Pakistan’s evolving nuclear doctrine

Published: January 9, 2018


The writer is an MPhil scholar at the Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. He tweets @hasanehtishamb1 The writer is an M Phil scholar at the Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Twitter: @hasanehtishamb1 PHOTO: FILE PHOTO

If Pakistan has not released a nuclear doctrine, it does not mean that it has not got one. It is understandable that a small nuclear power that espouses a limited aim of deterring coercion from a larger neighbour, maintaining calculated ambiguity would be a rational choice. Clear articulation would limit Pakistani options. That said Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine can be ascertained if, for instance, statements by its National Command Authority are read closely.

In September 2013, the NCA signalled that Pakistan would follow Full Spectrum Deterrence which surfaced during NCA meetings in 2015-16. Recently, the 23rd meeting of the NCA has reaffirmed its commitment to FSD.

NCA’s adviser for development Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Kidwai has shed rare light on FSD and articulated that by this policy every Indian target is now in Pakistan’s striking range. Elaborating three elements of FSD, he counted the “full spectrum of nuclear weapons, with full range coverage of the large Indian land mass and its outlying territories.” In other words, FSD manifests that the authorities will utilise whatever methods are important to secure its interests.

Analysts see this FSD approach as a qualitative response by Pakistan to counter the threat created by the Indian Cold Start Doctrine. In 2016, the Indian chief of army staff let the cat out of the bag by accrediting CSD — a politically unauthorised doctrine of a limited war under the umbrella of nuclear weapons. The shift in Indian doctrine has left Pakistan with no choice but to go for offensive options.

Pakistan has adopted a method of gradual declaration of its nuclear doctrine, which neither clearly embraces a first use doctrine nor denies it. This bit-by-bit approach is useful because Pakistan responds to Indian actions that remain dynamic. The ambiguity in Pakistan’s posture is meant to deter a pre-emptive conventional attack and establish deterrence rather than practically initiating a nuclear war. This is why Pakistan has developed adequate conventional response mechanism to a pre-emptive conventional war doctrine. Although Pakistan’s nuclear programme is for solely defence purposes, it has always been under consistent threat from a much superior military adversary.

There are numerous examples of threatening to utilise nuclear arsenals in order to compensate for conventional asymmetry. The US, with respect to Nato, adhered to the idea of first use in its long-standing nuclear policy. When the erstwhile USSR broke up, Russia expressly renounced the NFU pledge. The French nuclear doctrine is a hardcore form of first use in which Paris is theoretically working on nuclear weapons usage against conventional threats.

There is an ongoing debate within India to depart from its NFU policy and to adopt a doctrine that comprises the obvious threat of first use, especially to address the asymmetry with China. In such scenario, a declared nuclear stance of a first use option would construct a dilemma for India. Unlike India, Pakistan’s nuclear strategy has always followed a pattern of providing minute information and upheld a calculated ambiguity about its nuclear doctrine.

Henceforth, Pakistani officials will confront two challenges with respect to disclosure of nuclear doctrine. First, how to classify diverse levels of thresholds and to justify the magnitude of these redlines, where a nuclear retaliation could be seen as a possible outcome? Secondly, policymakers have to decide how to balance between clarity and ambiguity of the extent to which a declared policy could go.

If Pakistan wants to establish FSD then along with nuclear capability, it has to expand its conventional capability. In Pakistan’s doctrine of FSD, a foremost exertion should consider improving its conventional capability and operational concepts to deal with evolving threats. Whereas the credible minimum deterrence should remain a foundation element for a flexible nuclear doctrine, ie, FSD. It is important for Pakistan to acquire an assured second-strike capability to counter widening gaps in Indian Ocean strategic stability.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • abdul awaal
    Jan 9, 2018 - 9:33AM

    Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is a few defense analysts sitting in the TV show and keep saying Pakistan is a nuclear country.Recommend

  • Kamal
    Jan 9, 2018 - 11:34AM

    Pakistan doctrine is simple, resources and time permitting.
    1. Develop thermonuclear weapons as soon as possible in the 200KT class. Small enough to be delivered by Shaheen III
    2. Develop Submarine based weapons for 2nd strike capability.
    3. Ensure enough weapons that total and absolute destruction of all of India’s all 5m+ population centers, 100 major economic targets, 200 major military/naval/airbases.
    4. Enough Nukes for above and a few dozen left over incase Israel or another power wants to get involved.
    5. So: 3-4 dozen H-Bombs and 400 A-Bombs should be about right.Recommend

  • PrakashG
    Jan 9, 2018 - 11:35AM

    None of these doctrines have any meaning because the world doesn’t believe these nukes are safe from anytime falling in the hands of a dictator like Zia.Recommend

  • Foreign Hand
    Jan 9, 2018 - 11:47AM

    Pakistan along with North Korea are the only two countries in the world who constantly remind others they have nukes. They just don’t get tired of nuclear blackmail.

    It is true in the past that nukes provided deterrence, but these days nukes have become “meh” considering it was only a few days back that North Korea threatened about its nuclear button and Trump proclaimed he has a bigger nuclear button. So we are down to comparing sizes now.

    One thing is for sure: Whoever presses the nuclear button first, that would be the last button that country would ever press. Recommend

  • Zain
    Jan 9, 2018 - 12:06PM

    Pakistan is not a small country be any means: 6th largest population, 24th largest GDP(PPP), fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Recommend

  • Nadeem Usmani
    Jan 9, 2018 - 2:06PM

    well said kamal.Recommend

  • Crown
    Jan 9, 2018 - 3:23PM

    Nuclear weapons are no longer a deterrent it just buy you some time. Stronger economy and global trade is the only thing keeping your position secure in the world. Recommend

  • PrakashG
    Jan 9, 2018 - 4:00PM

    Out of the three things you mentioned, which one do you think is worth being proud of?Recommend

  • Vectra
    Jan 9, 2018 - 6:41PM

    Well the above article covered FSD,CSD and NFU but failed to take into account the most aggressive and dangerous strategy of the all 3 which if implemented can destroy entire Pakistan permanently once for all and that is MRD or Massive Retaliation DoctrineRecommend

  • Majnu
    Jan 9, 2018 - 10:37PM

    Why don’t your doctrine include laser weapons? Looks like a star wars fantasy that can never be fulfilled.Recommend

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