Hypersonic Weapons, Missile Defence and Strategic Stability in South Asia

The Global Hypersonic Weapons Race and South Asia - Modern Diplomacy

By Amber Afreen Abid    14 October 2021

Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability is calibrated through India’s development in the conventional and unconventional sectors. Pakistan maintains strategic stability in the region and maintains credible deterrent forces.  However, India’s burgeoning behavior in the region continuously pushes the region towards an arms race, by the introduction of new technology like ballistic missile defence systems and hypersonic missiles.

The reliability on such weapons is highly debatable. The defence against the ballistic missiles is not very likely, as the superpowers have spent years on it, still their credibility is questionable. However, keeping aside the effectiveness of such weapons, they will behave as a destabilizing factor in the region. Even, India can go for the first strike, while relying heavily on the ballistic missile defence system, and undermining the offensive attack in response, thus this high reliance on BMD can destabilize the south Asian region, and upsurge miscalculations, causing deadly consequences. Missile technology would create hurdles for India as well. As, once the protective shield would be developed, the traditionally emotional public, of both India and Pakistan, would be putting pressure on their decision-makers for taking effective steps. The negative trend would start, as the Indian public would feel secure from the attack and would put pressure for the attack on Pakistan.

Travelling with such a high speed leaves the adversary with no time to react, thus it could alter the offensive-defensive posture, increasing the chances of an effective first strike by the potential adversary. This would thrust the other party to keep their weapons on hair-trigger alert, could push it for the pre-emptive first strike during the crisis because of the uncertainty, thus destabilizing the region and adding the element of uncertainty and unpredictability in conflicts, which is really devastating in nuclear-armed adversaries. This kind of situation could well be related to the cold war era, wherein false alarm leads to the global conflict, accidentally.

The hypersonic missiles are not only offensive weapons, but the missile of such kind in future could potentially be used as a tool of nuclear warfare as well. The hypersonic weapons, compounded with the fact of short reaction time, could potentially add to the conflict by altering a conventional attack into a nuclear war, as there is uncertainty whether a missile is carrying a conventional or unconventional warhead, and thus could be necessarily retaliated with a nuclear weapon, causing nuclear war. Thus, arms control agreements necessarily need to be undertaken, for removing this concept of warhead ambiguity, which out of the fear a country takes, having the known that the enemy is having a hypersonic weapon, and in case of crisis it wouldn’t have the time to react, thus launches a nuclear attack.

The introduction of new technology would only bring instability in the region, and would eventually greet the arms race in the region, which is an expensive game and would result only in chaos in the already volatile south Asian region. Furthermore, the concept of deterrence would be ruled out, as the fear of mutual vulnerability would be diminished, and one side feeling vulnerable on the other could go for the offensive first strike; or out of the fear of attack, the other side could ultimately strike first. Moreover, for neutralizing the defensive posture, due to India’s offensive burgeoning behavior, effective countermeasures would be taken by Pakistan, and resultantly arms race will rise in the region.

Any development in the region would not be compromised by Pakistan that would affect its strategic deterrence capability and ultimately the sovereignty. Pakistan is fully aware of the emerging threats, and will consequently maintain its deterrent posture credible, while maintaining the minimum credible requirement.

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