South Asia's nuclear balance

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 08.06.16

May 15 this year altered the nuclear balance between two nuclear rivals, Pakistan and
India, in South Asia. India successfully tested its anti-ballistic missile defence system — an
Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor missile — to destroy an incoming hostile
intercontinental ballistic missile in mid-air at the altitude below 100 kilometres within the
earth’s atmosphere.

In reaction, Pakistan has taken refuge in certain illusions. First, Pakistan thinks that as the
launching of an attack-missile and its subsequent destruction by an anti-missile took place
in the context of the Indian Ocean on May 15, the anti-missile defence shield is actually
ocean-specific, and it may not be extended to the shore. Only the oceanic part of the
balance of nuclear power has been disturbed. This argument is shoddy because it means
that if the experiment had taken place in the desert, the defence shield could have been
declared desert-specific, and so on. Pakistan avoids the fact that test-tube or laboratory
experiments are not meant for contraction but for expansion, including lateral uses of varied

Second, Pakistan thinks that India is faced with a problem of short reaction time (which is in
seconds), compared to the reaction time (which was in minutes) available to the US against
a supposed missile launched by the former Soviet Union from its mainland. The short
reaction time to defend owing to short missile flight time means fewer chances of
deployment of the defence shield to launch an anti-missile, and in this way, there are more
chances for Pakistan’s presumed first nuclear strike option to be successful. This argument
is also unsatisfactory because it means that India is prisoner to reaction time, and it does
not value any pre-emptive action time interpreted as first nuclear strike.

Third, Pakistan thinks that it can render India’s anti-ballistic missile defence shield
ineffective by resorting to nuclear missile shower. That is, anti-ballistic missiles can be
outnumbered if Pakistan increases the number of assailants, the fissile-loaded ballistic
missiles. This argument is also disappointing because it overlooks the fact that India’s anti-
ballistic missile defence shield is reportedly multilayered, thereby meaning that it will have
second and third rounds of anti-ballistic missile and anti-shower capability.

Fourth, Pakistan thinks that to make nuclear missile shower possible, it has to increase the
number of attack-missiles for first effective nuclear strike, and in this way a nuclear arms
race is inevitable. This argument is also flawed because it does not consider the fact that
Pakistan can avoid nuclear arms race by developing its own anti-ballistic missile defence
shield and, consequently, Pakistan can restore nuclear parity with India in the region.

Related to these four illusions is the fifth one. That is, Pakistan thinks that India will certainly
opt for the second nuclear strike option. This argument is disturbing because it is based on
the assumption that Pakistan will necessarily resort to first nuclear strike. In this way, this
argument is inimical to Pakistan in two ways. One, it portrays Pakistan as an offender, and
affects its image internationally, and second, it makes Pakistan overlook its vulnerability,
which is exposed to any nuclear warhead-laden ballistic missile coming from India.

The sixth illusion is that Pakistan thinks that there can be no third factor involvement. The
defect in this argument is that acquisition and progress in space technology or satellite
system is bound to help India develop its own guiding and jamming system as the third
factor after ballistic and anti-ballistic missiles. In the era of space technology, the third
factor is bound to have more decisive say over the rest of the two factors.

The seventh illusion is that India will keep static its cold start doctrine — a low intensity
foray into Pakistan’s territory in response to exploits of non-state actors supposedly sent by
Pakistan as part of its alleged undeclared asymmetric war. Here, Pakistan does not value
the possibility for modification or modernisation of the doctrine, though Pakistan may also
modernise its short-range tactical nuclear weapons considered effective to neutralise the
doctrine. Hence, things are not stationary in the region; only the surface water is still.

The major challenge Pakistan is beset with is that how to preclude isolation that may
beckon instability. Tactical nuclear weapons — which help Pakistan complete the full
spectrum of nuclear weapons — have brought Pakistan under immense international
pressure to abandon them, and resort only to long-range strategic nuclear weapons or be
prepared for the status of a nuclear pariah. One reason could be the portability whereas
another reason could be the utility-friendly status of tactical nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s
last hope of weathering the pressure rests with China, which is pressing on the Nuclear
Suppliers Group (NSG) to treat Pakistan and India equally, whenever the NSG invokes the
option of granting membership to either of them.

The NSG is one of the regimens that make compulsory for its members to refrain from
nuclear proliferation. Pakistan’s desire to join it has not been appreciated; one of the
reasons may be that the NSG is not so restrictive as the primary nuclear non-proliferative
regimens such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-
Ban Treaty (CTBT) are. The second reason could be that most of the NSG members want
Pakistan to come open instead of hiding behind China. Conversely, Pakistan fears that if
China does not veto the entry of India in the NSG, India will not let Pakistan join it in the
future, or Pakistan will have to pay a heavy cost of enticing India into allowing it also to join
the NSG.

Whether India joins the NSG or not disadvantages to Pakistan for not joining the NSG are
two. First, as a pre-requisite, Pakistan will be constrained to sign the NPT and the CTBT,
which are of primary but more restrictive nature. Secondly, the NSG will keep the door of
internationally approved nuclear energy for civilian purposes closed on Pakistan, although
Pakistan has imported a few nuclear reactors for civilian energy purposes from China.

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