Indo-Pak: Nuclear Neighbours
Has the possession of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan prevented war between the two countries?
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS BY ASMA KHAN LONE
“Deterrence means any strategy, force, position or policy which is intended to persuade a potential enemy not to attack …... the belief that a weak country can deter attack by a strong one as long as it can impose a damage outweighing in proportion the expected gains ...... it is a function of capability, credibility and will”
Dived Robertson, Dictionary of Modern Defence and Strategy.
Nuclear Deterrence is a critical feature of the convoluted peace construct of South Asia. Within the complex dynamics of the India – Pakistan relationship it has played a crucial role in averting major war. However nuclear deterrence alone has not been the sole arbitrator of this belligerent relationship. Within the backdrop of limiting geography, outstanding conflicts, internalised prejudices and technological nascence US intervention has been intrinsic in moderating strategic stability between the two countries.
This Essay aims to map the various undercurrents of the framework within which Nuclear Deterrence operates between the two Nuclear Armed South Asian neighbours. It aims to trace the histiography and impact of the advent of the “second nuclear age” within South Asia. Within this rubric it intends to analyse the various components, their interplay, objectives and modus operandi in establishing a workable relationship, even if not complete peace, between India and Pakistan to avert War
Nuclear Capability Acquisition Timeline / Analytical milieu:
The foundations for the Indian nuclear programme were laid by the US “Atoms for peace” programme in the 1950s. Though taking a non-proliferation posture throughout the 1950’s by the 1960’s India began to alter its nuclear outlook. A border war with china in 1962 had left it vulnerable with gaping holes in its defences against its other regional antagonist - Pakistan. Incessant rivalry and confrontation with Pakistan also deepened its threat perceptions and by 1964 it went ahead with the establishment of a reprocessing facility which was used to separate plutonium produced by the various research reactors. This plutonium was used in its first nuclear tests that it undertook on May 18, 1974. Met with a mixed International reaction and sanctions India’s nuclear programme was frozen for a while to resume again by 1983.
Reeling under the dismemberment of the eastern half of its country with the active support of its regional rival India and the absence of the much anticipated assistance from its western allies, Pakistan established its Nuclear Programme in 1972 as a panacea for its security predicament. The successful testing of a nuclear device by India in 1974 added to the momentum. Through the late 1970’s Pakistan acquired sensitive uranium enrichment expertise. Though clandestine in nature its nuclear programme continued to progress and by 1985 it crossed the Nuclear Rubicon by acquiring weapons- grade uranium. By 1986 it is estimated to have produced sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon and by1987 Pakistan acquired the ability to undertake a nuclear explosion.
Play of Nuclear Dynamics in Bilateral Crisis:
After an uneasy spell of peace in the aftermath of the Simla Accord of 1972 India and Pakistan were again on the brink of crisis by the Indian occupation of the Siachin Glacier in 1984. Fresh on the resumption of its nuclear programme India felt confident to test the waters and undertake a bold strategic enterprise. During the corresponding years of 1984-85 there was also the prospect of India attacking Pakistan’s nuclear installations. A notion which was later dismissed on the basis of its fallout on the entire region – fissile radiation spill over into India and a possible counter attack by Pakistan.
This was followed by the belligerent Operation Brass-tacks (1986-1987) - a military exercise undertaken by the Indian Army in the border region of Rajasthan. Being one of the largest military mobilisation by the Indian armed forces it was perceived by Pakistan as a threat for war against it by its display of overwhelming conventional superiority. Pakistan responded in kind by mobilising its entire southern command on the border near the then Indian restive state of Punjab.
During the crisis Dr Qadeer Khan who is known as the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb also indulged in critical nuclear posturing by giving an interview to an Indian journalist proclaiming that Pakistan had the bomb and that it would be used if Pakistan faced an existential threat. Though he retracted his statement later but only after stoking Indian fears and preventing the crossing into Pakistani territory of Indian forces.
Many Defence Analysts see this as the first indication by Pakistan of the development of its nuclear capability and its will to use it as a first strike policy if threatened. It also proved a critical landmark in the security dynamics of the region and in redefining the contours of military conflict. Notwithstanding hectic diplomatic manoeuvring being part of the evolving nuclear matrix, it was established that nuclear capability had worked as a force multiplier capable of maintaining a strategic balance.
Once again the two countries were at daggers drawn in 1990 after a political uprising broke out in Kashmir. Political brinkmanship accompanied by overt military posturing slid the situation to a critical low. There are conflicting accounts of both the countries employing Nuclear Signalling, more so Pakistan- the conventionally weaker party. This was however the first time that nuclear posturing was explicitly employed.
According to Seymour Hersh Pakistan had placed its Nuclear Arsenal on high alert with other scholars contending that India had done the same. There were also accounts of US intercepting messages to the Pakistan Atomic Commission ordering it to assemble at least “one nuclear weapon”. As Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defence later asserted;
“we knew that Pakistan had assembled a nuclear weapon” An already jittery US administration swung into preventive diplomacy first through the respective Ambassadors and later by sending Robert Gates then head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the region. The crisis was finally diffused but only after active US intervention. This was the first time the US had taken a pro-active role in crisis management in the region soon becoming a permanent feature of the crisis dynamics of the region. The urgency to the situation and US investment in diffusing the crisis were no doubt triggered by the Nuclear scare which ultimately salvaged an otherwise ominous scenario.
Crisis Management Post 1998 / distinct nuclear overtones:
Both countries successfully undertook Nuclear Tests in May 1998. Soon after conducting its tests on 11th May the leaders in India indulged in nuclear sabre-rattling towards Pakistan forcing it to conduct nuclear tests of its own on 28th May 1998.
The Track-two diplomacy that followed ultimately bore fruit and the Lahore Declaration was reached during Indian Prime-minister Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in February 1999.
The camaraderie however soon dissipated by the ensuing Kargil Conflict of May-July 1999. Kashmiri militants alongside Pakistani Army regulars crossed the Line of Control (LOC) into Kargil-Drass region in the aim of cutting off the Indian supply links to Kashmir and subsequently the Siachin glacier. The Indian forces responded by horizontally escalating the conflict with their air force operating in conjunction with the ground troops.
The crisis employed a two-folded nuclear dimension - deterrence and compellence (enabling an objective). Deterrence worked in the form of restraint evinced by both sides. Pakistan refrained from deploying its Air force whereas the Indian forces defying military logic abstained from attacking Pakistani staging posts and lines of communication across the LOC. This was to an extent warranted by the utterance of then Pakistani foreign Secretary who proclaimed “we will not hesitate to use any weapon in our arsenal to defend our territorial integrity”. Deterrence thus worked in stymying the conflict escalating into a larger war theatre. Compellence on the other hand operated in the form of the retreat by the militants and the Pakistani regulars back into Pakistani territory. Needless to say US played an essential role in successful crisis de-escalation.
During the crisis the stability-instability paradox also emerged significantly. Where the stability factor was endorsed by the crisis not escalating out of control, the instability factor came into play with the imminence of a nuclear exchange.
In the aftermath of the crisis both countries also delineated their nuclear postures. India announced its tentative nuclear doctrine on August 17 1999. It encapsulated the principles of no first use (NFU) with a second strike capability and fell under the concept of “minimum credible deterrence” as opposed to mutually assured destruction (MAD). Later the draft was adapted with minor changes in January 2003 with the establishment of the Nuclear Command Authority. However as the Chinese dimension was also figured in, the minimum credible deterrence translated heavily for Pakistan with its benchmarks continuously rising.
Pakistan on the other hand was not so explicit in its public proclamation. It eschewed to adapt the No first Use policy contending the possibility of a pre-emptive strike. It kept its policy consciously “opaque” so as to maintain ambiguity especially of its nuclear threshold which augmented its deterrence framework.
The region once again faced a standoff with the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. A situation already precipitating towards crisis with an earlier attack on the Kashmir legislative assembly, the incident created extreme outrage and incense within India. India responded by employing additional troops totaling 800,000 on its western border, placing on high alert its air force and satellite airfields and bringing in an additional naval fleet to the Arabian Sea in case a blockade was needed. The May 14, 2002 attacks on its cantonment in Kashmir further infuriated India and there was open talk of punitive surgical strikes within Pakistan’s territory. Pakistan responded by amassing a substantial number of its forces on the border and there followed a 10 month eye-ball-to-eyeball confrontation along the border.
Nuclear notions that had emerged during the Kargil conflict further entrenched during this conflict. Jingoistic rhetoric on part of certain leaders notwithstanding, restraint prevailed. India further maximised on it in the form of “coercive diplomacy” pressurising Pakistan into stopping “cross – border terrorism”. Finally, after a 10 month deadlock India called back its troops in October 2002 and normalcy returned. The US prodding and imminent sanctions no doubt conditioned much of the restraint.
The conflict also brought under serious consideration for India the concept of limited War against a nuclear backdrop; a pursuit that found fruition in its Cold Start doctrine of 2004. The doctrine encapsulates eight Integrated battle groups (IBG’s) supported by mechanised artillery and armoured divisions with air and naval cover to launch multiple strikes in Pakistan within 72 hours, without crossing Pakistan’s Nuclear threshold. However the doctrine has since never been operationalized.
The conflict also brought to the fore the embedded volatility of the region and the need to create an enabling environment addressing the instability. Besides adding to the many nuclear Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) already in place, a process of reconciliation and rapprochement was introduced in the form of the Composite Dialogue in 2004. Aimed at ironing out outstanding differences it embarked towards co-existence and circumventing of possible conflagration.
However, the region was once again brought to the precipice in November 2008 when terrorists swept across the city of Mumbai undertaking a series of blasts which were subsequently blamed on Pakistan. Despite initial brinkmanship and armed forces being put on alert, restraint eventually prevailed, even if wearing thin. A hoax call made to Pakistani president by the Indian Foreign Minister threatening the former of dire consequences at the height of the crisis almost triggered a war, the closest according to many analysts the world got to a nuclear exchange after the Cuban Missile Crisis. An immediate call to US Secretary of State by the Pakistani President stabilised the situation.
For India the crisis crystallised the leverage of self-restraining nuclear diplomacy outweighing the advantages of nuclear misadventure. It also introduced the destabilising element of non-state actors - a wild card capable of sabotaging an already precarious situation. Theoretically, the crisis further challenged the clausewitzian assertion of “War as an instrument of policy”.
In conclusion, both McGeorge Bundy and Kenneth Waltz suggest that nuclear weapons ensure greater stability in conflict ridden regions. An assertion both the Foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan acquiesced to in June 2004. The cold war precedent also suggests that after periods of intermittent crisis the nuclear cycle settles to a more stabilising drift. However the growing arms race and expansion of the respective nuclear programes in the regions is a cause of concern, more so due to the asymmetry it breeds. The US-India 123 Nuclear Agreement along with the latter’s pursuit of Anti-Ballistic Missile defence systems personifies the disparity. Till date Strategic Parity if not Strategic Equality has maintained restraint and peace in the region. Once the balance is offset providing any side with an evidently advantageous position the scenario could prove perilously ominous.
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Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Apr 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Apr 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 16 Apr 2012 00:00:00 IST
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