SVI In-house Seminar/Panel Discussion: Report – July 18, 2019 on India’s Future Strategic Objectives: A Thermonuclear Dimension

SVI In-house Seminar/Panel Discussion: Report – July 18, 2019 on India’s Future Strategic Objectives: A Thermonuclear Dimension

Compiled by: Syeda Saiqa Bukhari and Muhammad Bilal
Reviewed and Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi


Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized an In-house seminar on “India’s Future Strategic Objectives: A Thermonuclear Dimension” on July 18, 2019. This seminar was organized as per Chatham House rules to assess India’s potential enhancement of its deterrent capabilities and how it is aspiring to achieve its future strategic objectives by acquiring thermonuclear weapons. The seminar was chaired by Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/Executive Director, SVI. The guest speakers included Dr. Tariq Rauf (Former Head of Verification & Security Policy, Alternate Head of NPT Delegation, IAEA), Dr. Rizwana Karim Abbasi (Associate Prof. HSS Department, Bahria University, Islamabad), and Amb. (R) Zamir Akram (Former Permanent Representative to CD, United Nations, Geneva).

Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema formally inaugurated the session with a warm welcome to the participants and expressed gratitude for their attendance. He highlighted the importance of arms control in South Asian context and mentioned that there is a lack of serious efforts towards arms control in South Asia.


After his opening remarks Dr. Cheema handed over the session to the first speaker Dr. Tariq Rauf to present his views on ‘Current Challenges in Arms Control’. Dr. Rauf mentioned that in the last two years the risk of inadvertent or accidental use of nuclear weapons is on the rise. Russia and the US are openly talking about using nuclear arsenals which is completely different from the past where the whole purpose was war avoidance. This puts more pressure on policy makers to characterize a threat and then figure out how to respond to it.

He further stated that the traditional discussions and negotiations between Russia and the US on the existing arms control architecture since the Cold War and the post-Cold War era is now slowly being eroded and soon the world might not have any strategic arms control treaty enforced. Part of this roll back started in the year 2000 under Bush administration when the US decided to pull out of the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). ABM treaty is regarded as the key fundamental bases for curbing the race in strategic offensive arms between Russia and the US. Both parties agreed to limit qualitative improvement of their ABM technology e.g. not to develop, test, or deploy ABM launchers capable of launching more than one interceptor missile at a time or modify existing launchers to give them this capability and systems for rapid reload of launchers were similarly barred.

Furthermore, several years ago it was actually Russia that first showed inclination to withdraw from the intermediate and short-range nuclear forces treaty. In this regard Dr. Rauf quoted President Putin’s speech delivered in 2018 at the Valadai Club plenary session in Sochi, Russia, where he said that he did not think that INF treaty is serving its purpose anymore and he is very concerned about China and others developing and deploying INF systems. So, at the Conference on Disarmament this year the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a proposal that INF treaty should be globalized and all the countries that have nuclear missile with the ranges of 500 km to 5,500 km should eliminate all those missiles. According to Dr. Rauf this proposal did not get much support from some nuclear weapon countries including India, Pakistan and Iran.

He mentioned that under Obama administration in 2012, the US publicly charged Russia with developing and testing a ground-launched cruise missile with a range that did not meet the INF Treaty definition. The US continued with these allegations until the end of the Obama administration till 2016. But they did not identify exactly which Russian weapon system was in violation of the treaty. Under Bush administration, the US identified the ground-launched 9M729 missile as the non-compliant missile. But Russia denies that it is not breaching the agreement because the 9M729 cruise missile is simply a variation of the 9M728 missile. The 9M728 cruise missile has the range of 490km and because the 9M729 has the warheads its range is 480km which is below the defined range in INF treaty.

But the US maintains that after observing the flight test of this missile with the lighter and heavier warhead; their assessment is that this missile can fly beyond the 500km range limit set by the Treaty. This year eventually the US administration gave Russia 60 days to comply with a decades-old missile treaty. Russia on the other hand demands the evidence of the flight test with a proof that Russian missile is breaching the INF treaty, which the US hasn’t provided yet. Both the US and Russian Federation have raised concerns about the other side’s compliance with the INF Treaty. On October 20, 2018 President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the agreement citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s missiles. Similarly, on December 4, 2018 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia was in “material breach” of the treaty. The Trump administration issued official notice to the other treaty states-parties on February 2, 2019 that it would suspend its obligations to the treaty and withdraw from the agreement in six months as per the treaty’s terms and would terminate the agreement. Last week, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill suspending Russia’s participation in a pivotal nuclear arms pact with the US. The Russian President’s decree formalizes his country’s departure from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Moreover, Russian officials claim that three current and planned US military programs violate the INF Treaty. The three programs identified by Russia include: the US Aegis-based systems in Eastern Europe, if equipped with cruise missiles, would indeed violate the INF; second is the use of drones as weapons delivery vehicles, and third is the planned deployment of missile defense interceptors on land in the Navy’s MK-41 missile launchers. But all the allegations were dismissed by the US officials. He also mentioned that this treaty had an interesting clause under which the INF Treaty established the Special Verification Commission (SVC) as a forum where the parties could meet to discuss and resolve, implementation, and compliance issues. Press reports from October 2016 indicated that the US ‘has summoned Moscow to a mandatory meeting’ of the SVC to answer accusations that Moscow has violated the INF Treaty. This meeting occurred on November 15-16, 2016. While some public press outlets only reported that the meeting took place, none provided any details about the substance of the meeting. He expressed concern that if both sides withdrew from the INF treaty soon the world would lose an important arms control agreement.

Besides the INF Treaty, the US and Russia only have one agreement left which is the New START treaty signed in 2010. This is a legally binding verifiable agreement that limits each side to have 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and non-deployed launchers to 800. Moreover, the treaty-accountable warhead limit is 30 percent and the delivery vehicle limit is 50 percent. The treaty entered into force on Feb 5, 2011 and is set to expire in 2021. Both parties met the treaty’s central limits by Feb 4, 2018 deadline for implementation. Initially Russia was not interested to extend this treaty but after INF treaty going down there is a renewed interest in extending the New START. However, unfortunately the US doesn’t seem to be too interested anymore.

He also highlighted that the State Department office of the US tasked with negotiating and implementing nuclear disarmament treaties has lost more than 70% of its staff over the past two years as the Trump administration moves towards a world without arms control for the first time in nearly half a century. Few experts believe that the downgrading of the State Department’s capacity to negotiate disarmament agreements is a case of negligence. It is more widely seen as a deliberate strategy directed by John Bolton; Trump’s National Security Advisor and a lifelong opponent of arms control agreements which he sees as unnecessary constraint on the US sovereignty. Dr. Rauf stated that if the world loses New START treaty then there would be no limitation treaty between Russia and the US where the latter still possess 90 percent nuclear weapons.

The US is of the view that the current international environment is quite corrosive and there is a need to first improve the global environment. A conducive environment will allow for better possibilities to negotiate new arms control treaties. He also quoted the US new Nuclear Operation document issued in June 2019 which states that “nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability. Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.” The Nuclear Operations document also outlined the US plans to mount lower-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-based missiles increasing the possibility that they might actually be used. Not to forget that all of this is happening as the US and Iran edge closer to war.

On the other hand, Russia is not far behind either. It came up with a nuclear strategy called “escalate to de-escalate”, which brings the bar for nuclear weapons use to a terrifyingly low level. The US officials are of the view that Russia would turn to nuclear weapons in the face of imminent battlefield defeat e.g. to make up for conventional inferiority in a conflict with the NATO alliance. At the moment Russia is increasingly confident that its conventional capabilities can play at least some of the strategic deterrent role historically played by nuclear weapons, which is creating a dangerous situation at the international level.

Another problematic area is the US withdrawal from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. It took several years of negotiations enforced by the economic sanctions on Iran which brought it to the negotiating table. He further stated that in 2002 and 2003 Iran had less than 200 operational centrifuges and zero quantity of enriched Uranium. By July 2015 Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges. Under the JCPOA it is prohibited to installing no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026. Iran’s Uranium stockpile was reduced by 98% to 300kg (660lbs), a figure that must not be exceeded until 2031. Iran must also keep the stockpile’s level of enrichment at 3.67%. By January 2016 Iran had drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo and shipped tonnes of low-enriched Uranium to  Russia.  Moreover,  the  Security  Council  unanimously adopted Resolution 2231 (2015) endorsing the JCPOA on 20 July 2015. The US withdrawal from JCPOA cites the absence of missile constraints in the Iran nuclear deal. Talking about a particular paragraph of UN resolution 2231, he mentioned that Iran is supposed to refrain from testing and deploying ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. However, Iran claims that the Shahab III family of missiles is ballistic missile and is not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Today Iran stays wary of the US re-imposing the sanctions and hence has substantially sped up the countdown to the breach of the nuclear deal. This is evident from the announcement that it will exceed its Uranium stockpile limit in the next 10 days, raising heightened tensions in the region even further. The country’s atomic agency also said that Tehran might start the process of enriching Uranium up to 20%, closer to weapons-grade, starting from 7 July 2019. This whole situation sends out another bad message that a mutually signed nuclear agreement, which is also endorsed by the UN, is now being violated. According to the Article 25 of the UN Charter, all member states are bound to carry out the decision of the Security Council. However, in this particular case, the US is not implementing the UNSC Resolution which is a clear violation of the UN Charter. He expressed uncertainty about the future of ongoing conflict between Iran and the US where a number of successive significant developments have taken place in recent time. The world witnessed the US deployment of forces in Persian Gulf, Iran shooting down the US drone, the US responding by launching a cyber-attack on Iran, which however, was refuted by Iran.

Simultaneously the US is also quite vocal about creating conducive environment for nuclear disarmament. In this regard, it hosted first plenary gathering of a new working group to discuss a US initiative “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND) that may affect the 2020 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference. Diplomats from nearly three dozen nations including China, Russia and Pakistan were gathered in Washington from July 2-3, 2019.

In the end, Dr. Rauf briefly mentioned about hypersonic technology and stated that China, Russia, the US, and India are the leading countries that possess this technology. He further discussed that hypersonic missile travels at a speed of Mach 5 and higher which is five times faster than the speed of sound (3836 mph) i.e. around 1 mile per second. This missile system is so fast that it cannot be intercepted by any current missile defense system and also reduces the response time for the delivery of nuclear weapons. Hence, the aspirations for the acquisition of most advanced and innovative technology is on the rise world over despite all the efforts for arms control and disarmament.

After comprehensive presentation by Dr. Tariq Rauf, the second speaker Dr. Rizwana Abbasi expressed her views on “India’s Thermonuclear Bomb: A Myth or Reality”. Dr. Abbasi highlighted four underlying reasons which confirm that India is on its path to developing a thermonuclear bomb:

  1. Status driven – Greater India aspiration
  2. Domestic politics and scientists’ lobbying
  3. India’s hedge against China and technological edge in the backdrop of the NSG waiver
  4. Security factor and competition with China

Talking about the first reason which is status driven i.e. Greater India aspiration, Dr. Abbasi stated that India from the outset has been always ambitious to achieve technological supremacy inspired by its ‘Greater India’ vision. India follows global developments meticulously and responds to them one way or the other. In this context, India decided to build the bomb in the late 1940s. Its peaceful nuclear program was initiated in 1945 with the establishment of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Atomic Energy Research Committee in 1946 under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Homi J. Bhabha. It cannot be denied that Bhabha and Nehru were engaged in technological advancement for both peaceful and military purposes in order to join the global club of nuclear weapon states. Nehru declared in June 1946 ‘as long as world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest scientific devices for its protection.’ He reiterated ‘I have no doubt India will develop its scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes.’ India reinforced its Atomic Energy Policy in 1948 after the establishment of Indian Atomic Energy Commission under the Chairmanship of Bhaba and direct supervision of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. India’s large nuclear program for energy was planned but the defence purpose was privately acknowledged and informed the plans in early 1950s. India then started developing nuclear reactors and facilities for Uranium, fabricating fuel, manufacturing heavy water and reprocessing spent fuel to extract Plutonium. It received global assistance (particularly from the US and Canada) and also benefited heavily from the Atoms for Peace Program. Global support indeed remained an important factor as both Bhaba and Nehru had global linkages, national vision, and political will to mobilize all the resources available to achieve regional nuclear supremacy.

Discussing the second factor i.e. domestic politics and scientists lobbying, she mentioned that after China’s nuclear test it was domestic politics more than a security factor that played a role in India’s nuclear weapon acquisition. India was driven by the desire that its scientists were as good as anyone else’. In 1963, Nehru succeeded in convincing the Indian Parliament to develop nuclear weapons. Dr. Bhaba declared in 1964 that India is capable of developing nuclear weapons within 18 months if it wishes to do so. Dr. Bhaba got approval from then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri to carry out an underground nuclear explosion in 1964. In July 1971, it was confirmed that India was to carry out an underground nuclear explosion under Indira Ghandhi’s administration. India indeed deliberately took time for these explosions in order to evade international pressure. It decided to go for nuclear explosions in 1974 for the following reasons: a) timings were favorable for India to evade NPT pressure; b) Indira Ghandi’s declining political popularity at home; c) Partial Test Ban Treaty also evolved and India considered it necessary to proceed rapidly before any new treaty banning underground tests might be negotiated. The same pattern defined India’s nuclear behavior towards its nuclear explosions in 1998. For example, in 1998 India again chose the right timings to go for open nuclearization. Indeed, India was driven more by consideration of prestige and status than security. The desire to evade the US pressure to sign the NPT, the CTBT and FMCT compelled India to make it enhance its efforts before these treaties might be negotiated. Indian public opinion was converted to a pro–nuclear position during 1990 owing to the succesful lobbying of the strategic and bureaucratic elites and BJP during their election campaign in the late 1990s. Broadly, India wanted greater freedom of action to exert an influential role in the world. India’s policy is based on a hegemonic paradigm and revisionism at the regional level which enhances and channels its motives based on soft power approach at a global level.

Deliberating upon the third factor she stated that India’ relations with the US had never been flat prior to Clinton’s second tenure. President Bush took the trajectory of two states’ relations to a different level offering India a privileged position and an important hedge against China in the Asia-pacific region. In this backdrop thirty years’ history was revised by offering India a Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver. The 2005 Agreement on full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India made the US modify its own laws and policies in order to transfer nuclear technology and modify international controls on the supply of nuclear fuel and technology. In 2006 a strong bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Hyde Act which approved the initiative, thereby allowing the US investment in India’s civil-nuclear power industry. The US assured India of its commitment to reliable supply of fuel by working with allies and NSG along with negotiations with the IAEA.

The agreement permitted access to the international Uranium market, India’s nuclear weapons program would no longer obstruct its ability to reach out to the global commerce for high-technology goods including advanced weapon systems and space-based technologies from the US. The dual-use technologies would become helpful to India’s nuclear program that prevents the cutting-edge dual use enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Indian receipt of nuclear fuel from the international partners would make its domestically manufactured fissile material available for weapons purposes. Indeed, by importing nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors, India will be able to use all its indigenous Uranium resources for weapon production. After acquiring fissile material sufficiency, India can decide to terminate the safeguard agreements, resume nuclear testing, test hydrogen bomb, and expand its nuclear weapon program. There are no reports suggesting if the US or the IAEA directly monitor India’s Uranium production and the amount of Uranium that India diverts to its military program. In addition to the continued operation of its Plutonium production reactors Dhruva and CIRUS, India has about 2 tons of Plutonium in the spent fuel from its unsafeguarded power reactors that could be used for weapons. Under the separation agreement, India retains the sole authority to determine whether any new facility will be civilian or military. And when its breeder program, which is entirely on the military side, becomes fully operational, India will have an ability to produce even larger amount of weapon materials.

Additionally, this deal would help India in indigenizing its energy production capability to achieve sustainable development. It would facilitate the US investment inside India that would boost Indian economy and legitimize its indigenous defence production. India’s diversion of Uranium and modernization of its technologies would have broader impact on the regional strategic stability. This deal has created pathways for India to secure its NSG membership and permanent seat in the UNSC.

She also quoted the global media reports especially a report by Adrian Levy – a journalist, reported in Foreign Policy Magazine in December 2015 that Indian government is building a nuclear city in Challakere, Indian Southern Karnataka state which was likely to be completed by now. This Western report suggested that this city will consist of Subcontinent’s largest military run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic research laboratories, weapons, and aircraft testing facilities. Reports clearly suggest that India possesses a nuclear capability to accumulate many high yield nuclear arms. The Western analyst further suggested the existence of a new nuclear enrichment complex that is already feeding India’s weapons program and setting groundwork for a more ambitious hydrogen bomb project at Rare Materials Plant, 160 miles to the South in Rattehalli close to the city of Mysore. The IPFM estimates suggested the Arihant class submarines core require only 65kg of Uranium enriched to 30% which shows that there will be still 160 kg of weapons grade Uranium left over, every year or enough to fuel at least 55 H-bombs.

Moreover, it is important to note that regarding the Civil-Nuclear Agreement, the US expectations from India were on the following lines: 1) to segregate military and civilian nuclear facilities by placing all the civilian facilities under the IAEA safeguard system; 2) to extend its moratorium on non-testing and sign the CTBT; 3) to work towards the conclusion of the FMCT; 4) to refrain from the transfer of Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) technologies to the states that do not possess them and to support international efforts to limit their spread and progress towards regional non-proliferation; later NSG in 2012 qualified the then exemption granted to India in 2008 saying that the exemption did not apply to ENR; 5) make progress in the conclusion of the Additional Protocol with the IAEA; 6) to commit to the US law under which the US would reverse the deal and seek the return of nuclear fuel and technology shipped to India if India carries out tests in the future; and 7), India would commit to ensure necessary steps to be taken to secure nuclear material and technologies through comprehensive export control legislations in line with Wassaner Arrangements and finally 8), Hyde Act required the US President to report to the Congress on any new developments in the Indian nuclear program which are relevant to India’s capability to make fissile material.

However, India refused to agree to the permanent testing moratorium. Moreover, the idea of separation of facilities made India uncomfortable and therefore has not yet been implemented. India has safeguarded only fourteen out of twenty-two nuclear facilities and diverts unchecked material for military purposes from these reactors. The IAEA does not have any check on crosses over between military and civilian facilities. As review is a standing agenda item for the NSG ist is imperative to ask whether the US President is reporting to the Congress about India’s new enrichment facilities at Karnataka? Whether the NSG is reviewing its cooperation with India and impact of international Uranium purchases by India on its domestic Uranium resources and their use for military purposes? And last but not the least what will be the response of the US if India carries out the hydrogen bomb testin the near future?

India has been further incentivized in the backdrop of its hedge against China by initiating Defence Trade Treaty Initiative (DTTI), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy as part of deepening maritime cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean. India has become the third Asian country after Japan and South Korea to get the Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (STA-1) which means waiver for individual license requirements for defense and hi-tech dual use equipment. How far this undermines the NSG ENR transfer restrictions raises a set of new questions.

The fourth factor i.e. security factor and competition with China is quite significant for India as China already possesses thermonuclear weapons. Given that India usually measures its strategic deterrent against China’s arsenal, this would likely be India’s loud rationale for seeking a thermonuclear capability. China’s is a comprehensive nuclear weapon program and non-war-fighting defensive posture. China and India have historic rivalry that goes back to the Sino-Indian war of 1962. These differences have remained inaudible for many years. In recent years, India’s Asia policy has revived some of these issues. The Doklam incident however, was a self-created event by India to justify its military modernization plans. Despite this rivalry, the trade volume between the two states is rising incredibly, going over $100 billion on a yearly basis. China is a continental power with the ability to resolve many of its border conflicts with its neighboring countries and it would continue to avoid a conflict with India. Similarly, India is also not preparing to fight a serious war with China.

Dr. Abbasi maintained that India is busy in achieving nuclear efficiency and sufficiency to prove its scientific proficiency. India would consider it necessary to acquire H-Bomb to exert broader influence at a global level. India’s security goals go beyond Pakistan and China; thus, it would accumulate power to achieve broader goals. While concluding she mentioned that historically the US has built alliance system with the middle powers that never aspired to dominate the US power projection ability. India is a different civilization in the Sub-continent with an illusion of its Hindutva driven grandeur and hegemonic mind-set to challenge even the US global domination. The US should adopt a cautious policy and remain mindful of preparing a future competitor. This time the US experiment is a unique one in history which could end up creating a Frankenstein monster that in turn could be dangerous for the broader region and globe.

Third speaker Amb. (R) Zamir Akram provided a comprehensive presentation on “Implications of Indian Potential Thermonuclear Weapons on Pakistan’s Security, Nuclear Doctrine and Viable Options”. He started his presentation by commenting on Dr. Cheema’s initial statement about India and Pakistan not making serious effort towards arms control. He stated that Pakistan has taken arms control initiatives to declare South Asian region as a nuclear weapon free zone and also proposed treaty constraint regime after the nuclear test by India and Pakistan. Pakistan also proposed arms control options to ensure the future strategic stability. But India always responded negatively and did not accept the proposed restraint options by Pakistan.

He shared his views on the nature of the thermonuclear weapons that are regarded as the second generation of nuclear weapons and mentioned that there are two critical characteristics that distinguish thermonuclear weapons from average nuclear weapons. The first is that it is about 1,000 times more destructive than an average nuclear weapon. The second is that these weapons can be reduced in size. According to him, thermonuclear weapons are not qualitatively but quantitatively different.

Amb. Akram stated that India’s acquisition of thermonuclear bomb is evident from PM Modi’s statement soon after Balakot incident claiming that India has the ‘Mother of Bombs’. But there is no official acknowledgment of development of thermonuclear bomb. There are two dangerous possibilities behind India’s thermonuclear program: first, it would be part of Indian doctrine of massive retaliation in response to the use of Pakistan’s low yield nuclear weapons in case India launched its Cold Start type conventional attack on Pakistan. India also said that if Pakistan used its low yield nuclear weapons, even on its own territory, it would trigger a massive nuclear retaliation by India. Perhaps in that kind of massive retaliation India would involve the use of thermonuclear weapons. Second more dangerous possibility is of the role that Indian acquisition of thermonuclear weapons (which it is probably already pursuing) would play in a changed nuclear doctrine. For several years, Pakistan has been hearing and reading statements by eminent Indians about India’s commitment to NFU of nuclear weapons policy. The credibility of the commitment has been questioned because of statements and writings of eminent Indian scholars and incremental changes to the nuclear posture. Amb. Akram cited from a book by the former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon titled ‘Choices – Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy’ where it is clearly written about the situations in which India may go for First Use of nuclear weapons. Observing this transition in thinking, India is enhancing its capability which involves short, medium and long range delivery systems; particularly India has sea based long range missiles which collectively contribute towards abrogating the NFU commitment. In other words, India is achieving second strike capability and is developing BMD’s. Developments such as India’s Anti Satellite Test (ASAT) and BrahMos next generation hypersonic missiles are indicative of the fact that India has the capability to launch Cold Start type conventional attack on Pakistan. This clearly implies that even before Pakistan could retaliate by short range missiles i.e. Nasr, India would have launched a first strike attack on Pakistan. This kind of thinking is emerging among the Indian policy makers. In such a scenario thermonuclear weapons can further play a significant role because the first strike by India would be counterforce and would hit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals (deployed in the field or deployed in terms of responding to Indian CSD). Nonetheless, in order to be confident about the reliability of the thermonuclear capability, India would need to test it again. The NSG waiver, strategic partnership with the US, and defence cooperation with Israel and Russia have actually been helping India in developing this kind of weapons facility. India’s arguments behind having a facility at Chellakere are not justified. It claims that the fissile material being produced there is meant for the development of India’s nuclear powered submarines. However, even if India had twenty nuclear powered submarines, the fuel being produced at Chellakere would have been in excess of its requirements. The only logical explanation for this is that India has another purpose i.e. to develop thermonuclear weapons.

This makes it quite evident that Pakistan will face a great security threat from Indian thermonuclear bomb albeit a quantitative threat not a qualitative one, and this would undermine deterrence and strategic stability of South Asia. Amb. Akram suggested that Pakistan does not need to engage in a thermonuclear arms race because it does not provide India with a qualitative edge. Pakistan needs to enhance its FSD capacity by increasing and improving second strike capability. This may include acquiring a triad (which Pakistan does have) including a sea based capability. In future, Pakistan would be able to acquire the nuclear powered submarine which would be another good step. But in any case the regular diesel powered submarine can also be used for this purpose. Pakistan also needs to invest in increasing the ranges of its missiles as well as military capabilities. Above all, Pakistan needs to be sure about security and survivability of its nuclear arsenals in case India launches the first strike. Pakistan is not in the favor of arms race in the region, and parity is not the purpose. Pakistan must acquire an assured second strike capability. Even though it is a general knowledge that deterrence is a dynamic phenomenon and so is the number of weapons. As long as Pakistan is able to ensure that it has a survivable nuclear arsenals that can resist deceptive level of damage by India, Pakistan does not need more weapons. One should also not forget that geographical proximity and wind direction are equally important factors that cannot be overlooked. While India may be able to vaporize Lahore but people living in Delhi would also not be able to survive if a thermonuclear weapon is used. This aspect provides enough rationale for India to not use the thermonuclear weapons as India is neither stupid nor suicidal. So, the bottom line is that Pakistan need to have the capability to call India’s bluff. Even if India goes down the path of thermonuclear weapons, as long as Pakistan has the capability to resent it with the threat of unacceptable level of damage that would be sufficient to retain Pakistan’s deterrence.

Afterward the floor was opened for question and answer session.

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Banuri referred to the discussion he had with Dr. Rauf earlier that morning and expressed that as long as there is a method involved, the notion of arms control sometimes needs an increase in the weapons instead of reduction. That analogy as long as

it is not endless, should make sense. The important take away for Pakistan is that it has to do its own math to quantify it. He also raised a concern whether the thermonuclear weapons are actually only about technical prowess? He added that India will never give up the notional No First Use (NFU) because it makes political sense for it. In wake of this reality, the numbers don’t matter beyond a certain point.


Air Marshall (R) Waseem ud din (Director CASS) commented that he never believed that India will not use the first strike option as its doctrine also points to that possibility. There is a notion of counter force. Based on that it makes one think, how many weapons India would use, what would be the target and what would be the platform, will it be able to wipe out all nukes of Pakistan by using

thermonuclear weapons? He further continued that these claims by India are not realistic. In reality even a thermonuclear weapon or nuclear weapon attack would not stop Pakistan from retaliation or response. Pakistan has enough technology and enough delivery system. He suggested that the best option for Pakistan is to have survivable assured response. He agreed with Amb. Akram’s view that for the time being Pakistan does not need to worry about thermonuclear weapons and getting into the arms race. Adding to the comments of AM Waseem ud din, Dr. Cheema highlighted the fact that nuclear strategy is primarily a theoretical and academic subject. One cannot ignore the psychological impact of India’s nuclear policy. These overtures are as important as the weapons being used. When India claims that it has a preemptive strike capability against Pakistan’s nuclear capability and can destroy it even before being used, it does create an impact. Pakistan needs to neutralize this impact with certain kind of responses by engaging military, diplomatic and other means.

Dr. Cheema asked Amb. Akram to explain how the thermonuclear weapons have a quantitative impact instead of qualitative? He opined that it clearly is a qualitative shift in terms of massive destructive ability. Amb. Akram maintained that in the context of deterrence it is not a qualitative difference. It is essentially in terms of numbers where the thermonuclear weapons could cause thousand more casualties, hence quantitative destruction. However, Dr. Cheema did not agree with his views and maintained that the potential use of thermonuclear weapon of around 1 megaton or half of that can easily create an extremely high qualitative difference. It is not just a matter of number of megatons but also include the overall destructive capacity. However, Amb. Akram maintained that acquisition of thermonuclear weapons is not a really big qualitative shift from nuclear weapons at all.

Air Marshal (R) Ashfaq Arain (Director, CASS) commented that Pakistan’s laid-back response to 2016 alleged Indian surgical strikes encouraged India to violate Pakistan’s air space in post-Pulwama crisis. However, he appreciated that this time Pakistan’s response depicted its capability to thwart such attacks (air strike) from India. Therefore, in future India will not dare to cross the boundary line of Pakistan.

Dr. Naveed Qaiser (Lecturer DSS, QAU) shared his views on deterrence stability of South Asia being under stress because of technological advancement. He quoted the example of India’s increasing precision strike capability and developments in space. He said that the basic objective of nuclear weapons is to promote fear but currently Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not promoting enough fear in Indian minds. He suggested that Pakistan needs to enhance its nuclear power and stressed on the need for developing thermonuclear weapons in order to strengthen strategic stability between India and Pakistan.

Brig. (R) Abdul Rehman Bilal (former Rector, Foundation University, Islamabad) commented that deterrence is undergoing the process of erosion. India is investing huge money on modernizing its weapon program and its fanaticism is on the rise. India is also enjoying NSG waiver and importing huge stock of Uranium especially from Kazakhstan. In such circumstances, Pakistan should develop thermonuclear bomb to maintain deterrence stability.

Dr. Ghulam Mujadid (Dean, Air University) stated that hydrogen bombs are best suited for second strike capability. Responding to the comments by Amb. Zamir Akram about quantitative impact of thermonuclear weapons, he said that if there is quantitative increase, the qualitative increase follows; the difference is only the quantity that ends up into the quality. He also commented on AVM Waseem ud din remarks that there is a political announcement that India would maintain the stance of No First Use even though India is building up a powerful system that enables India to achieve pin point locations of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Brig. Zahir ul Haider Kazmi (DG, ACDA), inquired whether Pakistan is going towards arms control or walking away from it? In response, Dr. Rauf pointed to other major challenge to Pakistan’s security which emerge from democratic issue, corruption and economic development. He maintained that Pakistan will need to talk about arms control when its house is in order.



Lt. General (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi (Former Defence Minister, Gov. of Pakistan) while commenting on the current state of deterrence in south Asia maintained that deterrence was not diluted in the post Balakot clash between India and Pakistan. He stated that deterrence would have been diluted only if Pakistan was unable to give retaliatory response to Indian strike.


Dr. Cheema asked Amb. Zamir Akram if there is a possibility that India would test thermonuclear weapon in the coming years? Amb. Akram replied that there is no evidence about India’s test of thermonuclear weapons but there is a logical hypothesis that India is developing hydrogen bomb since 1998. To be reasonably assured of its credibility, India would need to test it again in the coming future.

Dr. Cheema also raised the question if there is a need to reassert Pakistan’s deterrence? Amb. Zamir Akram maintained that there is no need to reassert Pakistan’s deterrence. Adding to the discussion, Dr. Rizwana Abbasi responded that there is no need to reassert but if there is a gap in it; Pakistan should take steps to fill them. Lt. Gen. Lodhi also favored the opinion of Amb. Akram and Dr. Abbasi that there is no need to reaffirm Pakistan’s deterrence. Dr. Tariq Rauf stated that if Pakistan is confident about the range of missiles then there is no need to waste money in the development of new generation weapons.

In the end Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema thanked all the worthy participants for their valuable input on the topic.

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