Stupidity goes nuclear — I

Published: April 25, 2011
The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

An April 19 press release from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) tells us that Pakistan has “successfully conducted the 1st flight test of the newly developed Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (NASR)” which is supposed “to add deterrence value to Pakistan’s Strategic Weapons Development programme at shorter ranges”.

For good measure, we are also informed that “NASR, with a range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes [sic]. This quick response system addresses the need to deter evolving threats.”

I wish I could rejoice in this “achievement”. Let’s consider some aspects of nuclear strategy, avoiding, as far as possible, technicalities to analyse this system’s test.

Deterrence works best through denial. Its stability springs from a combination of the catastrophic deadliness of nuclear weapons and the mutual vulnerability of the adversaries — each is deterred by the certainty of the other’s response and the inevitable destruction it would cause. If either of these two conditions changes, deterrence runs the risk of dilution.

This is why, all else being equal, a counter-value strategy, targeting cities, offers the best deterrence, because it threatens maximum collateral damage in terms of enormous destruction of infrastructure and the deaths of millions of people. The logic of this is that greater sophistication of nuclear devices and delivery systems, while allowing for precision targeting, risks diluting deterrence by decreasing collateral damage. In a counter-force strike, which aims at taking out the adversary’s military assets, the damage will definitely not be as extensive as a counter-value strike against a hugely populated city.

This is as far as the strategic, long-range nuclear arsenal goes. The problem increases in the case of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), which are generally low-yield, area weapons meant for battlefield use (I eschew the issue of employment which can even render a higher yield weapon tactical). This is where our latest “success” comes in. The NASR test is a signal that we have TNW capability, that this capability is plutonium-based, and that, marvel of marvels, we can miniaturise at this level and, because the ISPR press release refers to NASR as a ballistic missile, that we can achieve sub-orbital flight of a 60 km rocket (this last one has me totally stumped, by the way).

But let’s leave NASR here for a while and go back in time to see what the United States achieved with TNWs.

Remember that the learning curve in the case of the US and the USSR constituted one flawed question: How to fight a nuclear war and win? The various strategies to this end, all of which are luckily RIP, brought the calculus of conventional war to bear on a weapon whose destructive potential was simply intolerable. This is why the debate on the development, deployment and possible uses of TNWs by the 1960s had run out of life. This is how it went and here I quote from an article I wrote for The Friday Times as far back as January 21-25, 2005.

“The concept of TNWs was based on a policy that sought to reduce the conventional imbalance between Nato and Warsaw Pact forces. Proponents suggested that small-yield short-range battlefield weapons would increase the strategic nuclear threshold by lessening the salience of strategic nuclear weapons, although TNWs were not strictly perceived as an alternative to strategic bombing but as a supplement to it.

“The logic to develop and deploy TNWs was pegged on three main propositions: it would be difficult for the other side (Warsaw Pact) to develop them any time soon and therefore the option would afford Nato an advantage for some time; they could be used without too much collateral damage; finally, their use would favour defence (note that for a long time the tendency was to look at nuclear weapons in the classic defence-offence equation).

“The first of these propositions became invalid in short order because the USSR developed TNWs by the mid-fifties, blunting any advantage Nato might have enjoyed. Also, it became clear that TNWs could not only be used by the defending forces against invading columns but equally effectively employed by an attacking force – just like it would conventional artillery to soften up the defences. And once the USSR deployed these weapons it became certain that there was no inherent advantage to be had by the defenders of possessing TNWs. Finally, since the most likely battleground for a direct hot conflict between Nato and Warsaw Pact forces would have been central Europe, the proposition that low-yield weapons would have less collateral damage was proved erroneous by military exercises.”

In our case, will we be using this weapon system for war fighting against an attacking Indian force on our soil? There can be no other use for such a weapon. If it does come to that, our deterrence would already have failed and I cannot see how use of TNWs will constitute a climb on the escalatory ladder to resurrect it. We are, of course, not even considering how our own troops and population would be exposed to the fallout from a TNW. Neither am I even touching upon the hair-raising issue of command and control of this system dispersed right down to the units and sub-units by the very logic of its deployment and employment.

Meanwhile, why would an adversary not raise the bar after its force is struck with a TNW? This was precisely the folly of strategies that led to the development of sophisticated and more accurate missiles. It was thought that striking and degrading only the enemy’s hard targets would prevent him from an all-out nuclear strike. Someone realised that it was stupid to determine the enemy’s response for him!

Moreover, our deterrence is pegged on NOT fighting a war, i.e., ensuring prevention of war by denying India its conventional advantage. This weapon system is about fighting a war, or supposed employment in case hostilities break out. That makes a mockery of our basic strategic requirement. Are we now going to frame and put the old deterrence on a wall in a drawing room? At the minimum, going for this kind of system reflects a mindset, one of paranoia, which ends up signalling to the adversary the exact opposite of what needs to be signalled — ie we are confident of our deterrent. Instead, we are happily embarked on diluting our deterrent and consider it an outstanding achievement.

But this is not all. There are other troubling questions related to the civil-military imbalance and flawed decision-making to which I shall return in the follow-up.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Apr 26, 2011 - 12:04AM

    This is what happened when ideas and strategising becomes the exclusive domain of like minded individuals. Take the RAND Corporation which draws on the best and brightest from civil, military, every field imaginable, in simulations and tactical analysis, forwarding on options for decision makers. Perhaps we have an equivalent?Recommend

  • Apr 26, 2011 - 12:24AM

    Awesome article. The Pakistani military needs to wake up and go back to the drawing board. These weapons will NOT help in fighting a war, nor are they very helpful in the prevention of one. The military high command needs to ascertain that the best win in a war is when you win without fighting it. So Pak military needs to step up its game and prevent India from taking a military offensive against Pakistan in the first place.

    But that of course means getting the military high command to be subservient to the civilian leadership and that has so far turned out to be impossible for the military men to eschew.Recommend

  • Khalid Munir
    Apr 26, 2011 - 12:28AM

    There are other troubling questions related to the civil-military imbalance and flawed decision-making to which I shall return in the follow-up
    I will suggest before doing so take opinion of umer cheema and kabir ali wastiRecommend

  • Apr 26, 2011 - 12:30AM

    Mr. Haider: Perhaps Shakespeare was talking about your narrative when he described this sort of article in Macbeth as–“it is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury–signifying nothing.”

    Stephen Cohen and many Bhartis believe that Delhi can rapidly deploy a force which can defeat Pakistan in a conventional war–before it goes Nuclear.

    Pakistan has developed Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) in response to Delhi’s irrational and suicidal belief that its “Cold Start” strategy will be able to wrest control of Pakistani cities before the battle reaches what it thinks is the “Nuclear Threshold”.

    Pakistan’s Hataf XI thwarts that strategy– and lets the idiots who call themselves strategists know that–Half IX is a “Cold Start” buster.

    Editor Rupee News

  • John
    Apr 26, 2011 - 12:58AM

    Amateur rocket enthusiasts also fly suborbital rockets.

    Nuclear deterrence is a myth and all armies moved away from the concept. Since PAK is lagging behind in history and all that this twenty first century is offering, the flawed policy is expected and ignorance of policy makers in funding the project is also forgiven.

    How else can the army justify the cost to PAK people and threaten the world to subsidize PAK economy.

    Where is PAK going to use TNW. Over Punjab, Sindh, or Kashmir when the boogie men India is invading PAK or against US in Waziristan or against Baluchistan liberation army in Baluchistan or against Pakhtuns in FATA?

    Let PAK army prove its deterrence capability to her people by shooting one drone first by conventional surface to air missile. Then she will understand where she stands and how useless her weapons are.

    Try getting electricity and gas from India first. She is your savior in case PAK does not notice it. She has 4% voting rights in IMF similar to Saudi Arabia, and China, and can extend credit in exchange for commodity without foreign exchange. Recommend

  • LoneRanger
    Apr 26, 2011 - 2:26AM

    how about reading about the cold start first Recommend

  • Singh
    Apr 26, 2011 - 5:35AM

    Once N used there will bw no time to looking back whose decision was it as there will be no body left to look into that. Sub continent just avoid allout war after 26/11. And after N use/ Imagine it. Spend all the borrowed money on N and let your people starve to death. Good judgement on ecnomoic balance sheet. For next advance test of N, wait for IMF or WB, or hand out from US.Recommend

  • Sonam Shyam
    Apr 26, 2011 - 7:26AM

    Mr.Ejaz haider seems to be quite late to realize the stupidity of the Tactical nuclear weapons. The Indian bloggers had highlighted this “Hoax” of the 60km nuclear tipped missile and its dangerous implications on Pakistan itself on the very day this news was published. I have already stated that this missile is an absolute “Bluff” and its potential usage in a war is “Jingoistic Posturing”. Paranoid General Kayani and his corps commanders have simply lost the plot. Recommend

  • Z Hussai
    Apr 26, 2011 - 10:58AM

    @Editor Rupee News:

    Your argument is wrong. The weapon will also kill Pakistanis Read the article well before you comment.

    Could you explain how Half IX is a “Cold Start” buster?. Recommend

  • harkol
    Apr 26, 2011 - 11:57AM

    True deterrence doesn’t come from possession of Nuclear weapons. It comes from not being a threat to each other, and do things that can lead to a war.

    Pakistan’s deterrence will prove ineffective if it continues to plays a game of brinkmanship, continues to support terror against India. As a more mature nation, India will keep ignoring such terror attacks with jaw-jaw policy, but it too will have a threshold – when crossed it’ll lead to a war – being conventionally inferior, if such a war will be Nuclear or not will depend on Pakistan.

    But, best deterrence to such a war is not a weapon, its better understanding and non-aggression.Recommend

  • Ravi (Central Propaganda Department)
    Apr 26, 2011 - 12:58PM

    @Editor Rupee News:
    Cold start Buster ……………
    are you nuts???
    if that happens pakistani amy will be the first in the world to nuke its own army too.
    Strike brigades of both india and pakistan are just at a distance of 40 to 60 kms and even closer in some cases.
    How small and sleek may be your tactical nuclear weapon but even than it would radiate enough heavy particles to cause a calamity for your strike forces also.
    Now in case of cold start strategy…………..It will be an (If ever it comes through) offensive capability this means that distance between both strike forces will be considerably lesser because of a rapidly advancing indian strike brigades.Recommend

  • Karim S
    Apr 26, 2011 - 1:10PM

    Congratulations, Ejaz ji. It’s not often that you get the security establishment to comment on your blog posts directly, as the “Editor” of the unconsciously revealing “Rupee News” has done.Recommend

  • omar yusaf
    Apr 26, 2011 - 3:31PM

    @harkol: I agree with Harkol. However, to be fair, India is not an innocent bystander in all of this.
    Dirty games are played by both nations. Neither is innocent. So would it not have been more appropriate to suggest that neither India nor Pakistan should present a threat to each other?
    And please – dont anybody succumb to the knee jerk syndrome by writing back to say that India does not engage in dirty tricks. We do, and they do. And, as Harkol suggests, it would be far wiser (for both sides mind you) to turn the missiles into goolee danda’s so we can have a friendly match along the border lines instead.
    Hmmmm….Plutonium tipped danda’s?
    Perhaps not.
    Plough shares maybe wiser.Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Apr 26, 2011 - 5:39PM

    @Editor Rupee News:
    Since you had provided the link, I visited your site. Must admit its great source of entertainment. Beats all the comedy and entertainment channels to shame. Only in your site can it be proven that two times five is anything but ten. Keep up the good work.Recommend

  • joy
    Apr 26, 2011 - 8:29PM

    @tony singh

    visit cafe pyala to know the true identity of rupee newsRecommend

  • mind control
    Apr 26, 2011 - 9:54PM

    Ejaz Haider and Rupee News taking divergent stands? Has the ‘intelligence establishment’ developed schizophrenia or what.Recommend

  • Lutfi Shah
    Apr 26, 2011 - 10:14PM

    @Tony Singh:
    well u wanna follow the proper free mason and zionist media then go for it.. cuz they are already ruling u and ur country mind. u need to do proper research on media. (media includes every thing news websites tv news etc)Recommend

  • Nit
    Apr 26, 2011 - 11:57PM

    Finally, I get to see a article from a Pakistani, who stepped back and saw the stupidity of using TNW.

    There is nothing called Tactical Nuclear Strike. TNW are absolutely useless when your adversary has strategic nukes.

    What will be the yield of Nazr warhead? 3kt, 5kt? 5kt will not destroy more than 10 tanks or 100 men, if you are lucky. A mechanized column would have already moved out by the time Nazr arrives. And if it not accurate? There is a reason MBRL is called Multi Barrel. Single Nazr will not be able to accomplish anything. PA has to use multiple atleast 30-40 mutli kt warhead to achieve result.

    All this on Pakistani soil ! What happens if Indian Army decides to march on to Lahore? Will Pakistan let Nazr fly over Lahore to target IA columns? What if out of the 30 …. say 5 deviate and fall on Lahore?

    See the stupidity.Recommend

  • LooseSalwar
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:17AM

    That rupee news site is black comedy. It deserves more than one rupee for the entertainment it offers.Recommend

  • Apr 27, 2011 - 4:50AM

    Mr.Ejaz haider has a very diffident but very good analysis.

    If reader have gave some attention to it, his main focus has been that development of the Tactical Nuclear weapons and associated delivery system will actually give India an idea that Pakistan is willing to Fight a limited war which is against the logic of developing the Strategic Nuclear Weapons.

    As far as the Indian bloggers calling the Hoax is concerned, for most of the Indians it is hard to digest that Pakistan is actually far ahead in nuclear warheads and missile deliver systems then India a fact recognized by all most all the independent reliable sources on the subject.

    Writer has never challenged the capability of Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (NASR) or TNW but the logic of its development and issues surrounding it.

    I may or may not agree with his analysis as it is based on the basic assumption that same rules/ Principles/Issues apply to Pakistan India situation as that of USSR & Wars pact vs USA & NATO. USA & NATO forces. We know there is significant difference between the two.

    If you have read or seen sub-orbital flight is considered as a advantage over the ballistic flight in term of high speed, very late detection and extra maneuverability all of which are essential in dealing with the anti ballistic missile systems, but all this comes at cost of short range. Other Pakistani Ballistic missiles like Shaheen-1 and Shaheen-2 also follow the depressed trajectory for same reasons.

    Thanks Mr.Ejaz haider i will be waiting for send part.


  • Pragmatist
    Apr 27, 2011 - 7:00AM

    All India has to do is sit tight and keep modernizing its defenses. Given the state of Pakistan’s economy, the situation will take its own course. There is no need for any “cold start” or any other “start” for that matter.Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Apr 27, 2011 - 8:49AM

    @Lutfi Shah:
    The problem with the site is it is NOT “PRO-PAKISTAN”, but an “ANTI-INDIA” site. Now I do know many will agree with Pakistan’s identity being not “Anti India”. Surely there is much more to it than that defines Pakistan.Recommend

  • maynotmatter
    Apr 27, 2011 - 11:56AM

    @Editor Rupee News: Strange that you call teh Indian Cold War Doctrine “irrational” and at the same time scared enough to back this missile program ? So basically Pakistani army is so “scared” about the Cold Start Strategy that they have to come out with as drastic measure as tactical nuke even if they have to fire it within their borders. The action by Pakistan speaks itself about the potency of the India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Recommend

  • maynotmatter
    Apr 27, 2011 - 11:58AM

    @All Pakistani – Pakistan does not have to worry about India’s Cold Start Strategy until they keep people responsible for Mumbai attack under check. They should only worry if another Mumbai attack happens. You seriously expect India not to respond and let Pakistani terrorists strike at will ?Recommend

  • Rahul
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:00PM

    @Editor Rupee News:
    India’s cold start is to go after your not so ‘non state” actors that come into our country and attack parliament etc. Its a response to the nonsense that is perpetuated by your armed forces and Intelligence. I don’t think we are looking forward to taking over Pakistani territory, we would be nuts to want anything like that and we are not.Recommend

  • maynotmatter
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:12PM

    @omar yusaf: I for one do not rely on Indian media to get my facts straight and dont take every news with a biased view against Pakistan. But I can surely say from every international media and historians I have met. And that is India’s intelligence infrastructure is worse in the world. Let alone it playing any “dirty tricks” in Pakistan it can not even save it’s own citizens from Mumbai like attack. That should ring enough bells about the potency of RAW. So all this fear and paranoia in Pakistan that everything bad what happens in Pakistan is just plain stupid and baseless. Unlike India and many other countries which proved how ISI is directly / indirectly involved in supporting terrorism, Pakistan for once have not provided proof even to it’;s own citizens about India’s involvement in anything what it claims. Apart from news headlines and Hamid Zaid claiming India’s involvement , have the Pakistani establishment provided any material proof ? Can you provide any link, article, based on facts and not propaganda that India is involved ? Even a third grader can see how weak India is in intelligence and spy games , let alone it plan anything that cause uprising in Pakistan. So as much as I appreciate your thought that meaningful dialogue should be more encouraged rather than “tactical nukes” it just irks me when a Pakistani becomes immediately defensive by blaming India for what it has not done. You certainly must have come across article here which shows how lies and propaganda were published in your history text books by Zia and how the history taught in Pakistan is completely different from the global history records. Does’nt this give you enough understanding that you guys are indeed pretty much misled about India.Recommend

  • maynotmatter
    Apr 27, 2011 - 12:20PM

    Dude it seriously does not matter how many advanced nukes you have when you share the border. How will the nukes save you when indians walk in to your country ? Will you nuke your own country then ? Nukes are useful for enemies like Russia and USA who can inflict damage on each other without suffering any collateral damage from their own weapon. Is this seriously hard to understand. Or your small pride gets enough boost to boast about your stockpile. Is it really hard for you to understand that India can achieve what Pakistan can in terms of nuclear parity, but it understand that the two traditional enemies are bordering them, nukes wont help but harm the user. So seriously get a life, and think for god sake before you thump your chest about having advanced nukes. Just use nukes for deterrence, stop thinking about using them. Recommend

  • Jay
    Apr 28, 2011 - 2:25AM

    Looks like this system has stirred some feathers.
    Humm it must have something to get people talking.
    If you want to stop terrorist coming over then stop sending terrorist over from Afghanistan.
    Let us open borders and have people to people contact that is the only way peace can prevail and western military industrial complex will post annual loss and eventually close down.Recommend

  • Muhammd Imran Khan
    Apr 28, 2011 - 9:38AM

    by indulging ourselves in arm race, we are missing some thing, we are missing our citizen, now they are not loyal to Pakistan…in three major province….if there would be some one who like to attack their own citizen with atom bomb…this is not deterrence actually this is madness, and not a rational move…. currently we need a nation which we don’t have for this we need the trust of our citizen on our governments and that could be acheive only by spending on people, spending on education health….people are dying with disease, living a miserable life due to poor education facilities..bad economic condition all thank to huge spending on defense for many years………..before India attack us…we are killing our own a nasty game of deterrence which is buzzword in international relations like “strategic depth” Recommend

  • jaydeep
    Apr 28, 2011 - 8:50PM

    use of nuke (whatever be it’s size) will invite similar response by either side. It’s stupid to even think of using them. Recommend

  • Shakeel Ahmad
    Apr 29, 2011 - 9:43AM

    Sigh while commenting on Pakistan’s economic status, why have you forgotten about the poverty in your own country and the spending on your military? Recommend

  • Apr 29, 2011 - 4:43PM

    @ maynotmatter

    wakeup from the sleep you are in and stop daydreaming brother

    This is a real world, No body wants to use these weapons of mass destruction but if forced you will find it out that for survival of nation how much the people are willing to do.

    It is a weapon based on the fact the it create so much destruction that there will be no winners in a nuclear war hence the term deterrence.

    Do some research and build some knowledge base before going haywall on others as lack of strategic thought have any uses but certainly analysis of the international situation and security situation is not the one.

    To my other friends,

    i am all for the peaceful resolution of the conflicts and go for the prosperity of nations, I read a report that Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development UK said that “India has more poor people in it than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.” and situation is not much better here too.

    So i would like the education , health and employment to take the lead in our national goals but not at the cost of whole nation submitting to the Indian designs of making Pakistan and all other countries in the region its slave.

    We dont want a war but if india starts one we will ensure that it will be the one that their nation will fear for centuries


  • Jun 18, 2011 - 10:48AM

    All your heart rendering assurances that you are not after Pakistani territory—are tales. Why don’t you guys withdraw from Kahsmir, JUnagarh, Manvadar, Sichin, and Sir Creek–and give Hyderabad her independence, which you took over illegally

    That will tell Pakistan that you dont’ covet occupation.

    Editor Rupee News

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