Nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of In­dian Ocean

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — The writer is mem­ber Strate­gic Vi­sion In­sti­tute, a think tank based in Islamabad. Maimuna Ashraf

PAK­ISTAN lately ex­pressed con­cern over the lat­est In­dian test of a sub­ma­rine ca­pa­ble of fir­ing nu­clear bal­lis­tic mis­siles, say­ing the “act will im­pact the del­i­cate strate­gic bal­ance in the re­gion”. The test of the nu­clear-pro­pelled sub­ma­rine has been stated as “se­ri­ous de­vel­op­ment” re­sult­ing into “nu­cle­ariza­tion of In­dian Ocean”. In general the event is taken as wor­ri­some de­vel­op­ment for the re­gion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Pak­istan also showed con­cern that the bal­lis­tic mis­sile test con­ducted by the sub­ma­rine was not no­ti­fied to Pak­istan, not­with­stand­ing the agree­ment on pre-no­ti­fi­ca­tion of test launch of bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

In line with the agree­ment the test should have been no­ti­fied to Pak­istan as any test of mis­siles, whether launched on the sur­face or sea, can be mis­taken by the other coun­try as an of­fen­sive act. In a world with eco­nomic and mil­i­tary de­vel­op­ment, as vi­able co­op­er­a­tion’s com­ing up, oceans are hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in strat­egy and tac­ti­cal ma­noeu­vres. The eco­nomic worth of In­dian Ocean was high­lighted through the ex­plo­ration of oil by the Gulf States, how­ever later the trade in­ter­ests mul­ti­plied the sig­nif­i­cance and se­cu­rity chal­lenges in the re­gion. The In­dian Ocean has now be­come a place of tri­lat­eral se­cu­rity competition among China, In­dia, and Pak­istan. The bi­lat­eral con­tention be­tween China and In­dia as well as In­dia and Pak­istan are in­ten­si­fy­ing the nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties in the ocean.

The evolv­ing naval nu­clear dy­nam­ics in South Asia would start a new competition in the re­gion with alarm­ing fu­ture prospects. Both states are said to be de­vel­op­ing their naval nu­clear forces. In­dia, the world’s largest weapon im­porter, has al­ready ap­proved $16 bil­lion for nu­clear pow­ered sub­marines and naval war­ships. Re­port­edly, In­dia plans for de­vel­op­ing more than 160 ship navy, 3 air­craft car­ri­ers and more than 40 war­ships and sub­marines that in­clude anti-sub­marines corvettes and stealth de­stroy­ers. In­dia is one of the three Asian coun­tries to main­tain air­craft car­ri­ers. On other hand Pak­istan has lately ap­proved a pro­posal to pur­chase eight diesel-elec­tric sub­marines. How­ever view­ing In­dia’s naval am­bi­tions, Pak­istan will look to neu­tral­ize de­vel­op­ments with In­dia and it may prove an ini­tia­tive for hav­ing per­ma­nent sea-based de­ter­rent equipped with sub­ma­rine launched vari­ant of cruise mis­sile (Hatf-7Babur). Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 pol­icy brief on Pak­istan’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme, Pak­istan al­ready in­di­cated in 2005, when the mis­sile was first tested, that the sys­tem was de­signed to de­ploy in sub­marines. The Hatf-7 is a medium-range sub­sonic cruise mis­sile with a re­ported range of 700km (430mi).

How­ever, the Western ex­perts are di­vided over whether Pak­istan has the abil­ity to shrink war­heads enough for use with tac­ti­cal or sea-launched weapons. Jef­frey Lewis, a nu­clear and non-pro­lif­er­a­tion scholar is skep­ti­cal over the de­vel­op­ment and stated “They may have done so, but I can’t imag­ine it’s very re­li­able.” A while back, the re­port “Murky Wa­ters: Naval Nu­clear Dy­nam­ics in the In­dian Ocean” by Iskan­der Rehman high­lighted few in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant points. It dis­cusses in de­tail that the pur­suit of sea-based nu­clear strike force is the next step to­wards In­dia’s quest for an as­sured re­tal­ia­tory ca­pa­bil­ity and Pak­istan’s naval nu­clear am­bi­tions are fu­elled pri­mar­ily with grow­ing con­ven­tional asym­me­try rather than strate­gic im­bal­ance be­tween both coun­tries. Nonethe­less, an im­per­a­tive is­sue is miss­ing in de­bate that what a new com­mand and con­trol model will be adopted by In­dian strate­gic forces and what chal­lenges it would pose to the se­cu­rity of re­gion.

How­ever ev­i­dently, these two re­cent de­vel­op­ments in South Asia af­fect three fore­most com­po­nents of strate­gic sta­bil­ity that in­cludes de­ter­rence sta­bil­ity, arms-race sta­bil­ity and cri­sis sta­bil­ity. The re­cent trends show that In­dia is shap­ing the re­gional se­cu­rity do­mains and Pak­istan is bound to re­act ac­cord­ingly. Nonethe­less, In­dia’s con­ven­tional su­pe­ri­or­ity and nu­clear ad­vance­ments strongly in­flu­ence Pak­istan’s threat per­cep­tions and nu­clear strate­gies, re­sul­tantly boost­ing the re­gion’s nu­clear naval de­vel­op­ments. This re­cent rev­e­la­tion will crit­i­cally hoist the dan­ger of ac­cel­er­ated nu­clear naval de­vel­op­ments in South Asia.

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