Pak­istan’s nu­clear com­pul­sions

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

MUCH alarm has been raised in the West about Pak­istan’s en­hance­ment of its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity and the po­si­tion it has taken at ne­go­ti­a­tions in Geneva on a treaty ban­ning the pro­duc­tion of bomb mak­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial. Western an­a­lysts have of­ten de­picted this as a mind­less, ir­ra­tional drive mo­ti­vated by the un­bri­dled am­bi­tions of the nu­clear sci­en­tific-mil­i­tary lobby.

This is far from true. To un­der­stand the strate­gic ra­tio­nale for Pak­istan’s fis­sile ma­te­rial needs – achiev­ing cred­i­ble nu­clear de­ter­rence at the low­est pos­si­ble cost and level – the is­sue must be placed in a proper, broader per­spec­tive. It means tak­ing into ac­count the chain of rapid developments that have un­der­mined the re­gion’s strate­gic equi­lib­rium and af­fected Pak­istan’s nu­clear thresh­old. They in­clude the Indo-US civil­ian nu­clear deal, ex­emp­tion for In­dia by the Nu­clear Sup­plier’s Group, In­dia’s con­ven­tional mil­i­tary and strate­gic build-up, enun­ci­a­tion of offensive doc­trines in­volv­ing ‘Proac­tive Op­er­a­tions’ and ef­forts to de­velop a mis­sile de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity.

Many of these developments were aided and abet­ted by the in­ter­na­tional community in pur­suit of their strate­gic and com­mer­cial in­ter­ests. Pak­istan’s warn­ings were re­peat­edly ig­nored that dis­crim­i­na­tory nu­clear ac­tions would be con­se­quen­tial for the re­gion and oblige Is­lam­abad to act to pre­serve the cred­i­bil­ity of nu­clear de­ter­rence and en­sure strate­gic sta­bil­ity.

The in­ter­play be­tween a chang­ing strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment – Pak­istan’s per­cep­tion of in­creas­ing re­gional asym­me­try in both nu­clear and con­ven­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties – global non-pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts and tech­ni­cal com­pul­sions help to ex­plain why Pak­istan has been build­ing fis­sile stocks.

The his­tor­i­cal con­text is im­por­tant. The nu­clear tests con­ducted by In­dia and Pak­istan in 1998 helped to es­tab­lish strate­gic bal­ance and pro­vided Pak­istan the re­as­sur­ance of pos­sess­ing a strate­gic equaliser to In­dia’s con­ven­tional mil­i­tary pre­pon­der­ance.

The nu­clear re­la­tion­ship be­tween them of course needed to be clar­i­fied and re­mains a work in progress. To­wards that goal, Pak­istan pro­posed a Strate­gic Re­straint Regime to In­dia in 1999 to sta­bilise the strate­gic equa­tion. This had three el­e­ments – mea­sures for nu­clear re­straint and risk re­duc­tion, con­ven­tional mil­i­tary bal­ance and res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes. The in­ter­lock­ing con­cept did not find ac­cep­tance even though some el­e­ments re­mained the sub­ject of spo­radic bi­lat­eral di­a­logue at Pak­istan’s in­sis­tence.

Soon af­ter, the Kargil con­flict in­ter-

Pak­istan then went on a fast track to build its fis­sile stocks. In ten years it con­structed four plu­to­nium re­ac­tors and three re­pro­cess­ing plants

vened, bring­ing the di­a­logue to a halt. This was fol­lowed by the 2001-02 mil­i­tary stand­off, trig­gered by a ter­ror­ist at­tack on In­dia’s Par­lia­ment. These developments led to dan­ger­ous think­ing among In­dia’s strate­gic community about how to neu­tralise the strate­gic bal­ance and en­gage in lim­ited con­ven­tional war be­low the nu­clear thresh­old. This was to pro­duce a doc­tri­nal trans­for­ma­tion and cul­mi­nate in the ‘Cold Start’ doc­trine (the name may have been dropped but not the no­tion) and plans for its op­er­a­tional­i­sa­tion.

This doc­tri­nal shift and con­se­quent mil­i­tary pos­ture had sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions for Pak­istan. The no­tion of a war-fight­ing op­tion in a nu­clear en­vi­ron­ment was ques­tioned by Pak­istan, which in­sisted that how­ever ‘lim­ited,’ war be­tween two nu­clear states would heighten the risk of nu­clear es­ca­la­tion, whether in­ten­tional or not. As Army Chief Gen­eral Ash­faq Parvez Kayani was to later warn, pro­po­nents of the “use of con­ven­tional force in a nu­clear over­hang” were chart­ing a dan­ger­ous course whose con­se­quences could be both “un­in­tended and un­con­trol­lable”.

Mean­while, other developments un­folded at the global level to trans­form great power re­la­tions and strate­gies. These shifts saw the emer­gence of an im­plicit ‘con­tain China’ strat­egy by the US. Al­though this never be­came de­clared pol­icy and Sino-US re­la­tions were marked by co­op­er­a­tion and com­pe­ti­tion, Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity plan­ners per­ceived the Indo-US civil­ian nu­clear deal of 2005 and NSG waiver as ev­i­dence of this con­tain China strat­egy.

These ac­tions sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanced In­dia’s abil­ity to ex­pand its strate­gic ar­se­nal and ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ac­cel­er­ated its quest for ways to over­come the strate­gic de­ter­rence es­tab­lished af­ter 1998. In­dia was en­abled to in­crease its fis­sile ma­te­rial stocks qual­i­ta­tively and quan­ti­ta­tively with Pak­istan left to fend for it­self. This re­shaped Pak­istan’s threat per­cep­tions and de­ter­mined its po­si­tion on Fis­sile Ma­te­rial Cut-Off Treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions in the Geneva based Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment.

Mean­while Pak­istan’s nu­clear think­ing was evolv­ing in­de­pen­dently along an­other track. This was the need to pur­sue the plu­to­nium route be­cause of the ev­i­dent lim­i­ta­tions of highly en­riched ura­nium in minia­tur­is­ing nu­clear weapons. This led to plans to es­tab­lish four re­ac­tors to pro­duce plu­to­nium, and re­pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties to mas­ter the whole nu­clear fuel cy­cle. These plans were how­ever speeded up and plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion ex­panded (with three ad­di­tional re­ac­tors) by the nu­clear ex­cep­tion­al­ism ac­corded to In­dia as well as by US diplo­matic ef­forts to con­clude an FMCT. Un­til 2009, Wash­ing­ton had it­self blocked ne­go­ti­a­tions for over a decade. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion changed this po­si­tion, open­ing prospects for se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Pak­istan then went on a fast track to build its fis­sile stocks. In ten years it con­structed four plu­to­nium re­ac­tors and three re­pro­cess­ing plants. The plu­to­nium route was thus com­pleted in the decade that Pak­istan held up ne­go­ti­a­tions at Geneva on the grounds that a treaty ban­ning fu­ture pro­duc­tion and not cov­er­ing ex­ist­ing stocks would freeze the pre­vail­ing asym­me­try be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia. Pak­istan’s nu­clear diplo­macy, ef­fec­tively con­ducted by Am­bas­sador Zamir Akram at Geneva, evolved in tan­dem with the strate­gic ra­tio­nale and tech­ni­cal developments to ad­dress an evolv­ing threat.

Mean­while, In­dia’s proac­tive doc­trine aimed at a rapid de­ploy­ment warfight­ing strat­egy im­pelled Pak­istan to look for a re­sponse. Seek­ing space for lim­ited con­ven­tional mil­i­tary en­gage­ment on the as­sump­tion that In­dia’s vast con­ven­tional asym­me­try would pre­vent Pak­istan from threat­en­ing to use its strate­gic ca­pa­bil­ity obliged Pak­istan to seek an ap­pro­pri­ate ‘so­lu­tion’ to fill the per­ceived gaps in the nu­clear do­main. While Pak­istan’s ca­pa­bil­ity for a tac­ti­cal re­sponse was al­ready un­der de­vel­op­ment, the emerg­ing In­dian mil­i­tary pos­ture con­strained Pak­istan to take the de­ci­sion to de­velop de­liv­ery sys­tems for Full Spec­trum De­ter­rence.

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