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Updated: December 10, 2012 00:19 IST

Dealing with Pakistan’s brinkmanship

Shyam Saran
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Islamabad’s expanding nuclear capability is no longer driven solely by its oft-cited fears of India but by the paranoia about U.S. attacks on its strategic assets

During the past decade, there have been notable shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, away from minimum deterrence to second strike capability and towards expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal to include both strategic and tactical weapons. Islamabad has described these developments as “consolidating Pakistan’s deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.” These shifts are apparent from the following developments:

(1) There is a deliberate shift from the earlier generation of enriched uranium nuclear weapons to a newer generation of plutonium weapons.

(2) This shift has enabled Pakistan to significantly increase the number of weapons, which now appears to have overtaken India’s nuclear weapon inventory and, in a decade, may well surpass those held by Britain and France.

(3) Progress has been made in the miniaturisation of weapons, enabling their use with cruise missiles, both air and surface-based (Ra’ad or Hatf VIII and Babur or Hatf-VII respectively) as also with a new generation of short range and tactical missiles (Abdali or Hatf II with a range of 180 km and Nasr or Hatf-IX with a range of 60 km).

(4) Pakistan has steadily improved the range and accuracy of its delivery vehicles, building upon the earlier Chinese models (the Hatf series) and the later North Korean models (the No-dong series). The newer missiles, including the Nasr, are solid-fuelled, which are quicker to launch than the older liquid-fuelled versions.

Not under safeguards

This rapid development of its nuclear weapon arsenal has been enabled by the setting up of two plutonium production reactors at Khusab with a third and fourth under construction. These have been built with Chinese assistance and are not under safeguards. The spent fuel from these reactors is reprocessed at the Rawalpindi New Labs facility, where there are reportedly two plants each with a capacity to reprocess 10 to 20 tonnes annually.

Olli Heinonen, a former Director of Safeguards at the IAEA has observed: “Commissioning of additional plutonium production reactors and further construction of reprocessing capabilities signify that Pakistan may even be developing second-strike capabilities”.

These developments are driven by a mix of old and new set of threat perceptions and, equally, political ambitions. The so-called existential threat from India continues to be cited as the main driver of Pakistan’s nuclear compulsions. The rapid increase in the number of weapons is justified by pointing to India having a larger stock of fissile material available for a much more numerous weapons inventory, thanks to the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement. Tactical nuclear weapons are said to be a response to India’s so-called “Cold Start” doctrine or its suspected intention to launch quick response punitive thrusts across the border in case of another major cross-border terrorist strike.

Pakistan’s strategic objective has been expanded to the acquisition of a “full-spectrum capability” comprising a land, air and sea-based triad of nuclear forces, to put it on a par with India.

However, the focus on India has tended to obscure an important change in Pakistan’s threat perception which has significant implications. The Pakistani military and civilian elite is convinced that the United States has also become a dangerous adversary, which seeks to disable, disarm or take forcible possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

This threat perception may be traced to the aftermath of 9/11, when Pakistan, for the first time in its history, faced the real prospect of a military assault on its territory by U.S. forces and the loss of its strategic assets. In his address to the nation on September 15, 2001, President Pervez Musharraf justified his acquiescence to the U.S. ultimatum to abandon the Taliban and support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, on account of four over-riding and critical concerns — “our sovereignty, second our economy, third our strategic assets and fourth our Kashmir cause.” Pakistan once again became a “front-line state,” this time in the U.S. war on terrorism in Afghanistan in contrast to the U.S.-led war against the Soviet forces in that country in the 1980s. But this time round, Pakistan became an ally by compulsion rather than by choice.

While the immediate threat to its strategic assets passed, Pakistan’s suspicions of U.S. intentions in this regard did not diminish and have now risen to the level of paranoia. The American drone attacks against targets within Pakistani territory and, in particular, the brazenness with which the Abbotabad raid was carried out by U.S. Navy Seals in May 2011 to kill Osama bin Laden, have only heightened Pakistan’s concerns over U.S. intentions. These have overtaken fears of India, precisely because the U.S. has demonstrated both its capability and willingness to undertake such operations. India has not.

Recent shifts

Thus the recent shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear strategy cannot be ascribed solely to the traditional construct of India-Pakistan hostility. They appear driven mainly by the fear of U.S. assault on its strategic assets. The more numerous and compact the weapons, the wider their dispersal and the greater their sophistication, the more deterred the U.S. would be from undertaking any operations to disable them or to take them into its custody. The U.S. finds it as difficult to acknowledge this reality as it has, until recently, Pakistan’s complicity in terrorism directed against its forces in Afghanistan. This permits putting the onus on India to reassure Pakistan through concessions rather than admitting that the problem lies elsewhere. There is also a strong non-proliferation lobby in the U.S. which believes it could leverage the threat of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange to reverse some of the concessions made to India in the civil nuclear deal. More recently, it is being argued that since the U.S. is finding it difficult to get its promised share of the civil nuclear business in India due to concerns over the country’s Nuclear Liability legislation, a major rationale behind the agreement no longer exists. And meanwhile, it is further claimed, the civil nuclear agreement has only heightened the danger of India-Pakistan nuclear war by feeding into Pakistani fears of India’s enhanced nuclear capabilities.

In this context, I wish to recall an exchange over dinner hosted by President George Bush for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2008 in Washington. The then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remarked that after the “heavy lifting” the U.S. had done to get the nuclear deal through, she hoped India would ensure that U.S. companies got a share of the orders for new reactors. Before our Prime Minister could reply, Mr. Bush stated categorically that he was not bothered if India did not buy even a single reactor from the U.S., since he regarded the agreement as confirming India as a long-term strategic partner rather than a mere customer for U.S. reactors.

Pakistan encourages the arguments of the U.S. non-proliferation lobby since this keeps the pressure on India and enables the camouflage of Pakistan’s real motivations. It would not wish to project, as an adversary, a much more powerful U.S., and lose out on the economic and military support it receives, however transactional these deals may have become.

The implications

What are the implications of these recent developments?

One, it is not through “strategic restraint” or security assurances by India that Pakistan would be persuaded to change its behaviour and revise its strategy. India and Pakistan have some nuclear CBMs in place and India would be prepared to go further. The main levers for such persuasion lie in Washington and in Beijing, not in New Delhi.

Two, whatever sophistry Pakistan may indulge in to justify its augmented arsenal and threatened recourse to tactical nuclear weapons, for India, the label on the weapon, tactical or strategic, is irrelevant since the use of either would constitute a nuclear attack against India. In terms of India’s stated nuclear doctrine, this would invite a massive retaliatory strike. For Pakistan to think that a counter-force nuclear strike against military targets would enable it to escape a counter-value strike against its cities and population centres, is a dangerous illusion. The U.S. could acquaint Pakistan with NATO’s own Cold War experience when tactical nuclear weapons were abandoned once it was realised that use of such weapons in any conflict would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level. Instead of urging India to respond to Pakistani nuclear escalation through offering mutual restraint, the U.S. should convince Islamabad that a limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms and that it should abandon such reckless brinkmanship. The U.S. knows that India’s nuclear deterrence is not Pakistan-specific. Any misguided attempt to constrain Indian capabilities would undermine, for both, the value of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership in an increasingly uncertain and challenging regional and global security environment.

Three, Pakistan is no longer India’s problem. Its toxic mix of jihadi terrorism and nuclear brinkmanship poses a threat to the region and to the world. Even China, whose culpability in continuing to assist Pakistan in developing its nuclear and delivery capabilities is well documented, is not exempt. It needs to reassess its own policies. An apparently low-cost and proxy effort to contain India may well become China’s nightmare, too, in the days to come.

(Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary. He is currently Chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

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What is India's response to this qualitative and quantitative enhanement of Pak's Nukes other than a survivable third strike capability under development?
India has a massive lead in space technology. Why not take the lead and deploy kinetic energy weapons even though there are international DISagreements? Once you do it, after a while the world will begin to accept it and major nations will follow. I do not for a moment think that China, US or Russia are innocent in this regard.

from:  Manjit
Posted on: Dec 9, 2012 at 17:59 IST

And given the siutation, some media houses make us believe that we need more Aman ki Asha!! what a self-deceiving state of mind. Not matter how much your appease, Pakistan is unlikely to stop its built up paranoia against India.

from:  vamsi
Posted on: Dec 9, 2012 at 16:43 IST

I am surprised to read such an article written by Mr Shyam Saran.

In reality, Nuclear weapons are an albtross around Pakistan's neck to a great extent. These are a great drain on Pakistan economy.

India must not enter into any sort of competition with Pakistan nor should it be excessively concerned about these.Best course of action for India is to strengthen its economy & internal security & ignore Pakistan as much as possible. It should learn a lesson from China which does not worry about India. It is ahead of India in the same proportion as India is to Pakistan.

from:  G.Sharma
Posted on: Dec 8, 2012 at 06:18 IST

India needs to continue on the path of social and economic development
and there is no doubt that it will soon in a few decades tower above a
failed state like Pakistan. Let them play with their nukes and rot in
their self-created web of hate, deceit and paranoia. If only
developing more nukes could translate to prosperity and international
dominance - the erstwhile USSR would not have disintegrated. Yes,
India does need to defend itself adequately from the terrorists and
rogues created everyday in Pakistan. However, they should follow the
model of China in some ways and move ahead in development, albeit
slowly due to democratic constraints. If realized, the unleashed
potential of the huge population that India has will ensure not just
regional but global dominance - not just militarily, but culturally
and socially.

from:  Rishabh
Posted on: Dec 8, 2012 at 01:46 IST

The nuclear power now is the main power of any country. and which wants
it not? but the current fight in this regard is meaningless because
everyone has right to defend himself. so if any country use its nuclear,
what is wrong in it?


from:  FAISAL ANAS
Posted on: Dec 8, 2012 at 00:45 IST

Thank you Mr. Saran for a candid and insightful assessment of an alarming situation. I completely agree with Mr. Saran that India needs to make it crystal clear both by words and actions that any nuclear attack whether with tactical or strategic delivery would constitute a nuclear weapons first strike on India and it would retaliate massively against the perpetrator. Whether we like it or not India needs to keep on improving its delivery mechanisms and yield of its strategic assets to demonstrate that it is prepared to back up its commitment of an assured and massive second strike. As long as the enemy thinks that he can get away with a first strike he would be tempted to strike, and that is why India needs to make clear of its second strike doctrine as deterrent to any misadventure. Main reason for Pakistan's Kargil misadventure was the apparent belief by its leadership that India won't have to stomach to repel the attack or retaliate. We don't want a nuclear reenactment of Kargil.

from:  Arijit Dutta
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 23:38 IST

Mr Shyam Saran has written a thought provoking article. It reflects on psyche behind Pakistan’s provocative nuclear posture and behavior. Many questions remain unanswered:-
(a) Relevance of India’s nuclear doctrine for stubbornly treating nuclear weapons as political weapons and not developing them towards attaining military objectives.

(b) How is India going to deal with graduated nuclear response by Pakistan in war? Pakistan’s First Strike may be a nuclear explosion in its own territory in the face of advancing Indian conventional superior forces which may not result in significant casualties but will surly take the wind out of the sails. However, the question remains; does it warrants massive nuclear retaliation by India on counter-value targets?

(c) As of now Pakistan is having more nuclear weapons than India and is also developing second strike capability. What changes are required in Indian doctrine to address this shift?

(d) Is Indian Nuclear Doctrine comprehensive enough to deal with cross border nuclear terrorism?

from:  Rajan Bakshi
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 23:37 IST

Quite an illuminating article revealing several less-known facts. There is no doubt that the burgeoning nuclear program of Pakistan is a consequence of it's several newly perceived threats, ranging from the US -once an ally, but slowly being estranged now - to the age-old hostility with India. There is no disagreeing with the author as far as the analyses of the recent past concerning the support of China to Pakistan, to grow its nuclear arsenal and the US' supposed inability to take a note of the changing Pakistan's position towards it go.

However, when it comes to the implications there can be some disagreement - China has been a supporter and there apparently is no reason for China to dissuade Pakistan it's nuclear program. US & West though glaringly oppose the nuclear program of Iran, have contrastingly been silent on Pakistan, and there is no reason why US would pressure Pakistan to deter its nuclear program. India has as a choice,grow its own nuclear arsenal to deter her foes.

from:  Murali Mohan
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 18:43 IST

I felt a piece of the whole picture missing with not enough said to
highlight the fact that this nuclear arsenal build-up is as good in the
hands of the Taliban as it is in the hands of the government of
Pakistan. The anarchy that prevails in Pakistan along with army acting
as an independent governing body of it's own I don't think that I don't
think the so called leaders of Pakistan to the world are any good in
stopping the use of these weapons of mass destruction on the world

from:  Mayank Sharan
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 16:34 IST

Pakistan has constructed a economy based on terrorism, drugs,
counterfeiting currency, radical Wahhabi Islamist Donations. Nuclear
blackmail is the security umbrella under which the above function.

This economy earns money from all above and are interconnected only
the naive will think they can tackle one without the other.

The Pakistani perpetrators of this machinery are not interested in
development of their own people because development will rob them of
cheap manpower to run their network. Less development will mean their
industry can run without much attention.

This is world problem like the Nazis and can only be solved by the
entire world. Moderate Muslims are too weak and incapable of solving
it themselves.

from:  civilian
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 15:57 IST

I thank Mr Saran for this article. As far as my amateur knowledge and
understanding go, a full read of the article with attention to the tenor
and the language readily implies that all the talk of "Confidence-
Building Measures" along with the rest of the delicious-sounding jargon
may well amount to flogging a dead horse. And that goes for both of our
esteemed neighbors.

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 15:47 IST

This article is a wonderful example of how the Nuclear power is on the rise citing political adversaries . Increasing the nuclear power when the whole world is against its inception is something which should be talked about !

from:  anand
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 12:19 IST

Sir, This is a very germane article with key aspects elucidated with aplomb. It's time that India and Pakistan got to the talking table and dictated their own destinies.

When push comes to shove, distant handlers of these nations are not going to be the one's suffering.

from:  Amit
Posted on: Dec 7, 2012 at 09:38 IST
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