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Friday, 27 January 2012

A precarious Indo-Pak nuclear balance

A precarious Indo-Pak nuclear balance

by Happymon Jacob

Pakistan has dismissed the credibility of India's declared
no-first-use doctrine and has not elucidated the conditions under
which it would be prompted to use its nuclear weapons.


The recently held ‘India-Pakistan Expert Level Talks on Nuclear CBMs'
have once again failed to move the two countries away from their
precarious nuclear balance. The Islamabad meeting ‘achieved' two
things: one, Indian and Pakistani officials agreed to recommend to
their Foreign Secretaries the extension of the validity of the
“Agreement on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear
Weapons” (signed in 2007) for another five years; and two, “both sides
reviewed the implementation and strengthening of existing CBMs in the
framework of [the] Lahore MoU, and agreed to explore possibilities for
mutually acceptable additional CBMs.”

Indeed, the substantive aspects of the India-Pakistan nuclear
dimension remain consistently untouched by the negotiators in the two
countries — both after their declared nuclear status in 1998 and
earlier during their undeclared status. The 1999 Lahore Declaration
was a progressive step that recognised the need to understand the role
played by nuclear weapons. It was crafted with a view to “reducing the
risk of [their] accidental or unauthorised use” as well as
“elaborating measures for confidence building in the nuclear and
conventional fields.” India and Pakistan have also dutifully followed
their 1988 agreement to annually exchange lists of their nuclear
installations and facilities, in order to avoid attacks against them.

However, since 1999, all that the two countries have done at
successive meetings is to reiterate the spirit of the Lahore
Declaration, and review the existing nuclear and missile-related
confidence-building measures except, of course, the 2007 agreement. In
12 years, nothing substantial has been achieved by them to bring about
nuclear stability in the subcontinent. This despite the fact that a
nuclear war between India and Pakistan is arguably more likely than it
was between the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War. One of the
reasons is an alarming obscurity to India and Pakistan's nuclear
relations, apart from their geographical proximity.

Doctrinal dilemmas

Doctrinal and conceptual clarity on nuclear strategy is fundamental to
the existence of stable deterrence in a nuclearised geopolitical
context. This is recognised by the Lahore Declaration, which states
“[t]he two sides shall engage in bilateral consultations on security
concepts, and nuclear doctrines”. The agreement has, unfortunately,
remained a mere promise. Although the strategic elites in both
countries have pondered over their nuclear doctrines ad nauseam, they
seem to have overlooked the ways in which credible cooperation may
occur in order to achieve feasible nuclear risk reduction measures and
nuclear stability. Such deficient thinking has led to a unilateral
offensive strategising and the formulation of military doctrines such
as India's ‘Cold Start', and the adoption of an asymmetric escalation
posture by Pakistan.

Problems of ambiguity

The introduction of nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pak balance of power
has not been to India's advantage. It has given the country
diminishing returns from its conventional superiority and created a
troublingly unpredictable nuclear escalation ladder. Moreover,
Pakistan's ambiguous nuclear doctrine has plunged India into a deep
dilemma on how to respond to the proxy wars that it believes Pakistan
has unleashed upon it. India was forced to redeploy its forces after
massing them on the border during the 2001-2002 military standoff in
the wake of the attack on Indian Parliament, precisely due to this
uncertainty.

Pakistan has apparently kept its nuclear doctrine ambiguous to
continue to perplex Indian strategists. It has dismissed the
credibility of India's declared no-first-use (NFU) doctrine and but
has not elucidated the conditions under which it would be prompted to
use its nuclear weapons. Apart from outlining some painfully general
conditions of potential nuclear use, Pakistan has deliberately kept
its ‘threshold levels' or the ‘red lines' unclear, contending that
this is its only possible option to prevent an Indian attack. It is an
argument that stems straight from the classical deterrence theory.

This ambiguity in the India-Pakistan conflict dyad has led to
deterrence instability in the region, rather than deterrence
stability. In a conflict dyad, theoretically speaking, when both
parties clarify their nuclear postures, there will be relative
stability. However, when both maintain doctrinal ambiguity there is
likely to be increased stability; paradoxically, under such conditions
deterrence has the maximum advantage. On the other hand, when one
party maintains doctrinal clarity and the other maintains doctrinal
ambiguity, there is likely to be instability rather than stability.
This happens because the party that chooses to keep its doctrine
ambiguous is also assumed to keep its various options open — ‘flexible
responses'— including the tactical use of nuclear weapons. This
generates a dilemma for its opponent, which is denied the option of
similar flexible responses due to its pre-declared postures and
resultant concerns about public opinion.

Cold Start

Cold Start, the Indian military's ‘undeclared' doctrine, is assumed to
be a response to this dilemma India faces from Pakistan's doctrinal
ambiguity. Indian strategists believe that if India were to use its
Cold Start doctrine, it would have a flexible response option that may
counter the open-ended Pakistani nuclear strategy. Cold Start imagines
enabling the Indian military to carry out quick, offensive operations
against Pakistan without crossing the latter's nuclear red lines in
order to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on the Pakistani side.
Critics have argued that the doctrine is nothing but ‘hot air' as it
has neither New Delhi's political backing nor is it considered a
serious war-fighting strategy by the Indian army. While such
scepticism may or may not be well-founded, the fact is even if some
sections of the Pakistani war planners believe India is somewhat
serious about Cold Start, it could lead to counter-strategising.

The existence of such doctrinal ambiguities, security dilemma and deep
mistrust of each other — combined with the lack of a clear civilian
control of nuclear weapons in Pakistan — means nothing short of a
recipe for disaster for the people of both countries. There is,
therefore, need to start talking about nuclear issues with far more
seriousness and urgency along the lines enshrined in the Lahore
Declaration.

This is all the more important because of the perceived implications
of the India-U.S. nuclear deal as well as the China-Pakistan nuclear
deal, and due to the potential impact of technology on the military
strategies of India and Pakistan.

Ottawa Dialogue

There is also an urgent need to encourage non-official bilateral
discussions on the issue in order to sensitise the strategic
communities on both sides of the border. The Ottawa Dialogue, one of
the very few track-two initiatives on nuclear issues, held most
recently in Copenhagen in December 2011, recommended that India and
Pakistan sign a CBM to the effect that their land-based nuclear
arsenals will remain “de-mated” and “de-alerted” in peacetime;
initiate a high-level official dialogue on how new and emerging
technologies such as future sea-based systems and nuclear-armed cruise
missiles will impact strategic stability; and add cruise missiles to
the Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic
Missiles.

The bilateral meeting also recommended that the existing hotlines and
communication channels be hardened, manned 24x7 and supplemented with
secure video links; a dedicated communications channel be established
between the Indian National Security Advisor and the Pakistani
equivalent and that each side establish a “strategic risk management
unit”, which could serve some of the same communications functions as
the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres in other contexts.

(Happymon Jacob teaches Disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University and
is a member of the Ottawa Track-two Dialogue on India-Pakistan Nuclear
Issues. Email: happymon@gmail.com)