Nuclear deterrence always worked!

News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

A national English daily carried a treatise by a columnist captioned ‘Rethinking Deterrence Stability’, which was highly critical of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence policy. While admitting that Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence policy is to counter Indian aggression, yet the author opined that it is the main reason behind the arms race in the region. Pakistan has at least two troubled borders with India and Afghanistan – propped by India and foreign powers. Secondly, he should remember that India has edge over conventional weapons and size of its armed forces is seven- time larger than those of Pakistan. Hence nuclear deterrence is of paramount importance for Pakistan. Keith B. Payne, Director of the Graduate School of Defense and Strategic Studies at Missouri State University and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense once wrote: “In the arena of nuclear policies, the risks of favoring feel-good ideology over reality could not be higher.”
The fact remains that strategy of nuclear deterrence has never failed; it has always been successful, as it has prevented many cold war crises from erupting into full-scale nuclear war due to overwhelming fear of mutually assured destruction. The advocates of this theory are of the view that the overwhelming fear of mutually assured destruction provides a measure of stability in times of crisis. The Cuban missile crisis is another case often cited to support the idea of nuclear deterrence. It is generally believed that the nuclear deterrent was the main factor that brought back the US and Soviet Union from the brink of a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. Before India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons came out of closet, both countries had thrice military confrontations. Since 2001, India had more than twice amassed troops on the border when both armies stood eyeball to eyeball for months.
However, it was nuclear deterrence that had stopped India from pursuing its much-touted Cold Start Doctrine. Comparing Pakistan and Indian defence expenditure, it is worth mentioning that Pakistan spent $9.5 billion on military expenses, whereas India’s military spending in 2015 was $51.3 billion, said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report. It means that Pakistan should continue to improve the quality of its nukes and delivery system to keep the minimum deterrence. The columnist also wrote: “In Pakistan, the military has traditionally played its role as a political force in domestic politics. This has caused a total subordination of political forces to military authority, resulting in a lack of civilian control over nuclear policy.” He, however, missed the point that India and the US leaderships also prepare their military doctrines and frame their security policies on the advice of the military.
Indeed, Pakistan is a responsible state and has contributed towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures, which is being acknowledged by the US and the IAEA. Recently, US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottenmoeller told a Congressional panel that “Pakistan has really done an excellent job of establishing a progamme for nuclear security”. Nuclear Security Summit process was initiated by President Barack Obama; and in his speech in Prague on April 2009, he had underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration. He had set the target for securing all vulnerable nuclear materials from the world within four years. Since then three Nuclear Security Summits have taken place – in Washington in 2010, Seoul 2012, Hague in 2014 and in 2016 again in Washington.
Notwithstanding several threats to international security looming over the entire issue of international terrorism, the spectre of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is a source of concern and alarm. Despite airing those concerns, the United States signed civil nuclear agreement with India whereby India would enjoy the rights of those states that had signed NPT. The US refused to ink similar deal with Pakistan. Anyhow, India and Pakistan had signed a treaty in 2007 to reduce the risk of a nuclear arms accident. The ceremony took place in public after the meeting between then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Qasuri. Islamabad and Delhi had already agreed to ink the treaty during the Foreign Secretary-level meeting in November 2006. In fact, the nuclear tests in May 1998 by India and Pakistan had forced both the countries to think hard about nuclear deployment.
Thus they had to talk to each other about ways to reduce the risk of war as well as accidents. However, in a crisis the risk that nuclear weapons will be used depends as much on the minutiae of methods of deployment, intelligence capabilities and command and control systems, and of course on the wisdom of political leaders. Pakistan still remembers the diabolical role of Indian military and intelligence in a united Pakistan’s breakup with full concurrence of the then ruling Indian Congress. Whereas Indian government offered justifications for India’s intervention, various Indian actors including state as well as others that were personally involved in the venture penned down their vile acts proudly. Of course, after disintegration of Pakistan with the active support, funding and training of Mukti Bahini by India in former East Pakistan, there was a sense of insecurity in Pakistan.
It was against this backdrop that then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had decided to go nuclear “even if the nation had to eat grass.” However, the credit for consistency in the policy to make an atomic device goes to all the subsequent governments General Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s government who continued with the nuclear programme despite threats. After India conducted five nuclear tests in 1998, Indian leadership had started flexing muscles and vowed to take Azad Kashmir from Pakistan on the pretext that Azad Kashmir and not Indian Held Kashmir was a disputed territory, and that dispute was to be resolved through bilateral negotiations. After Pakistan’s quid pro quo and declaring its policy of first use option, Indian leaders came to their senses. Anyhow, in case of war between two nuclear states, there would be no concept of victor and the vanquished. And if at all were there a victory, it would be Pyrrhic victory.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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