Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pakistan's Strategic Myopia - A commentry on Pakistan's decision to Field Tactical Nuclear Weapons (Wall Street Journal)

Courtesy: "Wall Street Journal", 28 April 2011

Pakistan's Strategic Myopia

Its decision to field tactical nuclear weapons will only make the subcontinent more unstable

Pakistan is quietly making a mockery of recent diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with its arch rival, India. In response to New Delhi's contingency plans to retaliate with conventional arms following possible future terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan, Islamabad is preparing to field tactical nuclear weapons. Over the long term, this makes a serious conflict with India more likely.
Last week, Pakistan test-fired a new, short-range, surface-to-surface ballistic missile. A military press release announced that this Nasr missile "carries nuclear warheads" and that it is intended to enhance deterrence "at shorter ranges." When it is operational, the 60-kilometer-range missile will provide Islamabad with the capacity to field tactical nuclear weapons for use against enemy battle formations.

Haris Kahn of the Pakistan Military Consortium, a U.S.-based think tank, explained to Defense News that the new missile "is a perfect answer to the Indian concept of Cold Start" and that "it establishes that tactical nuclear weapons will be deployed very close to its border with minimum reaction time to counter any armor or mechanized thrust by an enemy into its Pakistani territory."
"Cold Start" is a still-notional Indian military doctrine that would allow for Indian forces to quickly respond with conventional means to a Pakistan-based terrorist attack in India. The plan calls for the quick mobilization of forces and a wide but shallow thrust across the Pakistani border. The idea is to avoid threatening Islamabad and risking escalation; instead, India would ransom the swath of occupied territory for a serious effort by Pakistan to deal with terrorists operating from within its borders. Though India may still be as far as a decade away from fully implementing the military reforms required for "Cold Start," Pakistan is clearly worried about the prospect. In February 2010, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani warned that it could lead to a "sudden spiral escalation."
But Islamabad's decision to field tactical nuclear weapons is an irresponsible response to an as-yet unrealized limited conventional threat. Yes, it will make "Cold Start" a much more challenging proposition for India's military. Indeed, the doctrine might very well be dead on arrival—which is what Pakistan intends. Yet the unintended effect here is to make future violence on the subcontinent more likely. Islamabad will see little need to clamp down on terrorists operating from within its borders. India will then suffer from future attacks, leaving it anxious to retaliate one way or the other.
New Delhi is not going to blithely accept a situation where its preferred military response to a terrorist attack is undermined. Since Islamabad seems intent on unleashing its nuclear weapons in response to even a limited Indian retaliatory offensive, India will have to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear exchange. One logical outcome will be for India to devote more generous resources to its future missile defense shield. Another will be for India to deploy its own tactical nuclear weapons. While the Indian Army's 150-kilometer-range Prithvi-I missile is not believed to have a nuclear role at present, it is nuclear-capable and could be tasked to that mission.
Confident in its missile defenses, India will then be able to retaliate. But because tactical nuclear weapons, which are difficult to counter, will continue to negate the effectiveness of its ground forces—and thus the "Cold Start" option—India will likely need to rely on a wider air campaign aimed at bombing Pakistan into submission. Rather than a shallow incursion into its territory, Pakistan will be faced with air strikes against military targets (perhaps including infrastructure) throughout the country.
Such a campaign will be less effective than "Cold Start"—air campaigns tend to accomplish little on their own—and more escalatory. Assuming the Indian air force achieves air dominance, Pakistan's military response options will be limited. If the campaign does not quickly achieve the desired result, India, too, will be tempted to at least threaten the use of strategic weapons, confident that its own cities will be effectively defended from nuclear retaliation. In short, nuclear escalation, which India had hoped to avoid with "Cold Start," suddenly becomes more plausible.
Pakistan has every right to defend itself from a perceived threat of Indian aggression. But in this case, the proper defense does not require the Pakistani military to field new weapons and aim them at India. Only by cleaning up its own house—by denying terrorist groups a safe haven from which to operate—can Pakistan hope to ensure that the Indian military never puts "Cold Start" into action.
Yet Islamabad appears to suffer from strategic myopia and shows little interest in taking such action. Given Pakistan's generally aggressive nuclear doctrine (especially compared to India, which pledges "no first use" of its nukes) perhaps it is not surprising that it will instead rely on tactical nuclear weapons to defend against Indian aggression. Ironically, rather than enhancing deterrence, this decision makes a future, costlier conflict much more likely.
Viewed alongside reports this year that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is sharply rising, the decision to field tactical weapons can only lead to intensified Indo-Pakistani nuclear competition. This has, for one, implications for Sino-Indian nuclear rivalry as well as for other potential nuclear-aspirant countries in the region.
But the larger victim here is peace between New Delhi and Islamabad. The bilateral relationship froze early last decade when both armies mobilized after fedayeen attacked India's Parliament in December 2001. It froze again following the Mumbai attack of November 2008 and the two sides have only recently agreed to resume peace talks. Yet Pakistan does not appear to take such talks seriously. Instead, its decision to deploy tactical nukes will take the subcontinent one step farther from stability.
Mr. Mazza is a senior research associate in foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article is solely that of the writer / news outlet. "FATA Awareness Initiative" Team may not agree with the opinion presented.

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