By Monika Chansoria
June 09, 2014
Leading English daily, the Nation, based in Lahore, Pakistan, carried a story on my article on Pakistan's quest for tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) on 7 May 2014, as a response to an article on the subject that I wrote in the publication Foreign Policy [FP], Washington, DC on 5 May 2014. In my article, the fact that tactical nuclear weapons hit the very basic foundations in the realm of nuclear security and deterrence stability was highlighted and more importantly, it underscored how these weapons are inherently destabilising, given that they lower the nuclear threshold — the point in a war in which nuclear weapons are brought into use.
The Nation's story has propelled this subject on for a debate in mainstream Pakistani media and I am glad and hopeful that an informed discussion shall take shape on this vital subject, especially with the sensitivities involved. Terming my writing as an "obviously one-sided piece" the story in the Nation failed to provide any convincing answers/responses to the issues that I had raised in my article. As a matter of fact, not even an attempt was made by the "special correspondent" to put across prevailing Pakistani perspectives on the subject.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of all issues pertaining to TNWs is that of command and control. As the political, socio-economic and security situation progressively deteriorates in Pakistan, concerns are rising about the government's ability to manage its sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is beset by growing fissures between the military and the civilian leadership, a rising tide of radical fundamentalism and violence, sectarian social divides, and a sluggish economy. If the state becomes increasingly dysfunctional, can Pakistan's military continue to manage these weapons responsibly? Pakistan's nuclear command and control in 2007 saw then-President Musharraf formalising the structure in the "National Command Authority Ordinance, 2007" established by administrative order, now with a legal basis. The timing of this ordinance suggested that it was designed to help the command and control system weather any potential political transition and preserve the military's absolute control over the system.
Mounting nuclear warheads on extremely short-range, forward-deployed ballistic missiles—as is the case for TNWs, greatly increases the risk of an unauthorised or accidental launch. Given that TNWs require early delegation of the authority to launch and an early release of the custody of nuclear warheads to the launcher batteries, Pakistan's stance on the pre-delegation position to the commanders in the field has been kept ambiguous and remains alarming. No matter how carefully Pakistan has thought through its command and control structure, the delegation of authority to the field creates risks. This is why TNWs are considered inherently destabilising.
By further lowering the nuclear threshold, Pakistan aims to alter the strategic scenario and negate the superiority of India's conventional military prowess. In the event of a Mumbai 26/11-style terrorist attack, for example, if New Delhi responded against Islamabad with a conventional strike, Pakistan could threaten India with the use of tactical nuclear weapons. According to the Pakistan army, its tactical nukes are designed to counter India's proactive doctrine—which primarily is a "quick and swift response" strategy that enables India to mobilise troops quickly in order to blunt any/all future attacks launched by Pakistan in its proxy war against India.
For Pakistan to believe that introduction of TNWs into the nuclear game has overturned the scenario completely and that it has accomplished its goal of negating the superiority of India's conventional military, remains implausible and to a certain extent, a bit too far-fetched. I argue so because for Pakistan to put this challenge to test would imply a decision of actual usage of these tactical nukes.
This, consequently, would draw India to operationalise the credibility aspect of its nuclear doctrine, which states that India can, and will, retaliate with sufficient nuclear weapons to inflict destruction and punishment that the aggressor will find unacceptable in the event of nuclear weapons being used against India and its forces.
South Asia continues to remain on a nuclear simmer and Islamabad's decision to go down the tactical nuclear weapons path has added a dangerous dimension to the already precarious setting and thus calls for grave reflexion.
Pakistan should take the requisite steps to not just minimise the risk of a nuclear war, but also put a check on further destabilisation of nuclear deterrence in the name of balancing its asymmetry with India in conventional military capabilities.