Deterrence in South Asia has faced many challenges in its progression exactly in the same manner as the US and Russian deterrence evolution faced during the Cold War
The concept of deterrence in South Asia in the late 1990s has been modified in the contemporary arena according to the ongoing security and political architecture of South Asia. As a matter of fact, the security dilemma in the South Asian region has maneuvered as a chain reaction that includes regional and extra-regional powers with competing interests, such as China, India and Pakistan respectively. While shaping eventual policy direction in this regard, the perceived national interests of each state are of great importance.
For that reason, there were various national and international factors behind the evolution of the Indian nuclear programme. India’s reservations about its neighbouring state, nuclear-armed China, and its quest for great power status have proven to be powerful incentives. On the other hand, Pakistan’s uneasy and troubled relationship with India explicates its possession of nuclear weapons. Initially, the endeavour was just to generate a deterrence equation with its nuclear archrival, India. At that point, only one nuclear weapon was considered adequate enough to deter the adversary, effectively guaranteeing the deterrence stability of the counterpart.
However, later India formulated its new doctrinal policy as the Indian Proactive Strategy, formally termed as the Indian Cold Start Doctrine, which was designed to respond to any alleged or superficial threat from its western rival. Pakistan, in contrast, has come up with its own new war-fighting concept that envisages rapid deployments of conventional forces, coupled with introducing short range Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) to achieve strategic effects. Factually, following the conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan, Pakistan considered the need to develop TNWs in order to balance out the conventional threat posed by the high number of conventional weapons in India. By this, the evolution of conventional deterrence commenced in South Asia after which Pakistan’s concerned officials quite often stated that Pakistan would continue to test and upgrade its TNWs so as to balance out superior conventional asymmetry.
According to Bernhard Brodie, a nuclear bomb is a weapon of peace and not a weapon for use (super bomb). So, nuclear deterrence is all about war avoidance and is not a war-fighting strategy. Brigadier (retd) Samson Simon Sharaf, a political economist and a television anchorperson, called deterrence a cost-benefit analysis of the gains and losses in credible, capable and hostile environments, with a common and well-understood strategic concept and language between adversaries warranting a constant appraisal of capabilities and vulnerabilities.
Deterrence in South Asia has faced many challenges in its progression exactly in the same manner as the US and Russian deterrence evolution faced during the Cold War. Regarding the changing dynamics of deterrence in South Asia, Pakistan’s fear of becoming vulnerable to a first strike (and/or a desire to attain first-strike capability) gives technology a central role in deterrence and tends to fuel a high-intensity qualitative arms race. Pakistan has to develop and adopt effective controls on the graduated escalation ladder both in conventional and nuclear forces to retain the initiative of nuclear retaliation.
Paradoxically, the number of nuclear weapons enough to maintain/ensure nuclear deterrence continues to trouble nuclear deterrence theorists, strategists and policymakers in the post Cold War period alike. Meanwhile, the world’s nuclear weapons’ stockpile is estimated to be at 16,300 and all the nuclear armed states, in one way or the other, are constantly modifying and modernising their nuclear inventories. No state will place a number or cap at what it considers to be a sufficient nuclear force for credible deterrence.
In South Asia, India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons’ possessing neighbours and adversaries have estimated nuclear weapons’ stockpiles of 90 to 110 and 115 to 120, respectively (according to estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2014 and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists). Both countries have made policies of minimum nuclear deterrence and a no-nuclear arms race. While India seeks to maintain a nuclear force sufficient to deter mainly China and Pakistan, Pakistan maintains that it seeks a deterrent ‘equilibrium’ with India and not ‘nuclear parity’ with India.
While analysing the South Asian deterrence discourse with the western model of deterrence the first and foremost thought is that like the western perception the use of warfare, according to the strategic cultures of India and Pakistan also, is not well thought-out as a foreign policy tool. This might be one of the reasons that both nuclear, antagonistic neighbours are not seriously taking steps for doctrinal preparations and crisis management for a supposed limited nuclear escalation. One has to take into account here that it does not matter how the adversary perceives the signals (as weak or strong), it is a key to success in the nuclear signaling game.
Hence, the deterrence discourse depends on the strategic behaviour of the state as to how one perceives and what measures it adopts to the supposed threat. “Thus, the strategic behaviour of states engaged in nuclear rivalries tends to be schizophrenic, treating nuclear weapons sometimes as revolutionary and sometimes as conventional.” Nevertheless, apart from the altering nature of deterrence, it is the only effective key to avoid conflict and potential escalation to nuclear war that safeguards deterrence stability.
The writer is associated with the Strategic Vision Institute and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org