Ballistic Missile Defence: A Bulwark of Deterrence

by Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

This article is forthcoming in the March 2019 issue of Geopolitics http://www.geopolitics.in/

In the aftermath of the Six-Day war of 1967, there ensued a prolonged period of sporadic hostilities between Israel on the one hand and Egypt, Syria and Iraq on the other. On 12 October, 1967, the Eilat, an Israeli Destroyer on routine patrol, was engaged in a surface action by Egyptian missile boats off Port Said. A crew member on the deck of the Eilat apparently did not understand what he was looking at. It was not a rocket; it was a Styx missile, the first of four that slammed into and sank the hapless destroyer. Of the incident, the Captain of the Eilat recorded “I stood there transfixed, watching the missile”. The 1971 Indian missile strikes on Karachi port installations and warships defending the harbour evoked a similar distressed response. It was another reminder of the need for effective defence against missile attacks.

And just as the ‘Defence’ came to grips with the nature of missile assaults through a combination of deception, soft and hard kill measures, the ‘Offence’ wrested the initiative through enhanced ranges, precision, speed, cruise altitude, deception, unpredictable targeting and more significantly by adopting a sub-orbital ballistic trajectory with a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle payload containing several warheads, each capable of being aimed to hit a different target.

Approach to Ballistic Missile Defence: Effectiveness

While the debate on whether or not India should test and deploy ballistic missile defences (BMD) is now largely settled, the important question of how effective such systems are likely to be remains ‘iffy’. The answer to this question depends on considerations such as type of defence, characteristics of the attacking missile, desired kill probability, standards for measure of success and lastly the economics of induction which will determine how secure and gapless coverage can be achieved.

Indian backers of BMD argue that trials have already proven the system to be effective. Critics, however, maintain that these trials are too few, unrealistic and structured-for- success; contention being that they do not in any way attempt to mimic the ‘fog’ and unpredictability that generally envelopes operational situations which will eventually have a bearing on measure of effectiveness. The quandary is that there is not enough empirical data to arrive at an objective assessment.

Given the contrapositions in the debate, it is necessary first to understand the features of a ballistic trajectory in order to discern opportunities available to the Defence.

The Ballistic Trajectory and State of Play

Assuming the missile’s range is long enough that it leaves the atmosphere; a ballistic missile’s trajectory is typically divided into three phases.  First, the boost phase, when the missile is under powered flight using its rocket booster.  Second, the midcourse glide, in which the missile coasts on a ballistic trajectory through outer space.  Third, the terminal phase, in which the missile or warheads re-enters the atmosphere and plunge towards its target at hypersonic speeds.  Each phase presents different options and problems for the Defence.

Hard-kill systems (measures that physically counterattack an incoming missile destroying/altering path of  its warhead) that operate within the atmosphere or above it such as the U.S. Army’s Patriot system, the U.S. Navy’s Aegis system, the Russian S-400 system and indeed the Indian BMD, a double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile for lower altitude interception. All these systems use radar for guidance and homing and most are equipped with high-explosive warheads while some use kinetic impact for destruction of the incoming missile. Aero-dynamic forces enable interceptor manoeuvring and “atmospheric filtering” resolve ambiguity posed by countermeasures.  In the 1991 Gulf War, the Patriot or PAC-2 interceptor missiles, reportedly, attempted to intercept 44 Iraqi Scud ballistic missiles. The U.S. Army by their own estimates (which varies wildly), claimed kill percentage of about 61%. However, technical analyses suggest that the actual intercept rate was nearer to zero. In the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. Army fielded the improved PAC3 BMD, evidence is mixed on whether the system actually performed since there had reportedly, been only two “kills” in seven launches.

Boost-Phase Interception

Boost-phase interception attempts to destroy missiles while they are still in powered flight.  This mode of defence, in concept, could use hard-kill interceptors, or beam weapons such as lasers.  Boost-phase defences have some significant advantages over midcourse or terminal interception. Importantly, destroying a missile during boost eliminates all of its warheads and therefore is most appropriate against missiles equipped with multiple warheads. In addition, the problem of countermeasures appears to be much less severe for boost-phase interceptors than it is in midcourse or terminal phase engagements. The difficulty facing boost-phase defence is, time for engagement that the hostile missile offers which at most is a few minutes; suggesting that a boost-phase interceptor be located relatively close to the attacking missile launch site. This consideration become critical when it comes to neutralising short ambit ballistic missiles which by virtue of limited range may have to be deployed in the tactical battle area such as Pakistan’s Nasr or their Hatf 1 and Hatf 2, missiles. The launch vehicle could be eliminated prior to missile launch by precision guided munitions or air to surface missiles.

Midcourse Interceptors

Long-range midcourse defence operates above the atmosphere (exo-atmospheric) and refers to that part of the target’s trajectory after its booster rocket has burned out but before it begins to re-enter the atmosphere. It aims at direct collision homing techniques during target travel through space.    Midcourse interception in principle provides wide area defence. At the same time exo-atmospheric mode of operation makes the Defence potentially vulnerable to a variety of countermeasures. A primary objective of such defences is countering nuclear-armed missiles. Very few nations have proven the efficacy of midcourse interceptors, for the real issue is not its theoretical viability or how well it works on a test range, but its operational effectiveness – that is, how well they can be expected to work given unpredictable circumstances in an environment where countermeasures are deployed. Unfortunately, very little open source information is available on the matter.

The Russian S-400 system would appear to have captured the wide area midcourse BMD market for reasons of effectiveness and economy. Its closest rival is the American Patriot PAC3; both systems claim a dual capability of shooting down aircraft and providing BMD. It would now help our analysis if consideration is given to the known attributes of the two systems. A comparison of technical parameters indicate that the S-400 can shoot down targets moving at a speed of 17 km/sec while the PAC-3 limit of target speed is 8 km/sec; in terms of simultaneous tracking and engagement the S-400 can track 160 targets and engage  72 targets simultaneously while the PAC3 can track125 and engage 36. Maximum tracking range for the S-400 is 600 km and kill range is 400 km while the PAC3 tracking and engagement range is far less at 180kms and 100kms respectively. The S-400’ altitude aperture is from a low of 10 metres to a high of 30 km while the Patriot’s altitude bracket is between 50 metres and 25 km. To achieve a kill probability of not less than 0.99, the S-400 will have to launch a salvo of 2 missiles while the Patriot, 3 missiles. It would now be apparent that in all vital attributes the S-400 outperforms the PAC3. Also, it is interesting to note that the Russian system has the capability to detect stealth aircrafts such as the US F-35 and Chinese J-20 which are characterized by a low radar signature. Five squadrons of the S-400 system are expected to be inducted into India’s inventory by 2020 at a cost of $ 5.43 billion.

India’s Rough Nuclearized Neighbourhood

A nuclear deterrent relationship is founded entirely on rationality. On the part of the ‘deteree’ there is rationality in the conviction of disproportionate risks of hostile action; and on the part of the deterrer rationality of purpose and transparency in confirming the reality of the risks involved in a manner that strategic miscalculations are avoided . The exceptional feature of this transaction is that the roles are reversible provided it is in the common interest to maintain stability in relationship. The rub when dealing with Pakistan is that political leadership is a charade that masks the real manipulators of power: the military establishment, who, as a rule do not expose themselves to diplomatic parleys and the tedium of negotiations.

India’s neighbourhood in nuclear security terms is significant for the two nuclear armed neighbours that quarter its Northern and Western borders. Both inimical to its interests; the former Machiavellian in its security relationship while the latter out-and-out pernicious and perhaps more alarmingly a nuclear surrogate whose arsenal and doctrine have been devised, tested and phrased in Beijing.

In all but two doctrinal precepts there does not appear to be great divergence between China’s and India’s Nuclear Doctrine. Where China deviates is on the subject of ‘the demonstration’ and ‘doctrinal dynamism.’ The former suggests, in the abstract, that nuclear weapons would be used, if credibility is ever questioned. This usage may not be against vital targets and yet will leave no doubts of intentions. While the latter opens up the nature of their alliances. In this frame of reference, the scripting of the Pakistan nuclear capability, transfer of nuclear technologies, developing their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenal, setting up of the Khushab I to IV weapon grade plutonium production reactors and the emergence of a first-strike capability becomes significant.

Thus, China’s doctrinal dynamism potentially permits a Janus-faced policy – the one that it presents to the world at large is that of the No-First-Use (NFU), minimalistic, rigid, restrained nuclear power while the other is to retain the First Use alternative through the Pakistan arsenal. This policy has placed nuclear force planners in a quandary; not to respond is to open India to a possible degradation of their Second Strike capability. China moulding Pakistan’s nuclear First Use facility, forgets the fact of an enfeebled Pakistan civilian leadership incapable of action to remove the military finger from the nuclear trigger; the active involvement of UN designated terrorists in military strategy and an alarming posture of an intention-to-use; all have the makings of a global nuclear nightmare.

Given the opacity of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear underpinnings, descent to tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) and duplicity of policies, it has become increasingly prickly for India to either understand nuclear thinking in Islamabad or to find coherence between a mania for parity, the rush for stockpiling fissile material and the loosening of controls over nuclear weapons. More puzzling is the notion that the conventional imbalance between the two countries may be countered by Pakistan introducing TNWs as “another layer of deterrence” (ala NATO’s discredited formulation). Clearly in this strategic framework, the generation of India’s BMD cannot come as a surprise to any pundit of nuclear security.

The Indian BMD

India is in the advanced stage of developing and deploying a multi-tiered BMD system designed to achieve exo-atmospheric interception of short, intermediate, and intercontinental range ballistic missiles during midcourse flight interfaced with an endo-atmospheric hit-to-kill interceptor. The system consists of a two stage, solid propellant Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV) missile in tandem with the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for high and low altitude interception, respectively. The PDV intercepts ballistic missiles at exo-atmospheric altitudes up to 150kms while the AAD missile achieves endo-atmospheric engagement within an altitude envelope of 15mtrs-30kms. The AAD is also effective against cruise missiles and short range ballistic missiles. The system is interfaced to a long range phased array tracking radar (Swordfish) which provides gapless surveillance up to 1500kms. The deployed system would consist of several launch vehicles, radars, Launch Control Centres grouped under a Mission Control Centre. All these are geographically distributed and connected by a secure communication network

The Russian S-400 Triumf BMD system to be inducted by India beginning 2020 (operational parameters discussed in some detail earlier) when married and deployed with existing endo-atmospheric systems such as the AAD or Barak 8 (joint Indo-Israeli production), will provide significant strategic performance upgrade to India’s BMD capability. Particularly in the face of China’s intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles of the JL2 and DF31A type; Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal of medium range ballistic missiles such as the ‘Ababeel’, cruise missiles such as the ‘Babur’ and tactical ballistic missiles of the ‘Nasr’ type. While capability to neutralise the ballistic missile threat from both India’s nuclear neighbours is credible, what may be questioned is the economics of the matter and how selective or otherwise can India be in providing BMD cover to counter force and counter value targets.

Impact on Deterrence

The point at issue that planners will raise is: in what manner does the Indian BMD serve the cause of deterrence? Cold-war theology that drove the bi-polar deterrent relationship between USA and the USSR hinged on an axiomatic logic of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and the strategic rationality (that both protagonists subscribed to) which provoked ‘predictable behaviour.’ Thus, in that era, the BMD became a de-stabilizing factor as it undermined the shared hostage situation that was central to MAD. Also, it set into motion dynamics for modernising and enlarging nuclear arsenals. It is in this sensibility that the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 was considered ‘the bedrock of strategic nuclear stability.’

Answers may be found in the changing shape of geopolitics at the turn of the 21st century that not only fractured the former bi-polar equilibrium to multi-polar uncertainties, but also introduced reprobate nuclear armed states into the milieu, some of whom are not so readily convinced of the logic of MAD or the strategic rationality of ‘predictable behaviour.’ Pakistan finds itself in this category. The deterrence of such states poses a dilemma never faced before, for reasons of their often repeated capricious nuclear threats and intent-to-use policy, decentralized control of TNWs and their military strategy that finds unity with terrorists; all of which places pressures on states with stable and reposeful nuclear doctrines such as India. Consequently, for India, deterrence is not just a function of strategic rationality but, of persistent emphasis on credibility of the power to deny and the immense and exacting shock of response. It is to further this precept that the Indian BMD finds expression.

 

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The Dilemma of a Threshold

In nuclear policy parlance, ‘threshold’ indicates when and under what conditions leadership may resort to the use of nuclear weapons

By

Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

(Published in the author’s column “The Strategist” on the IPCS website and available at http://www.ipcs.org)

The nuclear planner is acutely involved in analysis of when and under what political conditions opposing leadership (military or otherwise) may resort to the employment of nuclear weapons. For nations with a policy of No-First-Use (NFU), the answer is “in response to the first-use (FU) of a nuclear weapon under conditions as stipulated in the doctrine.” However between nuclear armed nations, the one with a FU policy is faced with a more complex set of issues which will invariably raise the question “are political ends served with first-use of nuclear weapons knowing that an escalatory response may well be massive and place value targets in its cross hair.” Does first-strike come paired with the ability to offset a nuclear response? Indeed there is the theoretical possibility that the first strike may altogether neutralise the opposition’s capability of nuclear response; but this, as the evolution of nuclear thought and development of nuclear arsenals have shown, is a fantasy. Even the smallest retaliation in a nuclear exchange targeting a city will imply horrific destruction that the first striker must contend with. To put matters in perspective consider the following: the destructive potential of a nuclear weapon say a 20 kiloton nuclear weapon airburst targeting a city such as Karachi (in 2017 Karachi’s metropolitan area population was estimated at 23 million) with a population density of 24,000 per square kilometre will result in at least 8,00,000 primary casualties and another 12,00,000 secondary (statistics approximate based on casualty curves, Abraham Henry, Nuclear Weapons and War, 1984).  Or, one only has to recall the geographic extent and casualties of the 1986 “Chernobyl” power plant disaster to appreciate that the hazards of a nuclear encounter are not abstract notions. The radiation fallout spread from Scandinavia to the Black sea, over 116,000 people were affected while Belarus has since shown a 2400% annual increase in the incidents of thyroid cancer.

The capability to respond unfailingly and credibly lies at the heart of a deterrent strategy driven by a NFU policy. Faced with the certainty of appalling destruction in response to a nuclear adventure, why an aggressor should contemplate a first-use of nuclear weapons remains bizarre since it is at odds with the very idea of survival. Whatever may be the conditions of the conflict; the approach of such a threshold when one or the other protagonist may reach for the nuclear trigger must not only be transparent but be declared so that a return to normalcy becomes viable.

The strategic irony of dealing with Pakistan is that not only is it armed with nuclear weapons, but also forewarns ‘first-use’ shorn of a declared doctrine. The weapon, as recent statements from their establishment suggest, is “India specific” and the development of their nuclear arsenal is to deter India’s conventional forces from offensive operations through the use of tactical nuclear weapons (!) and should that elicit a massive response then that would be countered by an assured “limited” (?) second strike capability (a conversation with Khalid Kidwai, 2015). The latter, in their view, serves to “stabilise” the former; never you mind what or who caused the primary provocation. The doctrine remains under a cloak of ambiguity emboldened by the belief in a, yet to be developed, sea-based second strike launched from conventional submarines.

The first deduction that may be made from such a policy is that Pakistan has adopted a nuclear war-fighting doctrine notwithstanding a dangerous absence of technology necessary to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and command and control on land, at sea and in the air. The second deduction is, between their first and second strike Pakistan is convinced of surviving massive retaliation with its second strike intact. Is this a reasonable assumption or is it more bravado than sense? The third understanding is, when such a nuclear doctrine remains cloaked in ambiguity the separation between the Nuclear and principles that govern conventional warfare are blurred. This attains a catastrophic bent significantly when conventional principles such as surprise and deception are integrated into a first or a second strike plan, for the unsaid implication is that Pakistan, in some woolly manner, holds sway over the escalatory dynamic.

In all this what alarms is the lowering of the nuclear threshold while exposing the weapon to unintended use in its movement into the tactical battle area and the truancy of centralised command and control. Also, the deterrent value of the weapon from the standpoint of both time and space is narrowed if not foreclosed. Two more issues need to be recognised relating to the vexed geography of the Indo-Pak situation; the Line of Control (LoC) demarcates extent of geographic control over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, to advocate creating a nuclear wasteland in territorial hankerings does not quite make strategic sense. It is equally clear that, among nations that share common borders, a nuclear exchange will spread devastation irrespective of man-made boundaries.

In the early stages of Pakistan weaponizing its nuclear capability it had, indeed, gestured to where its nuclear threshold lay. As could be deciphered, first-use of nuclear weapons was predicated on four thresholds:  large territorial setbacks, comprehensive military attrition, economic collapse and political precariousness. The deterrent logic these thresholds described was really quite unmistakeable for they also provided to Pakistan a context for maintaining conventional power. However, this rationality flew in the face of the acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). The perception widely held among commentators in India is that the four threshold doctrine has since been trashed. “Full-spectrum deterrence” is what Pakistan today makes its arsenal out to be. Central to this doctrine is the integration of TNWs with conventional forces and a callow belief that the nuclear escalatory ladder is in control of the first striker. This abstruse doctrinal tangle suggests that Pakistan not only fails to take account of India’s nuclear response but is also convinced of their ability to initiate a nuclear war and survive unscathed from the encounter.

To establish where Pakistan’s nuclear threshold lies conceptually is a baffling task. However, for Pakistan to escalate to the nuclear dimension in response to an Indian conventional riposte to a major terror assault traced to GHQ Rawalpindi cannot be consistent with their “full spectrum” doctrine since the riposte does not come as a result of the latters failed conventional action which is the “first tier” of the spectrum. Rather, in this frame of reference, the nuclear first-use threshold must be assessed in the context of political realities, state policy that finds unity with jihadists and military capability. An ambiguous nuclear doctrine in these circumstances cannot alone determine the nuclear threshold; what it can do is calibrate the uncertainty that it imposes and in the process limit both extent and intensity of the riposte.

Nuclear thresholds are neither fixed by geography nor by time but determined more by severity and purpose of military action, which by some national gauge or a combination of triggers, will lead to the decision that a threshold has been breached. As may be deduced from Pakistan’s peace-time nuclear posture, lack of high-technology-persistent-ISR, absence of a cyber and outer-space capability, and the fragility of the second strike, their nuclear threshold may not lie at the low end of the scale. Reason being the first tier of the spectrum may not have quite ruptured in the early stage of a crisis while the second strike remains unfledged. And yet it is equally clear that threat of nuclear use has been brought out of the backdrop to a position from where nuclear deterrence becomes a looming immediacy.

‘Jihadi Aggression’ and Nuclear Deterrence

By

Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

This article was first published on the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies Website in September 2015

Pakistan’s use of terror organizations as a tool of state policy to wage unconventional war against India [1] has perverse consequences that link sub-conventional warfare with nuclear escalation. This bizarre correlation, Pakistan will have the world believe, comes to play if and when India chooses to respond with conventional forces to a terror strike puppeteered by their “Deep State.”[2]

Notwithstanding the reality of interstate relations that finds expression in a byzantine system of the larger un-codified international relations, common ground exists in the challenges that threaten the very existence of the State. Military power, economics, politics, religion and the dynamics of change provide very convincing provinces within which to fix challenges, yet it is the hazard of mass destruction that, without debate, presents itself as the “emperor-of-challenges.” Willingness of the Deep State in Pakistan to catalyze such a scenario, keeping that country always “on the brink” in order to preserve the position of the army, the ISI and the jihadis as upholders of the State, is the peril of our times. And yet if this be the substance then it must equally be true that willfully enabling a nuclear exchange carries the immanence that will finish the Deep State. Keeping the nation persistently on the edge has left Pakistan’s internals in a state of violent turmoil, as several interest networks such as the elites that drive military autonomy, the security apparatus, enfeebled political groups and the fractured jihadis battle for supremacy. The circumstances are fraught since the fallout is demise of (already impoverished) democratic institutions and the wasted idea of a unified Pakistan. In this milieu the cracks in control of nuclear weapons are apparent. After all, the internals may, in the extreme, catalyze the use of nuclear weapons in a plot that begins with a terror strike on India.

The question of motivating Pakistan to demobilize anti-India terrorist groups and thus defuse the reason for escalation of conflict is the most pressing strategic imperative. China, in this frame of reference, though cognate, is a more distant strategic intimidation. Relations between India and China have been stable and improving, save for occasional flares on account of a border that has denied definition. There have not been sustained hostilities since 1962 nor has there been a predilection to reach, even in rhetoric, for nuclear weapons. Deterrence between the two large states has also been relatively stable, since the Chinese nuclear doctrine founded on NFU and minimality finds accord with India’s doctrine and neither country is seeking to change the status quo by exploring space below the nuclear threshold. India’s nuclear deterrent is not country specific; its credibility will remain an abstraction in the mind of the potential adversary, while minimality is magnitude in the mind of the Deterrer (India in this case). On the other hand, Pakistan and India have experienced four wars, two of which were initiated and waged in concert with non-state actors. The two states have also confronted two major crises initiated by terror attacks in India. To strategic planners in India, Pakistani use of jihadi groups as an instrument of state policy is a factor that is always considered when mapping a conventional riposte. Despite successes in recent history, it is equally clear that that sub-conventional warfare can only be beaten by state policy on both sides coupled with conventional forces. The clamping down on terror activities from Pakistan post operation “Parakram” (the military standoff between India and Pakistan between December 2001 and October 2002 following jihadi assault on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001) that resulted in the massing of troops on either side of the border and along the Line of Control in Kashmir. One of the positive outcomes of the mobilization and coercive threat of military action was President Musharraf’s policy statement of 12 January 2002 not to permit Pakistan soil to be used for launch of terror activities. Significantly, on ground, the declaration held till 2008. This aftermath stands in testimony as to what works.

Evolving Nuclear Context

The link between sub-conventional warfare and nuclear war fighting is at best a tenuous one. Conceptually, no amount of tinkering or reconstitution of nuclear policy can deter terror attacks. Such a notion would appear far fetched because of the very nature of the weapon involved. Clearly it is the policy that harbours terror groups as instruments of state policy that has to be targeted. Pakistan has today inducted tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) into its arsenal with the stated purpose of countering an Indian response to a terror strike. Almost as if to suggest that they control the levers of nuclear escalation. This an odd proposition since India does not differentiate between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, (this is not only stated by most scholars in the know, but is also the bed rock of a nuclear deterrent relationship). Also, TNWs involve decentralization and dispersal, both of which dilute command and control and multiply the risk of the weapon falling into wrong hands. In the end analysis, the use of nuclear weapons introduces a new and uncontrollable dimension. Logically, if a Pak sponsored terror attack is the triggering event of a sequence of reactions, then it must equally be clear that their nuclear red lines give space for a conventional response. After all, the premise that a terror attack is seamlessly backed by nuclear weapons is not only ludicrous but is not even the Pak case. For, when dealing with the threat of use of nuclear weapons, to suggest that ambiguity and first use provide options, is to suggest that nuclear war fighting almost in conventional terms is an option. This, by most, is denial of the nature of nuclear weapons, characterized by mass destruction and uncontrollability.

There is a suggestion in some scholarly quarters, that there was little or no Pakistan sponsored terror activity before nuclear umbrellas were raised in the sub-continent. This is repudiation of history (whether at partition in 1947-48, in 1965 or in the 1980s to 90s). Unfortunately this mistaken assumption has led the narrative on a quest to seek answers to sub-conventional warfare in nuclear weapons and their deterrent effect, increasing in turn the dangers of early use. This does not serve the interest of deterrent stability. Yet, as with the conventional military options, some experts and former military officials in India, echoed by western analysts, have begun to question whether India should alter its approach to nuclear deterrence in ways that would affect Pakistan’s calculus. The relationship between nuclear deterrence and sub conventional aggression—what has been colorfully described as “jihad under the nuclear umbrella”—is not a new phenomenon in South Asia. But since 2008, and especially after Pakistan tested a new short-range missile in 2011 and declared it part of a policy of “full spectrum” deterrence, Indian strategists have begun to question more vocally whether New Delhi’s approach to nuclear deterrence should more directly confront this challenge through the induction of TNWs. Nuclear weapons in any nuclear weapon state, barring Pakistan, are today a political tool. So why there is a contrary belief is, least to say, inexplicable. To advocate that deterrence success has been achieved by Pakistan because it was able to indulge in terror activities since 2008 is also to suggest that India’s nuclear weapons were made to deter jihadist-this is quaint! Analogous would be that Pakistan achieved deterrence success over the US since it harboured Osama bin Laden till 2011 or Mullah Omar till 2013!

Pakistan has suggested that the induction of TNWs into its nuclear arsenal is in response to India’s Cold Start doctrine. It must be noted that the Cold Start is a conventional war fighting strategy that aims at overcoming the ponderous mobilization process. Remember, it is a reactive conventional artifice that clutches in, should the need arise to take rapid military action across the border. Its pre-emption does not lie in a nuclear response but in reining in terror activities. For Pakistan to turn to TNWs and varyingly call them “Full spectrum deterrence” or “shoot and scoot” options, one wonders if the lessons of the cold war have sunk home or, where they intend to scoot.

Some scholars question India’s nuclear doctrine as an emerging contest between “policy and strategy”, presumably that is to imply military control over a slice of the nuclear arsenal limited by yield, vector and purpose; that is, provide the military with a limited nuclear war fighting alternative (LNWA). This option, for reasons that have been laboured upon earlier is characterised by the absence of escalatory control, a denial of political oversight and ambiguity between Controller and Custodian of the nuclear arsenal. To the Indian strategic planner there is no such thing as LNWA since the absence of escalatory control negates any notional gains that it may bestow. Retaliation that is either punitive or proportional implies a nuclear war fighting strategy; this is anathema to Indian strategic thought. As far as the correlation of Policy and Strategy is concerned, it remains the influence of policy on military strategy with a clear demarcation between conventional military resources and control over all nuclear forces.

The Perverse Nuclear Chain of Events and Capabilities

The nuclear scenario and the chain of events that currently finds articulation may in essence be outlined as follows: Pakistan promotes a militant strike and in order to counter conventional retaliation uses TNWs and then in order to degrade a massive retaliatory second strike launches a full blown counter force/counter value strike. This is perverse for by this logic even a bolt from the blue strike is in the realm of possibilities and for Pakistan to launch a nuclear strike it does not even need a nuclear adversary at all! The use of nuclear weapons releases restraints on retaliation. It is compelling to note that the Kargil conflict of 1999 was brought to closure because both military and economic pressures were becoming intolerable for Pakistan. Of equal significance is that it did not reach for the nuclear trigger but capitulated.

Western sources have in recent times has been quick to point out that India has either fallen behind in quality, technology or quantity of nuclear weapons. It need hardly be underscored that the 4th and 5th of the 1998 tests were low-yield warheads. India’s nuclear doctrine, NFU policy, minimalistic approach to its arsenal size and the current quest for strategic nuclear stability is more swayed by China than Pakistan. Doubts that have also been cast on the technical capabilities and yields of the nuclear weapon programme based on the words of one disengaged member of the Indian scientific community, these are misplaced.Yields that have been operationalised are far in excess of 25kt, they include thermonuclear devices. Numbers are adequate. The ability to reconstitute to low yield weapons also exists.[3]

Seeking Escalation Dominance

For India to emulate Pakistan’s nuclear policies i.e. FU and TNWs, runs counter to every logic that has so far been propounded. To promote that the solution to nuclear deterrence asymmetry is escalation dominance is not to state the entire theorem, which is, that the corollary is nuclear war fighting, which most scholars agree is a rather flaky concept. LNWA and proportionality of nuclear response are all sub-texts to the same. To transpose conventional strategy on nuclear policy can prove disastrous more so when dealing with a state controlled by its military and intelligence apparatus. Once again the logic of orderly nuclear escalation is fallacious. Deterrence in essence is a mind game that does not brook any logic other than total escalation when confronted by a nuclear strike. The three options before India in response to a TNW strike are LNWA, punitive nuclear strike or doctrinal massive retaliation. The former two may sound reasonable on paper but notions of counter force strikes, flexible response, LNWA etc. do not make sense in the face of total escalation.

A Conclusion: One Answer to Jihadist Aggression

Conventional forces are different by nature from nuclear forces. The former is susceptible to control, escalation, geographic spread, and indeed to economic pressures. The latter is not. Tolerance to conventional forces is the rub; where their limits lie is the question that planners must answer. India’s incentive to keep below the nuclear threshold is as pressing as it is for Pakistan. This is deterrence at play. The conclusion that nuclear weapons do not deter sub-conventional warfare is appropriate. At the same time conventional forces can and do suppress the use of jihadists and if this policy is brought to bear in concert with anti terror polity answers may be found to jihadist violence.

______________________

 Endnotes

[1] Fair Christine, Fighting to the End, pg 226

[2] Tariq Khosa’s admission of the complicity of organs of the state in launching acts of terrorism in neighbouring countries. It is said that there was an entire rogue ISI and that Gen. Gul, hardliner among hardliners — he said 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy — was its head. For many people he continued being a spymaster. If the regular ISI is a “state within the state”, then the rogue ISI was/is a state within that “state within the state”; a “deeper” state. Nonetheless, after Gen. Gul died on 15 August 2015, there was a spontaneous outpour of praise for him in Pakistan. The Urdu press was unanimous in praising him as a nationalist and patriot; even liberals in the Urdu media, like Nazir Naji of Roznama Dunya, who is unapologetically anti-Taliban, called Gen. Gul a patriot. His funeral was attended by former Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as well as current Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif — who is supposedly against terrorism. It would appear they were mourning the passing of the man who was, more than Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the ideologue of modern Pakistan, led by its Deep State.

[3] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/1998-nuclear-tests-were-perfect-says-kakodkar/article64687.ece