Archive for June 27th, 2012

By Vipin Narang

The world is sliding toward a second nuclear age, one whose character will be dominated by regional nuclear powers with conflicting interests rather than by the United States or Russia. Regional nuclear powers such as India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, potentially Iran and others that might follow face different challenges in managing their nuclear forces than the superpowers. They have tighter resource constraints, often unstable domestic politics or even internal conflict, and hostile regional security environments. Some are forced to extract significant deterrent power from much smaller arsenals, which can strain command and control organs.

Some like India and China are content to rely on nuclear weapons to deter strictly nuclear use, and therefore have the luxury of adopting no first use clauses and relatively assertive command and control structures that privilege arsenal security. These nuclear powers have a nuclear strategy best described as “assured retaliation,” and they are able to select it because of advantageous geographic buffers and strong conventional forces that obviate the need to rely on nuclear weapons as warfighting tools.

Others, like Pakistan and perhaps several emerging nuclear states in the next two decades, are not so lucky. Nuclear states that face a conventionally superior adversary are often tempted to adopt more aggressive first use postures that threaten nuclear use in a conventional conflict—as NATO did during the Cold War. With sometimes unstable regimes and internal threats, regional powers that adopt such a posture risk not only the intentional use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, but nuclear accidents and more disturbingly of course, nuclear terrorism.

It is an open question as to what type of nuclear posture future regional nuclear powers such as Iran, and others that might follow, will adopt. There are reasons to think Iran might look more like India or China, trying to deter nuclear use and an existential threat to the regime’s existence. But there are also reasons to think, particularly given the structure of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, that Iran might go down the path of Pakistan and adopt a first use nuclear posture to deter even limited conventional threats from its adversaries. Keeping a close eye on not only which states pursue nuclear weapons, but also which nuclear postures they adopt, will be a critical determinant of stability or instability in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia.

What is certainly clear is that the emergence of a potential cascade of nuclear powers across Asia—from west to east—carries with it significant challenges that we have not yet faced. First, the number of potential nuclear powers that border each other, with historical territorial disputes and irredentist claims, is a novel challenge. The risk of armed conflict, checkerboard nuclear alliances (e.g., persistent rumors about Saudi-Pakistani nuclear connections), and catastrophic misperceptions are all heightened in such a multipolar nuclear landscape. Second, for the most part, the Cold War competition settled into a pattern where both the United States and the Soviet Union had an interest in largely preserving the status quo. Some new nuclear states across Asia may view nuclear weapons as an instrument to revise the status quo—that is for deterrence as well as offense or compellence, despite the historical difficulty of the latter. We have already seen some of the effects of this in South Asia, where Pakistan has more aggressively employed state-based terrorist organizations to attack metropolitan India, using its first use posture as a shield behind which it can act against its conventionally superior neighbor.

What role can the United States play as these dynamics unfold over the next two decades? Can a broader US extended deterrent to Middle East allies who might be tempted to proliferate stanch the cascade of proliferation? There are two reasons to think that this might be difficult. First, states such as, hypothetically, Saudi Arabia might prefer to have their own sovereign deterrent against a future nuclear Iran rather than outsourcing it to the United States. Second, the risk that a broader US extended deterrent might generate “reckless allies” that might drag the United States into conflicts would be a serious concern. Broader nonproliferation and counter-proliferation efforts might slow the emergence of this landscape, but it has historically been very difficult to stop determined states from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

Realistically, the best hope the United States probably has in managing this emerging nuclear landscape is to stay engaged across Asia to help ensure that small disputes do not escalate to armed conflict between nuclear powers. It may also be time to revisit export control laws that prohibit the sharing of negative control technologies and best practices that might help secure the arsenals of new nuclear states. In the new landscape, with nuclear weapons dispersed across unstable states, a premium ought to be put on ensuring that those weapons are as secure as possible.

Vipin Narang is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a member of its Security Studies Program.

By Ravi Rikhye

Analyzing the India-Pakistan nuclear balance over the coming decades is difficult for two reasons. One is that Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is based on a false strategic premise. The other reason is that India’s nuclear doctrine is not to have a doctrine. From time to time Western-trained analysts, including Indians, produce weakly applicable formulations that may be relevant to the West, but they are irrelevant to South Asia.

Superficially, the nuclear balance is simple and will remain so. India has six times the population and ten times the GDP of Pakistan. India also manages to collect about twice the amount of taxes as a percentage of GDP relative to Pakistan. India’s true defense budget is around $40 billion, two percent of its GDP; Pakistan’s without US assistance is perhaps $7 billion, closer to four percent of GDP. Pakistan has no depth: an Indian advance of 100 kilometers (Jaiselmer to Rahim Yar Khan) would cut Pakistan in half; advances of up to 300 kilometers would overrun Sindh and the Punjab, spelling the end of Pakistan as a nation state. The obvious solution for Pakistan is to deploy nuclear weapons in counter-value mode. Against the possibility that, in accordance with its “Cold Start” doctrine, India will seek not to overrun Pakistan but to make shallow advances of up to 30 kilometers, tactical nuclear weapons employed on Pakistani terrain are the solution.

India’s nuclear doctrine is focused not on Pakistan but on China. India does not envisage a nuclear exchange with China under any practical conditions. Delhi wants only for Beijing to understand that it cannot be blackmailed by China’s nuclear weapons. Somewhere India’s strategic aims became more ambitious: to possess nuclear weapons for recognition as a great power. Incredible as Western analysts may find this assertion, Pakistan figures nowhere in Indian nuclear doctrine! And any Indian insider, be it a senior general or a senior bureaucrat who claims to have the definitive answers on Indian doctrine toward Pakistan, may safely be disregarded because there is no doctrine. This statement needs explanation.

Indians have zero concerns about Pakistan’s counter-value strategy because they believe the Pakistanis are not suicidal. Using nuclear weapons against Indian cities will mean the end of Pakistan. Because Indian nuclear weapons are well-dispersed, a counter-force strike is inconceivable. That leaves tactical nuclear weapons. But India has no intention of pushing Pakistan to the point where the latter feels nuclear use on any level is its sole resort.

Here is Pakistan’s false strategic premise about India: India has absolutely no intention of using the military option to destroy Pakistan. Now, we can admit that persuading Pakistan of this is a losing proposition. As far as India is concerned, Pakistan has a right to nuclear weapons. There has been exactly one occasion since 1947 when India may have planned an advance to the Indus River. This was in 1971, when the eastern offensive was supposed to complement a western offensive. But the purpose of the western offensive – which was not launched – was not to destroy Pakistan, let alone to occupy the country. It was to straighten out the Kashmir Line of Control to India’s advantage. If Pakistan’s strike force and air force could be brought into a big battle and destroyed, that was to India’s advantage because then India would not have to worry about Pakistan for a generation.

After September 11, 2001, India’s strategy has been entirely focused on punishing Pakistan for terror attacks. That India has never done so is another matter. “Cold Start” is explicitly designed to make zero-warning, short-distance jabs into Pakistan. The offensives will last no more than 24-72 hours, after which India will stop before Pakistan feels compelled to use tactical nuclear weapons. Territory seized in Kashmir will not be returned. Territory seized elsewhere will be returned except for that required to buffer choke points, specifically Pathankot-Gurdaspur. Even the West came to realize in the 1970s-1980s that nuclear weapons were not a feasible defense against a massive but shallow Warsaw Pact advance. That is why NATO began a huge conventional buildup. The same conditions apply between India and Pakistan. This is why Pakistan is focusing on boosting its counterstrike conventional forces.

Accordingly, the wise strategic analyst should not waste time on the India-Pakistan nuclear balance. There is nothing to discuss.

Ravi Rikhye has been an independent defense analyst for 50 years.