By Saqib Mehmood
Nearly 25 years after the concept of finite deterrence (a strategy which calls for maintaining the capability, with a limited number of strategic weapons, of inflicting a high level of damage (presumably unacceptable) on an enemy’s population and industry thereby deterring the enemy from initiating aggression) was popularized by the Johnson administration, the concept of Mutual Assure Destruction (full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two opposing sides would effectively result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender, hence the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction helps to prevent direct conflict) appeared to be in decline after the demise of former Soviet Union and with the end of Cold war.
The United States had long before reached on conclusion that attacking the enemy’s cities by nuclear weapons and making owns vulnerable to enemy’s retaliation is not a legitimate and rational strategy to be persuaded. So establishing a mutual balance of fear through assured destruction capability on both sides, was the underlined rational, through which, Cold War rivals succeeded to maintain crisis stability in the last two decades of their hostility.
MAD concept is basically premised on nuclear parity between two antagonists. The proponent of MAD argues that, it deters not only aggression, but also establishes the crisis stability. Further more they argue that piling up nuclear weapons to a saturated point would help to ensure assure destruction, where antagonists will find it difficult to pursue any aggressive policy.
MAD may have some problems when applied to small nuclear powers. Robert McNamara viewed assure destruction, in late 1960, as quite demanding, where antagonists have to increase massively, their nuclear forces qualitatively and quantitatively. Because at that time US command and control was required to absorb a well executed surprise Soviet attack and then unleash sufficient nuclear forces to inflict unacceptable damage on Soviet Union. By 1965 US had almost 935 long range bombers, 800 air-launch missiles, and over 1500 inter continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and Polaris (submarine launched) missiles to fulfill the requirement laid down by MAD strategy. Soviet Union had rather less number of nuclear forces but that were quite sufficient to inflict unbearable damage on US. The level of unacceptable damage was calculated to be the 50 percent of Soviet industry and up to 25 percent of Soviet population in a retaliatory first strike. The calculus of damage was based on the United States having 400 equivalent megatons available for delivery on Soviet cities after degradation from the surprise attack and accounting for the reliability of delivery systems and their ability to penetrate Soviet defenses. It is very unlikely that small nuclear powers could ever get to that level of nuclear armament. Further more to ensure the assured mutual destruction, there should be a robust command and control system and most reliable early warning capabilities on both sides for timely retaliation.
South Asia, with two states possessing nuclear weapons, where the bulk of learning about nuclear weapons, nuclear strategy, and command and control systems referred to be learnt from the Cold War model, although it has several key differences, is heading towards MAD. Often people in our policy circles, argue with confidence, that that if we want to have a stable nuclear deterrence, we have to walk on the same road as did by Cold War rivals in their almost half a century cold confrontation. . But they do not understand the underlying reality that the Cold War opponents were the first who had to go through several stages of learning, because they had not the luxury of mountainous knowledge of this subject, which we have now in form of Cold War literature. It seems very unwise to go through that several stages instead of having only the lessons learnt. We, the South Asian, should only have the essence of Cold War learning, acquire what suits you and deny, what you think can be harmful for you in future.
Especially in Pakistan ’s case, there is a growing tendency to acquire a credible deterrence capability, a shift from the previous doctrine of ‘minimum credible deterrence’, against the Indian growing conventional and strategic capabilities, or in realistic term the Indian potential to increase its nuclear forces radically. India currently has the potential to produce 500 warheads per year and it has sufficient plutonium stocks worth of making 1000 warheads. While on the other hand Pakistan currently has only the capacity to produce five warheads per year. This asymmetry in potential of production has restraint the Pakistani policy makers to take part in FMCT negotiations. Indian aspirations to build nuclear attack submarine and ballistic missile defense has further produced complexities in Pakistan ’s nuclear strategy and polices. In the context of growing Indian capabilities and aspirations it is imperative for Pakistan to secure assured destruction capability.
The only way, which is feasible for Pakistan, in this context, according to the principles of nuclear strategy, is to acquire assured second strike capability.
To acquire the assured destruction capability, it is imperative to examine, which measurements will be proved most meaningful and realistic for a sufficient nuclear capability. How much is enough? This is a question, frequently asked by many in academic and public debates. Should we increase the number of nuclear weapons by accumulating stockpiles of weapon grade plutonium, a traditional approach towards acquisition of assured destruction capability? Or in strategic term should we measure our capability in terms of gross megatonnage, or in terms of number of missile launchers available? Gross megatonnage in itself is an inadequate indicator of assured destruction capability, since it is unrelated to survivability, accuracy, and penetrability, and poorly related to effective elimination of multiple high-priority targets. Further the number of missile launchers available is also an in adequate indicator of assured destruction capability, because they are easy to locate and destroy, hence more vulnerable and unreliable as far as survivability is concerned. Hardened silos are most vulnerable once detected than truck mounted missile launcher because of there fix locations.
What we really need to ensure our assured destruction capability is a carefully calculated number of reliable, accurate and effective warheads, sufficient to destroy 50 percent of Indian industry and up to 25 percent of its population. Second, since we have only missiles and bombers for delivery of nuclear weapons, which are also more vulnerable in the eventuality of a surprise attack, so it is better to have mobile launchers rather than fixed silos. Above all this we need nuclear-powered attack submarines, a most reliable, undetectable assured second strike capability. A nuclear submarine is usually lengthened to house 12 to 16 missile tubes. Nuclear-powered submarines with their greater speed, power, range and the length of time they can stay submerged compared to conventional diesel-electric submarines are effective for sudden strikes as well as fast and stealthy protection from attacks. So both survivability and assured destruction capability could be attained, if Pakistan jumps on to build its nuclear submarine.
Since the ultimate purpose of Pakistan ’s nuclear weapons is to deter the Indian aggression, so we should only focus on the things which are more meaningful and realistic.
Writer is an independent strategic and nuclear analyst graduated from NDU.
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