Reality of Cold Start and Its Nuclear Implications

In a report, “Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age,” published in November 2014, nuclear developments in Pakistan, especially the development of tactical nuclear weapons, have been identified as one of the factors that make South Asia the most volatile region in the world. The report, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the build-up of nuclear stockpiles along with unresolved territorial disputes and cross-border terrorism create an explosive mixture that threatens not only the region but the entire world.

In this mixture, Pakistan and its fastest growing nuclear arsenal appears quite prominently. Already known to possess fissile materials that are sufficient to produce between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads, the report estimates the numbers to reach 200 by 2020, based on the rates with which Pakistan is producing nuclear fissile material.

The report links Pakistan’s growing nuclear build-up with India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) or the proactive strategy of “rapid, limited conventional military operations designed to remain below Pakistan’s presumed traditional nuclear redlines.” This linkup, however, is not unique to the report. Strategists, policy makers, and military leaders from within Pakistan have used this link to justify the rapid increase in the production of nuclear fissile material, along with the development of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). For instance, Lt. Gen. (retd) Khalid Kidwai has been quoted as saying that the purpose of TNWs is “to pour cold water on Cold Start.” Academicians, strategic thinkers and practitioners too view the development of TNWs as a way of denying India the space to fight limited conventional war under the CSD within Pakistan’s traditional nuclear redlines.

While Pakistan defends the development of TNWs and the requisite rapid increase in production of fissile materials under the strategy of assured deterrence, other international experts and government officials identify the developments to be highly dangerous, owing to the complexities involved in the development and deployment of TNWs. All of it, however, leads to the conclusion that nuclear weapons development in Pakistan is directly related to the CSD of India.

The critical nuclear implications of the CSD therefore call for an examination of the ground realities insofar as the Doctrine and its implementation are concerned. CSD essentially is an operational plan which was devised by the Indian Army in 2004, designed to make a rapid and limited penetration into Pakistani territory with the sole purpose of punishing Pakistan for terror attacks that stem out of Pakistan’s territory. CSD was not proposed to be of a scale which would either threaten Pakistan’s survival or be seen as crossing the traditional nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The aim of the CSD is to reorganise the three large strike corps of India into eight smaller battle groups. But since 2004 to date, apart from  a series of army exercises, including Divya Astra (Divine Weapon) 2004, Vijra Shakti (Thunder Power) 2005, Sang-i-Shakti (Joint Power) 2006, and Ashwamedh (Valor and Intellectual Illumination) 2007, there have been no developments that suggest the CSD to have actually been implemented on ground. The same has been noted in a leaked US embassy cable of 2010. Two broad factors have been identified for the lack of implementation of the CSD.

The first factor is the lack of resources and capabilities. This factor can be understood at two stages. At the first stage, the armoured battle groups are required to be kept ready at all times so that they can strike within a window of 72 hours after receiving the political clearance, before any international pressure is subjected onto the government to reconsider the clearance. This clearly would require a heavy investment to amass and maintain such large firepower and additional armour. In the long-run, implementing CSD would be highly unsustainable and the Indian economy, despite its growth, will not be in a position to sustain such a massive liability. At the second stage, whether or not India has significant advantage over Pakistan with regard to the conventional capability has to be scrutinised. CSD is only designed for limited territorial penetration, however, in a situation when CSD gets implemented, India will have longer lines of communication and military supply chains to manage, and consequently its comparative military advantage over Pakistan would lower down.

The second factor has been the lack of political will. CSD was proposed by the Indian Army in 2004 at a time when the BJP-led government was in power. However, soon after the General Assembly election in the same year, Congress-led UPA won and formed the government. Senior officials from the UPA government expressed reservations against CSD. Though resource constraint was noted to one of the reasons for their reservation, it was clearly not the only one. Considering the potential nuclear consequences, any political clearance to CSD, as noted in a leaked US memo, required a broad political consensus and a strong mandate, which the UPA did not enjoy.

The fact that India has not employed the CSD was exemplified by the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. By allowing the act to be planned within its territory and by not cooperating with India in the investigations and in handing over the culprits, Pakistani Army as well as the civilian government demonstrated how sincerely they bought the CSD. The hypocrisy of Pakistani military leaders then must be underlined considering that they time and again express fear over CSD to government officials of the US and go on defending the development of TNWs.

With the BJP government back in the centre and that too with a strong mandate, they now have the requisite political clout for clearing the CSD should India have the capability to sustain the Doctrine. But the new government has so far not shown any inclination of implementing the CSD at present or in the near future. As far as build up of conventional capability is concerned, India is definitely planning to modernise its military and is also aiming to indigenise production to reduce import costs. But even the growing conventional military might of India cannot be sufficient to sustain such an expensive military doctrine.

With no clear evidence of India implementing the CSD or preparing for it, the logic or justification for rapid increase in production of nuclear materials and development of TNWs by Pakistan must therefore be questioned. While the assessment made in the CFR report that nuclear developments in Pakistan is dangerous for the region and the world remains valid, the explanation or the justification that it is India’s CSD that has led to the dangerous nuclear developments in Pakistan does not hold ground.


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr

Posted in , Deterrence, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Security

Arka Biswas

Arka Biswas is an Associate Fellow at the Strategic Studies Programme of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Physics Graduate and has a Masters in International Relations from the University of Bristol. His research interests include nuclear deterrence, coercion, and South Asian stability at the nuclear, conventional and subconventional levels of conflict. He was an SAV Visiting Fellow in 2015.

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7 thoughts on “Reality of Cold Start and Its Nuclear Implications

  1. Arka your article has completely discounted the relevance of the CSD to the South Asian Strategic Stability. However according to an October 2014 article in the Hindu “though officially denied” the presence of CSD is widely acknowledged in strategic circles and further that India’s Nirbhay missile will be a force multiplier to the in-waiting “cold start” doctrine. Analysts argue that the doctrine is a non-starter presently for lack of critical assets such as artillery, armour and helicopters and argue that the Army needs to fast-forward acquisition and induction of these platforms. To this end, according to a March 2014 SIPRI fact sheet India’s imports of major arms increased by 111% between 2004–2008 and 2009–13, making it the world’s largest importer. Its imports—14% of the global total—were almost three times larger than those of China or Pakistan, the second and third largest arms importers and regional rivals of India. In the short-term, experts believe that Nirbhay, along with its shorter-range supersonic sibling BrahMos, will form the backbone of the CSD. Hence Pakistani fears are not completely unfounded.

  2. In matters pertaining to security, countries err on the side of caution. There are a few important points that must be considered regarding India’s CSD and Pakistan’s TNW.
    First, India’s CSD is an evolving strategy especially considering the January 2010 statement by Gen Deepak Kapoor giving a warning that “a limited war under the nuclear overhang is still very much a reality.” It envisions limited thrust into Pakistan to a depth of 50-80 km which Arka calls CSD’s limited territorial penetration, however, it does not consider whether Pakistan views the incursion (or CSD’s limited objectives, to put it generally) limited the same way. Given the close location of Pakistan’s cities and important lines of communication to the IB, it is senseless to perceive that Pakistan would not consider this as an offensive attempt.
    Second, although Pakistan faces immense international opprobrium on its tactical nuclear weapons program, Nasr is a defensive weapon which is clearly evident from the restrictions posed by how it can be used. Being a weapon with a 60 km range clearly shows that Pakistan will only use it on armed Indian brigades once they have crossed the IB.
    Third, India’s cruise missile, Brahmos, deployed on its western sector, is a very much India’s tactical nuclear weapon. With its short range of 290 km and supersonic speed, it provides India with a limited strike capability. Moreover, considering India’s intentions to build mini BrahMos and fast launching cannesterized systems of short range in the near future as disclosed by the new DRDO chief, India’s tactical nuclear weapon is in the offing!

  3. Arka:
    Strongly argued.
    Outside of Pakistan, most analysts looking at “Cold Start” view it as more aspirational than real. Many impediments stand in the way of implementing this doctrine. Over time, something like Cold Start may come to pass. Outsiders will know what to look for in assessing whether and when these capabilities will be realized.

  4. To the first two comments, I appreciate your views, but I beg to differ. The point of the paper is to throw some light on the ground realities in so far as the implementation of the CSD is concerned. Ofcourse, a short piece like this cannot comprise of all the technicalities which would give us the right picture. But the aim is to go beyond occasional statements and to look at what has happened on ground. I have following points to put across:

    1) DRDO without doubt has exaggerated some of the capabilities it claims to have successfully developed, causing security dilemma.

    2) Yes the imports have risen, but you cannot compare India’s import increase with say China, which depends less on imports owing to indigenous production. If you want to compare then look at real defense investment in India and China. Also, talking of figures, in India, the defense expenditure from 2010 to 2014 decreased from around 2.7% to 2.4% of the GDP. (FYI, in Pakistan this figure is more than 3%)

    3) A long range missile system cannot be the backbone of a doctrine such as the Cold Start. Would like to know the experts quoted by Amina Afzal and their logic.

    4) Even the heavy investment on imports will not be sufficient to allow India to actively run a massive doctrine such as CSD in, at least, the coming future. Meanwhile, CSD has been used as a justification by Pakistan since last 5 years or more for the development of TNW.

    5) If Pakistan is so worried over CSD, why did it allow the 26/11 attacks to get planned and if it was not in the Government or the Army’s control, then why did it not assist India with investigations.

    @MK: Agreed. It may come to pass over time. Just wanted to know from you, after having looked at the situation as of now, would outsiders acknowledge that there is not much hard evidence to support the justification of development of TNW. And, though some statements were made initially by the Indian Army General(s) on the possibility of CSD, they were far away from ground realities and led to the security dilemma.

  5. Arka:
    Military planners plan again st worst cases — In Pakistan, the United States, Russia, and elsewhere. Without worst casing, there would be no TNWs.

  6. Arka – What prevents GOI to to say that CSD was a flight of fancy since discarded?

    As for TNW – it is now a reality and a permanent reminder to prevent further similar flights of fancy.

    All this leads to the question why India needs such a colossal and constantly increasing conventional military establishment?

    Iqbal, Pakistan

  7. A concept concieved in 2004, and 11 years on I think CSD is approaching its shelf-life. While Indian Army think proactively, the reaction from Pak Army prepares response both in conventional as well as nuclear domain causing excessive economic burden on already frail economy. The rhetoric of CSD has achieved its objectives. Soon we will witness new challenge thrown at Pakistan to keep her strangled. But thanx to Indian innovative doctrines/strategies, Pak nuclear response would improve to perfection making Indian ride more bumpy. Obama being a chief guest on Indian parade, same day Pak Army Chief visiting Beijing, Agni-5 test by India responded next day by Raad cruise missile test by Pakistan and now news is in air that Li Xinping will be chief guest on 23rd March parade in Islamabad, THE GAME IS ON.

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