The strategic stability of South Asian landscape revolves around the corollary of nuclear deterrence. The stable or unstable deterrence influence the security dilemma, nuclear threshold, regional asymmetry, nuclear employment and peace accordingly. Pakistan and India experienced the effectiveness of nuclear factor and strategic equation in the region since 1998. However, few recent developments in the region has put the nuclear optimist assessment about the nuclear weapon’s impressive contribution and impression of deterrence equilibrium in constructing strategic stability, under stress.
In nuclear factor, not the number of nuclear weapons but their credibility and survivability matter unless influenced by other features having direct relevance with deterrence like transition in military doctrines, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system, Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) and assured second strike capability. Thus status quo remains stable if strategic equilibrium is in play; the concept of mutual destruction functions and the nuclear opponents has reciprocal annulment of options for war at any level. This piece aims to specifically analyze the recent Indian test of supersonic interceptor missile in pursuit of full-fledged and multi-layered BMD system in a strategic environment which is greatly complex, unstable and unpredictable.
The BMD system consists of sensors to detect and track the missile/warhead and a guided missile, called interceptor, to intercept and destroy the incoming enemy ballistic missiles by using the “hit-to-kill,” direct impact technologies—i.e., by “hitting a bullet with a bullet.”
The argument, “BMD enhances non-proliferation”; by discouraging adversary to coerce with ballistic missiles that cannot succeed and ultimately convincing aggressor that militarily the ballistic missiles are not worthy investment; cannot be replicated in South Asian context. This assertion works when both states enjoy homogeneity and political stability. On the contrary, in South Asia, Indian BMD annihilates the concept of mutually assured destruction and hands over the responsibility to maintain strategic equilibrium solely in the hands of the Pakistan having economic constraint.
Indian pursuit of BMD will affect Pakistan, not theoretically but practically it will disturb Pakistan’s deterrence posture by rendering the concept of minimum credible nuclear deterrence, reduce India’s vulnerability to Pakistani ballistic missiles strike, undercuts Pakistan’s offensive posture yet strengthen India’s defensive capabilities. Strong offense is better in the South Asian context than a strong defense.
Missile defence is not completely foolproof and does not provide a complete protection cover. However, this new system added in the military arsenal has the potential to trigger a conflict due to the false sense of security. The false sense of security is critical because it can be a cause of war between states. It is the false sense of security can trigger a conflict despite a functional balance of power or a balance of terror based on equilibrium. So, false sense of security is a dilemma. Now, if they sell the idea that we have acquired ABM system to check Pakistan’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons and in the event of a crisis this false sense of security will transform rational actor-model into irrational-actor-model resulting in a major catastrophe.
Pakistan should consider options to counter the instability introduced by Indian BMD. Pakistan can acquire BMD from US, Russia and China, with US being the least available option; however the option to produce its own ballistic defence is not feasible for Pakistan due to economic constraints. There can be several policy options, first is to choose for a mix of qualitative and quantitative improvements to its nuclear force in order to overcome and defeat the Indian defences. Consequently, Pakistan can develop large number of nuclear warheads, ballistic and cruise missiles. Another effective option would be to produce Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs). Pakistan should also work on the sea based nuclear deterrent to ensure the survivability of its nuclear forces, and to have an assured second-strike capability.
*Maimuna Ashraf is a member of an Islamabad based think tank, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI). She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation and South Asian nuclear equation. Furthermore, she regularly writes for national and international dailies.