Why India must worry but not panic over Pakistan's nuclear cry

If New Delhi has plans in place for retaliation, it should not unnecessarily worry about the rising nuclear weapons across the border.

 |  3-minute read |   23-10-2015
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The October 22, 2015, joint statement by US president Barack Obama and Pakistan prime minister Nawaz highlights the continuing threat of nuclear terrorism. It also brings out Pakistan’s commitment to work with the US to make the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by Obama next year a success. Interestingly, at the backdrop of all this a report by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has come out predicating that Pakistan is likely to become the fifth largest nuclear weapon state by 2025.

Today, when the US is engaging Pakistan on the issues of non-proliferation and both the states are committing to stay engaged to further build on these issues, the reality looks very different. Few days before Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the US, there was a speculation that the US is exploring an option that could pave the way for the negotiations on civil nuclear energy deal with Pakistan, like the one concluded with India in 2005. Subsequently, this news was denied by the White House.

The latest report by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists highlights the future on nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The report also claims that Pakistan had around 100 nuclear weapons (warheads) around 2011 and by now their nuclear arsenal has added approximately 20 more warheads. Within the next ten years their overall nuclear inventory could reach to 220 to 250 warheads.

The report also claims that Pakistan has different types of operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles available and two new cruise missiles are under development. The estimate is that Pakistan could be developing a nuclear weapon capable cruise missile for deployment on submarines.

It needs to be noted that since 2012, by establishing a strategic command, Pakistan is making efforts to build architecture for the development and deployment of a sea-based strategic nuclear force.

What should be the Indian response to this report? Should India take these estimations seriously or overlook them?

Nuclear weapons are not a child’s play and any inputs concerning nuclear neighbours should be taken seriously. Definitely, Pakistan increasing its nuclear weapons and adding new battlefield weapons is a cause of worry for India. Will this start a nuclear weapons race in the subcontinent? It’s too premature to judge this. However, probably Pakistan is keen to start such a race and this is where India needs to remain vigilant.

Are numbers important (and relevant) in nuclear war scenario? Is a credible nuclear deterrence number-specific or capacity-specific? What is more important, capability or intent? Is limited nuclear war a possibility? Is there a "space" for conventional war (say Kargil plus type) amongst India and Pakistan? Are any mechanisms available in South Asia to prevent/control an accidental nuclear war? Are only numbers important, when no credible Nuclear Triad has been put in place? What is the relevance of missile defence shield in South Asia? There are far too many questions which require debate before giving any knee jerk response to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon escalatory tactics.

For India, nuclear weapons are the weapons of deterrence and not for use. These are the weapons for the purposes of coercion and intimidation. India has clearly articulated policy of No First Use (NFU), so for us, nuclear weapons become useable weapons only for the purposes of retaliation. It is but obvious that India’s nuclear weapon stockpile is not likely to remain static during the next decade. Under such circumstances, if India has plans in place for the purposes of retaliation (both Pakistan and China specific), then it should not unnecessarily worry about Pakistan.

Also, now time has come for India to think differently. The experience of last two decades or so indicates that nuclear weapons have not helped India significantly to influence Pakistan’s behaviour, however; Pakistan has been able to remain globally relevant owing to their nuclear weapon potential. Naturally, Pakistan would try to push the nuclear envelope further. What is important for India is to remain vigilant, but not to get trapped into the numbers game.


Ajey Lele Ajey Lele

The writer is a Senior Fellow with Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.

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