The term ‘tactical nuclear weapon’ is a Cold War relic not applicable to the subcontinent. There is nothing tactical about these weapons, as their use would have strategic fallouts. Their ideal purpose should be to deter adversaries from contemplating actions that can lead to crises, conflicts and wars. For nuclear-armed states, the key would then be to exercise self-deterrence and avoid triggering conflicts.
A potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be a chain of unfortunate events, possibly triggered by another spectacular terrorist attack in India by Pakistan-based quasi-state extremists. India would trade the ‘Gandhian restraint’ for a dance of destruction to punish Pakistan without activating a nuclear response.
In times of defence, Pakistan’s hand would be forced to defeat advancing Indian forces either by conventional forces or by using low-yield nuclear weapons. India threatens a massive retaliation against limited nuclear use, discounting assured Pakistani quid pro quo. There will be no winners in a nuclear war.
Escalating a crisis on the grave assumption that Pakistan would be involved in a future terrorist attack is a commitment trap. The rational choice of investigating such an event with Pakistani help would be an easy option. Fighting terrorism in all its forms is essential. Having a military-to-military joint intelligence sharing mechanism in times of peace would be another ideal worth considering. Pakistan had made such an offer after the Mumbai incident.
Likewise, relying on a massive nuclear retaliation threat in hopes to deter Pakistani response to limited war strategy is a naive assumption at best.
The two risky extremes seem impervious to the certainty that there is no way both sides would be able to guarantee either to dominate or control a crisis from escalating. Pakistan has endured several ‘Mumbais’ and the disadvantages of sponsoring sub-conventional war outweigh any potential dividends. As a responsible nuclear weapons state, Pakistan exercises restraint in dealing with terrorist attacks on its soil even if evidence of Indian linkages exist. Statements by American and Indian officials show Indian involvement.
Indian strategies of Cold Start — fighting under Pakistani nuclear threshold — and massive retaliation strain deterrence stability. Pakistan took appropriate measures to deter India from presenting it a fait accompli at tactical and conventional level of operations.
Islamabad has developed short-range missiles like Hatf-IX (Nasr) for delivering low-yield warheads against advancing forces seeking limited war. The Indian political leadership has to move beyond disowning the doctrine, taking credible and verifiable measures of reversing the Cold Start doctrine.
Massive retaliation is a Samson option of destroying itself and taking with it a billion-plus people in the region. It negates the rationale for producing credible deterrence capability such as nuclear submarine-based delivery systems.
Nuclear weapons should be a source of restraint and responsibility instead of bluster. A strategic restraint regime of three interlocking elements of nuclear restraint, conventional balance and dispute settlement has been on offer to India for a while. Such a regime could be a starting point for regional stability. The deterrence value of nuclear weapons can help both states get out the tactical weed and concentrate on strategic issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2014.
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