Friday, April 25, 2014

Dangerous trends in nuclear South Asia

Negotiations between militants and Pakistan's government which launched in February have reached a critical impasse. Both sides are hoping that the other will be the one to break the fragile truce.

If peace is ultimately achieved, which appears implausible, it would be a positive sign for the Pakistani state, which is engulfed in troubles from all other sides.

While the nation anxiously waits for peace from theseunpredictable negotiations, there are other signs of trouble on the horizon. Pakistan's relations with Iran have deteriorated while its eastern and western neighbors are entering a critical phase of electing new governments.

Pakistani politicians and military however have other important issues to ponder upon. Like for example, should the former president Pervez Musharraf be tried for treason or set free? And, should a metro bus track be constructed in Rawalpindi or not?

The Afghan elections are likely to bring about a radical change on Pakistan's western border. The election of pro-Indian Abdullah Abdullah is being viewed cautiously by Pakistani policymakers.

His election as the new Afghan leader - at time of press he remained the frontrunner with 80% of votes counted - is likely to create additional opportunities and space for the Indian political and military establishment through economic investment, military cooperation and covert operations, as perceived by Pakistan.

Therefore, Pakistan might consider salvation in renewing its support for the groups which it has been fighting for over a decade now. However, after launching the military operations in tribal areas, it would be an extremely difficult task to align these militant and terrorist outfits. The control which Pakistani establishment enjoyed over these militant organizations before the September 11, 2001 attacks has been lost for quite some time now.

Forecasts about the Indian elections also present a gloomy scenario for Pakistan, with the hardliner Hindu chauvinistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi predicted to win the elections.

Modi's enmity towards Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular is no secret. In recent years, the Hindu extremists have staged numerous terrorist attacks in India, thus putting blame on Pakistani intelligence agencies and causing tensions between the nuclear rivals.

Recently, some analysts argued that the BJP has implicitly hinted at revoking the "no first use" clause in the Indian nuclear doctrine, a claim which was later refuted by the BJP. Although the Indian nuclear no first use restraint is not valid against nuclear states like Pakistan, any such revision would erode psychological barriers restraining the possible use of nuclear weapons.

There are other voices postulating to revisit the massive retaliatory option in Indian nuclear doctrine thus subsequently replacing it with proportionate or graduated response as recently suggested by strategic analyst Raja Menon.

Menon's logic is simple; the destruction of several Pakistani cities after a massive Indian nuclear retaliatory strike in response to a low yield Pakistani nuclear warhead, thus destroying few dozen tanks, is not justifiable. The same logic has been articulated by Michael Krepon in an article on the Arms Control Wonk - that nuclear doctrines are conceived in vacuity and might appear absurd in actual scenarios.

War indeed is an ugly reality. It is even more dangerous once the opposing sides are armed with nuclear weapons.

Although nuclear weapons have an extremely important role in maintaining strategic equilibrium and deterrence stability, the doctrinal imbalances and unresolved conflicts increases the risks of miscalculation and misperception resulting in unintended consequences.

For example, would India be willing to test the pro-active cold start strategy while Pakistan has so called Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) on its inventory? Would Pakistan be willing to invoke Indian doctrine of massive retaliation by using a small nuclear warhead, although on its own territory, against Indian marching mechanized formations?

Nuclear doctrines are well thought out conceptual frameworks providing broad theoretical guidelines under extreme situations where employment of nuclear weapons appears plausible. Doctrines should not be reactionary in nature but rather should cover wide range of possibilities thus discouraging adversary from committing aggression, or else these risk becoming a recipe for miscalculation and misjudgment leading to employment of nuclear forces in an action reaction syndrome.

Reactionary trends in South Asia thus threaten the deterrence stability which rests on the nuclear equation. As per logic given by Krepon, Pakistani policy makers may opt to call the Indian massive retaliation clause a bluff in an actual war like situation.

This obviously would put the Indian leadership in a dilemma of whether to scrap the doctrinal clause premised on massive retaliation and go for proportionate reprisal or stick with the promise? Therefore, Menon and Krepon have rightly pointed out that Indian nuclear doctrine is inconsistent with the changing nature of trends in South Asian strategic paradigm, especially after the introduction of low-yield short-range nuclear warheads (TNWs).

At the same time, apparently, TNWs are also inconsistent with the Pakistani nuclear doctrine which is premised on the "first use but last resort". The Indian military command promises limited retaliation in response to a terrorist attack, without crossing the presumed Pakistani nuclear thresholds, regardless whether attacks are orchestrated by militant groups operating from Pakistan or purported by Hindu zealots.

Pakistan, so far has not changed its position on the last resort proclamation, which thus appears to be at odds with its unwritten nuclear doctrine. Although Pakistan has reiterated that it would stick with the assertive nuclear command and control model, this raises some new questions with regards to actual deployment of these weapon systems.

Introduction of new nuclear weapon systems and voices for doctrinal changes in South Asia indicates of a dangerous trend in nuclear thinking. These weapon systems once acquired for the purpose of deterrence are now gradually being considered for a new role of nuclear war-fighting.

Although paradoxically, the nuclear war fighting assumes a critical role in reinforcing deterrence, but apparently this is not what the new role of nuclear weapons is being explored for in South Asia. The belief in nuclear weapons as instrument of war fighting is an extremely dangerous trend.

The overall situation in South Asia reminds of an important lesson highlighted by Andre Beaufre regarding nuclear doctrine and strategy. As per Beaufre, nuclear strategy is seemingly thought as to be a set of homogeneous all time solutions which can be applied to different types of complex problems, whereas in reality it is set of varying, and at times contradictory equations developed under the mist of fear and confusion from time to time pivoting around evolutionary trends in adversary's nuclear weapon systems.

Thus, in situations where gap exist in perceptions and enmity prevails over ideological issues, nascent and rudimentary doctrines could prove disastrous.

Therefore, to achieve peace India and Pakistan necessarily doesn't need to develop new weapon systems or modify their nuclear doctrines but rather strengthen confidence building measures and resolve the lingering disputes which threaten regional stability.

Kashmir is one such issue which if remains unresolved, would continue to be a motivational source for militancy. This reminds of a very thought provoking quote: "One has to choose between peace and injustice, we can't have both".

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Shams uz Zaman holds an M Phil degree in Strategic and Nuclear Studies and frequently writes on nuclear and international issues. He is a co-author of Iran and the Bomb: Nuclear Club Busted. Joyo News

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