28 May 1998 saw the birth of the seventh nuclear-weapon-state when Pakistan decided to respond to India’s nuclear tests carried out on 11 and 13 May 1998. Pakistan’s nuclearisation has engendered a great deal of interest in academic and policy circles.
As a matter of fact, the country’s nuclear excursion was chastised, impeded and seen with a great deal of scepticism. However, all roadblocks were matched by the grit and determination of those involved in the nuclear programme, something that not only gave Pakistan a nuclear deterrent but also contributed toward strategic stability in the region.
However, before shedding light on nuclear deterrence and other concepts, it is important to understand the utility of the absolute weapon for Islamabad. Pakistan went nuclear in a bid to offset conventional imbalance with India and deter a 1971-like event, which split the country asunder. Neither Pakistan acquired a nuclear deterrent for prestige nor to achieve so-called grandiose goals. Its strategic weapons were and will continue to be India-centric. Also, the possession of nuclear weapons cannot improve the economic profile of any state; nuclear weapons must not be blamed for Pakistan’s frailties, for they are meant to solve them.
Now let’s talk about bilateral deterrence and strategic stability in the South Asian theatre. The tests in May 1998 brought India and Pakistan in a direct deterrence relationship with each other. According to classical deterrence theory, the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons on both sides outlawed military adventurism. However, detractors and pessimists would point to the Kargil conflict, skirmishes on the LoC and the working boundary as failures of deterrence.
However, here it is important to understand that nuclear weapons deter escalation. It is fallacious to assume that strategic weapons will ensure that no engagements take place at the tactical and theatre levels. If anything, the Kargil conflict, the Twin-Peak crisis and the sabre-rattling after Mumbai saw the laws of deterrence in action as nuclear signalling and the fear of massive obliteration discouraged further hostilities.
Pakistan is tailoring its deterrence and reorienting its nuclear doctrine to redress strategic instabilities in the region. As India looks at options to punish Pakistan, Islamabad is bringing in flexibility and dynamism in its doctrine. Despite challenges, Pakistan is looking to attain deterrence using punishment and denial
With both neighbours embroiled in the action-reaction syndrome, the strategic level treads towards stability now and then. Both states have augmented their arsenals, added arrays of delivery systems and both are aware of each other’s capabilities. All this has ensured that despite tensions between the two countries, there is little incentive for either to go the full throttle (strategic stability).
Strategic stability cannot be achieved if a state deems its adversary incapable of giving a strategic response. Hence, strategic stability in the region is owed to Pakistan’s timely and robust reactions to India’s actions. Despite meagre resources, Pakistan paced not only the production of warheads but also delivery systems. In order to add value to its deterrence, Pakistan retained the nuclear first use option and kept its doctrine undeclared; these measures took away India’s incentives of using massive force against Pakistan, thereby bringing about strategic stability.
However, nuclear Pakistan has remained alive to the multifarious threats to strategic stability in the region. In response to challenges to Pakistan’s credible minimum deterrence, the country is shifting toward full spectrum deterrence. In a bid to obviate India’s threats to strategic stability, Pakistan is singularly focused on plugging deterrence gaps. The induction of battlefield nuclear weapons is countering India’s highly-incendiary Cold Start Doctrine. The Nasr missile with a range of 60 to 70 kilometres is designed to deter India from starting a limited war under the nuclear umbrella. Fear of a strategic response to military actions at lower ends of the conflict spectrum enhances deterrence manifold and induces caution on the part of India.
The importance of second-strike capability to deterrence can never be overstated. If anything, deterrence is measured in terms of the ability to give a riposte. Second-strike capability and stability are directly proportional.
Pakistan’s completion of its nuclear triad with the addition of naval nuclear forces has given the country a credible second-strike capability. Though more work is needed to lend credibility to Pakistan’s seaward nuclearisation, the deterrence value of reacting to India’s nuclearisation in the sea is immense. A deterrent at sea will not only lessen the imbalance between the two countries at sea but will complement Pakistan’s response options vis-à-vis India.
Pakistan has also MIRVed its Ababeel missile. The step is a likely counterweight to India’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system, for the ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously can challenge the efficacy of missile defences. However, the deployment of BMD remains a challenge for strategic stability in the region. If Pakistan’s nuclear journey is anything to go by, then an appropriate response to the BMD is in the pipeline.
Pakistan is tailoring its deterrence and reorienting its nuclear doctrine to redress strategic instabilities in the region. As India looks at options to punish Pakistan, Islamabad is bringing in flexibility and dynamism in its doctrine. Despite challenges, Pakistan is looking to attain deterrence by punishment and denial.
Nuclear Pakistan has been seeking security and stability. It has come a long way in achieving both these goals and that too in the midst of exceeding pressures. Pakistan will react when India acts; this will be the guiding principle for nuclear Pakistan. An apt prognosis of the future can be made if one takes a cursory look at the history of nuclear Pakistan.
The country will do all that it takes to secure itself from a bellicose neighbour. Therefore, the state of strategic stability is paramount to Pakistan and its nuclear programme.
The writer is a Research Associate at the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research (CSSPR), University of Lahore. He tweets: @syedalizia1992
Published in Daily Times, June 1st 2018.