In a recent article titled “The Arms Crawl that Wasn’t”, Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Centre in Washington, writes: “Nuclear buildups have always resulted in greater anxiety rather than deterrence stability.” I agree.
Countervalue strategy, targeting cities, doesn’t need too much sophistication. Also, greater numbers, despite talk of redundancy, do not matter beyond a certain point. No state need destroy another twice or three times over. Nor does greater accuracy of missiles matter much in a countervalue targeting strategy unless we are talking intercontinental distances where the flight trajectory should be accurate enough for a missile to hit a city.
I have been critical of the introduction into this region of tactical nuclear weapons, as I have been of Pakistan’s stance to not let negotiations begin on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Regarding tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), the argument that it is important to add another layer of deterrence against an evolving threat and respond to the possibility by the adversary of testing a state at the sub-strategic level — spread over time and space — is not convincing. There are many reasons for that including that the dispersal of such weapons at the unit and subunit levels adds terrible instability and, as Krepon has pointed out, makes command and control very difficult to maintain.
There is also no need for Pakistan to be the hold-out state on FMCT. India and Israel are reaping the benefits of Pakistan’s position without having to do anything themselves to thwart negotiations while Pakistan places itself upfront as the supposed spoiler.
Yet, Pakistan’s responses have to be put in a perspective, even when one is being critical, as I have often been. That is where Krepon’s analysis falters. Here’s what he says referring to Ashley Tellis’ argument in the latter’s book:
“Tellis was right about New Delhi’s limited enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, but he was off the mark in assuming that Pakistan’s nuclear requirements would be influenced by India’s restraint and deep ambivalence about the Bomb. New Delhi has clearly decided that the Bomb takes a back seat to economic growth, which is the key to its social cohesion and international standing. In contrast, Pakistan’s economic prospects are diminishing while its nuclear stockpile is growing.”
Krepon is wrong on four straight counts: India’s restraint; India’s ‘deep ambivalence’ about the Bomb; India’s decision to let the Bomb take a back seat to economic growth; and finally, the assumption that Pakistan’s efforts to make its strategic arsenal survivable and credible are not driven by existing and evolving threats in the region.
India has long had a very ambitious space programme with its subset of intercontinental ballistic missile reach; it has an equally ambitious ATV (advanced technology vessel) programme since 1974 which aims at building and operating nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) and advancing to nuclear-powered subs which carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles (SSBN). It launched the SSN INS Arihant in 2009. It has invested heavily in its navy to turn it into a blue water navy. All these developments are directly and indirectly related to acquiring greater outreach and a second-strike capability. Incidentally, just as TNWs in the field are a command and control headache, so are SSBNs!
There’s no ambivalence about the Bomb among India’s strategic enclave. That India may have a Zen-like attitude to the Bomb is a red herring that has worked to New Delhi’s advantage. Early into the game India developed its nuclear doctrine which it kept calling a draft doctrine while continuing in that smokescreen with its efforts to build a triad. Of course there are bureaucratic delays, inefficiencies, poor decision-making, rivalries among different organisations etcetera. But those are functional issues and must not be confused, as they often are, with the broad consensus on what India wants to do with the Bomb and configure its forces.
As for the Bomb taking a back seat to economic progress, there’s no sequential pattern here, though much of India’s military modernisation — it is now number eight or nine among the top 15 spenders on defence in the world according to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) et al — takes its steam from its growing economic strength.
Finally, how can any strategic analysis present Pakistan’s perception of security threats as emanating from nothing? There are unresolved disputes; India’s growing economic and military strength; US-India strategic partnership; US-India civil nuclear deal; American efforts to prop India up as the regional power; the situation in Afghanistan where India and the US are in a deep partnership; American firms straining at the leash to sell advanced weapons systems and platforms to India and so on.
None of this may be grudged India. The world is about acquiring power and projecting it. But to present Pakistan as the reason for the arms race, especially when it is exercising the cheaper of the two options given both the resource constraint and the growing threats? Really?
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2011.