Indian BMD will offer false sense of security

After Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy, scant attention was paid to development on the Pakistan-India border

Hasan Ehtisham September 12, 2017
US tested Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), PATRIOT weapon systems. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Amidst the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy, scant attention was paid to the recent strategic development on the Pakistan-India border. India is preparing to deploy the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) shield to deter Pakistani missiles. The purpose is to provide security to New Delhi and Mumbai. Since 1999, India has carried out several tests to complete the BMD programme.

The Indian BMD, on paper, has the capability of intercepting a missile in the terminal phase. In that phase, the destruction of an incoming missile with nuclear warhead by an anti-missile has its fallout in the target area.

The Indian plan to develop and install BMD systems dates back to May 2001, when former US president George W. Bush offered Atal Behari Vajpayee assistance for the acquisition of missile defence. The offer came despite the fact that India was actively involved in the nuclear and missile proliferation to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. Though Pakistan has long been an ally of the US in the global war on terror, it was not promised the same assistance — which has increased the country’s security challenges vis-à-vis India.

There are a number of reasons for the Indian desire to acquire BMD by every means available. None of these more important than its lust for global power status and its wish to serve as a US counterweight to China.

Alarming arms race among Pakistan, India and China

Harsh V. Pant, a professor at King’s College, argues that the Indian BMD will fuel instability and affect bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, which might further lower the nuclear threshold and tempt Pakistan to go for a nuclear first strike. The offence/defence paradox explains that in the mind of a state without BMD, the threat of a pre-emptive strike will increase.

South Asia is thought to possess one-third of the total ballistic missile capability in the world. With regard to changing missile technology, BMD is too expensive and a variable programme for a country to engage in. In such an environment, the BMD capability will give India a false sense of security and will push India to go for a first nuclear strike. Thus, it could seriously undermine the deterrence stability in South Asia.

The proficiency of the Indian BMD system is exceedingly debatable with respect to the geographical contiguity of India with Pakistan and China. During the Cold War, the distance between the US and the Soviet Union provided a necessary time for anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system to intercept an incoming missile. In case of India and Pakistan, the time gap is relatively too short to entirely attain necessary reconnaissance to efficiently intercept an incoming missile.

India’s long borders with Pakistan and China could generate additional complications for the effectiveness of its BMD system. Pakistan can exploit unconventional means to counter its neighbour’s defence shield. India is geographically vulnerable in terms of a long coastline/border with Pakistan and the missile defence system will provide a false sense of security for Indian policymakers.

An exaggerated BMD option by India is not a security route but an offensive strategy. The strategy will challenge the security of the opponents and will trigger a fresh arms race in the region. Notwithstanding hefty spending on the project, it will not be able to accomplish complete security.

For Pakistan, it is a good option to multiply its efforts to develop offensive means to penetrate the Indian BMD. Therefore, Pakistan tested Ababeel surface-to-surface missile, capable of delivering multiple warheads using Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology.

Pakistan gains second strike capability

Pakistan must commence a cognisance narrative about BMD effects on world security while underlining the fact that BMD is against the concept of disarmament. It must continue to pursue modernisation of its space programme to handle any prospective threats. This will allow it an alternative way of shadowing Indian military strategy, troops and assets deployment and ensure effective manoeuverability to deploy ballistic and cruise missiles.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2017.

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