Warfare In 21st Century & What India Needs To Do? Part 3 Of Debate

"I think it is time we dumped the “no-first-use” policy and prepare for the use of our strategic assets should the Chinese undertake offensive operations across the LAC in Ladakh and/or in the North and North East."

Warfare In 21st Century & What India Needs To Do? Part 3 Of Debate

Editor's Note: The MVI  debate on 'Warfare in 21st century' received responses from several knowledgeable veterans from 3 services which  collectively projected  to  the readers  their awareness &  knowledge on this less known  subject and its related  issues. The debate triggered a few more responses that were published as  part 2 which has  led to Part 3 .

MVI was delighted to receive an all encompassing response on the subject from our  distinguished veteran and notable member of MVI, Lt Gen Satish Nambiar which we are publishing as Part 3. Hopefully, it will  illuminate minds of readers and possibly mould or change perceptions on this subject and its related issues.

Trigger: 'The Meaning of War in the 21st Century' by Thierry Meyssan, published at The Peninsula Foundation, on October 22, 2022.

Response to the Article in the Indian Context

Lt Gen. Satish Nambiar            

With reference to Part 2 of debate . To reinforce the point made by Gp Capt TP Srivastava permit me to reproduce the contents of the Inaugural Address I delivered at the request of the Late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh to the Nuclear Capsule conducted by the Centre for Air Power Studies on 08 July 2013:

  1. Pleasure and a privilege. Thanks to Air Cmde Jasjit Singh Director General CAPS for the opportunity.
  2. Capsule has significance not only in the overall context of national security at the broader plane but has immediate connotations that need to be addressed. Namely: the established Chinese collusion in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capability including testing, sustenance of this capability, and possibly taking the cooperation to a higher level; increasing Chinese interest and presence in areas of POK; the ongoing proxy war being prosecuted against India by elements based in Pakistan with the support of at least some sections of the establishment through non-state actors including well trained, equipped and motivated terrorists; and finally, the moves toward putting in place a ballistic missile defence capability.
  3. The revelations a few years back about Chinese assistance to Pakistan and the fact that the USA turned a blind eye to it, fully validated our decision to test in May 1998 thus bringing our nuclear weapon capability out of the closet. Followed as it was with the overt demonstration by Pakistan of its own capability, the event was a significant watershed in the evolution of our national security strategy.
  4. Prior to May 1998, because they were kept out of the loop in regard to the work being undertaken in the development of a weapon capability, the Armed Forces Headquarters operational and perspective planning only looked at defence against nuclear, biological and chemical attack. Earliest serious discussions on the dimensions of a nuclear attack were the ones initiated by General Sundarji at the College of Combat in the late 1980s. Am personally aware of attempts at the formulation of a doctrine that factored in the nuclear dimension in so far as the operational employment of forces are concerned; both defensive and offensive. A number of our officers were sent for courses on NBC warfare at institutions in the UK and USA in the 1980s. There were moves for acquisition of defensive equipment as also for indigenous development of some items. There was also some perfunctory discussion on the aspect of creating an underground operational command that could withstand a nuclear strike.
  5. I was privy to much of this from 1989 to 1992 as ADGMO and then DGMO. Even more importantly, I was privy to what was being put in place in Pokharan in terms of two shafts that had been prepared and were constantly under maintenance by Army engineers who only inter-acted with the DGMO. Much “hush-hush” financial arrangements. To that extent we knew “something was going on” under the aegis of the DRDO and the Atomic Energy Establishment. (Trip to Pokharan in the summer of 1991 with Arunachalam and Chidambaram; to check on the state of “White House” and “Taj Mahal” shafts). But we did not know what was the status of our capability in regard to weaponisation nor were any efforts made to keep the Armed Forces in the loop.
  6. To that extent, our overt status in 1998 made the official establishment scramble to put together a doctrine, operational philosophy, appropriate organisations for manning weapon systems, command & control apparatus, etc. Almost from scratch. And as is usual with our establishment, in complete secrecy to the extent of exclusion even of those who could have given valuable inputs based on established expertise.
  7. I make this point because even today there is some debate within the strategic community as to whether we have in fact put in place appropriate structures and mechanisms that are able to convey credibility about our deterrence capabilities: in terms of weapon systems, delivery systems, political will, command & control apparatus, etc. Nuclear weapons are not weapons of war in the classic sense. They are strategic tools to be used for achievement of political aims through the mechanisms of assured capability and credible deterrence. Whether China and Pakistan do in fact take us seriously on this issue is debatable. A study the USI did for DRDO a few years back on “Pakistan’s Missile Capability” was quite revealing in this regard. Because in the process, serious questions about our own capability did surface.
  8. The credibility of our nuclear option seems to have been put to test on at least four occasions; namely, Kargil; the attack on Parliament; Op Parakram; and after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It seems that Pakistan is encouraged to pursue the “proxy war” option in the knowledge that the Indian political establishment will not risk a military response to the acts of terrorism, for fear of escalation into an all-out war which could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. It is more than likely that our political establishment is itself deterred by advice from the USA, UK, and others to avoid provoking a nuclear response from Pakistan.
  9. I think it is high time we broke out of this mould of delusion. Pakistan (and in many ways China also) should be made to understand that India will not tolerate any further acts of terrorism initiated from Pakistan or the prosecution of a “proxy war” any longer. If we think preparations for such acts are being made, we must launch pre-emptive strikes against the leadership of the terrorist groups, at the training camps and the areas in which preparations are being made. If that leads to war, so be it. And if it leads to escalation in nuclear terms, the political and military leadership in Pakistan must know that the country will be decimated.
  10. In so far as China is concerned, the recent ‘stand-off’ in Ladakh and the message it conveyed, prompts me to suggest that it is time we reviewed the “no-first-use” component of our nuclear doctrine. Given the fact that there is a serious imbalance in our conventional capability vis-à-vis China due to the inordinate and inexcusable delays for the last 25 years in the projects for modernization and upgrading of our equipment and procurement of ammunition, and that recommendations for review of force structures and organisations have not been effectively implemented, the only deterrent that we can now hopefully rely on are the strategic nuclear assets. I think it is time we dumped the “no-first-use” policy and prepare for the use of our strategic assets should the Chinese undertake offensive operations across the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and/or in the North and North East. We should carry out such preparation to include locations of the assets, targeting philosophy, command & control arrangements, etc without indulging in any rhetoric or ‘breast-beating’. I would hope this suggestion of mine would have ‘put the cat among the pigeons’, at least to the extent of provoking the participants of this capsule to engage in some discussion on the subject.
  11. Having made that point, let me submit yet another important aspect for discussion. One has often been privy to heated debate among some members of the Service community about the fact that while our strategic assets are manned by Service personnel, they are not placed under the control of the Armed Forces hierarchy. In my view, it may be prudent to accept that the decision for the use of such assets in case of active hostilities with an adversary will (and should) be that of the political authority; both in terms of clearance for use, as also in determining the target(s).
  12. In conclusion allow me to suggest that in context of what I5 have just stated and for conveying a credible message to Pakistan as well as to China, and in fact, many of our other neighbours, and countries with whom we are developing strategic partnerships, the following measures need to be put in place:
    • A workable consensus between all the major national political parties on the basic national security strategy, including nuclear strategy. This fact of consensus having been achieved be publicly articulated without elaboration.
    • Refine our command and control apparatus to include: earmarking alternate decision making centres; construction of nuclear hardened underground shelters; placing all nuclear assets under Strategic Forces Command; etc.
    • Speedily put in place the triad delivery capability.
    • Undertake a detailed review of our nuclear doctrine in context of the current security situation and put it out in the public domain.
    • Evolve a detailed targeting philosophy without necessarily making it public; but having done so, allow it to be known that it has been done.
    • To the extent feasible, set out a policy that makes it mandatory for all new major office and residential premises, at least in major metropolitan centres, to have underground shelters for use by citizens in case of a nuclear attack.
    • Evolve detailed disaster management schemes for handling nuclear attacks; conduct periodic live exercises.
    • Carry out continuous monitoring and assessment of Pakistani nuclear and missile assets, including the stability of such assets in context of the turbulence within Pakistan; the extent of Chinese assistance including on missile defence; also of Chinese capability and assets.
    • Development and deployment of an effective anti-ballistic missile defence system.
    IN CONTEXT OF TPS' REMARKS ABOUT THE 1962 WAR I append below a piece I sent to the then India Ambassador in Beijing, and present Minister for External Affairs, S Jaishankar, for inclusion at his request, in a brochure that was to be brought out by our mission in Beijing on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the PRC.

"Nuclear weapons are not weapons of war in the classic sense. They are strategic tools to be used for achievement of political aims through the mechanisms of assured capability and credible deterrence." Opines General Satish Nambiar


As an impressionable young officer with five years commissioned service during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, I was deployed on the then cease-fire line in the Uri-Baramula sector in Jammu & Kashmir. As such, I did not physically engage in military action against the Chinese forces. But many of my friends and colleagues in the Armed Forces did so and to that extent we were privy to the events of the time. I can therefore state with some conviction that though China succeeded in inflicting a military defeat on India, we in the Indian Armed Forces did not find it a humiliating experience or a trauma as is often made out. The reason being that almost without exception, the junior leadership and rank and file acquitted themselves well (As is always the case; proven again in Kargil 1999). The setback in 1962 was attributable to questionable political judgement and false bravado, poor senior military leadership of the time, and lack of proper weapons and equipment caused by years of neglect.

The Indian Armed Forces have come a long way since and have proven themselves time and again. In the inter-action one has had over the last couple of decades with our Chinese counterparts, it would appear that whereas they are generally sceptical about our political system, our economic performance, infrastructure, etc, they regard our military with considerable respect; notwithstanding continuing inadequacies in terms of modernisation.

As things stand, in so far as India is concerned, other than conflict with Pakistan, scope for conflict in the foreseeable future exists only with one major power. Whereas there is scope for difference of opinion or clash of views, one cannot visualise any reason for military conflict with the USA, Russia, the European Union or Japan. However, with the People’s Republic of China, scope for conflict exists in the form of the unresolved boundary issue, the presence of the Dalai Lama and his followers in India, and the competition between the two countries for economic space in Asia. It is therefore vital that we do everything possible to avoid military conflict. And that will only be possible if we ensure that India is politically, economically and militarily strong. The Chinese (like any great civilisation) recognise and respect strength and demonstrated performance. To that extent, while we continue to engage with China at the political level and build on our economic and trade relations to the mutual benefit of our people, it is imperative that we continue to modernise our Armed Forces to maintain a deterrent military capability.

Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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