Home articles Nuclear-tinged crisis: India’s deployment of nuclear assets

Nuclear-tinged crisis: India’s deployment of nuclear assets

Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

THE risks of accidental or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons in South Asia have incalculably increased with the deployment of India’s nuclear missile-armed submarine during the post-Pulwama military-standoff between India and Pakistan. The deployment of nuclear-armed submarine further spawn and fuel the crisis. However, Pakistan continued its nuclear restraint policy and refrained from reciprocating to India’s operationalization of its nuclear-armed submarine. Its ruling elite categorically ruled out the possibility of using its nuclear weapons in a crisis and also reiterated its stance that nuclear weapons are a deterrence tool to prevent actual wars.
India announced the deployment of nuclear armed-submarine and nuclear capable BrahMos cruise missiles during the military standoff. The Indian Navy deployed and operationalized its nuclear-propelled, nuclear-armed submarine—INS Arihant that carries 12 theatre ballistic missiles with ranges of 700 to 1,000 kilometers. On March 18, 2018, Captain DK Sharma of Indian Navy announced, “The major combat units of the Indian Navy including the Carrier Battle Group with INS Vikramaditya, nuclear submarines and scores of other ships, submarines and aircraft swiftly transited from exercise to operational deployment mode as tensions between India and Pakistan escalated.” (Vishnu Som, “India Deployed Nuclear Missile-Armed Submarine During Standoff With Pak” NDTV, 18 March 2019.
Despite conventional asymmetry, Pakistan did not deploy nuclear weapons during the standoff with India. ISPR Spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said, “Since we have gone overtly nuclear, as India also, in 1998, our stance is that this capability eliminates the possibility of conventional war between the two states. So that is to say, this is a weapon of deterrence and a political choice. No sane country having this capability would talk about using it.” Pakistan’s is avoiding an escalation in a current nuclear-tinged crisis because its ruling elite believes in nuclear taboo, i.e. an all-out nuclear conflagration is unthinkable. India’s deployment of nuclear assets and Pakistan’s refrain from reciprocating falsify two percepts, which have been dominating India-Pakistan nuclear discourse since the 1999 Kargil conflict. Notwithstanding, Pakistan’s official denial, many analysts have continued propagating that Pakistan deployed nuclear weapons during the Kargil conflict. Secondly, Pakistan would be the initiator of nuclear war in South Asia because India has No-First-Use of nuclear weapons policy. The deployment of nuclear assets proves that India will use nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
The deployment of the nuclear-armed submarine and signaling of using nuclear capable BrahMos, short-range cruise missile questioned the critical tenet of India’s nuclear doctrine, i.e., the commitment not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. In reality, today, India’s nuclear doctrine premised on ‘launch-on-warning’ or preemptive nuclear strike capability. Hence, the Indian armed forces will use nuclear weapons first during the conflict without formal revision and updating of the nuclear doctrine and abandoning NFU policy.
India’s deployment of the nuclear-armed submarine and contemplating to use nuclear capable BrahMos cruise missiles during the crisis was an alarming military development in the South Asia strategic environment. It compels Pakistan for tit-for-tat responses that lower the nuclear threshold between the nuclear-armed belligerent neighbors. Unquestionably, India’s nuclear forces in the ready state increase the chances of accidental, inadvertent or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
Ironically, the international security analysts, especially the American South Asia nuclear experts ignored India’s nuclear weapons deployment in the prevalent crisis. Since two decades, they have been interrogating and struggling to prove Pakistan as an irresponsible nuclear-armed state. However, they are tongue-tied over India’s recent nuclear-armed submarines deployment and consideration of using nuclear capable BrahMos cruise missile. They even refrained from issuing a brief statement underscoring risks of nuclear war—by design, accident, rogue launch or system error—due to the deployment of India’s nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s effective political and military response to Prime Minister Modi’s war hysteria and the Indian Air Force’s violation of airspace on 26 and 27 February 2019, exposed the futility of India’s ‘Surgical Strike Stratagem.’ On 27 February, Pakistan Air Force’s shooting-down two-fighter jet of India in a dogfight has reconfirmed Pakistan’s will, capability and resolve to retaliate. It proves that in a conflict, Pakistan shall not chicken out of using its military assets for the sake of defence due to the fear of escalation of a conflict into a total war having the probability of nuclear exchange. Thus, it has augmented the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence policy. To conclude, unlike India, Pakistan has appeared as a confident-cum-responsible nuclear-armed state during the post-Pulwama incident. It neither contemplated nor signaled the use of nuclear weapons during the crisis.
— The writer is Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.