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Daily Editorials

Taking nuclear vulnerabilities seriously


Seventy-five years ago on August 6, 1945 the atom bomb was first used against Japan in the city of Hiroshima.

After the detonation of nuclear weapons on Japan in the World War-II, the nuclear weapons have not been used ever since. However, the threat of a nuclear war is always looming and has led to a blind race is acquiring and upgrading nuclear weapons.

This editorial discusses the concept of nuclear deterrence and argues for the possibility of the failure of the idea.


2.1 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  • Seventy-five years ago on August 6 and 9, 1945 the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by detonation of nuclear weapons by the United States.
  • 2,00,000 people were killed due to the two nuclear bombs, some were killed instantaneously, while others over the next five months.
  • Another 2,00,000 people who albeit injured, survived the two bombings have been called the hibakusha.

2.2 The Hibakusha

  • The long-lasting effects of radiation exposure combined with the mental trauma had resulted in a difficult plight of the survivors.
  • Many hibakushas have lived on and spread their plight and experiences in the hope that nobody else experiences the hardships they underwent.

2.3 Last use of atomic bombs

  • In the present world order, nobody can say with certainty that Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be the last two cities to have been destroyed by nuclear weapons.
  • Ever since the first use of nuclear bombs in 1945, many countries have armed themselves with nuclear weapons that are more destructive than the ones that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • These include the United States, the Soviet Union (Russia), the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.


3.1 Nuclear Weapons - the numbers

  • Since the beginning of atomic age, more than 1,26,000 nuclear weapons have been built.
  • Out of these, nearly 2,000 have been used in nuclear tests both above and below ground in order to demonstrate their explosive power.
  • This has caused great and long lasting damage to the environment and human health.
  • However, this damage is insignificant compared to the damage that can be caused if nuclear weapons are used against civilian populations.

3.2 Nuclear vulnerability

  • A realisation of the damaging and destructive potential of the nuclear weapons and an apprehension that these weapons could be used any moment against any target around the world instils a sense of vulnerability.
  • This vulnerability is further intensified with the realisation that whether the nuclear weapons are used deliberately, inadvertently, or accidentally, there is no realistic way to protect ourselves from these weapons.

3.3 The ballistic missiles

  • After the ballistic missiles were invented by the end of 1950s, it has become impossible to intercept nuclear weapons after they are launched due to the great speed of delivery of the ballistic missiles.
  • Neither fallout shelters nor any ballistic missile defence system has the ability to address this vulnerability.
  • Another case of vulnerability is that while nuclear weapon states areoften the targets of other nuclear weapon states, the non-nuclear weapon states are also exposed to nuclear-vulnerability in the fallout.


4.1 Idea of deterrence

  • Nuclear weapon states have addressed the vulnerability arising out of nuclear weapons by the comforting idea of deterrence.
  • The idea suggests that the use of nuclear weapons is impossible because of deterrence.
  • The destruction power of the nuclear weapons is so huge that no country will use it out of the fear of similar retaliation and hence no political leader would put the lives of millions of their citizen at risk.

4.2 Deterrence does not always work

  • The proponents of the idea of deterrence take it a step further to claim that nuclear weapons not only protect the nuclear-armed state against the use of nuclear weapons by others, but also prevent wars of and ensure peace and stability.
  • However, the experience with nuclear deterrence has been contrary to the claims.
  • Nuclear threats have not always produced fear, which in turn has not always induced caution.
  • On the contrary, nuclear threats have yielded anger and frustration and at times havetriggered escalation as in the case with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

4.3 Deterrence of conventional weapons

  • The apparent effectiveness of deterrence as seen in some case is due to the more credible prospect of retaliation with conventional weapons.
  • Infact, nuclear armed states have waged wars more often, sometimes even with other nuclear armed states, although in a limited fashion or through proxies.
  • Hence, countries do not always show restraint.

4.4 Stability of nuclear deterrence

  • Nuclear deterrence is also not stable.
  • Strategic planners often consider worst-case scenarios in their planning.
  • Such worst-case assumption of intentions and capabilities of other nuclear-armed countries has argued for the acquisition of greater destructive capabilities and has driven an endless race for upgrading of the nuclear weapons.
  • Such arguments have also been used by non-nuclear states to acquire nuclear weapons.

4.5 Possibility of nuclear war

  • All nuclear weapon states have tacitly admitted to the possibility that nuclear deterrence could fail and have already made preparations for fighting a nuclear war as a consequence.
  • The disconnect between possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence and the reality of keeping these weapons primed for use has been at times eloquently clarified by military generals and personnel at the helm of strategic nuclear forces of nuclear armed states.
  • Many of these military personnel have stated that it would be an illusion to think that nuclear war is impossible.


  • The controllability of nuclear weapons is another related concern.
  • It is not possible for the strategic planners to have complete control in the real world.
  • In fact, this belief in the perfect controllability and safety of nuclear weapons has created a dangerous overconfidence which is more likely to cause accidents and possibly to the use of nuclear weapons.
  • Several historical instances have shown that it was either the failure of the nuclear weapons or factors outside institutional control and not complete control practices that has prevented the use of nuclear weapons.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is a perfect testimony to this.


A simple yet astounding question one is bound to think is that if not deterrence, what has prevented nuclear war so far.

While an answer to this question would require diverse and contingent factors but many experts suggest that an essential element in key episodes is just plain luck.

The case of the Cuban Missile Crisis is again the best illustration to the role of luck, as about forty years of scholarship on the matter has attest to the crucial role of luck.

However, we cannot solely rely on luck indefinitely.

The global leadership should hold talks to contain nuclear proliferation and lead humanity in an era of everlasting peace and security from the perpetual looming nuclear threat.

Draft Policy seeking self-reliance for India in defence production


Recently, the defence ministry unveiled a draft defence production and export promotion policy (DPEPP 2020).

The stated objectives of the draft policy is to achieve a turnover of 1,75,000 Crores ($ 25 billion), including export of Rs 35,000 Crore ($ 5 billion) in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2025.

This editorial analyses India's present defence industrial base (DIB) and the details of the draft policy.


2.1 Annual defence budget for India

  • India's annual defence budget is around $70 billion, which ranks third, globally, only after the US ($732 billion) and China ($261 billion) in terms of military expenditure.

2.2 Largest arms importer

  • India is also one of the largest buyer of foreign weaponry around the world, second only to Saudi Arabia.
  • During 2015-2019, India accounted for 9.2% of the total global arms imports.

2.3 A vulnerable position

  • For the past many years, India has languished among the top three arms importers in the world.
  • Given its strategically vulnerable position, India now wants to build a major defence industrial base (DIB) to achieve self-reliance in weapon systems and to begin export to other nations within the next five years.

2.4 Previous draft policy

  • A draft policy on the lines of DPEPP 2020 was released in 2018 as well.
  • The 2018 draft policy had similar objectives but it did not yield any substantial results.


3.1 Size of Indian defence industry

  • Presently, the size of Indian defence industry is to the tune of Rs 80,000 crore with the contribution of the public sector standing at almost 80%.
  • There is no denying from the fact that India needs to immediately strengthen its underdeveloped defence industrial base (DIB) by getting the private sector to play a bigger role into defence production.

3.2 Public sector undertakings (PSUs) in Defence

  • Presently there are eight public sector undertakings (PSUs) under the Department of Defence Production and Supplies.
    • Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL)
    • Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL)
    • Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. (BEML)
    • Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL)
    • Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd. (GRSE)
    • Goa Shipyard Ltd. (GSL)
    • Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL)
    • Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd. (MIDHANI)
  • Out of the above, five PSUs viz. HAL, MDL, GRSE, BDL and MIDHANI are wholly owned by the Government of India.
  • The public sector in India in DIB includes
    • DRDO and its 50 labs
    • four defence shipyards
    • five defence PSUs
    • 41 ordnance factories
  • These public sector undertakings also need a drastic overhaul to deliver cutting-edge weapon systems without huge time and cost overruns.

3.3 Need for developing defence sector

  • The ongoing military confrontation with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has further accentuated India's sorry state of affairs in Defence production.
  • To maintain operational readiness along the northern borders, the 15 lakh strong Indian armed forces has to depend on the import of a variety of weaponry and weapon system ranging from drones to assault rifles to missiles and ammunition.


4.1 Overarching document

  • The draft DPEPP 2020 is envisaged as an “overarching document to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities”.
  • However, whether the stated goals of the draft DPEPP 2020 can be achieved in five years remains to be seen.

4.2 Provisions of the draft policy