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Experts Welcome India's Nuclear Command Authority - 2003-01-05


In India, defense analysts have welcomed the government's establishment of a command authority to manage the country's nuclear weapons. The government also reaffirmed its pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Defense experts say the setting up of a nuclear command structure by the Indian government has helped clarify how the country will manage its nuclear arsenal.

A government statement Saturday said the nuclear command center will be controlled by a political council, headed by the prime minister, and this will be the sole body to authorize the use of nuclear weapons.

An executive wing, chaired by the national security adviser of the command center, will carry out the orders of the political council.

India also said it will use nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a nuclear attack on its territory or forces. But it said it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack with chemical or biological weapons.

K. Subramanyam is a senior defense expert, who has been closely associated with shaping the country's defense policy. He says most of these principles had already been accepted two years ago. They have now been formalized as policy.

"It accepts the no-first use doctrine; it accepts minimum credible deterrence; it accepts that India will only use its nuclear capability for retaliation; and it accepts absolute civilian supremacy, and no delegation of [nuclear] arms to the military," said Mr. Subramanyam.

India's 1998 nuclear tests were followed by similar tests by Pakistan. A 10 month military standoff between the two countries last year sparked fears that nuclear weapons could be used if a war erupts.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf recently told army troops, he had warned international leaders that India should not expect a conventional war from Islamabad, in the event of a conflict. Mr. Musharraf's remarks were widely interpreted as signaling Pakistan's willingness to use nuclear weapons to strike India, but he later said he was referring to guerrilla warfare.

Mr. Subramanyam says India's reiteration of its pledge to use nuclear weapons only in retaliation is meant to send a message to the international community that India is a responsible state, but is willing to defend itself if necessary.

"The logic behind the no-first-use policy is that India considers nuclear weapons as weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Subramanyam, "not as weapons of war, and therefore it should not be used."

Pakistan has its own Nuclear Command Authority and has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, saying it can launch a nuclear strike, if its territorial integrity is threatened. Little is known about the number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems on both sides.