War Deterring, Not War Fighting

28 Jun, 1998    ·   119

Lt. Gen. A. M. Vohra (Retd.) believes that there will be no escalation of defence expenditures on either side of the Indo-Pak border on nuclear weapons

Addressing the National Geographic society on 11 June ’98, President Clinton admitted that, "Both India and Pakistan have security concerns that are legitimate", but added that "Nuclear tests by India and Pakistan are a threat to stability…A miscalculation between two adversaries with nuclear weapons could be catastrophic. The tests are all the more unfortunate because they divert precious resources from countries with limited potential".



Defence expenditure



To take the last point first, the observation about resources is relevant. However, it needs to be noted that for some years now, both India and Pakistan have minimised their defence expenditure. As a percentage of their GDP, India has brought it down from 3.37% in 1988 to 2.45% in 1997. In the same period, Pakistan has brought it down from 7.47% to 5.13%. The defence budgets for 1998/99, presented after the nuclear tests, have remained within the same range.



There is no prospect of either India or Pakistan establishing large nuclear arsenals or acquiring even their minimum deterrent requirements within a short period. The claim that the covert nuclear status of the two has, in effect, been operating as a non-weaponized deterrent for some years now, is sustainable. With both countries having tested in May, deterrence has become more tangible. There is, therefore, no urgency to acquire any imagined number of devices, fine tune means of delivery or a command and control system. No large-scale expenditure on this account is therefore going to take place.



War deterring, not war fighting



In the days of the Cold War the USA and the USSR conceived of nuclear war fighting, and accumulated arsenals in tens of thousands. With the change in concept from war fighting to deterrence, a reduction in their arsenals commenced. The post-START II figure agreed upon is 3000 to 3500 deployed devices with each country. Against this figure, the numbers visualised by Indian strategist K. Sundarji (former chief of the Indian Army) is 135. Without going into the details of how this figure has been arrived at, it needs to be noted that the Indian requirement is far below that of the other nuclear weapon powers.



The possibility of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan is much less than it was between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries until the 1980s. In 1981, General Alexander Haig stated that a demonstration strike was part of NATO’s contingency plan. Within the framework of mutual assured destruction (MAD), the Western Alliance considered selective warning or demonstrative strikes. However Harold Brown, a former US Secretary for Defense, maintained that an initial use of nuclear weapons could escalate into a full-scale thermonuclear war. This view was reinforced by the famous November 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev statement that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.



The concept of MAD has prevailed and deterring nuclear wars is the accepted purpose of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan have declared their nuclear weapon status in this ambience: the size of their arsenals and the role of nuclear weapons will be guided by considerations of war deterring, not war fighting. A miscalculation can, therefore, be ruled out.