India sets up strategic command to manage nuclear arsenal

Sunday, January 5, 2003

NEW DELHI, India -- India formally established a strategic command to manage its nuclear arsenal Saturday, restating its commitment not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, the government said.

The establishment of the Nuclear Command Authority was approved at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a government statement said.

The authority will be a mixed civilian-military body that includes the nation's defense minister, military chiefs and civilian defense experts, according to the statement. A political council chaired by the prime minister will be sole body that can authorize the use of nuclear weapons.

The decision creates an advisory group focusing on the nuclear question, which previously was handled as a general security issue. The authority to use nuclear weapons already lay only with the prime minister.

The statement also restated India's doctrine of using nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces.

Dispute over Kashmir

India and Pakistan conducted underground nuclear tests in 1998, prompting international condemnation and sanctions against both countries. But the sanctions were gradually lifted.

They share a 1,800-mile border, a section of which is a cease-fire line that divides the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir. Both claim the largely Muslim region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Pakistan-backed militants have been waging a bloody secessionist uprising in Indian Kashmir since 1989 that has killed more than 61,000 people. Militants want either outright independence or union with Islamic Pakistan. Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority state in the predominantly Hindu country.

On Wednesday, India and Pakistan exchanged lists of each other's nuclear facilities in accordance with a 12-year-old agreement.

The two countries, which came to the brink of war last year, have traded similar details each year on Jan. 1 since 1992, one year after they signed an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear facilities.

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