By Rabia Akhtar
Pakistan has developed a Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile Hatf IX (NASR) successfully tested on April 19, 2011. NASR, has “a range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes.” According to the Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General (Retired) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai “the test was a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.” Besides having a robust ballistic and cruise missile capability, Pakistan now possesses short range ballistic missile capability. How does this translate to Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence? Does this mean an upgrade of Pakistan’s credible minimum nuclear deterrence? Or does this mean diluting Pakistan’s deterrence? Let us analyze these questions in the backdrop of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) and their relationship to nuclear deterrence.
TNWs signify a country’s ambitions to either use these weapons in a preemptive attack on enemy or for battlefield use. But even if a country wants to maintain its defensive deterrence doctrine, TNWs will add to deterrence value if backed by a credible resolve to use only in case its nuclear thresholds are challenged. Pakistan then for example does not need to alter its CMD doctrine because its nuclear thresholds are ambiguous enough for deterrence to operate at both conventional and nuclear levels. Although TNWs have been de-emphasized given their ability to render military operations impossible because of possible contamination, but they possess immense power of de-escalation which can be played to raise the costs of war to induce peace.
For Pakistan, the strategic landscape has changed with the introduction of Indian Cold Start doctrine and since conventional warfare between the two armies is not a win-win situation therefore introduction of TNWs at this stage has the potential to enhance existing deterrence without diluting its essence. This signifies that if India pursues its Cold Start doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’ through conducting ‘surgical strikes’ inside Pakistan it should do so with full knowledge of Pakistan’s response options. If India thought that it could limit Pakistani response to Pakistani territory and win the war without crossing the nuclear threshold through Cold Start offensive, then it should think twice now.
While we know that rationality is the outcome of deterrence we must remember that ‘irrationality’ is the twin pillar of deterrence. In fact it is the foundation on which the entire rationale of deterrence stands. It is the thin line that separates a madman from a rational man. It is the threat of sanity button backfiring which actually preserves the sanity on both sides. NASR provides Pakistan the value-added for deterrence which is best described by borrowing Thomas Schelling’s terminology “rationality of irrationality.” NASR is a continuation of the uncertainty in the mind of enemy about the exact nature of Pakistan’s response coupled with an ambiguous No No First Use (NNFU) posture which makes Pakistan’s deterrence effective. Moreover, a weapon that is small and usable possesses more deterrent value than a weapon which is big and has strategic value. After all deterrence is no good if the capability and the will to use the weapon is not exhibited. Pakistan is doing both to preserve strategic balance which keeps shifting in favor of India given doctrine like the Cold Start and the possibility of India renewing nuclear testing.
There is no doubt that South Asia today stands on the slippery slope of deterrence to actual use. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence rests on clarity of its threat, the credibility of its response, the restraint that it suggests and the rationality it expects from its enemy. The response choices Pakistan has opted for limits the choices available for India. There is however no unilateral outcome of the nuclear game. Even though both Pakistan and India think they are playing rationally, both will end up worse in case deterrence fails with or without TNWs. For the critics of NASR and Pakistan’s dynamic nuclear posturing, attention should be focused on reducing the circumstances under which Pakistan will have to contemplate use of tactical nukes rather than criticizing the tools it might deploy to deal with those circumstances. In the interest to preserve regional and international security it is paramount that India should be asked to restrain its conventional and nuclear ambitions both of which directly impinge on Pakistan’s national security.
Author is a PhD candidate in Security Studies Department, Kansas State University, USA.