Home Contact Us  

Indo-Pak - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4202, 30 November 2013

IPCS Debate (Special Commentary)

India-Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Step closer to the Abyss
Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar
Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India & Distinguished Fellow, IPCS

The Futility of TNWs
In March 2013, a workshop was conducted under the aegis of the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey. It sought to examine the escalation dynamics in a South Asian crisis under a nuclear overhang. A scrutiny of the scenario suggested that a vertical escalatory spiral was central to the paradigm and therefore intrinsic to its anatomy was an inexorable traction to extremes. First blood had been drawn by a Pakistan State-sponsored terror attack; it targeted leadership at a very large public gathering leading to extensive casualties; in most strategic lexicons, this is an act of war. The demands of the Indian side, unfortunately, were given short shrift. Had some movement been made towards apprehending and handing over the terrorists, the situation could have been defused. 
Accordingly, a swift punitive military thrust was launched by Indian forces across the LoC and a Maritime Exclusion Zone was decreed. Forces primarily used were the less intrusive air and sea arms. This in turn escalated to action that was not restricted to the LoC. The introduction of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) into the battle area attained inevitability. To the Indian leadership, the question posed was, how would offensive Indian forces respond? In the event a deliberate decision was made to search out and strike the nuclear tipped Nasr batteries as with other tactical artillery pieces without discrimination; and should a nuclear Nasr launch occur on Indian forces, it would be regarded as a first dtrike and India would reserve the right to launch massive retaliatory strikes to the dictates of her nuclear doctrine. The adversary balked from deploying TNWs. 
What is it All About? The Essence of Stability 
Marshall Ferdinand Foch, one of the lesser of the meat grinding generals of the First World War, when faced with the bewildering nature of the larger strategic situation is said to have countered with a fundamental question, De quoi s’agit-il?  – What is it all about? Indeed this poser if understood and answered in the context of nuclear stability would bring us to the complexities that face nations with the coming of a weapon that can obliterate the very purpose of warfare; in the circumstance the separation of the conventional from the nuclear is a logical severance. A major divergence from the Two-Bloc-Nuclear-Face-Off of the past is nuclear multilateralism. In this altered plurality the true enemy is the dynamic that rocks the equilibrium.
The essence of stability is to find agreement on three foundational truths. Firstly, technology, while it provides for modernisation it invites covertness whereas its impact demands transparency. Secondly, that the army in Pakistan is the real power centre, and therefore for India to engage an enfeebled civilian leadership is self-defeating. Thirdly, TNWs make for a dangerously unconvincing deterrent correlation.

Why would a nation turn its back on the prudence of the past six decades and deliberately reduce the nuclear threshold through the introduction of TNWs, and in a situation of mortal internal collapse, invite the increasing probability of the breakdown of nuclear deterrence? After all it was the Pak foreign Minister Mr Aga Shahi, in dialogue with the American Secretary of State in 1979, who suggested that the “value of nuclear weapons lies in its possession and not in its use.” TNWs are marked by several features that prop up the illusion of control and the misguided belief that the adversary would, for some reason, abjure the opportunity to escalate response. Its deployment will attract pre-emptive suppressive action and the doctrine for employment follows conventional field axioms with the risk of accidental, unauthorised or mistaken use. It therefore promotes only one cause and that is the Pakistani military establishment’s hold on that hapless state. Recognising the politics of the South Asian region and the emasculated nature of civilian leadership in Pakistan; the dangers of adding nuclear violence to military perfidy, as recent proliferatory history and Jihadist terror acts have shown, is more than just a reality.
The NATO Paradigm
Pakistan in defense of TNWs often cites the NATO analogy. However, by the 1980s, NATO was doctrinally imbued with the idea of the irrelevance of nuclear weapons against less than existential threats. With this conviction, both Britain and France perceived the use of nuclear weapons (of any yield) as a failure of deterrence and therefore not a realistic alternative to conventional forces. Employment of TNWs through the doctrine of ‘flexible response’ did not provide the lever to control the escalatory ladder. The strategy, even in concept, lacked conviction, for limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms.
The Burden of God’s Gift
The South Asian nuclear imbroglio is evolving under circumstances that are unique. A shared antagonistic history, geographic contiguity, a political and structural contradiction between a centralised de facto military leadership and a democratic dispensation, a yawning economic gap, and awkwardly, a self-ordained military that (mis)perceives in antagonism an existential peril and a reason for self-perpetuation. India also views the complicity of China in the Pakistan nuclear weapons programme as suggestive of doctrinal links that permit a Janus-faced approach to the latter’s no first use posture.  
Pakistan contends that the articulation of a nuclear doctrine is unnecessary for the purpose of establishing deterrence.  Unfortunately, a nation that announced its nuclear weapon status and views it as ‘God’s gift’ must also realise that a deterrent relationship is essentially about mutual knowledge of purpose. Ambiguities, deception and carousing with non-state actors can only serve to obfuscate.
The Challenge: Contending with Pakistan’s Perspective
The impending introduction of a sea-based deterrent into the Indian arsenal, rather than being seen as an element of stability that will enhance credibility of the second strike, is perceived through a curious logic as an asymmetric trend that somehow adversely impacts crisis stability. Given the opacity of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear underpinnings, descent to TNWs and duplicity of policies, it has become increasingly prickly for India to either understand nuclear thinking in Islamabad or to find coherence between a mania for parity, the rush for stockpiling fissile material and the loosening of controls over nuclear weapons. 
More puzzling is the strategic notion that the perceived conventional imbalance between the two countries may be countered by Pakistan exercising one of two options: firstly, secure an assured second-strike capability; secondly, place the arsenal on ‘hair-trigger alert’, and then the argument goes, introduce TNWs as ‘another layer of deterrence’ designed to apply brakes on India’s military doctrine of Cold Start (ala NATO’s discredited formulation). As Feroz Khan posits, “Pakistan’s flight-testing of the short-range, nuclear-capable rocket system Hatf-9 (Nasr), was introduced to add ‘deterrence value’ to Pakistan’s force posture.” The author in a bizarre contradictory temper adds “due to the proximity of targets, short flight times and the technical challenges of assuring information accuracy, the likelihood of inadvertence is high.” He further holds that “…central command and control will become untenable and the ‘Nasr’ with its marked footprint will attract punishing pre-emptive conventional attack. Thus, battlefield nuclear weapons such as Hatf-9 will pose a ‘use it or lose it’ choice, precipitating a nuclear exchange that may not be intended.”  The unbiased political examiner is left bewildered that if such be the imbalances in the power matrix, then why does Pakistan not seek rapprochement as a priority of their military, economic and political policies? The answer perhaps lies in asking, “Who stands to gain in this power play?”
Conclusion: The Quest for a Response
Pakistan espouses an opaque deterrent under military control steered by a doctrine obscure in form, seeped in ambiguity and guided by a military strategy that finds unity with non-state actors. The introduction of TNWs exacerbates credibility of control. It does not take a great deal of intellectual exertions to declare whose case lowering of the nuclear threshold promotes. Two options present themselves to the Indian planner; firstly to generate specialised forces that continuously track and mark TNWs and incorporates an airborne conventional capability to neutralise them. The second option is a soft one that aims at dispelling the veil of opacity that surrounds the nuclear deterrent. What may have impact is a combination of the two. 
Nietzsche astutely warned, “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Thus far nuclear relations in the region have been bedeviled by a persistent effort to combat the monsters that the shroud of covertness has cast; it has left us the unenviable task of out-staring an abyss. Nietzsche in the circumstance would have advised an assault on the first causes – dispel opacity and engage the military through dialogue, and from a position of total preparedness.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Manpreet Sethi,
"Responding to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Strategy for India," 18 January 2014
Usman Ali Khan,
"India, Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: What’s in a Name?," 7 January 2014
Amit Gupta,
"India, Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Irrelevance for South Asia," 6 January 2014
Beenish Altaf,
"India-Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications of Hatf-9," 12 November 2013
Gurmeet Kanwal,
"India-Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications of Hatf-9," 11 November 2013

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
“Taking Centre Stage in the World”

A Pug, a Terrier and the Doklam Stand Off

The Blight of Ambiguity

Book Review: "A Grope for Strategic Direction"

Why ‘Global Zero’ is Less of an Illusion

China and Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ): At Variance with the Principle of Adherence

Horsemen of Change: Politics, Economics, Technology and Security

India, Pakistan and the Paradox of Power: Countering Insurgency Across the LoC

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February  March
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.