No Use for a 'No First Use' offer: Pakistan's impeccable logic

26 Oct, 1998    ·   148

Prof. R.V.R. Chandrasekhara Rao explains why India's offer of 'no-first-use' to Pakistan was was a non-starter ab initio

Such is the state of India-Pakistan relations that even a resumption of foreign-secretary level meetings is hailed as an event of importance, even if they achieve only marginally. The recently held talks in Islamabad resulted in nothing more than a recitation of each other's stand with the additional caution to avoid steps that may escalate into nuclear risk taking.



It is in this context that the Pakistani response over India 's offer of a `no-first-use' pack deserves comment. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary this time stated that his country has not rejected the proposal outright. This enters a small caveat into the earlier categorical dismissal of the proposal. But does this make any real difference in the Pakistani disposition?



In the light of the normal pattern of Pakistan's response to Indian proposals as well as the inherent logic of nuclear deterrence as a factor in the larger military balance of a pair of adversaries, Pakistan cannot be expected to take up the 'no-first-use' by India. Indeed, one can say that the Indian proposal was a non-starter ab initio.



At the root of Pakistan 's claim for the possession of an indigenous deterrence is not merely the ubiquitous claim for parity. The rationale of balancing the asymmetry in conventional weapons capability vis-à-vis India has been an equally important ingredient in its case. For, inspite of the arguments and counter arguments relating to the qualitative aspects of the weapons capabilities of the two South Asian adversaries, a bottom line 'fact' remains: The Indian converntional strength exceeds that of Pakistan. At least, the perception that this is so remains the stock-in-trade of most strategic assessments about the sub-continent.



India could counter this argument with the plea of its having to cope with externally generated threats from two extended fronts i.e. from Pakistan and China . Added to this are the internal security concerns, some of low-level intensity and others of near-insurrectionary nature. It will be recalled that since the last quarter of the century, India 's external threat perception used to be expressed even in fanciful quantified terms. During the first decade following the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and the 1965 war against Pakistan , a two-threat perception was the theme. This was to be confirmed immediately preceding Indo-Pak War over Bangladesh when this period saw a scenario of Peking-Pindi axis with US as a participant in crafting the axis. As is well known, the Indo-Soviet Treaty provided the strategic neutralization of the feared anti-Indian coalition in the region and beyond. India 's convincing victory in that war ensured thereafter not only a reduced Pak threat for nearly a decade, but also provided a welcome environment to upgrade its military hardware.



The post-1972 era witnessed Pakistan 's frantic efforts to recover its losses. The Chinese chipped in with a fair share of their contribution. This was also a function of their endeavor to assuage Pakistan 's hurt feelings over its perceived let-down by China during the 1971 war. This trend spilled over to Chinese role in helping Pakistan 's rush to its nuclear goal in the aftermath of India 's Pokharan I. Then came the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 which made Pakistan the lynch-pin of the Reagan Administration-designed strategy of confronting the Soviet presence in Afghanistan .



There still remains the China factor for India to complain about the relative vulnerability in the conventional weapons capability compelled as it is to spread its deplovment over very long stretches and over varied terrain. One would suspect that Defence Minister George Fernandes' raising the Chinese threat in recent months is partly intended to underscore this point, even as it provided the rationale for the coup de grace to the decades old nuclear ambivalence with Pokharan II.



Yet over all, none of these can really challenge the Pakistani perception as regards its relative asymmetry on the conventional weapons dimension. In view of this, Pakistan 's acquiescence to a 'no-first-use' declaration is most unlikely.



An analogy with the European Central Power Balance debate during the Cold War period is very relevant. It is common knowledge that the Warsaw Pact repeatedly offered a `no-first-use' pact to NATO, the latter rejecting the offer out of hand. The rejection then too hinged on Western Europe 's conventional forces inability to ever match those of the rival group. Even more important was the Western European suspicion that the Americans may not be counted upon to use their nuclear weapons in case of Soviet conventional attack. This, in fact, was the raison d' etre for Western European nuclear autarky from the beginning.



Pakistan 's case for rejecting the present Indian offer is on all fours with the earlier Western European argument and seems as convincing. It should thus surprise no one if Pakistan sees no use in a 'no-first-use' pact.