Policy Options for Pakistan – Telegraph Nepal

-Pakistan in the Global Nuclear Order-

-Zafar Khan and Rizwana Abbasi, Islamabad
(Islamabad Papers 2016)

Introduction: South Asia is a complex region where rivalry between India and Pakistan continues to grow and stability remains elusive despite the induction of nuclear weapons. The two countries have fought wars (1948, 1965, 1971, and a limited war in 1999) and experienced prolonged crises. Periods of peace, on the contrary, have been short since 1947. India went nuclear in 1974, prompting Pakistan to pursue a nuclear weapons programme. Indian nuclear explosions in 1998 forced Pakistan to develop a more credible and overt nuclear posture, doctrine and command and control. Since the introduction of nuclear weapons in 1998, continued border skirmishes, routine violations at the Line of Control (LOC) and entry of the phenomenon of terrorism into the threat spectrum of both the states have further complicated the peace process in South Asia. Lack of progress in Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and frequent cancellation of bilateral dialogues have made the South Asian region increasingly prone to crises, conflicts and wars.

Nuclear weapons have preserved only a fragile peace as the probability of the outbreak of a war remains high in South Asia. The Kargil war of 1999 ushered a new era rooted deep in the notion of stability-instability paradox.1 The introduction of Indian war-fighting strategy ─ the so-called CSD further exploited and increased the space for war under the nuclear overhang. In response to the Indian limited war-fighting strategy, Pakistan developed short range Nasr (60km ─ the battlefield weapon) as a deterrence. Also, Pakistan considers the development of its medium range ballistic missile caability as a deterrent against India‘s second-strike capability, say, from the Andaman and Nicobar Island bases. Pakistan has several times asserted that it maintains credible minimum deterrence; it neither seeks an arms race nor parity with India. Paradoxically, this minimalist approach adopted by Pakistan is misperceived; whereas India‘s massive conventional and nuclear force posture developments attract scant global attention.

Pakistan‘s strategic endeavors become part of the perceived full spectrum deterrence, which in turn remains consistent with broader contours of credible minimum deterrence as Pakistan conceptualizes. Presumably, repeated assertions of adopting full spectrum deterrence measures are Pakistan‘s efforts to plug the gaps in its deterrent capability that India seeks to exploit. It has more to do with quality than quantity.

Will conceptualization of minimum deterrence be the ultimate nuclear strategy for Pakistan? How will it cope with the changed strategic environment where, on the one hand, the agreed non-proliferation regime has failed to persuade nuclear weapons states party to the NPT to work for complete disarmament? These powers have consistently retained their nuclear weapons capabilities and many NPT non-nuclear weapons states have already achieved the status of virtual nuclear weapons states, that is, they have the technological capabilities and financial means to build nuclear weapons if they choose to do so.

On the other hand, Pakistan has serious concerns towards the Indo-US nuclear deal and the US-backed NSG waiver for India. This volte-face in American policy of championing nonproliferation has undermined the non-proliferation regime, fuelled India‘s conventional capability, and spurred development of its BMD system. This has emboldened New Delhi to only pay lip service to sign the CTBT or participate in the negotiations on the FMCT. India‘s strategic partnership with the US has reinforced its hegemonist mind-set. India has been given a free hand to build a ―top-secret nuclear city ─ the subcontinent‘s largest military-run complex of [new generation] centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons-and-aircraft-testing facilities when it is completed, probably sometime in 2017.‖2 Under this project, India aims at developing a new generation of more powerful megaton weapons, including hydrogen/ thermonuclear bombs. These are some facets of the complex strategic scenarios under which the contemporary scholarship has to closely analyze these emerging challenges to the concept of minimum deterrence in South Asia.

This paper assesses Pakistan‘s nuclear commitments, goals and role of its nuclear weapons within the remit of its policy of credible minimum deterrence. It broadly discusses Pakistan‘s policy options asking the question why Pakistan initially opted for a policy of minimum deterrence and why its full spectrum capability does not violate the principle of credible minimum deterrence. The paper also examines Pakistan‘s normative posture towards the global commons of non-proliferation in pre and-post-nuclear weaponization period, and its reasons for not joining the NPT and the CTBT or the FMCT negotiations.

Pakistan‘s legitimate aspirations to join the NSG on the basis of uniform and non-discriminatory criteria have also been discussed.

This paper offers five proposals that seek a delicate balance in the competing interests amongst various parties in achieving strategic stability in South Asia and preserving each state‘s right to peaceful uses of nuclear technology without expecting Pakistan to compromise its legitimate imperative of maintaining credible minimum deterrence. The proposals are: 1) normalizing the global nuclear order to make it consistent with emerging realities; 2) regulating India‘s emerging nuclear modernization by addressing the growing conventional force asymmetry; 3) addressing the issues that hinder arms control by India and Pakistan; 4) re-considering the strategic dilemma affecting South Asia; and 5) resolving the issue of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
These proposals would assist the international community in comprehending Pakistan‘s nuclear policy, and why its consistent endeavours to join international nuclear mainstream and becoming an integral part of the evolving global nuclear order would be in the interest of international peace and security.

Deterrence: Policy Options for Pakistan: 

Before understanding Pakistan‘s policy of credible minimum deterrence and the perspective of full spectrum deterrence, it is important to review various policy options for deterrence Pakistan had after testing nuclear weapons in 1998.

The first option available to Pakistan was assured destruction. This option would have been very costly. It would have required a bigger and larger number of strategic, conventional and tactical deterrence forces that would have put extreme pressure on Pakistan‘s leadership and command and control system. This would have also required a larger number of personnel to oversee the deterrence forces and their related facilities; and would have demanded a larger number of delivery vehicles. Only two states ─ the US and the Soviet Union ─ during the peak of the Cold War possessed that kind of technological and economic capacity to uphold high levels of deterrence capabilities, but later on they, too, started to realize that it was a strategy of ―overkill‖ and self-annihilation because neither power could have ―won‖ or sustained this race. Thus, the policy based on mutually assured destruction (MAD) proved an ineffective nuclear strategy during the Cold War.

Given the potential risks and costs associated with this option, Pakistan simply did not embrace this strategy, which could have re-created a competing strategic environment similar to the Cold War period.

The second option to Pakistan was limited deterrence. This option would still cost Pakistan dearly because of poor economic conditions, economic sanctions and a relatively low threshold of technological advancement. China can be considered a classic case of practicing limited deterrence.4 Limited deterrence would

―require sufficient counterforce and counter-value tactical, theatre, and strategic nuclear forces to deter the escalation of conventional or nuclear war, and in case of deterrence failure,

―this capability should be sufficient to control escalation and to compel the adversary to back down.‖5 This may be termed as a restricted version of assured destruction that allows for the sufficiency of deterrence forces covering all essential areas of force structure.6 However, the operationalization of this deterrence concept would require some configuration of BMD system and effective space-based early warning capabilities. Pakistan, in the embryonic stages of its nuclear weapons programme, had not yet obtained sophisticated deterrence force capabilities that other nuclear weapons states would have already developed.

Therefore, it could not opt for this type of deterrence at the initial stages of its nuclear weapons development.

The third option available to Pakistan was virtual deterrence. Pakistan could have practiced this type of deterrence in the early 1980s where it could have achieved nuclear capability without testing nuclear weapons. Japan is a classic example of a state that practices virtual nuclear deterrence because it has the economic and technological wherewithal to acquire nuclear weapons swiftly if it desires to do so. Although Japan has the capability to acquire nuclear weapons, the United States‘extended deterrence and its security assurances in the form of deployed defence systems in Asia obviate the development of a nuclear weapons capability by Japan.

Opaque deterrence could have been the fourth option for Pakistan. In this type of deterrence, a state does not announce that it has nuclear weapons; and it does not give any official statements on the possession of deterrence forces. Things remain shrouded in deep secrecy with no public debate on the deterrence forces. Israel is a classic example that practices nuclear opacity.
It neither confirms nor denies possession of nuclear weapons. Pakistan no longer practices nuclear opacity because it has already tested its nuclear weapons capability and many ingredients with regard to its nuclear strategy are in a declaratory form one way or the other. Nuclear opacity does not suit Pakistan any longer viz-à-viz India, though ambiguity in various doctrinal areas serves the purpose of deterrence. That is why all nuclear weapons states maintain a degree of ambiguity in their declaratory policies.

Primary deterrence is yet another policy option whereby a nuclear weapons state protects its own homeland by projecting its deterrence capabilities. It is different from the extended deterrence ─ the US employs to deter the adversaries of its strategic allies and also as a non-proliferation tool against the latter. The extended deterrence guarantees often come into question when the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in East Asia perceive that they are not sufficiently reassured or protected. This was a major driver for the French and British decisions to develop their independent nuclear deterrent despite the American umbrella. Moreover, prestige and power are perhaps other two motivations for an independent nuclear capability, as both these powers faced no major threats. Thus, the UK and France basically practice primary deterrence. North Korea practices primary deterrence believing that nuclear weapons could protect the regime, which implies that Pyongyang could actually use nuclear weapons if it was attacked.

In the absence of nuclear guarantees, increasing asymmetry in terms of India‘s growing conventional and nuclear capabilities and growing abnormality of the non-proliferation regime in the socalled international nuclear order, where norms and values for complete disarmament are not being upheld, it became imperative for Pakistan to practice primary deterrence for protecting its homeland and achieving stability in South Asia.

The concept of Credible Minimum Deterrence existed during the peak of the Cold War where, on the one hand, the Soviet Union and the US acquired a large number of nuclear forces along with sophisticated delivery systems and, on the other hand, critics suggested an alternative policy option, namely, to pursue effective minimum deterrence.
China, France and Britain follow a modest level of deterrence forces. The US and Russia have also been moving away from the Cold War MAD arms race by reducing their numbers, though not in sufficient numbers, to pave the way for disarmament in accordance with the NPT. The minimum deterrence of that nature may not be applicable to South Asia. Besides, the minimum pursued by one state may differ from the minimum practiced by another state. The language of minimum deterrence is relatively simple, but its application is more complex.

It is essential to understand the vital ingredients associated with the term ―minimum. The term ―minimum‖ is simple that could mean ―a few”, but gets complex and ambiguous when it comes to an actual deterrence force number as strategic forces comprise different types and categories of warheads and delivery systems; some may be few; while others need to have an adequate number. Similarly, a few types of deterrent forces could be enough for deterrence, but others may not measure up to the concept of minimum. Each of these force structure embodies a specific deterring capability. Some are deployed as ready arsenal (e.g., sea-based deterrence) absolutely essential for deterrence purposes, while others may be recessed and could be quickly mated when and if required; and all of these types of deterrence forces and delivery systems require consistent upgrades and refinement, correcting ranges, credibility, penetrability, modernization, accuracy and survivability.

These characteristics are an essential part of the classic concept of deterrence, which in turn become essentials of minimum deterrence mentioned here. Minimum deterrence invariably requires necessary upgrades and modernization to maintain the credibility of deterrence forces, keeping in view the adversary‘s growing capabilities. In a strategic context, minimum cannot be fully defined. The more we look for an answer, the more complex the language of minimum becomes. The concept still requires a well-developed and integrated definition within the broader ambit of deterrence.

The best conceptual interpretation of minimum would encompass the following elements: 1) minimum deters; it is safer, cheaper and easier to handle and operate; 2) minimum does not remain static; 3) it evolves in accordance with the changed strategic environment and circumstances; as today‘s minimum may not be valid for tomorrow; 4) the minimum deterrence forces vary from one nuclear weapons state to another depending on the threat perception; 5) the minimum one state pursues could be affected by the minimum of the other/s; and it may be proportional to what the other side‘s strategic projection and the size of the arsenal is; and 6) the concept of minimum, though simple, cannot tell how much is sufficient and why more would be required to survive and sustain the credibility of deterrent forces.

To be continued: Ed. Upadhyaya.

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