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India and Pakistan: Enforcing strategic deterrence

on: March 11, 2015In: ASIA, INTL

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By Maimuna Ashraf
The growing disparity and asymmetry in South Asia is favorable
to India yet challenging for Pakistan. Indias rising nuclear and
conventional ambitions have enforced Pakistan to build up its
nuclear capabilities to ensure the credibility of its nuclear
deterrence. Previously, Indias doctrinal transformation and
ballistic missile defense capabilities which are rapidly maturing,
have indulged Pakistan in miniaturization of warheads. Lately, the
evolving South Asian regional security dynamics in Modis regime
is coercing Pakistan to develop full spectrum credible minimum
deterrence capability to deter all form of aggression.
The recent successful test launch of Shaheen-III Surface to
Surface Ballistic Missile (SSBM) on March 9th from the Southern
coast off the Arabian Sea is an appropriate, requisite and well-
timed response to Indias sophisticated and intensive ballistic
missile and anti-missile developments. India on 19th February
test-fired nuclear capable Prithvi-II missile hence a response from
Pakistan was evident and essential to ensure that Islamabad has
the capabilities to counter the intimidating advancement. Shaheen
III SSBM capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads
to a range of 2,750 km. The missile is an updated version of
Shaheen I and Shaheen II, the maximum range of the earlier
versions of Shaheen missiles was of about 2,500 km. This
Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) is a solid fuelled missile
and is currently the longest range missile in Pakistan. The
Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General
Zubair Mehmood Hayat has stated the development yet another
historic milestone towards reinforcement and maintenance of
Pakistans deterrence capability.
Pakistan currently has three tiers of ballistic missiles ranging from
Battlefield Short Range Ballistic Missiles (BSRBMs) to Short
Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) and Medium Range Ballistic
Missiles (MRBMs). The ballistic missile system developments of
Islamabad is focused to respond Dehlis advancements which
serves the purpose to ensure counter strike capability, maintains
credible deterrence, readiness and robustness of Pakistan which
reduces the threat of Indias conventional limited war. Deterrence,
as precisely termed, is the exploitation of a threat without
implementing it, or exploiting the existence of weapons without
activating them. Consequently nuclear weapons are essentially
supposed to be the weapons of peace and not war. It is
extensively believed that existence of nuclear weapons restrained
Pakistan and India to wage another war after 1971. However, the
Indian arrogance to exploit conventional supremacy and regional
hegemonic aspirations are evident from assorted course of
actions. After the failure of Sundarji doctrine in operation
Parakram which took place in 2001-2002, India announced a new
limited war Cold Start doctrine in 2004. The Sundarji doctrine
faltered due to dawdling Indian mobilization that permitted
Pakistan to mount its reaction and beat Indian strategic designs.
The new Cold Start doctrine was resultantly aimed to mobilize
quickly and to exterminate Pakistani armed forces before they
could accumulate a response. Nasr (Hatf IX) BSRBM was
designed to counter Indias Cold start and limited war strategy,
which has the quick reactionary shoot-and-scoot technology.
While the Nasr serves the purpose of battlefield deterrent, the
Abdali (Hatf-II) BSRBM fulfils the role of traditional short-range
strategic deterrent. The cornerstones of Pakistans deterrent
arsenal are Ghauri II (Hatf VA), Shaheen II (Hatf VI) and Shaheen
III MRBMs, with ability to strike any strategic target in India.

Pakistan tests Shaheen-III missile (Photo: Courtesy

of WikiCommons)
The regional stability has been threatened after Modis
government aggressive postures that include abetting terrorism in
Pakistan, blatant attrition at the line of control (LoC), Indo-US-
Israeli Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation, revival of Indo-US
nuclear deal and significant hike in defense budget. India is also
developing its heavy bombers, land-based ballistic missiles,
maritime strategic forces and submarine-launched ballistic
missiles to have a complete triad of land-based and sea-based
ballistic missiles. It is viewed by many that by maintaining such
belligerent posture, Dehli is looking for a strategic space to start a
limited war against Pakistan which is believed to be indebted after
Kargil. Resultantly, the developing regional dynamics inflict
Pakistan to convert credible minimum deterrence into full
spectrum credible minimum deterrence. While India is developing
its short range ballistic missiles, inter-continental ballistic missiles
and anti-missile program, Pakistan is focusing on its short-range
and medium-range ballistic missiles with improved payloads,
range and reliability. The previous versions of Shaheen could not
reach Indias eastern front but latest launch test has ended this
limitation and consequently, the launch of Shaheen III is of
prominent significance because it consolidates Pakistans
strategic deterrence in evolving regional scenario.
The continuing race between Pakistan and India is of grave
regional concern. Yet evidently, Islamabad is not seeking a
nuclear parity with New-Dehli but compelled to exhibit a reaction
in response to an action. Nonetheless, a timely successful
response shows operational preparedness of the Strategic Forces
and Pakistans capabilities to safeguards its security, which
should not be undermined.
Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the impact of nuclear weapons on war and peace has been fiercely debated. Most well-known is the repeated
argument between Kenneth N. Waltz and Scott Sagan, the so-called Waltz-Sagan-debate.[i] Waltz, representing the position of proliferation optimism,
was confident that rational actors, whose primary aim was survival, would never engage in nuclear war. Sagan instead was pessimistic about the
deterrent value of nuclear weapons by pointing to the fallacy of organizational routines and the distorting influence of bureaucratic competition. A third
position negating any impact of nuclear weapons whatsoever was developed later by John Mueller, who questioned the relevance of nuclear weapons
for peace and security in the 21st century.[ii] Ward Wilson more recently provided another comprehensive rebuttal of both proliferation optimism and

All three perspectives suffer from conceptual inconsistencies and/or empirical anomalies. Contrary to the hypothesized pacifying influence of nuclear
weapons, quantitative studies showed that, on balance, (new) nuclear powers are more likely than nonnuclear states to be involved in interstate
crises.[iv] What is more, there have been some conventional wars between nuclear powers (China versus Soviet Union 1962, India and Pakistan 1999).
Also nuclear powers have been attacked by nonnuclear powers (Israel 1973, Great Britain 1982). As regards nuclear pessimism, one is left wondering
why, despite so many instances of nuclear brinkmanship and near disasters, there has been no nuclear strike since 1945. Was it sheer luck? Or is there
something that systematically works against escalation traps and unintended wars? Finally, Mueller and Wilson go to great lengths to criticize the
political and human costs of counter-proliferation policies. But they are unable to explain the persistent belief in the singularity of nuclear weapons.

It is beyond the purpose of this essay to explore these and other critical arguments comprehensively. My aim rather is to probe into the plausibility of
each school of thought with respect to a particular region. South Asia, after all, figures prominently in the proliferation debate, at least as far as
pessimists and optimists are concerned. Pessimists point to what they see as nuclear brinkmanship while optimists interpret the absence of major war
between India and Pakistan as resulting from nuclear deterrence. Nuclear skepticism, surprisingly, has so far ignored the region, even though one could
argue that it is this perspective which should have anticipated the many continuances of pre- and post-nuclearized South Asia.

In the remainder of this essay I argue that the history of Indian-Pakistan relations neither supports the pessimist nor the optimist view. This is not to
say that nuclear weapons in South Asia are nothing to worry about. To the contrary, there is reason to be concerned. But dangers are not so much result
from the existence of nuclear capacities per se. Rather it is specific nuclear doctrines and postures which can either work as reassuring or escalatory
factors. As a consequence, more analytical effort should be devoted to the evolution of nuclear policies and doctrines as opposed to the proliferation of
nuclear capacities.

Nuclear Weapons and the Indian-Pakistani Conflict

A number of factors seem to decrease the stability of nuclear deterrence in South Asia.[v] First, reaction times shrink drastically because of territorial
contingency and due to the fact that major Pakistani cities are situated close to the border. Second, Pakistani statehood is fragil and the political
influence of radicals, even within the security authorities, worrisome. Third, identity politics occupies center stage particularly with respect to Kashmir.
As a result, both conflict parties are ready to take huge risks and their willingness to back down and to make concessions is very limited. All of this
supposedly makes South Asia a least-likely case from the perspective of deterrence theory.[vi]

In order to understand whether it has passed or failed to pass the test we need to take into account different sorts of empirical evidence. Comparing
pre- and post-nuclearization levels of interstate violence gives us a first clue. Before becoming nuclear powers, India and Pakistan fought three
conventional wars. Neither the first (1948) nor the second Kashmir War (1965) deserve to be labelled as all-out war. Military violence was rather
limited, as were the territorial goals of both conflict parties.[vii] Combat-related casualties are estimated at 7000 and 7500 respectively.[viii] During
the 1971 Bangladesh War, combat in which Indian troops were involved, resulted in an estimated 11,200 battle-deaths[ix], still a far cry from the
hundreds of thousands who died in clashes between West Pakistani supporters and their opponents.

Considering this evidence, we should refrain from assuming an unlimited readiness to escalate prior to the nuclearization of South Asia. That is, we
should not create a historically inaccurate benchmark against which contemporary crisis dynamics are judged. Doing so, we would grossly exagerrate
the effect of nuclear deterrence. The counterfactual of major war in the absence of nuclear weapons is implausible for other reasons as well. For one,
South Asia entered a relatively calm period of 28 years without any Indian-Pakistani war after 1971. For another, the end of this period roughly
coincided with India and Pakistan acquiring an operational nuclear weapons capability. At the very least, this chronology is somewhat at odds with
nuclear deterrence theory.

The 1999 Kargil war started with camouflaged Pakistani troops and paramilitaries occupying mountain terrain in the Kargil region. Some might say
that this posed no major threat to India and, hence, that it did not disconfirm the expectation of reliable deterrence after nuclearization. But the region
had played a role in all prior wars between India and Pakistan because of its strategic value.[x] Most importantly, India had to fear being unable to
supply Ladakh via the National Highway NH1D. For this and other reasons, Indian decision-makers authorized a costly but ultimately succesful

The fact they did so without sending the Indian army or the Indian air force across the line-of-control has been regarded as proof of a working nuclear
deterrence. The same applies to a statement by the Pakistani foreign minister on May 31st 1999, in which he threatened to use all means to defend the
territorial integrity of Pakistan.[xi] In this case, historical comparison lends further credibility to proliferation optimism: After all, Indian troops
operated within Pakistani Punjab during the 1965 war and massive air raids were conducted against West- and East-Pakistan in 1971.[xii] So what
made them relinquish these options in 1999 if not Pakistans nuclear weapons?

I argue that reasoning along the lines of nuclear deterrence, again, is not completely convincing if all strategic and international circumstances enter the
equation. First, India proved to be able to reoccupy her territory without crossing the de facto border in Kargil. In other words, violating the line of
control was operationally unnessecary due to Indias conventional superiority. Second, if it had authorized operations beyond the line-of-control, it
would probably have lost the diplomatic support of the United States who demanded an unconditional retreat from Pakistan.[xiii] This diplomatic asset
was certainly more valuable than the operational benefits of invading the Pakistani hinterland.[xiv] Methodologically speaking, there is a situation of
equifinality in the sense that tactical and diplomatic factors explain Indias cautious approach just as well as nuclear deterrence.
Another puzzle for nuclear optimism consists in the fact that Pakistan started the war in the first place despite a nuclear balance of power and Indias
conventional superiority. S. Paul Kapur refers to a paradox in this regard: Not despite but because of its relative weakness, he argues, Pakistan was able
to attack India with conventional military units. Lack of strategic depth, conventional inferiority, fragile political institutions all these factors
maximized the risks of nuclear escalation. Hence, the Pakistani military was confident that there would not be a major Indian counterattack.[xv] There
are in fact several statements, for example by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, that support such an analysis.[xvi]

Yet even if this were true, the story remains incomplete as long as we do not take into account the political purpose of such an attack. S. Paul Kapur and
Bhumitra Chakma agree that Pakistan was not driven by the hope of significant territorial gains. Rather it seems that limited war was seen by the
Pakistani leadership as a political tool to redirect international attention to the Kashmir conflict in general.[xvii] Such a strategy, of course, requires to
not appear as aggressor and, thus, to minimize casualties. Several analytical implications follow: Not only did Indian nuclear deterrence fail to prevent
a Pakistani attack. Indian nuclear weapons also do not necessarily explain the limited-war approach that was chosen by Pakistan. Again, this is an issue
of equifinality. Pakistans military mission might have been the only reasonable way to attack a nuclear-armed power. But it might just as well serve
overriding diplomatic priorities.

Finally, assessing the impact of nuclear weapons on the Indian-Pakistani conflict needs to include also subconventional means of political violence.
With respect to terrorism and insurgency, whether state-sponsored or not, nuclear deterrence has not achieved anything.[xviii] To the contrary,
Pakistani security forces apparently increased their logistical support of militias and extremists in the early 2000s. Major terrorist operations were
directed against the Indian parliament in December 2001 and against an Indian military camp in Kashmir in May 2002. Towards the end of the decade,
in 2008, Bombay suffered from a devastating terrorist attack. Proliferation optimists, of course, argue that Pakistans support of terrorism grew
because there was no other way to pursue revisionist goals within the confines of nuclear detterence.

They also point to Indias hesitant reaction. Both in 2001/02 and, again, in 2008 India issued threats of major counterterrorism campaigns against
Pakistan. Why werent these threats realized? For fear of nuclear escalation?[xix] Once more, this is only one of several explanations. Just like in 1999,
the United States sided unambigously with India in 2001/02. It pressured Pakistiani Prime Minister Musharraf into publicly withdrawing political
support from transnationally operating militias, and into arresting their leadership. Hence, Indias coercive dilpomacy was succesful, at least
temporarily. It certainly achieved more than India could have gained by unilateral military strikes.[xx] If it had nonetheless authorized military
operations deep inside Pakistani territory, its bilateral relations with the US would have been seriously harmed, with consequences extending into the
areas of trade, nuclear cooperation etc. What is more, any military offensive would have led to very high casualties, given that round about one million
troops had been deployed to the line-of-control during the so-called war-in-sight crisis.[xxi] Hence, any element of surprise was already lost.

The Impact of Nuclear Doctrines and Force Postures

Summing up, the evidence does not tell whether the advent of nuclear weapons in South Asia really had established a new pattern of conflict behavior.
On this account, proliferation optimism is unconvincing. This is not to say that proliferation pessimism fares any better. True, there have been critical
situations and, perhaps, even instances of nuclear brinkmanship.[xxii] Yet these instances resulted not from the existence of nuclear weapons per se.
Neither was it the case that bureaucracies and military organizations proved unreliable throughout those crises. The more there is variation in terms of
nuclear risks and organizational performance, the less promising are speculations about the general effects of nuclear proliferation. In contrast, nuclear
postures (force structures, organizational procedures) and their interaction with conventional military capabilities deserve more attention.[xxiii] Also
from a political point of view, it makes much more sense to focus on the impact of nuclear postures and doctrines. India and Pakistan will keep their
nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, as long as there is neither a solution of regional conflicts and/or an international breakthrough of nuclear
disarmament. For the time being, then, any effort that decreases the danger of nuclear war without relying on the abolishment of nuclear weapons is of
highly practical value.

Several developments are worrying in this regard. Firstly, Indian strategists and military officials since the early 2000s have been working on a concept
that allows rapid incursions into Pakistan territory. The goal is to strike terrorist infrastructure without triggering the threat of nuclear retaliation
and/or international condemnation.[xxiv] While this doctrine, dubbed Cold Start, has never been endorsed by the Indian government nor
operationalized by the military, its imprint on Pakistani threat perception is undeniable.[xxv] At a minimum, it reinforced Pakistani efforts to lower the
nuclear threshold by resorting to readily deployable nuclear weapons for battlefield use.[xxvi]The 60 kilometer short-range ballistic missile Nasr, that
is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, is a case in point.[xxvii] This is the second major destabilizing factor. For tactical nuclear weapons create a
major dilemma. Either they are vulnerable to counterattacks and communication breakdowns and, thus, unreliable. Or they maximize the risk of
unintended escalation because those weapons have been pre-deployed and the authority to use them has been pre-delegated to local

There is no official nuclear doctrine in Pakistan. However, experts believe that Pakistani nuclear weapons can be deployed and used on very short
notice and without necessarily requiring top-level authorization during a crisis.[xxix] If tactical weapons were ever used, India would have to deal with
a commitment trap because its nuclear doctrine threatens to respond to any nuclear attack (including against her military troops in the field) with
massive retaliation.[xxx] A third factor relates to Indias interest in ballistic missile defense systems. Finally, the fact that India and Pakistan
increasingly rely on delivery vehicles and platforms that can be equipped with both conventional and nuclear warheads further aggravates risks of

What can be done to ameliorate the situation? Mark Fitzpatrick has recently suggested a nuclear deal with Pakistan as a complement to the US-Indian
nuclear cooperation agreement and the subsequent decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to exempt India from trade restrictions.[xxxi] Pakistan
could be granted the same status in exchange for nuclear posture changes (strengthening of civilian institutions, no pre-delegation of authority, no
deployment of tactical nuclear weapons) and a more positive attitude to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations on a Fissile
Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Even more important, India and Pakistan should be encouraged to improve their early warning systems and to engage
in serious talks about new confidence-building measures (improved crisis communication capabilities, notifications, transparent doctrines, etc.).