The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Pakistan’s nukes and those Harpoons

First, let’s get the recent reports about Pakistan’s nuclear program out of the way.  Recently, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) reported that Pakistan was expanding its capabilities across the board, including significantly increasing its nuclear stockpile and developing the nuclear capable Babur (a reverse-engineered USN Tomahawk) cruise missile.

BAS now estimates that Pakistan has between 70-90 nuclear weapons. This, as BAS also reports, is comparable to India’s own nuclear stock, which is estimated to be about 70. However, alarmist news reports in the Indian media dilute the true impact of such enhanced capabilities on India.

Qualitative and quantitative enhancements to nuclear arsenal are part of the natural evolutionary course that nuclear powers traverse. Of course, Pakistan’s unnatural increase in nuclear arsenal in the midst of a debilitating internal security situation is a function of its pathological neurosis with India.  But as The Filter Coffee has argued before, India’s nuclear posture with regard to Pakistan need not substantially change due to such revelations.

There are things that India should always continue to do to attain “minimum credible deterrence” — the quest for credible secondary strike capabilities and perfecting its delivery systems need impetus. But India must continue to do these things regardless of what Pakistan does or doesn’t do.

The truth of the matter is, Pakistan is not in a position where it can expect to “win” in a nuclear showdown with a neighbor seven times its size. The scale of damage that Pakistan’s largely sub-kiloton weapons can cause to a country spread across 1.2 million sq. miles with far-flung urban centers, cannot be compared to the cumulative impact of India’s retributive assault on Pakistan’s 2-3 main cities.  India’s lesson from this revelation is to  continue to develop, enhance and fine-tune its own weapons, and refocus on  its laggard missile programs.

The second issue that I wanted to touch on was The New York Times’ article on Pakistan’s illegal modification of the Harpoon anti-ship missile into a land based missile that the US believes is intended for use against India.  The US apparently made an “unpublicized diplomatic protest” upon learning of Pakistan’s actions.

At best, this shock and dismay that Pakistan would actually modify a US weapon to enhance its capabilities against India, can be put down to ignorance and naïveté.  At worst, it is hypocrisy and mock outrage.  If the US sold Pakistan an anti-ship missile, where would the US realistically expect the missile to be used by Pakistan? In a battle against Iran? Against Afghanistan? China? The target of the weapon was always clear — anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the subcontinent’s history will be aware of Pakistan’s preoccupation with India. So why the outrage?

The article also goes on to state: “Pakistan had taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that administration officials praised”. Presumably, Pakistan signed an EUMA with the US for the sale of anti-ship missiles.  We are told that “physical inspection” is a standard provision of the US’s EUMA agreements.  Indeed, we also know that similar physical inspections of US-supplied Pakistani military hardware have taken place in Pakistan previously (and found to have issues — see page 8).  So how is this apparent magnanimity on the part of Pakistan “unusual”?  Why does it warrant praise?

The continued sale of sophisticated conventional weaponry to Pakistan (refer to this, via FAS) for “good behavior” is like giving candy to a hyperactive child.  The 36 F-16s and 115 115mm howitzers aren’t and won’t be employed by Pakistan in its COIN efforts in NWFP. The US needs ask itself if the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan is a solution to the problem, or part of it.

Filed under: Af-Pak, Foreign Policy, India, Nuclear Proliferation, nuclear weapons, NWFP, Pakistan, pakistan army, Strategic Forces of India, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nuclear Arithmetic, Deterrent Calculus

K Santhanam sent the Indian media into a flutter with his statement that the thermonuclear device (Shakti-I) tested in 1998 during Pokhran II was not completely successful and did not produce the anticipated (and reported) yield of 40-45 kT.  He put this apparent failure in the context of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), advocating that we do not sign or ratify the treaty until India’s thermonuclear capability can be successfully demonstrated.

Notwithstanding denials from APJ Abdul Kalam, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, R Chidambaram and Brajesh Mishra, the vast differential in the reported vs. observed yield is no secret.  International nonpartisan sources, such as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) indicated 10  years ago that yield of Shakti-I was between 12-25 kT.  Indeed, Santhanam’s statements were also corroborated by both former AEC chairman PK Iyengar, and national security expert Bharat Karnad.

However, this admission does not change India’s nuclear posture much, either with regard to Pakistan or China.  Nuclear weapons are a deterrent force and Pakistan will neither be emboldened nor hindered by the admission of this yield differential, in the event that it is contemplating a nuclear attack against India, in the face of rapidly deteriorating circumstances during a conventional war.

A nuclear bomb is a nuclear bomb. Indeed, the credibility of Pakistan’s own nuclear tests in Chagai were marred by reports of a significant divergence between reported vs. observed yields.  While Pakistan reported tests of six nuclear devices (two in the kT range, and four in the sub-kT range) with a total yield exceeding 36 kT, nonpartisan sources indicate the May 28, 1998 tests produced a total yield of between 9-12 kT.

However, despite such reports, Pakistan’s arsenal consisting largely of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) acted as a very credible deterrent against possible Indian offensives across the LoC during Kargil.  Additionally, had Pakistan’s “diminished” nuclear capability been a factor, India’s responses to the December 13, 2001 Parliament attack and the recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks would have been very different indeed.

The nuclear calculus also doesn’t change much with regard to China.  India’s current nuclear posture continues to be incongruous to its “No First Strike” nuclear doctrine.  The nuclear triad, a corollary to the “minimum credible deterrence” and “No First Strike” policies remains unfulfilled, with two of three legs of the triad not currently being operational (with respect to China).  While India has taken the first step in the development of nuclear-powered submarines, the first of these, INS Arihant, will not be operational for sometime.

The most serious challenge to India’s “minimum credible deterrence” is its crippled missile program.  India’s longer range Agni-III IRBMs are as yet incapable of hitting strategic targets such as Beijing or Shanghai. The development, production and weaponization of the Surya-I and Surya-II ICBMs have experienced delays exceeding 10 years, as a result of high-technology denials by the US and the sloth-like inertia of DRDO.

Without true ICBM capability and bereft of an operational nuclear-powered submarine, India’s deterrence against Chinese aggression remains challenged; a 12 kT fission bomb or 50 megaton hydrogen bomb changes nothing under these circumstances.

The low yield of Shakti-I alters neither Pakistan’s perception of Indian retaliatory capability in the event of a Pakistani nuclear first strike, nor does it hurt any further, India’s credibility in being able to deploy nuclear payload to strategic targets in China, should the need arise.  Shakti-I changes nothing with regard to Pakistan; however, if looked through the prism of maintaining a credible deterrent against China, should reignite a debate  on the sorry state of India’s delivery systems and the credibility and logic behind our “No First Use” posture.

Filed under: China, India, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Nuclear Proliferation, nuclear weapons, Pakistan, Strategic Forces of India, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)