Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) Doctrine

In the run-up to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’ visit to US in October 2015, the Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry confirmed that Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear weapons to bridge the gap for war that India had created through its cold-start doctrine. His statement has cleared the speculation about the Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons to use against India in case of a war.

What are tactical nuclear weapons?

Nuclear weapons are broadly classified as Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons. Strategic nuclear weapons are those that produce large scale explosions whereas tactical nuclear weapons produce low scale explosions. This distinction may not hold always. They also differ based on the nature of delivery device. Weapons used in intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers that can directly destroy enemy’s cities, nuclear bases, other large-areas of enemy comes under strategic nuclear weapons. Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) are short-range and low-yield weapons and are used in battlefield combat. Tactical nuclear weapons consist of weapons loaded into short-range and medium range ballistic missiles, short range nuclear bombers, nuclear torpedoes and nuclear land missiles. Generally TNWs are deployed along with the conventional weapons. During Cold war period, TNWs were produced on a large scale by USA.


In the backdrop of 2001 parliament attack, Indian Armed Forces have developed a new military doctrine called as ‘Cold Start’ doctrine to use in case of a war with Pakistan. The ‘Cold Doctrine’ has replaced the earlier Sundarji doctrine. Under the ‘Cold Start’ Doctrine, India will launch a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan inflicting significant harm on the Pakistan Army before any international community intervention, but not in way Pakistan would be provoked to make a nuclear attack. Though India has never officially confirmed the existence of ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, Indian armed forces are following a proactive strategy.

The nuclear doctrine of India, first announced in 2003, asserts that India intends to develop a “credible minimum deterrence”. India while adopting a policy of “no first use”, it clarified that India will use the nuclear weapons against any attack on its soil using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Whether the attack uses strategic or tactic nuclear weapons, India will retaliate with massive nuclear response to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary.   Later India also declared its policy of ‘non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states’. India doesn’t differentiate between ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons because the difference is more of academic and nuclear weapons are not weapons for war but are weapons of mass destruction.

The use of nuclear weapons at any level will always escalate into all-out strategic exchange and catastrophe. India has always viewed nuclear weapons as a political instrument whose sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against itself.

The declaration of TNW policy confirms that Pakistan has drastically changed its nuclear posture against India. In late 1980s, Pakistan viewed the nuclear weapons as a last resort to deter a possible nuclear attack by India. Lacking the conventional weapons to confront India’s conventional military superiority, Pakistan has started building tactical nuclear weapons to deploy in the field for possible use against the Indian military forces. Pakistan’s main motive is to dissuade India from conventional retaliation against sub-conventional but highly destructive and disruptive cross-border terrorist strikes such as 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Pakistan is signalling to the India and the world that India should not retaliate even if there is another Mumbai like attack. Pakistan is assuming that by using TNWs, it can fight ‘a limited war’ and can win over India. But Pakistan has to understand that a nuclear war can neither be limited nor won by a single party. It will cause greatest damage to the both the nations. The other complications related to TNWs are complexity of manufacturing and difficulties during storage, transportation and deployment. Under the present command and control structure of Pakistan, there is always a danger of unauthorised access by terrorists or an “accidental” launch of TNWs. The nuclear history of Pakistan is proof for the same. By citing the terms like “India’s conventional military threat”, Pakistan forgets that it’s continuing involvement in terror strikes in India; it is India which is confronted with the problem of developing a strategy to counter Pakistan’s “first-strike” policy. Pakistan’s security does not lie in development of TNWs.  Instead its security lies in ensuring that Pakistan’s territory is not used for launching terror attacks in India.

Should India change its nuclear doctrine?

India should constantly review and update its nuclear doctrine with the objective to strength the credibility of the existing doctrine rather than abandoning it. Change of India’s nuclear doctrine means that strategies and structures of Indian military are determined in Pakistan. India’s nuclear doctrine is not framed just by keeping only Pakistan in mind. It is also based on the other countries nuclear policies, especially China. India’s present nuclear doctrine is a responsible one and India has earned global acceptance as a responsible nuclear power state. There is also scepticism about operational TNWs in Pakistan.

What should be the India’s response?

To deal with Pakistan’s TNW policy, India needs to follow a multi-pronged approach which includes:

  1. India should present the consequences of an escalated nuclear war to Pakistan.
  2. Diplomatically, India should expose the consequences of nuclear adventurism of Pakistan and its refusal to join a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. India should persuade the other responsible countries to take note of the dangerous implications of Pakistan’s TNWs falling into the wrong hands.
  3. India should make efforts to expose the China’s role in development and expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.