Full Spectrum Deterrence Excludes Possibility Of War In South Asia – OpEd


In a recent international conference, a few confessions were made public by a prominent Pakistani strategic figure as a gesture to the international community, and to ensure the country’s minimum deterrence capability.

The Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference 2015 was held on March 23-24 in Washington DC, which included as a speaker Lt Gen. (retd) Khalid Kidwai, who is and advisor to Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA) and was the pioneer Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which he headed for an unprecedented 15 years till December 2013 with an unheard of 12 extensions after his retirement from the army. As the head of SPD, Kidwai is credited with conceiving, articulating and executing Pakistan’s nuclear policy and deterrence doctrines into a tangible and robust nuclear force structure.

He highlighted some blazing points at the conference. By way of starting, he criticized the one-sided policies of the United States favoring India in all aspects. After the US-India Strategic Partnership the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and more currently, the scorching matter of the NSG exemption for the possibility of nuclear deal – have been a destabilizing factor for South Asia, he said. These US policies are unhelpful and unacceptable to Pakistan for sure.

The development of Pakistan’s Shaheen-3 missile having a range of 2,750 km is aimed to prevent India from gaining a second-strike nuclear capability from the Andaman and Nicobar islands and not aimed at other countries. The development of the Shaheen-3 missile is needed since it is suspected that India was developing strategic bases on its Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal.

More specifically, Pakistani officials define minimum deterrence as India-specific. To put it simply, the strategic calculus is narrowed down to deterring a militarily and economically stronger India. But, officials have articulated that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is not open-ended.

At the Washington conference Lt. Gen Kidwai, explained that Pakistan’s quest for the Nasr shoot-and-scoot missile system was in response to concerns that India’s larger military could still wage a conventional war against the country, thinking Pakistan would not risk retaliation with a bigger nuclear weapon.. Since these tactical nuclear weapons are mounted on short distance missiles, their command and control is delegated to lower levels in the military. It is a well known fact that these short-range, tactical nuclear weapons are a defensive response to India. More precisely, the development of Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons is actually in response to India’s Cold Start strategy.

Rakesh Sood, former Indian special envoy for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, during the same conference said it was extremely destabilizing for any country to develop tactical nuclear weapons. He asserted that Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is “cloaked in ambiguity” which undermines confidence between the two countries. Ironically enough, why the Indian space program with ICBM potential or the India’s nukes or its missiles program troublesome for anybody or let’s say in particular, to the international community?

Taking into account the fact that, India is operating a nuclear submarine, INS Chakra and is currently testing another indigenously developed nuclear submarine, Lt. Gen. Kidwai also revealed that Pakistan’s sea-based second strike capability is a ‘work in progress’ and will come into play in the next few years. Ruling out nuclear submarines for Pakistan, he said ‘I won’t say nuclear submarines, but if broadly talking about a second-strike capability, for which submarines are a platform, yes.’

Moving ahead, in response to a question on the number of nuclear bombs that will be enough for Pakistan, he refused to divulge the exact numbers by suggesting that Pakistan follows the policy of nuclear ambiguity and revealing numbers would be against it.

However, he also revealed that while Pakistan had already moved from minimum deterrence to “full spectrum deterrence,” the current arsenal size would be sufficient for the next 10-15 years. As per the estimates of Arms Control Association, Pakistan currently has between 100 to 120 nuclear warheads as compared to India’s 90-110 warheads.

Nevertheless, Pakistan believes that the rising conventional disparity with India fetched its inherited security dilemma from eastern borders, lowering its nuclear thresholds, and forces it to bolster efforts to play the much anticipated ‘numbers game.’ It also gauged the efficiency of Pakistan credible minimum deterrence, now termed as Full Spectrum Deterrence. Islamabad also realized the amount relative weakness of its force structure, prompting it to induct tactical nuclear weapons into its nuclear arsenal, which an emboldened India “might use a different criteria to judge the survivability and effectiveness” of its nuclear arsenal could give birth to highly improbable scenarios to point out weaknesses in the Islamabad nuclear arsenal. Even so, the nuclear buildup in South Asia has undoubtedly, ‘made war as an instrument of policy almost unthinkable.’ In other words, nuclear deterrence has actually helped prevent war in South Asia.

Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf works for the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and be reached at [email protected]. Ms. Beenish Altaf holds masters degree in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

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