India's anti-ballistic missile defence shield

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 18.05.16

As if the list of trials for Pakistan was already not long enough, another challenge has
popped up. On May 15, India successfully test fired its acclaimed, indigenous supersonic
interceptor missile as Advance Air Defence, which is a product of the missile interception
technology, to destroy an incoming hostile inter-continental ballistic missile in mid-air in an
endo-atmospheric (short range) altitude (i.e. below 100 kilometres, within the earth’s
atmosphere). After 11 failures, this was the 12th test that finally yielded fruit for India. With
that, in South Asia, India heralded the era of constructing an anti-ballistic missile defence
shield to protect its air from the entry of any nuclear-armed ballistic missile.

It was the Kargil war of 1999 that afforded India with an opportunity to make the US rethink
its policies towards South Asia, the region where two nuclear giants, India and Pakistan,
had locked horns with each other over the issue of Kashmir. Reportedly, during the war,
both India and Pakistan deployed their nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (titled under various
local names) against each other in case a full-fledged war erupted. India became able to
convince the world, and especially the US that this time India was not only the victim but
also it was exposed to a military nuclear foray from Pakistan into its controlled area. At that
time, the preference of the world was to obviate a nuclear war between the two embattled
neighbours. The US asked India to exercise restraint from launching any counter-offensive
on Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) or the international border, as India’s
retaliation could have spiralled the situation into a nuclear conflict with Pakistan not desired
by the US. India submitted to the request. In the post-war phase, when Pakistan was
celebrating its perceived victory over India, the US had been offering India a 10-year
defence pact called the New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship (NFDR).
The pact was concluded between India and the US in July 2005. The pact offered India the
facility to acquire an anti-ballistic missile defence system. The pact was not only an
expression of strong US-India bilateral ties — which were already in the process of
consolidation in the post-Cold War era — but it was also a signal for ending the practice of
offering Pakistan parity with India. With that, in South Asia, the balance of power tilted in
favour of India. Similarly, through taking the first step towards developing the defence
shield, India has enhanced its self-defence ability. With that the balance in South Asia is
disturbed.

The history of South Asia depicts that here peace is enforced through the fear of nuclear
strike. Pakistan used nuclear deterrence to strike a balance with its nuclear neighbour in
South Asia. Nevertheless, for the time being — and though this method is pregnant with
self-destruction — Pakistan can value its doctrine of using tactical nuclear weapons to be
used on its own land (for a limited nuclear strike) in case Pakistan’s any area is invaded by
Indian army under the Cold-Start Doctrine, which India adopted in 2004 to counter Pakistan’
s asymmetric wars through non-state actors from across the border. Reportedly, F-16
fighter planes bought and flown by Pakistan are incapable of carrying a nuclear weapon to
drop in case war breaks out with India. The ballistic missiles Pakistan developed somehow
over the years are no doubt capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but these missiles have
now become useless against India, which is on the itinerary of developing an anti-ballistic
missile defence shield along its border.

In this way, there are certain implications for Pakistan regarding India’s anti-ballistic missile
defence shield. First, the defence shield has rendered the concept of minimum credible
nuclear deterrence — which Pakistan imposed on South Asia through developing and
testing its strategic nuclear weapons — insignificant. Secondly, the defence shield has
undermined Pakistan’s first nuclear strike competency or option and instead, the defence
shield has boosted or even restored India’s second nuclear strike capability. Thirdly, the
defence shield has relegated Pakistan to taking refuge once again in its near-abandoned
idea of looking for strategic depth in Afghanistan. Fourth, the defence shield gives India
some space to maneouvre whenever Pakistan launches its alleged asymmetric war against
India. Fifth, the defence shield reinforces the numerical strength of the Indian army and
affects the future of Kashmir.

India’s anti-ballistic missile defence shield poses another dimension of implications for
Pakistan. It is that Pakistan has to look for buying its own anti-ballistic missile defence shield
from the countries ready to sell it. The two nearest options to buy any such technology
could be China and Russia, though their quality of missile interception technology may not
be a match for that of the US. The third option could be the US itself; however, prospects
for this option are bleak because the same US-India pact, the NFDR, allowed India to enter
into a nuclear energy deal with the US. The energy deal later matured in 2008 as the 123
Agreement. Pakistan kept on agitating against the nuclear energy deal and requesting the
US to have one such deal with it too but to no avail. When the US has not paid any heed to
Pakistan’s requests on nuclear energy deal, it is obvious that the US will not listen to
Pakistan’s entreaties for providing it with the anti-ballistic missile technology. Lately, the US
has refused to subsidise eight F-16 planes that Pakistan wanted to buy. Collectively, these
points show that Pakistan is currently not on the preference radar of the US.

In short, the anti-ballistic missile defence shield has not only shifted the initiative of
launching a nuclear strike into India’s hand but it has also brought the initiative of
introducing a conventional war into India’s hand. Similarly, the defence shield has not only
reduced the options with Pakistan to launch an asymmetric war with India but it has also
brought Pakistan back to square one where Pakistan has to fortify its defence afresh.

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