International discourse on the maintenance of peace through nuclear deterrence has been primarily characterized by proliferation pessimists and deterrence optimists. The proliferation pessimists capitalize on the inherent destructiveness of nuclear weapons, generate scare through an obnoxious mix of arguments based upon Murphy’s Law on the breakdown of deterrence and brutish human nature on the inevitability of war to proselytise the horrendous consequences of nuclear arsenals. The deterrence optimists, paradoxically, use most of the same rationale to assert that the fear of complete annihilation has in fact dissuaded nations who possessed nuclear weapons from going to war with each other and thereby peace has been established among them which otherwise had never been possible.
It however begs an important ideational question. Are fear and dissuasion normal human traits on which the foundation of peace can be constructed and how long? The march of human history and the attendant empiricism substantiate the assumptions that punitive fear has been an essential constituent of individual and group psychology that has deterred the commission of crime as good as the fear of damage discouraged outbreak of violence. It however did not discourage conflict and warfare among tribes and nations because conventional deterrence has not been ‘absolute’ and the expected damage has not been perceived ‘unacceptable’. It’s the development of nuclear weapons that has made both, deterrence absolute and damage unacceptable. Professional experts in nuclear deterrence concur that nuclear weapons are great equalizers even when fewer in number and the efficacy of deterrence is not restrained by the size of the opponent’s nuclear force, but determined by one’s own credibility of a deterrent capability. A numeric equilibrium of nuclear forces is not essential for minimum nuclear deterrence, but the credible capability to deliver unacceptable damage ensures deterrence. This notion best fitted the nuclearization of South Asia.
The demonstration of nuclear weapons tests on May 28, 1998 initiated by India but forcefully responded by Pakistan, brought a paradigm strategic shift in South Asia, inducing profound ideational, institutional and structural changes in the regional security. While India realized its objectives of becoming a declared nuclear weapon state and associated international recognition, Pakistan benefitted much more by establishing a new strategic equilibrium by establishing minimum credible deterrence against its arch enemy and thereby thwarted once for all the advantages of its conventional military superiority that India employed in dismembering Pakistan in 1970-71.
The nuclearization of South Asia, demonstrated through May 1998 nuclear weapon tests has not been yet recognized de jure though grudgingly accepted as a de facto reality after initial hiatus. This position is largely coloured by the lack of consensus among the P-5 states, but its substantial policy component is dominated by the United Sates and her Western allies whose preliminary posture was non-partial towards India and Pakistan. Their policy however gradually developed into extremely discriminatory against Pakistan and pro-India culminating into Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal in 2005 and India’s NSG exemption that is actually a Western acknowledgment of India’s inclusion in the great power nuclear club.
From non-proliferationists’ perspective, nuclearization of South Asia undermined global non-proliferation regime. ‘The blasts in Rajasthan’, as George Perkovich opined, ‘have shaken the foundations of the international non-proliferation system’. (Perkovich, 1999). India being the initiator of May 1998 nuclear tests should have borne the brunt of international non-proliferation reprobation but instead has been rewarded with the NSG exemption and benefits of the India-U.S. Nuclear Deal that carries a lesson for Pakistani decision-makers that non-proliferation is not an sacred norm beyond the vagaries of international politics but has been employed as an instrument of foreign and strategic policy objectives by great powers.
Viewing from the realists’ standpoint, due to its relative paucity of economic, industrial and technological resources, Pakistan has found it relatively more convenient to invest in developing a modest nuclear force than match India’s large conventional military capabilities, and restore a strategic equation. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program started nearly 20 years after India but it more rapidly developed various dynamics of a minimum credible deterrence capability: nuclear fuel cycle including adequate fissile material stockpile, aircraft-based delivery systems, and miniaturization of warheads for a variety of ballistic and cruise missiles. The test-firing of Hatf-III (Ghaznavi), Hatf-IV (Shaheen-I), Hatf-V (Ghauri) including later versions and their integration with the respective Strategic Force Commands has been a remarkable accomplishment to meet the imperatives of national security under threat from a hostile neighbour that did nor reconcile to the creation of Pakistan. By the accounts of leading Indian strategists like K. Subrahmanyam, India could not repeat the 1970-71 like misadventure because of Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Although, after the 1999 Kargil conflict, India attempted to explore strategic space for a limited war scenario that culminated in its development of a Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) for carrying out blitzkrieg style simultaneous operations through brigade size battle groups supported by airstrikes and naval manoeuvres by ostensibly remaining below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. However Pakistan swiftly responded by developing and test-firing Hatf-IX, Nasr short- range ballistic missile (SRBM) as a tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) and successfully blocked the implementation of the CSD from which India felt compelled to retreat by stating that it was not an officially proclaimed strategy.
More recently Pakistan has enhanced its strategic deterrence by test-firing Hatf-VI (Shaheen-III) MRBM that covers the entire range of Indian targets including those in its eastern tip like Andaman and Nicobar islands. Hence, on the doctrinal level, Pakistan has proclaimed full spectrum deterrence by uplifting its minimum credible deterrence by the induction of tactical nuclear deterrence. Peace, no matter how cold, is better than war.
— The writer is the President & Executive Director of the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad.