It may sound reasonable to many that in return for a few demands Pakistan will achieve the status of ‘normal state’ but does the acceptance of such recommendations advance Pakistan’s nuclear security?
Since its inception, Pakistan’s nuclear programme has on again/off again been entangled in proposals contrived by the US. First it was called roll back, then revised highly enriched uranium (HEU) and now normalising its nuclear programme. Pragmatically, the term ‘normal nuclear’ sounds paradoxical, understandable yet lacking in a profound and theoretical definition. Consequently, the status of ‘normal nuclear state’ is codified rather than conditionally allotted. Lately, this modish term has been associated with Pakistan after a new report, ‘A normal nuclear Pakistan’, appeared, co-authored by Michael Krepon and Toby Dalton of the Stimson Centre and Carnegie Endowment simultaneously. This recent outrage to make ‘not-that-normal nuclear Pakistan’ a normal nuclear state by the normal nuclear club is not new. Almost a year back, Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, proposed a ‘conditional’ layout to treat Pakistan as a normal nuclear country. Albeit the conditions offered by Fitzpatrick were not that dissimilar to those recently articulated by these two authors but he was rather mild in this approach, with the acceptance that Pakistan has paid the price of its past misdemeanours and advocated to treat Pakistan similar to how India is treated.
Fitzpatrick suggested Pakistan take the same five broad initiatives offered by the authors of the newly penned report, which includes a shift from full spectrum to strategic deterrence, limiingt production of short-range warheads, lifting the veto on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations, separate civilian and military facilities and sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It is asserted in the report that if Pakistan agrees to accept these suggestions it will be treated like a responsible and normal nuclear weapon state. It may sound reasonable to many that in return for these few demands Pakistan will achieve the status of ‘normal state’ but does the acceptance of these recommendations advance Pakistan’s nuclear security? Would it reinforce Pakistan’s deterrence posture against India? How would it affect the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia? Should Pakistan agree to this proposal to bargain a status of normality?
The most recent idea to normalise nuclear Pakistan in the international nuclear order, after restricting its nuclear programme to weapons and delivery systems, came into the limelight more resiliently in a recent article by David Ignatius. This was followed by a statement from Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs: “Pakistan’s nuclear policy is shaped by the evolving security dynamics of South Asia, growing conventional asymmetry, provocative doctrines and aggressive posturing by India, which obliges us to take all necessary measures to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in order to safeguard our national security, maintain strategic stability and deter any kind of aggression from India.”
What is full spectrum deterrence and why is Pakistan reiterating the national resolve to maintain full spectrum deterrence? In 1998, when Pakistan detonated its nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear weapons’ explosions, it declared retaining its capability as minimum credible deterrence to avert security threats from its eastern neighbour. This posture adhered that Pakistan would not use its nuclear weapons unless its opponent crosses Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds. Conversely, after the 2001 Indian parliament attack, the Indian military command developed an offensive military strategy called the Cold Start Doctrine in 2004 to replace the outdated Sundarji Doctrine. Although the complete doctrine is classified, the declassified concept is to reconstitute the existing three Indian army’s strike corps into eight integrated battle groups that can be deployed quickly to strike the narrow pieces of Pakistan’s territory through limited incursion in response to a terrorism event involving Pakistan. The doctrine was designed on the assumption that Pakistan would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons in response to any limited incursion that does not cross its nuclear threshold.
The Pakistani nuclear establishment thus argues that the Cold Start Doctrine would provide India the space for conventional or limited conflict in a nuclearised region. Thus, for an appropriate reactionary response, to this doctrine that excludes massive nuclear retaliation, Pakistan developed the low-yield, short range, tactical battlefield Nasr nuclear missiles. These tactical nuclear weapons were part of Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence, which provides a qualitative response to conventional threats and asymmetry perceived by India. Moreover, it offers a range of options as Pakistan will not be forced to retaliate with strategic nuclear weapons as a first response to conventional force.
Additionally, the assertion to shift from full spectrum deterrence to strategic deterrence is naïve because it is significant to understand how Pakistan defines its strategic deterrence. Pakistan’s deterrence is dynamic because Pakistan perceives deterrence as strengthened if it forcefully deters India. This implies that Pakistan will continue determining its nuclear deterrence requirements on the basis of Indian nuclear advancements or developments. As long as Pakistan sees the nuclear developments of its neighbouring state destabilising the region, it will continue responding to them. Thus, Pakistan is maintaining a level of deterrence that is minimum credible yet full spectrum to deter all forms of aggression. Consequently, it is confusing to separate full spectrum and strategic deterrence. The idea is probably to separate counter value and counter force but a deterrence that starts to fail even tactically will quickly fail strategically. Therefore, it is wrong to say that Pakistan and India are engaged in a traditional arms race where two actors try to outpace each other. In the case of Pakistan, we appear to be engaged in a nuclear competition to maintain strategic stability and deter all forms of aggression.
The writer is a member of an Islamabad based think-tank, the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets at @emm_aey