India’s Nuclear Security Farce
No matter how much exaggerated claims India makes about the personal rapport of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the US President Barack Obama, truth remains apparent as luminosity in the dark.
Earlier it was the statement of president Obama who, at the end of the recent Nuclear Security Summit, talked about India and Pakistan in the same breath, bracketing them together. Obama desired to “see progress in Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.” Nevertheless, with a history of enmity and hostility persisting between both the nuclear-armed neighbours, President Obama’s concern does not seem inappropriate.
Indian journalists while covering the Nuclear Security Summit, on the other hand, took consolation rather miscalculated President Obama as he spoke about countries expanding their “nuclear arsenals especially those with small tactical nuclear weapons that could be at greater risk of theft.” They considered that he was probably mentioning Pakistan without naming it.
Interesting to us and quite dismay to them, a report examining nuclear security worldwide released this month is suggesting that India’s “nuclear security measures might be weaker than those of Pakistan.” The Harvard Kennedy School report, “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?” says it is difficult to judge whether India’s nuclear security is capable of protecting against the threats it faces. On the other hand, “Pakistan has substantially strengthened its nuclear security in the past two decades,” the report says, citing changes in organizations governing nuclear security, training, equipment and approaches to screening personnel, requirements for nuclear material accounting and control, approaches to strengthening security culture and “substantial changes in every other aspect of nuclear security covered in the survey” as reasons for the improved nuclear security.
The risk of nuclear terrorism remains very real, especially when it comes to the sub-continent. Measures to secure nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them are the most effective tools for reducing this risk. With IS in the driving seat, terrorist threats are constantly changing.
India also faces significant terrorist risks. India has taken significant measures to protect its nuclear sites, but recent reports suggest some nuclear security weaknesses, and US-Indian nuclear security cooperation has so far been limited to a modest number of workshops. Moreover, India continues to expand her nuclear arsenals, now numbering many hundreds of weapons, and is continuing to rely on doctrines likely to lead to early dispersal of those weapons in the event of a crisis, tough they don’t admit it openly.
India is expanding its nuclear stockpile, continuing to produce both plutonium and HEU. She is expanding uranium enrichment, reportedly plans two new plutonium production reactors, and is building a new reprocessing plant at Kalpakkam.
India’s prototype fast breeder reactor will be able to produce an estimated 140 kilograms of plutonium annually once it opens. And in the future, India has plans for large-scale breeding, reprocessing, and recycling of plutonium fuels, and eventually breeding of U-233 from thorium.
A special security agency, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), guards both nuclear installations and other especially dangerous or sensitive industrial facilities.
Indian experts report that India performs systematic vulnerability assessments in designing physical protection systems for nuclear facilities and makes use of some modern security technologies, including access controls and various types of intrusion detectors. CISF leaders, however, reportedly complained about 40 percent cuts from their request in weapons for CISF, 45 percent cuts in training equipment, and low morale.
Reportedly, US officials have also ranked Indian nuclear security measures as weaker than those of Pakistan and Russia and US experts visiting the sensitive Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 2008 described the security arrangements there as “extraordinarily low key.”
In 2011, the Indian government proposed legislation to replace its existing nuclear safety regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), with a new Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) that would finally be fully independent of the Department of Atomic Energy. Despite a scathing legislative report on the AERB in 2012, however, the NSRA legislation has still not been passed.
The irony is that the AERB only has authority to regulate security at civilian facilities. The organizations managing India’s military nuclear activities (where the bulk of India’s HEU and separated plutonium reside) regulate themselves.
India has generally refused substantial nuclear security cooperation with the United States or any other country. In recent years, however, there have been workshops on the topic at India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) and trainings organized by the US State Department’s Partnership for Nuclear Security.
The threats India’s nuclear security systems have to confront appear to be significant thus can’t be overlooked. Besides facing domestic terrorist threats, India is also having ISIS as a living peril residing in their neighbouring Afghanistan. Moreover, there are concerns about insider threats within Indian nuclear facilities as India faces significant insider corruption.
Also, in 2014, Vijay Singh, a head constable at the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam, shot and killed three people with his service rifle soon after arriving at work. Although the CISF had a personnel reliability program in place, it was not able to detect Mr. Singh’s deteriorating mental health, despite multiple red flags, including his telling colleagues that he was about to explode like a firecracker.
Given the limited information available about India’s nuclear security measures, it is difficult to judge whether India’s nuclear security is capable of protecting against the threats it faces. Although India has taken significant measures to protect its nuclear sites, recent reports suggest that its nuclear security measures may be much weaker than required.
Pakistan’s PM’s Adviser on National Security Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua (Retd) is of the opinion that the Western powers desire better relations with India due to a shared anti-China policy despite the fact that a peaceful region and world is in Chinese interest and China has no ill intention towards any of these countries.
Janjua urge the world to shun policy of discrimination towards Pakistan and take steps to ensure strategic stability in South Asia, threatened by India’s massive defence spending. He said Pakistan is committed in the war against terrorism and extremism, adding we have made major strides to rid the country of this curse.
Obama’s reference to military doctrine also mentions India — the Indian military’s Cold Start Doctrine. Simply put, this means an immediate reaction to terrorist attack from Pakistan, by a counter punitive attack deep inside Pakistan territory. Though India has acted with restraint, the doctrine of punitive strikes is something that hard-liners in India have long favoured. This line is in tune with those who want India to have a muscular foreign policy.
Last June, when special forces of the Indian army, raided an NSCN(K) camp, by crossing the border into Myanmar, in coordination with the Air Force, to punish insurgents for a deadly ambush earlier of an Indian army convoy, there was much chest thumping in some circles. Though this has nothing to do with nuclear security, the kind of aggressive talk that emanated from India after the Myanmar operations, worried the rest of the world.
Keeping this in mind, the United States should seek to expand nuclear security cooperation with Pakistan and China as well, and should undertake nuclear security discussions and good practice exchanges with all of the countries where nuclear weapons or weapons-usable nuclear materials exist, including both developed and developing countries.