Nuclear deterrence & Indian space militarisation

Ahyousha Khan

FOR South Asian Nuclear Deterrence, the year 2017 was quite arduous owing to the unending arms race in the region between two bellicose nuclear neighbours. If we look at the arms race trajectory of South Asia, first it was only limited to terrestrial bases but in recent years it has spread across the Indian Ocean Region as well. Now, after seizing Land and Sea with its military power, the new arena for militarisation chosen by India is the “Outer Space”. Indian Space program is flourishing by leaps and bounds. In the beginning of this year India launched 104 satellites in one go and made a world record of launching most satellites in a single mission. Space satellite named PSLV-C37 had Cartosat-2 series and 103 co-passenger satellites with total weight of 650 kg. Moreover, out of 104 satellites 101 were foreign satellites. Indian Cartosat-2 satellite is capable of providing high resolution, scene specific, spot imagery. It is dual use technology and can be used for keeping an eye on Pakistan.
Indian Space Program is at nascent stage and so far it has launched 92 spacecraft missions including 64 launch missions, 9 student satellites and 2 re-entry missions. In addition to that Indian Department of Space has also launched 209 foreign satellites. These developments in space program indicate Indian inclination for going beyond the limits of the sky. For achieving its objectives in outer space, India is pursuing relations with the West. This very cooperation has formed the basis of its access into major export cartels. So far, India has successfully managed entry in to two major export cartels; one is Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and second is Wassenar Arrangement (WA). Entry into these two export control regimes would open gates of massive opportunities for Indian Space Program as they deal with sensitive space and satellite technologies.
Many would say that space technology is a necessary evil and a logical step by India. But, situation becomes critical in absence of confidence building measures and dialogues which gives rise to miscalculations and misunderstandings. In the context of South Asian region, India having the aim to be a global power is totally dismissive about the security dilemma that its continuous militarisation is creating. To avoid security dilemma Pakistan is working efficiently to uphold its nuclear deterrence in the face of Indian ambitiousness. Nonetheless, exploration of Outer Space by India with dual use technologies is a desperate attempt to find a way around nuclear deterrence.
Trends of arms race in South Asia explicitly show that both India and Pakistan analyzed each other’s military power on the basis of their capabilities not intentions. Rationality demands from state that it should analyze its opponent’s capabilities rather than intentions because intention is a variable that can change within seconds. Therefore, it is important for Pakistan to analyze Indian space capabilities carefully and develop its own space satellites as well. Achieving indigenousness in space, satellite and surveillance capabilities is necessary for Pakistan to maintain credibility of its deterrence especially in crisis situation. Another important aspect of Space militarization by India is its negative implications for Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia. It is nuclear deterrence due to which both India and Pakistan are not waging an all-out war against each other. But, with space militarization India would be able to locate Pakistan’s strategic assets in case of crisis deployment and with precision achieved through its satellite could attack first.
Moreover, Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear tipped cruise missile placed on diesel powered submarine for its second strike capability could attract Indian attack from space. So far, Indian space technology would allow it to monitor movement of Pakistan navy submarines and military installations. But, with the pace India is weaponizing space, soon it will be deploying precision guiding munitions in space to use them against Pakistan. Therefore, militarization of space by India is consequential for nuclear deterrence as it instigates the “use it or lose it” option of pre-emptive strike.
It is Indian actions that are triggering arms race in South Asia. With its ambitions to be a global power, India is amassing every kind of military technology available to rise above the logic of nuclear deterrence that forbids both sides to attack. India desires exception from any kind of limits placed on it by the notions of nuclear deterrence. It is infuriating for India that relatively small state like Pakistan is becoming a hurdle in its first step towards being a global power. Lastly, both countries need to resume dialogues and confidence building measures to not use every new technology as arena for arms race and confrontation. Moreover, it is necessary that both countries should not take their animosity in outer space and sign mutual agreements to keep space free of weapons for the sake of generations to come.
— The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.

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