Establishing a credible deterrent

21 Apr, 1999    ·   185

Lt. Gen A.M. Vohra argues that the recent missile tests conducted by India and Paksitan will not start an arms race but meet the required technical requirements and should not be clouded by rhetoric

“Breaking News”, the BBC termed the test firing by Pakistan of Ghouri II on 14 April as likely to fuel an arms race between India and Pakistan. This firing was in retaliation to India ’s testing its IRBM Agni II on 11 April. Therefore, it is necessary to put these missile tests in their correct perspective as nothing more than moves to achieve credibility to establish a minimum deterrent. This is the nuclear weapon strategy adopted by the two defacto nuclear weapon states (NWS).



The May 1998 tests at Pokhran and Chagai caused considerable dismay and anxiety the world over. The Security Council, the P5 and the G8 stipulated measures that India and Pakistan must take; the familiar ones being: one – carry out no further tests; two – sign and ratify the CTBT; three – join the FMCT negotiations; four – halt deployment of nuclear weapons; five – resume bilateral talks.



As Indo-US and US-Pak talks progressed it became clear that although India and Pakistan would not be given the status of NWS, there was no possibility of a roll back. The emphasis is on CTBT, FMCT, prohibitions on technology sale or transfer, and on strategic restraint.



To be taken seriously as de facto NWS, it is essential that both India and Pakistan weaponise and develop or procure reliable launch vehicles with adequate range, apart from aircraft. To achieve these requirements of credible deterrence, nuclear devices were tested at Pokhran and Chagai in May 1998. After these tests both countries have announced a moratorium on further tests and are considering signing the CTBT.



There was external pressure to hold back the missile tests necessary for the development of launch vehicles. The test firing of Agni-II carried out on 11 April was a technical necessity, which had been held back but was ultimately conducted. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee proclaimed that it was “a defensive step and not for aggression against any country.”



Both India and Pakistan will complete the project initiated by the May tests within the limits of their declared strategy. India ’s purpose is deterrence-cum-retaliation as declared by Prime Minister Vajpayee, who has declared “No First Use.” He has also stated that India is committed to a minimum deterrent and will not indulge in an arms race.



The confidence building measures (CBMs) proposed by Pakistan at the October 98 Secretary level talks include – ‘acceptance of a minimum deterrent’ and ‘avoidance of  nuclear conflict.’ Writing in The Dawn of 20 March 98, General Ghulam Umar states, “neither country should go beyond minimum nuclear deterrence” and stresses that nothing justifies the use of nuclear weapons.



The recent tests will not start an arms race but meet the required technical requirements and should not be clouded by rhetoric. This only misleads the people of the subcontinent. For instance, Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, stated that the Agni-II test was a “negative development and inconsistent with the objective of peace and security.” Without the Agni-II tested and proven India will not have a credible deterrent against China and would be in a situation of nuclear asymmetry to the general detriment of peace and security.



As agreed in the ‘Lahore Declaration’ of 21 Feb 99, let nuclear doctrines be discussed and CBMs be evolved while measures are taken by both to make their nuclear deterrent credible.