Stability in South Asia through Nuclear Weapons and Missiles

11 May, 1998    ·   86

Lt. Gen. A. M. Vohra (Retd.) suggests that the India and Pakistan must evaluate their nuclear option sobrely, in the light of current world opinion on nuclear weapons.

The recent test firing of Ghauri by Pakistan , an intermediate range ballistic missile that can carry a high explosive, chemical or nuclear warhead to a distance of 1500 kms, is an expected development. Nuclear weapons and missiles form part of the arsenal of many states. In the run up to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) it has become clear that non-proliferation, rather than disarmament, of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is the objective of the USA . It declared in 1996 that it is important for the USA to maintain a small but effective nuclear force. On 5 March 1996, Defence Secretary Perry stated that such a force was necessary to deal with rogue states or a threat of WMD arising out of a regional conflict or the emergence of a global conflict at some future time.



Incidentally, the reduced numbers planned so far are not that small. Post START II, US and Russia will each be left with 3000 to 3500 deployed nuclear warheads. This Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in Jan 1993 and still to be ratified by the Russian Duma, is to enter into force and achieve this reduction by 1 Jan 2003.



Given this nuclear and missile environment for the foreseeable future, other states with security problems cannot be expected to give up their quest for these weapons. India demonstrated its nuclear capability in 1974, and has an integrated missile development programme in operation since the 1980s. It has produced and introduced into service the short-range surface to surface missile, Prithvi, with ranges of 150, 250 and 350 kilometers. The 250 and 350 km variety can carry a warhead of 500 kg. India has also tested a 1500 km intermediate range surface to surface ballistic missile named Agni. It carries a warhead of 1000 kg and is to develop a range of 2500 km.



It was only natural that Pakistan should also strive for nuclear and missile capability. 1987 is generally accepted as the year in which it became nuclear capable. It has been developing the Hatf series of missiles. Hatf 1, with a warhead of 500 kg, has a range of only 80 km and is reported to have entered service in 1992. Hatf 2, with a range of 300 km, was expected to enter service in 1995. There were unconfirmed reports of Hatf 3 with a range of 600 km having been test fired in June/July 1997. There are reports that China passed on its M9 and M11 missiles to Pakistan in 1992. It has been alleged that Hatf 3 is in fact the Chinese M9. Similarly there are reports now that Ghauri is the Chinese Dong Feng 25 or CSS 22. The USA has however held North Korea responsible for technology transfer to Pakistan in this regard.



How these systems were acquired is only of secondary significance. Primarily, our concern is to study its consequence vis-a-vis the security environment of the region.



Nuclear weapons are not weapons of war. All the same, nuclear weapons continue to be the currency of power. Equally important is their role in deterrence. In its anxiety to prevent proliferation, the USA imputes to India and Pakistan behaviour somewhat different than that of the five NWS (Nuclear Weapon States). According to US reports, the South Asian ‘threshold states’ came to fighting a nuclear war in 1990. The talk of Ghauri and Ghaznavi by Pakistan or that of further tests of Agni and its subsequent introduction in service in India , is therefore seen as destabilising.



It is important that India and Pakistan analyse these developments. They must fine tune their nuclear capabilities, if at all, and continue developing missiles, in a sobre and mature manner. But they must bear in mind the worldwide environment in respect of these weapons systems. It may be claimed that mutual nuclear deterrence is operative between India and Pakistan . Apart from claims to this effect by defence analysts in both countries some US analysts also agree. Ashley Tellis, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, Santa Monica , observes, "The Ghauri missile is not for fighting conventional wars. It is designed to produce a strategic deterrence over the long term."



Peace and security is a subject listed for discussion by the Foreign Secretary level talks that ended on 23 June 1997 at Murree ( Pakistan ). Nuclear and missile issues are an important aspect of these talks. It would be advisable for the two governments to take their peoples into confidence, leaving no room for panic. The agreement not to attack each others' nuclear installations may be extended to include cities, and the possibility of a ‘no first use’ pact should be gone into. Although nuclear devices are not weapons of war and have never been used except on the first two occasions in August 1945, such agreements help to establish stability.