Is Pak’s nuclear arsenal in safe hands?
An intensified nuclear arms competition between Pakistan and India has troubling ramifications for deterrence stability, particularly within the context of crises sparked by spectacular acts of terrorism by groups associated with Pakistan's military and intelligence services This is the second part of excerpts from the writer’s essay “Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Stability”
AS long as Rawalpindi declines to take sustained preventive action against future attacks by extremist groups, the presumption of continued collusion will remain. Future crises could occur because bilateral ties with India remain badly frayed or, conversely, by official efforts to improve ties that extremist groups wish to stymie.
The primary reason for escalation control during past nuclear-tinged crises has been that Indian leaders have chosen not to respond militarily to severe provocation. Instead, they have given the pursuit of economic growth a higher priority than the pursuit of the perpetrators of mass-casualty attacks. New Delhi has also been concerned about escalation control in the event of retaliatory strikes. If this calculus of decision remains firm, deterrence stability can withstand future challenges. If not, deterrence stability and escalation control will become increasingly challenging.
India and Pakistan have signaled resolve during severe crises by increasing the launch readiness of their ballistic missiles and by carrying out missile flight tests. Key indicators of a decision to attack during full-scale mobilisations are well understood. Critical troop movements and preparations can be monitored by human intelligence and by technical means.More nuclear weapons
In addition, the United States has relayed information derived from high-level visits, defence attachés and national technical means to dampen apprehensions during crises by rebutting false rumors and confirming de-escalatory steps. Because authorities in India and Pakistan have wished to avoid major wars, have been familiar with the choreography of full-scale mobilizations, and have mutually agreed to accept a significant US crisis management role, severe crises since 1990 have been managed, albeit with difficulty.
Several of the conditions for war avoidance and crisis management have changed or may no longer apply, making deterrence stability more difficult to reinforce in crises. To begin with, Pakistani and Indian nuclear weapon-related capabilities have diversified and grown. Added capability does not automatically equate to added deterrence stability; to the contrary, more nuclear weapons repositioned or forward-deployed in a crisis could result in less deterrence stability. In the US-Soviet context, the growth in number and sophistication of nuclear arsenals - including assured retaliatory capabilities -- was not mutually reassuring. Instead, these nuclear buildups heightened a mutual lack of trust and aggravated serious, unresolved grievances. This is likely to be true for the subcontinent, as well.
Moreover, Pakistan and India possess new nuclear capabilities that have not figured prominently or at all during prior crises, including tactical nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons at sea. There has been one reported instance of the forward deployment of Indian short-range missiles - the Prithvi I - in late May or early June, 1997. At the suggestion of the Clinton administration, Prime Minister I.K. Gujral quietly directed that these missiles be moved back to their base.Sea-based deterrents
The introduction by India and Pakistan of cruise missiles and sea-based deterrents add further difficulties for deterrence stability and escalation control. Detection capabilities for ballistic and especially cruise missile launches would be challenging, let alone the prospect of successful intercepts. The movement of cruise and ballistic missiles to sea could provide harsh tests for command and control.
The nuclear deterrents of India and Pakistan consist primarily of ballistic missiles, which makes deterrence in South Asia Army-centric. The two Air Forces have played an important, but secondary role, in the past. This could change significantly, if New Delhi chooses to respond to attacks by extremist groups with a punish-and-leave, as opposed to a seize-and-hold strategy.
The two Navies will remain hard to employ for nuclear signaling purposes, although both are on the path to become the newest leg of their respective triads. Pakistan is on a path to deploy cruise missiles at sea, while India intends to deploy both cruise and ballistic missiles at sea.
With diversified nuclear deterrents, integration, joint operations, and command and control across military commands and services become of even greater importance.US as honest broker?
The armed forces of Pakistan and India have been particularly resistant to joint operations and integrated war fighting. One prominent example was the 1999 Kargil operation, in which a small group of officers within the Pakistan Army planned and executed an initiative with high escalatory potential, without the knowledge of the Air Force and Navy Chiefs of Staff. Another example is the position of Chief of Defence Staff of the Indian Armed Forces, whose creation a Group of Ministers strongly recommended in 2001, and which has yet to be filled.
Another negative development for deterrence stability is that Washington's credibility as an "honest broker" between India and Pakistan has become more problematic as US ties with India have improved and those with Pakistan have deteriorated. The steady worsening of US-Pakistan relations could have an upside if, as a consequence, Rawalpindi decides that improved relations with India are required as a compensatory step.
If, however, another severe crisis erupts with India, Pakistani security managers will be faced with the potential for military engagements along two borders with little prospect for back-up from either Washington or Beijing, which has been notably cool to Pakistani requests for assistance during previous crises. While Pakistani leaders no longer trust the United States as an intermediary with India, no substitute to Washington is in clear view. Crisis management could therefore become even more challenging in the event of more spectacular attacks on Indian targets by individuals based and trained in Pakistan.
Pakistan's nuclear weapon-related programmes have successfully met requirements established by a small group of decision-makers. After surmounting many barriers to acquire these capabilities, Rawalpindi has accumulated a large, growing, and diversified arsenal of warheads and delivery vehicles. It appears that the requirements set for minimal, credible deterrence were high at the outset, and have grown higher still after the US-India civil nuclear agreement and after the adoption of a more proactive Indian military posture. Earlier Pakistani claims that their doctrine of minimal, credible deterrence was incompatible with an arms race are now increasingly subject to question. At present, Rawalpindi's nuclear requirements emphasize credibility rather than minimalism.Ambitious objectives
Pakistan is on course to produce a large nuclear arsenal to support ambitious nuclear targeting objectives. At the low end of these requirements, Rawalpindi has developed the capability to signal New Delhi and the international community that hostilities must end promptly.
At a medium level, Pakistan appears set to acquire a large number of tactical nuclear warheads for use against Indian integrated battle groups. At the high end, Rawalpindi appears able to engage in significant counter-value targeting, and to deny India victory in the event of a complete breakdown in deterrence.
Altering Pakistan's current growth trajectory in nuclear weapon-related capabilities would require a different orientation toward India by Pakistan's military leaders, severe perturbations in Pakistan's economy, and/or a perception-shattering event that causes nuclear advocates to re-think their assumptions.
New leaders are capable of surprising shifts in longstanding nuclear and national policies, as exemplified by Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Deng Xiaoping. Army Chiefs in Pakistan have been a diverse lot; it is possible for one to be appointed who believes that a more relaxed nuclear posture toward India is warranted. Pakistan's continued economic woes might be a factor in this decision, but shrinking budgets could just as easily result in more emphasis being placed on nuclear deterrence as conventional capabilities atrophy.
The leaders of the three major political parties in Pakistan have vocalised their interest in improved relations with India, especially with respect to trade, but the extent to which they are able to bring Rawalpindi on board is in question. No matter who forms the next Pakistani government, the Prime Minister, along with his Indian counterpart, will find it difficult to normalise bilateral relations in the likely event that extremist groups seek to blow up progress.
Perception-shattering events on the subcontinent could have negative or positive effects. A settlement of the Kashmir dispute is hard to envision, and even if it were to occur, it is unlikely to affect the agendas of extremist groups based in Pakistan. An accident at a nuclear facility on the subcontinent would surely impact domestic plans for growth in this sector and could generate public opposition to military programs, as well. Political upheavals in Pakistan that usher into power religious parties and jihadist groups remain unlikely.
Of all the perception-shattering events one can envision in Pakistan, the most likely would be an economic collapse, rather than a continued, steady economic decline. This scenario, more than any other, could significantly alter the role of the military in Pakistan's society and its outsized share of budget allocations - including those for nuclear weapon-related pursuits. This scenario could also spell great difficulties for maintaining the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
The safest route to reducing nuclear dangers remains patient, persistent, top-down efforts to normalise relations between Pakistan and India. Success in this pursuit is dependent on the recognition by Pakistan's military leaders that they possess a sufficient arsenal to secure their objectives, that their current path does not strengthen or stabilise deterrence, and that Indian leaders seek a properly functioning Pakistan more than a submissive one. Is this scenario realistic? Perhaps not, but deterrence built on very weak economic foundations is unsustainable.
For the first part see www.tribuneindia.comThe writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Center and a Diplomat Scholar at the University of Virginia. He is the author of "Better Safe than Sorry: The Ironies of Living
Friday, January 4, 2013
Posted by Professional Matters at 11:15 PM