Classified: From Modi, to Obama #NSS2016

Dear Mr. President,

Greetings from India!

I welcome the dynamic role that the Nuclear Security Summit process has played in raising awareness concerning threats to nuclear security. It has significantly stimulated national actions and international cooperation for mitigating the risk of terrorists gaining hold of nuclear weapons and related materials. The success achieved has reinforced my conviction that India and the United States share the common objective of developing a robust nuclear security regime and will continue to be committed towards consistent improvement of nuclear security, domestically and internationally.

Without any complacency, the Government of India has approved the establishment of the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), as committed at the first Summit in 2010. The GCNEP is a dedicated centre of excellence on nuclear security, with participation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other foreign partners. Its primary mission is to develop a robust nuclear security culture by building a system that is intrinsically safe, secure, sustainable, and proliferation-resistant. The GCNEP (presently under construction) has already started conducting off-campus courses in training. It is also investing in research and development on issues such as physical protection, design basis threat, safety-security interface, and the security culture that permeates India’s nuclear establishment. The GCNEP is a signature of India’s assurances on its high and effective standards of nuclear security.

India’s nuclear security mechanisms meet global standards. This can be inferred from the fact that no extreme nuclear security incidents have occurred in the country. However, this does not mean that we are complacent about any hypothetical nuclear security situation. Given its geographical location, India has repeatedly expressed concern about the grave dangers of unlawful smuggling in nuclear materials and technology from within the region.

India is deeply concerned about the possibility of a nuclear security breach from within Pakistan. The repeated assassination attempts on former president General Pervez Musharraf perpetrated by Pakistani military personnel, and the Mehran naval base attacks highlight the degree of Pakistan’s vulnerability to insider threats. Additionally, a recent declaration made by ISIS about the possibility of acquiring “a nuclear device” from Pakistan has further raised security tensions in the region. Any likelihood of diversion of sensitive nuclear materials reflects upon Islamabad’s lacking nuclear security system. This can seriously compromise the nuclear security of not only Pakistan, but also seriously endanger the nuclear security of my country and the rest of the region.

Given so, a critical challenge for the GCNEP is to negotiate a similar outreach program, to help Pakistan in facing acute nuclear security challenges. Collaborative programs between the Indian and Pakistani centers of excellence (CoEs) can contribute towards strengthening nuclear security not only in southern Asia, but also worldwide. Such collaboration might help develop potential for joint efforts towards a range of research synergies to strengthen regional response against any vertical proliferation. India and Pakistan are both victims of terrorism and hence there exists a common cause for both to combine their nuclear expertise and excellence in combating the threat to nuclear security. However, much lies upon the future attitude of the political establishment of Pakistan and the Pakistani military towards bilateral ties with India.

Nuclear security requires consistent and continuous effort, devoid of apathy. The benefits achieved must be reinvested to continue the legacy of the summit process. As a continuation, India may explore possibilities to negotiate with China and Pakistan to create a Regional Nuclear Security Summit process with the objective of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. A regional summit process would help raise awareness about growing nuclear security risks emanating from within the region like the ISIS threat, increasing demands for nuclear energy, fissile material expansion, and tactical nuclear weapons.

As leaders of powerful democracies and growing economies, I urge that India and the United States undertake joint responsibility to develop a nuclear security culture that both assures the international community and inspires other nations to reiterate their commitments towards a robust nuclear security regime.

Yours sincerely,

Narendra Modi


As heads of state gather in Washington, D.C. for the final Nuclear Security Summit next week, what would South Asia’s leaders say to President Barack Obama? In this series, two SAV contributors speculate what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might convey to the U.S. president on their country’s nuclear security accomplishments, areas for improvement, and an issue they would like on the agenda at the Summit. Two other contributors sketch out how President Obama might respond. Read the entire series here.


Image: Alex Wong-Getty Images News, Getty

Posted in , India, Nuclear Security, Nuclear Security Summit 2016, Pakistan, US

Reshmi Kazi

Reshmi Kazi

Dr Reshmi Kazi is Associate Fellow in the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, specializing on nuclear testing, nuclear terrorism and radiological terrorism in India, nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament issues.. Her doctoral thesis is on ‘Evolution of India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Study of Political, Economic and Technological Dimensions.’ Presently she is finishing her monograph Nuclear Terrorism: The Grand New Terror of the 21st Century.

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8 thoughts on “Classified: From Modi, to Obama #NSS2016

  1. Reshmi, there is no mention or acknowledgement of the insider threats that India faces. According to the recently published Harvard University Report, “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline” India faces both domestic and external terrorist threats. Also notwithstanding the threat Pakistan faces, according to the report (quoting US officials) nuclear security in India remains weaker than Pakistan’s nuclear security.

    The report also highlights that there is very limited information available about India’s nuclear security measures making it difficult to judge whether India’s nuclear security is capable of protecting against the threats it faces. Do you think this secrecy surrounding India’s security apparatus is about to change in the future?

    Collaborative programs between India and Pakistan would be very beneficial and you place the onus for such a possibility on the Pakistani military and political establishment. Are you dismissing the notion that the Indian government also plays a huge part in determining the course of India-Pakistan relations?

  2. Amina
    Before Reshmi undertakes to respond your queries, following observations might help.

    When someone says a country faces insider threats to its nuclear installations, it does not mean that its adversary, by default, should and will face such threats as well. In fact, such a perception, although intuitive, should be established on case by case basis. I don’t subscribe to defend New Delhi’s lax/vulnerable nuclear security installations if any but see Pakistan’s robust nuclear security rhetoric weekend when its nuclear scientists are discovered to have close links with Al Qaeda (see Rolf Mowatt-Larssen’s “Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?” Belfer Center); the infamous leader of Al Qaeda is found and murdered near a military garrison in Pakistan and civilian leadership is found helpless to prosecute those responsible; and when a popular nuclear scientist runs a black-market network ostensibly without the knowledge of civil and military leadership. Such instances are not found in India and consequently raise less concerns about India’s nuclear security with what we call the international community.

    And according to the report, you (mis)quoted, India does face “significant terrorist risks, though not as extreme as those [faced by] Pakistan”, the report highlights.

    Again when a report juxtaposes two (typical) cases of flimsy nuclear security arrangements in two different countries, it should not be taken in absolute terms to mean that a particular country has more robust/weak security mechanisms against another country. Such a finding should be interpreted in rather relative terms vis-à-vis their local environments and the degree/intensity/frequency/likelihood of an insider/outsider threat. For instance, a nuclear bomb at Mars is likely to be more secure and needs less security arrangements than if it is on Earth. At more micro-level, nuclear weapons should be more secure in a centralized and stable state than they are in a state that is politically polarized and where no one can be held accountable. For fuller analysis, see Perkovish’s “Non-Unitary Model and Deterrence Stability in South Asia”.

    Although Indian leadership does play their part of role in normalizing/sabotaging relations with Pakistan and establishing/thwarting hotlines where necessary in times of crises, history shows, it’s often the non-elected junta in Pakistan that determines or foils the rapprochement efforts with India. In 1988 for instance, Benazir’s peace initiatives were killed by her generals’ Zarb-e-Momin exercises (read Aqil Shah’s “The Army and Democracy” 2014) and Nawaz Sharif’s by his Chief of Army Staff, General (fled), Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil adventure. Furthermore, Khursheed M. Kasuri in his most-celebrated volume “Neither a Hawk nor a Dove” lists wars/near war scenarios (Chapter 5: The Pakistan Army and India) to illustrate that all wars/near wars with India were fought during and by military rule(r)s. Not a single war/near war except the 1947-48 Kashmir war in Pakistan’s history can be identified to have been initiated in a civilian tenure. Although the complicity of civilians in these wars cannot altogether be ruled out. (Read Feroz Khan’s “Eating Grass” and 1965 war account).

    Although, Kasuri cites Mani Shakar Aiyar, (pp. 476-7) the ex-Consul General in Karachi to point out that the successful peace initiatives with India were much more liberal in Ayub, Zia and Musharraf regimes than they were during civilian regimes, what he and Shankar however gloss over is the fact, that although civilians were allowed, albeit for brief periods, to reign Pakistan, they were not as independent as their military counterparts were who always lurked behind them (read T.V. Paul’s “The Warrior State” and Haqqani’s “Pakistan between Mosque and Military”).

  3. Amina,

    It seems you completely missed the point. There is a genuine threat concern arising from Pakistan and it would be erudite on the part of Pakistan and the international community to refrain from remaining in denial any longer.

    As regards, secrecy surrounding India’s nuclear programme, it is only commonsense that secrecy will prevail when it comes to strategic issues. Transparency can be maintained to the degree as long as they do not compromise national interests and jeopardize them. However, this does not mean what you have implied in the case of India. India has maintained reasonable degree of balance between secrecy and transparency. This has been emphasized on several occasions. This was again made obvious during an international conference on India’s Role in Nuclear Governance held in IDSA, New Delhi. I was the conference coordinator of the event. I can say with confidence that the participants who came from several parts of the world including the US, UK, Russia, France, Norway, South Africa, Brussels, etc felt reassured with the inputs from the participants from India which included serving officials from the Department of Energy, GCNEP, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and IDSA. Dr Trevor Finlay, IAEA expert and from Belfer commended India’s role in contributing to nuclear security. This was also echoed by Dr Patricia Lewis from Chatham House.

    Rhetoric cannot really save common people from the wrath of nuclear terrorism. But what can help is awareness about the threat and explore potential areas of cooperation and collaboration to save out respective nations, its people and the region. This requires enormous collaboration from both sides. The onus does not lie on any one nation. But what is important is to be able to surmount the obstacles from sources that are driven by petty interests.

    To the exhaustive list already suggested by Yahsin, I recommend that you also read Pervez Hoodbhoy’s Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out; Shazad Saleem’s Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11; Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, C. Christine Fair’s, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.

  4. Ahsan, i did not misquote the report at all. Please scroll up and read. I was talking about Reshmi’s article not acknowledging the threat India faces and not the Harvard Report.

    You may want to read ISIS Reports about India’s proliferation record and also Jeffrey Lewis’ India’s non proliferation record at The Harvard report compares the nuclear security apparatus in both countries.

    Comparative frameworks of analysis are often used by IR researchers. Even if a comparison between Indian and Pakistani nuclear security is like comparing apples and oranges the two can be compared with respect to some properties that they share. The comparison in the report was guided by certain data or based on certain criteria. Moreover the comparison was not based on “sameness” but rather according to similarities they share with respect to the selected criteria.

    Finally Kasuri and Mani Shankar Aiyar may well have glossed over certain facts relating to the military lurking behind the civilian government but an Indian official acknowledged the fact that India did not build quickly enough on the achievements of Lahore. According to him PM Sharif took a risk for better relations but India didn’t reciprocate with concessions over Kashmir. Sharif had nothing to show for it to skeptical army. ( Kremmer- Losing the Line of Control). The same thing happened once again when PM Sharif chose to attend PM Modi’s inauguration despite criticism at home. India did not use the visit to its advantage.

  5. Reshmi,

    I agree completely that the threat of nuclear terrorism is a real one and all countries including Pakistan need to take heed. However, the Nuclear security threat is not confined to Pakistan alone.
    The recent incidents in Europe are an example. Following the Brussels attack there are worries that the Islamic State may damage, infiltrate or even attack nuclear installations or obtain nuclear or radioactive material. The development is worrisome because the country has a history of security lapses at its nuclear facilities.

    Pakistan on the other hand has been dealing with terrorism for almost two decades now and is definitely not complacent about the security of its nuclear infrastructure. It has various mechanisms to deal with the threat emanating from both within and outside. Pakistan is also an active member of the International Network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres (NSSC Network). The Network enables states to share lessons learned in their own individual CoEs with the international community. The annual Meeting of the International Network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres (NSSC) was held from 14 -18, 2016 March in Islamabad in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The international community and even the IAEA has praised nuclear security efforts being undertaken by Pakistan.

  6. Amina, thank you for the follow up comments.
    To be clear, I do not claim to charge you to have conclusively (italics) misquoted the report. In fact, it was only a possibility I raised to suggest that the report might have only been unwittingly misquoted.
    My parenthesizing the prefix i.e. “(mis)quoted” therefore illustrates what I wanted to convey. Nonetheless, I apologize if my comments had unintended connotations. However to be sure, I don’t claim to suggest that they have been interpreted completely out of context. They are within the context.

    I am glad you pointed out ISIS reports and the comparative frameworks of analysis in studying the robustness/fragility of nuclear security/track-records. According to these reports and indeed the one by Jeffrey Lewis, India is a rogue state. So should be several others both with (active and latent) nuclear weapons programs and those having only energy-oriented nuclear programs. The IAEA reports on illicit trafficking and theft of fissile material should confirm this pessimism (

    However, before one sets to rely upon these comparative frameworks of analysis, following assumptions need to be carefully evaluated. (Although you were right to point out the comparison between India and Pakistan is like comparing oranges and apples. To me, it is akin to comparing pumpkins against apples.)

    Are Pakistan and India monolithic unitary entities? What if one of them is not? (Perkovich, cited above) What if an organization in one state exclusively and conclusively controls the nuclear policy-making including the development, detonation and expansion of the nuclear arsenals? (Oven Jones, 2003. Pakistan: Eye of the Storm) What if they do it even if they don’t have a constitutional mandate to do? (Constitution of Pakistan 1973 with latest amendments) But I admit sometimes state necessity is above and beyond what is or can be incorporated in the state constitutions. States exist to protect their national interests even if they have to go beyond the confines of state laws. After all what are state laws? The will of the sovereign and indeed that can be modified, revised as and when a state necessity so requires. But again the question remains, how one will determine where the institutional interest ends and the state interest begins. It is indeed a difficult and delicate puzzle to precisely determine. But critics are quick to point out that Pakistan army is a corporate army that “protects its interests, sometimes even at the expense of national interests.” (Nawaz, 2008. Crossed Swords, p. xxxiv; Siddiqa, 2007. Military Inc. ). I don’t consider it that way however. But sadly my opinion does not matter as much as perhaps does theirs’.

    On Pak-India relations:
    First I doubt if there was any “achievement of Lahore”. According to Shah and Paul, (referred above), the peace process was thwarted even in the way. Though both states had issued a communique in Lahore, yet Pak forces had entered Kargil well before even Pak-India started talks but it was India and indeed PM Sharif who came to discover later. Notwithstanding the controversy as to whether and when civilians in Pakistan were taken on board, India and for that matter any state is not expected to build on these achievements so quickly (assuming the account of Indian official is credible, reliable and is representative of New Delhi’s official position). India remains distrustful as much as does Pakistan. The wars and near war scenarios of 1965, Brass-tacks in 1980s and lately the Kargil crisis have but only increased India’s skepticism to too readily accept what both states come to agree. And when you cite evidence that PM Sharif’s attendance of PM Modi’s inauguration did not change New Delhi’s calculus, you again come to assume that Pakistan’s PM was/is fully autonomous—controls all the levers of power— (–at-least-for-now/2015/09/07/4661049e-5173-11e5-8c19-0b6825aa4a3a_story.html?postshare=9321441785503462) and India needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs India. Although the possibility of such a reversal of equation in foreseeable/distant future cannot altogether be ruled out provided Islamabad only persistently pursues its policy goals.

  7. Ms. Kazi, you need to emphasize the swelling nature of nuclear capabilities of South Asian states. Before thinking the viable options for nuclear security, you need to address the increasing nuclear capabilities in the region. Indian unchecked growth of nuclear facilities, the development of secret nuclear city, the acquisition of advanced weapons (BMD), improvements in second strike capabilities, and countless other issues are inviting the neighboring state to take appropriate steps for effectively stabilizing the regional deterrence which has ultimately introduced peace in the region by making the war less-likely.
    Furthermore, domestic security problems, which are every where, including India, should not be studied in nuclear dimensions. You need to study the institutional developments Islamabad has made for the safety and security of its nuclear program. I think, the rational analysis with a balanced approach can address the actual questions in NSS.

  8. I’m impressed with the seriousness and quality of these discussions; just saw the film, Command and Control,” about a catastrophic accident at a US missile silo very sobering, as the USAF was as professional as one could ask for–yet did not have a plan to deal with simple human error ( a dropped wrench) . The main lesson of the film, and many incidents like it, is that humans can develop wonderful schemes, but these are implemented by fallible persons, and sooner or later there will be an accident. Go see the film when it comes out (this fall, we understand)
    I discuss the S. Asia nuclear dilemmas in the just published “South Asia Papers,” which will eventually be published in India.

    Steve Cohen

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