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Opinion

January 7, 2015

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Our nuclear nightmare

If you ever ask nuclear advocates in our strategic community why Pakistan is going down the dangerous road leading towards the development of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), the most logical explanation could be a description of the threats emanating from India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).
The CSD is basically a strategy to execute a ‘limited war under a nuclear overhang’; the Indian army has been working on it since 2004. Although the Indians deny the existence of the CSD, the Indian army has repeatedly conducted military exercises to operationalise it.
In order to counter this provocative doctrine, the Pakistani military has developed a short-range nuclear system to dissuade India from contemplating any ‘limited’ strike against our country. However, according to many experts, India’s CSD and the Pakistani move towards TNWs have significantly raised the dangers of nuclear escalation between the two countries. TNWs, as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons, are aimed at ‘counter force targets’ and their deployment is much more convenient than that of strategic nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is of the view that the development of TNWs is designed to ensure ‘full-spectrum deterrence’ when the strategic environment in South Asia is rapidly shifting. It is further hoped that TNWs will substantially strengthen Pakistan’s deterrence abilities. However, there is no strong evidence to suggest that these tactical weapons are really necessary for minimal, credible deterrence.
The small size of TNWs add little to deterrence and only the threat of ‘massive nuclear retaliation’ can stop India from launching limited conventional strikes. If India is not deterred from nuclear attack by 100-plus warheads, it is difficult to understand how a few tactical weapons will make any difference. The Indian armed forces have also repeatedly warned that the Indian nuclear doctrine makes no distinction between tactical and strategic

weapons. Even a limited Pakistani nuclear attack would be met with massive nuclear retaliation.
The truth is that Pakistani nuclear experts have rarely, if ever, tried to examine the utility of developing battlefield nuclear weapons. In actuality, the deployment of TNWs will be detrimental to deterrence stability in the region, making the unauthorised use of nuclear weapons more probable. In my opinion, the idea of developing battlefield nuclear weapons seems an ‘overreaction’ to an impractical Cold Start strategy. The CSD is a non-starter as it assumes a capability for high-tech combined-arms warfare that India cannot acquire in the near future.
Many western analysts are afraid that the continuing expansion of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities increases the chance of any small conflict escalating into a full-blown nuclear war in South Asia. Because some non-strategic nuclear weapons are deployed against the conventional forces in the battlefield, they enhance the risk of such escalation.
For almost a decade after the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment aimed to have only enough weapons for maintaining a ‘credible minimum deterrent’ because we could not waste massive resources to engage in a nuclear arms race with India. However, during the past five years, the nuclear security managers have forgotten the aim of maintaining a ‘modest’ nuclear arsenal.
Some nuclear advocates in Pakistan make out a case that the policy of developing TNWs is similar to Nato’s nuclear posture towards the Soviet Union during the first two decades of the cold war. However, these nuclear advocates not only ignore the many problems of escalation control faced by Nato at that time but also use an analogy that is highly misleading and mistaken in many key aspects.
By the 1960s, it was acknowledged by Nato officials that the use of TNWs could not avert defeat and even their limited use would completely devastate their own territories. The US joint chiefs of staff concluded in their first study of nuclear weapons in 1945: “The atomic bomb...will be primarily a strategic weapon of destruction against concentrated industrial areas vital to the war effort of the enemy nation...On the other hand, the atomic bomb is not in general a tactical weapon suitable for employment against ground forces...because they normally offer targets too widely dispersed to justify the use of a weapon of such limited availability and great cost.”
This shows that if the US military failed to develop a workable force structure to employ TNWs, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment could not be expected to have any genius to perform this miracle.
It is so far unclear if Pakistan will use short-range nuclear weapons to annihilate advancing Indian troops near our big cities. Such an attack would turn Pakistan’s densely populated agricultural heartland into a nuclear wasteland and also cause serious radiation damage to other parts of the country. This was a major reason the idea of employing these weapons against any Soviet advance was eventually abandoned by Nato countries. The fact is that the atomic bomb, in fact, cannot be effectively used as a tactical weapon. The current approach of our nuclear establishment foolishly assumes that if thousands of Indian troops move into Pakistani territory, we can use these weapons against them without killing our own citizens.
Both countries can afford neither Cold Start-type doctrines nor battlefield nuclear weapons. Pakistan should take immediate steps to eliminate tactical weapons and instead focus on its ‘internal’ security challenges. Today, our economy is only one-seventh of India’s and our financial position is rapidly in decline. The government should spend more money on uplifting the economic situation of the people than on misconceived strategies. Finally, our civilian government also needs to play a role in determining the overall military strategy. In the words of George Clemensau: “war is too serious a matter to be left to military generals”.
Email: [email protected]

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