Nuclear deterrence & action-reaction paradigm in Indian Ocean

Ahyousha Khan

SOUTH Asian security architecture is complex and comprises of traditional and non-traditional threats. However, traditional security threats which are of strategic nature hold the center stage within the overall regional security and threat matrix. Destructive power of nuclear weapons gives them the psychological edge over the enemy and if these weapons are possessed by both sides, the mutual vulnerability keeps enemies at bay due to the fear of unacceptable damages/ loss. Deterrence is not the use of nuclear weapon rather it is the ability and capability to use the weapon if one’s vital interests are threatened. However, deterrence pessimist believes that as it is an established fact that the deterrence is psychological, it is greatly dependent on validation of deterrence capability from time to time through finite actions. Hence, states either needs to develop new technologies or show their resolve to use nuclear weapons to keep up the credibility of nuclear weapons.
However, one aspect to make nuclear deterrence work effectively is the realization of the fact that once nuclear weapons are acquired, the states mostly try to maintain the deterrence acquired either by hook or crook. Thus, it is futile effort if one party or parties in the conflict try to overcome it. Pakistan is an example that is maintaining nuclear deterrence with its limited resources to counter the enemy which is larger, stronger and is greatly accepted by international community. Reason behind Pakistan’s strong resolve is its fear that without nuclear weapons its core national interests and survival would be at stake. Thus, international pressure is of no importance because nuclear deterrence is ensuring the existence of a state. Darker side of nuclear deterrence is that in order to keep its credibility against one’s rival, states invest in weaponization, which leads to the arms race that stimulates security dilemma between nuclear rivals. In the South Asian context, India, by the virtue of its larger economy and geography wants to have stronger position in the region, which is constantly challenged by Pakistan. However, to curb Pakistan and prove its worth, India develops new technologies and explores new horizons in arms race. One such horizon in this regard is the Indian Ocean which is becoming the new victim of this decade’s old South Asian rivalry. Recently India made its second SSBN and also operationalized its submarine launch K-15 missile. Moreover, Indian navy is building indigenously built SSBNs, SSNs and ship launch cruise/ballistic missiles to have maximum control over Indian Ocean, which is falsely believed by India as its backyard.
These actions by India gave it quite credible second-strike capability which negated the established deterrence equation between both South Asian nuclear neighbors. Resultantly, to maintain nuclear deterrence through minimum but credible efforts, Pakistan resorts to developing its own second-strike capability. At the moment Pakistan has successfully tested its sea launched cruise missile Babur-3 from submerged platform, moreover it is also up-grading its Augusta 90 B series submarine with air propulsion. Moreover, Pakistan is also buying conventional submarines and frigates from China to counter Indian SSN and SSBN fleets. In addition to this Pakistan recently tested its ship launch cruise missile Harba, which is quite a significant development because cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapon is already tested and with successful test of Harba capability to fire cruise missile from ship is also acquired. Thus, to counter growing offense by full spectrum deterrence, option of converting ship launch cruise missile into ship launch nuclear cruise missile can be acquired by Pakistan. Thus, disrespect of strategic deterrence by India is catalyzing arms race in the region. Saddening aspect in this regard is when rest of the world is using oceans for regional integration, the South Asia nuclear neighbors are converting their economic opportunity into war zone. Thus, militarizing and nuclearizing the common goods such as ocean. On top of all this, major powers are also using Indian Ocean to display their power either through actual presence of naval powers through the support of their respective allies. Fact to reckon here is that the deterrence acquired in South Asia is here to stay. Nuclearising new arenas will not make either party more secure rather it will give birth to security dilemma, which will result in more and more arms build-up. So, to stop arms race and action-reaction chain, it is necessary that fear of unacceptable loss/damage must be respected.
— The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.

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