Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India’s minimum nuclear deterrence will not be affected by the July 18 agreement. The US interlocutor on India’s separation plan, Nicholas Burns, on the other hand, has said that, “For the first time in 30 years (since the 1974 peaceful nuclear explosion), India will submit itself in a transparent way for international inspections. We (the US) think this is a major gain for the non-proliferation community.” What does the US mean by this, and how confident is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of his assertion are two important questions that need to be answered comprehensively.
Let us begin by understanding India’s minimum nuclear deterrence. India’s first National Security Advisor (NSA), Brajesh Mishra released the draft nuclear doctrine prepared by the National Security Advisory Board on 17 August 1999. The document unequivocally explained that the concept of credible minimum deterrence would be based on a triad of nuclear forces comprising aircraft, mobile land-based ballistic missiles and sea-based assets.
The doctrine was an anathema to the US that saw in it a burgeoning arms race in the sub-continent. Therefore, even before a debate could be initiated on the draft doctrine, the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh publicly rubbished the document. Instead, he left the question of India’s nuclear forces sufficiently vague by saying that, “The minimum nuclear deterrence was a dynamic concept firmly rooted in the strategic environment, technology imperatives and national security needs, and the actual size, components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided taking into account all these factors.” However, alarmed by the draft nuclear doctrine, throughout the tenure of the Clinton administration, the US continued to goad India to exercise ‘strategic restraint.’ The then US chief interlocutor with Jaswant Singh, deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, told FORCE (October 2004) that, “The essence of the concept of strategic restraint was essentially to take the (Indian) slogan of minimum credible deterrence, and translate it into deployment and other practises that would be minimal as well as credible and would diminish the danger of an arms race in the region.”