statement by Menon.

First, consider Menon’s statement that “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for.” Here, his essential point was that while holding out the threat of massive retaliation, necessary for deterrence at the highest levels, India’s current doctrine does not rule out other possibilities below that response. These other possibilities might extend beyond countervalue targets (such as major urban centres) and encompass counterforce targets (such as Pakistani nuclear-armed missile batteries). No first use and massive retaliation are not, in other words, incompatible with counterforce targets. Massive retaliation is indeed assured and could even be proportional, which renders that “debate” inconsequential. This is not a surprise and should have been clear from a close reading of Saran’s 2013 speech. But it is still a far cry from implying that India has adopted – or is considering adopting – a counterforce strategy (as Narang says), which would require it to develop a much larger nuclear arsenal and would make it responsive to the growing size and changing posture of Pakistan’s nuclear force. Plainly speaking, India’s adoption of a counterforce strategy would open up a true arms race with Pakistan (or China), something Indian nuclear planners are keen on avoiding.

A second passage – this time from the book – is at first glance more damning, because it appears to completely negate India’s no first use pledge: “There is a potential gray area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against another NWS [nuclear weapon state],” Menon writes in Choices. “Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.” But Narang’s quoting of this passage obscures the context, because the lines preceding and succeeding are just as important. “A first strike doctrine is surely destabilizing,” Menon plainly states, “and does not further the primary purpose of our weapons of deterring blackmail, threat, or use of nuclear weapons by an adversary against India.” And he concludes: “India’s present public nuclear doctrine is silent on this scenario.” One has to wonder why Narang failed to include this inconvenient context.

Third, Narang stresses Menon’s use of the past tense in the following passage: “[T]he logical posture at first was counter-value targeting, or targeting an opponent’s assets, rather than counterforce targeting, which concentrates on the enemy’s military and command structures.” This is in the past tense because Menon is describing a debate that took place in the past, during the 1990s (the section begins: “The no-first-use policy and assured retaliation concept naturally had several direct implications for India’s nuclear strategy and posture.”) Narang’s is thus a gross misreading, implying a past policy rather than past deliberations.

The key lines of a fourth passage, as Narang cites them, are as follows: “If Pakistan were to use tactical nuclear weapons against India [or believed to imminently prepared to do so], even against Indian forces in Pakistan, it would effectively be opening the door to a massive Indian first strike, having crossed India’s declared red lines. There would be little incentive, once Pakistan had taken hostilities to the nuclear level, for India to limit its response, since that would only invite further escalation by Pakistan. India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response to Pakistan using tactical nuclear weapons. In other words, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons use [or imminent use] would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.” The use of this passage is staggering for two reasons. First, in the prepared text of his speech, Narang twice adds references to imminent use in brackets to this passage, although these do not appear in the original text. This serves to overstate the possibility of Indian pre-emptive nuclear strikes. Second, as is patently clear at the outset of the passage, Menon used “first strike” to describe a first Indian strike in response to Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons. Yet, Narang characterises “comprehensive first strike” in a very different way, as an Indian pre-emptive strike, particularly with the insertion of “imminent use”. Comprehensive first strike does have a very specific meaning in nuclear jargon, but it is clear from the context that that is not how Menon is using it.

All of this clearly shows that Narang’s reading of Menon’s book has absolutely no basis, and the interpretation is often creative and incredibly misleading. He takes one passage entirely out of context, a second is completely misread, and a third is both embellished and misunderstood. Despite the caveats – that all of this suggests India’s thinking about the future, rather than a current reality – this reading inadvertently paints a much more sensationalistic picture, one that is already having detrimental effects. Reputable international publications have already carried stories on the subject. In The New York Times, Max Fisher writes that the assessment is “necessarily speculative” and “does not prove a policy shift,” but he then continues to paint an alarmist picture. In a report out of Islamabad, The Wall Street Journal goes even further, stating that the nuclear arms race in South Asia is “intensifying.”

Meanwhile, Pakistani security analysts and commentators have used Narang’s misrepresentation of India’s nuclear strategy as evidence of Indian “duplicity” and “double standard[s]”, a vindication of Pakistan’s “Full Spectrum deterrence” and a signal of India’s ability to launch an offensive nuclear attack (which, to be fair, is not what Narang says at all). While concurring with Narang’s analysis, Ankit Panda readily acknowledges that “with Pakistani concerns about an Indian disarming strike somewhat vindicated by [Narang’s] analysis, expect Islamabad’s nuclear stockpile – the world’s fastest-growing – to continue growing.” However much public policy analysts might argue that their only true purpose is academic objectivity, the fault for such dangerously misleading conclusions – however tentative – lie not in the stars but in themselves.

Continuity over change

India is a vibrant parliamentary democracy where elected civilian officials exercise control over its nuclear doctrine and strategy. Important changes to Indian doctrine and strategy will be debated – both internally and externally – and signalled appropriately. It will not be dropped in extemporaneous remarks by serving cabinet ministers speaking in their personal capacity. It will not be hinted after retirement by army officials in interviews with military magazines. It will not be mentioned on think tank blogs. Instead, it will have to take into account multiple inputs, including from Indian government scientists, the military, the diplomatic establishment, and bureaucrats from multiple ministries, as happened between 1998 and 2003. Today, there is simply no evidence that such a debate is taking shape. None.

Abandoning no first use has found few takers among Indian officials, including at the National Security Council Secretariat or at the upper echelons of the Indian government. George Perkovich and Toby Dalton confirm this, citing a former Indian official: “Pakistan is turning to Cold War tenets that were proved untenable before. Why should we follow them? The mainstream view here has been remarkably consistent.” No first use, credible minimum deterrence and the associated strategic logic have served India well, and it is important to underscore the benefits. India has managed to rejoin the nuclear mainstream, eventually attaining access to international sources of civilian nuclear technology, fuel and equipment. India has also been able to occupy the moral high ground. And it has avoided a potentially expensive nuclear arms race with either China or Pakistan, without truly compromising its security.

As Menon clearly writes, there is no guarantee that considerably revising the nuclear doctrine would render any benefits to Indian security. A first use policy would still not counter subconventional warfare by proxy by Pakistan. Instead, non-military solutions as well as military solutions below the nuclear threshold – such as the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ in 2016 – must be further explored.

The Indian establishment can be faulted for not always clearly articulating its approach or countering speculation. In part, this is a product of its deliberate ambiguity. But this has also had drawbacks. In the past, this required Saran – as chairman of the NSAB – to firmly repudiate critics. Perhaps it is time for the present government to do something similar.

Additionally, there is a dire need for a new generation of Indian scholars and analysts to reflect upon India’s past choices. This is not because those decisions are fixed or far-sighted, but because they were derived after careful and considerable deliberation and debate. Amid all the idle talk about scenarios involving nuclear exchanges, we must constantly remind ourselves that nuclear weapons are terrible, potent things. Even a small number can cause incredible damage, killing millions in a matter of minutes. Fighting a nuclear war is a horrifying prospect, because there are no winners. Nuclear weapons are political in nature and are meant to deter. For India, that is their only true purpose.

March 20, 2017

Shaping Public Policy

The following interview originally appeared in The Hindu on 20 March 2017. The full text can be accessed here.

LinkedIn used its data to produce a list of the top skills from 2016, that will get you hired this year. The ranking is based on recruiter and employer activity over the past year. Number 10 on the list is ‘Public Policy and International Relations’. In this conversation with Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow, Foreign Policy, at Brookings India in New Delhi, gives us some insights into the field, picking up the skill, and career outlook.

What is public policy and international relations?

Public policy examines how government policies — including laws, rules, norms, and their implementation — affect the well-being of states, societies, and individuals. It encompasses a wide range of issues from economic and social policies, to security and foreign policy. International relations (IR) can be considered a subset of public policy that has a transnational element, and might include international security, trade, international political economy, diplomatic history, and global governance.

The study of public policy draws from many disciplines, including political science, law, economics, history, management, statistics, psychology, sociology, security studies, urban planning, and communications.

Programmes for students in India to achieve skills in this field?

In Europe, schools for government administrators have a longer history, such as Sciences Po in France, which began in the late 19th century. In the United States, Princeton, Harvard, and Georgetown founded some of the earliest schools of public administration and international affairs in the early 20th century, with more such schools being created in North America and Europe after World War II.

In India, most education and training programmes have been oriented towards people already in government service, including those at the Indian Institute of Public Administration and Foreign Service Institute. Today, the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Indian School of Business (ISB), the O.P. Jindal Global University, and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) offer courses that address some aspects of public policy or international relations. Unlike many other disciplines, such as law, business, or engineering, there are no standard degrees or professional qualifications required to embark upon a career in public policy or IR.

Career outlook in India?

Government and public administration in India is dominated by career civil service officers, who do not necessarily require an academic background in public policy, but enter the government by taking the Civil Services Examination. There are limited career opportunities outside the government, including in public policy institutes (think tanks). This is because public policy think tanks are generally small, few, and — as non-profit organisations — poorly-resourced.


But increasingly, the private sector — both Indian corporates and multinationals — is seeking recruits with public policy backgrounds to work as consultants or government affairs specialists. Media professionals can also benefit from a public policy background to better understand some of the issues that they cover. Finally, public policy professionals can help train and teach others in academic settings — this usually requires receiving a doctorate in public policy or a related field, such as political science or economics.