Nuclear Deterrence Policy Risk Assessment in South Asia

The Case for Nuclear Disarmament in South Asia – South Asian Voices


by Mian Hameed       3 August 2020

We must profusely campaign against the selective implementation of the UNSC Rule of Law for our international quarrels. I, as a successor to others, have equally reduced to speak of some externality—the risk from nuclear weapons in the region, fundamentally resulting from the root cause—injustices. In doing so, I have concealed justice, a principle behind “conflict prevention.”

Justice is a wonderful thing—it soothes and calms. However, in the case of India and Pakistan, the West as a strategy cultivates, “India—perceiving immutable Pakistan support for terrorism,” promotes nuclear risk and injustice. Jihad and the right of self-determination seeking justice is not terrorism. In the case of China, Beijing will require New Delhi to abandon containment ambitions.

Amid the Sino-Indo deflating crisis, this article speaks to the use of nuclear options in the region, implications from behavioral aspects in the use of nuclear weapons, and nuclear de-escalation policy within a unique triangle: China – India – Pakistan. All three are nuclear powers, all are behavioral centric countries, and all three have border disputes from the British legacy of intrigues, and injustices.

My assessment is based on one assumption and reality. The United States will not assist her strategic ally, India, to the extent to get involved in a life-and-death situation, and the reality is that India does not have superior weapons to address China’s conventional weapons imbalance.

China, India, and Pakistan are ‘behavioral’ countries first, which means strategies come second to behavioral stratagems. With limited space to expound on, here are cursory examples. China gave us the Vietnam War, which was from behavior to punish Vietnam for dishonorable conduct. Behavior “drifted” India and Pakistan into the 1965 War.

Behavioral ‘aspects’ speak to the resolve of a country in shaping a doctrine of nuclear deterrence policy. The following analogy addresses protective behavior as in a doctrine of nuclear deterrence. We have bears with a history of protecting their cub by projecting “incalculable consequences.”  On the other hand, the goat species watch a coyote devour their fawn.

The bear is “willing to unleash” with “incalculable consequences” by using claws. The goat, though it possesses the horns, and hooves that it could use in an effort to protect a fawn, does not have a deterrence behavior. Therefore, what can be said about each country’s doctrine of nuclear deterrence?  The cited phrases by Luttwak, are quoted from the Indian defence Review: Oct-Dec 2011 by Verma.


I will start explaining my thesis with Pakistan. Pakistan’s doctrine of nuclear deterrence is natural, and refined Vs. comprehensive (which includes minimal triad capabilities.) Natural nuclear policies cannot have aggression and expansionist designs; they naturally pose the lowest risk to humanity.

Furthermore, we can say a doctrine of nuclear policy is a natural fit when a country has a defensive posture strategy to fend against enemies. We can further say since Pakistan’s armed forces’ strategy posture is defensive, it is a natural fit because of the defensive synergy to nuclear weapons.

The Pakistani armed forces have a defensive strategy posture from the inception of the country. The late PM Liaqat Ali Khan in 1947, in the absence of Indian troops in J&K, could have sent Pakistani troops to J&K, but he did not because Pakistan had adopted a defensive strategy in war with India.

The Pakistan Army’s defensive strategy posture since 1947, has bled into Pakistan’s latest, “New Concepts of War Fighting (NCWF)” strategy, and nuclear deterrence doctrine. Both conventional and nuclear strategies, especially, Pakistan’s Low Yielding Nuclear Weapons (LYNWs), namely, the tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) amplify Pakistan’s defensive strategy—a natural fit. If the fundamental security of Pakistan is not challenged by enemy offensive measures, the nuclear option will remain at bay—the intrinsic blessings.

By “refine,” I mean Pakistan possessing the first three characteristics: (1) Pakistan deterrence comes from the priority given to nuclear weapons, which underlines all military operations. (2) Modernization of nuclear armaments within her means. (3) Deterrence by addressing the imbalance. (4)The triad is a capability of delivery through bombers, land-based intercontinental missiles, and sea-based missiles, in which Pakistan lags.

Pakistan has addressed deterrence from the Indian conventional superiority imbalance from the historic precedence set by the United States. The WARSAW Pact created an imbalance from a threat of conventional weapons superiority. To counter, the U.S. in the 1950s deployed TNWs in Western Europe.

Living with the reality of expansionist India, Pakistan’s TNWs deterrence enforces decency in the society. Pakistan intends to use TNWs inside Pakistani territory on Indian formations, is Pakistan’s logic edge, and a first-line nuclear strategic deterrent.  TWNs bring increased “risk of uncontrollable escalation,” a.k.a., “competition in risk-taking,” a deterrence logic.

TNWs lacking decision space ensures lower threshold deterrence. This strategy of setting the use of nuclear threshold low has placed the effectiveness of Indian offensive Cold Start Doctrine, rebranded as Proactive Military Operations, into question.

Those who passionately writes that Pakistani tactical nukes are destabilizing South Asia are the people likely to have spawned AF-PAK from delusional syllogism. They have “foreign policy autism,” and are ‘behaviorist’ with stratagems incapable of upholding justice.  

Pakistan has crafted a responsible nuclear deterrence policy. The responsibility in nuclear policy comes from the nuance in NCWF, modernizing conventional weapons from partnerships with other countries towards a credible conventional deterrence for India, which shows Pakistan is not eager to use TNWs.

Pakistan’s behavioral aspect, her resolve, is seen in the potential use of TNWs and places Pakistan among “those who have great strength, and who are perceived to be willing to unleash it, can protect their interest without the use of force.” –Luttwak. This peculiarity is evident from first-use policy, and the ‘will’ to retaliate precedence set during the Indian strike on Balakot, Pakistan.

The precedence of resolve and “willing to unleash” TNWs also come from the perception of seeing LYNWs as in TNWs as “conventional” weapons. This shift of perception makes the use of TNWs expeditious. The results— the resolve that will obliterate Indian formation inside Pakistan will allow Pakistan the luxury to not use force.

Pakistan demonstrated a refined de-escalation policy during the 2019 Pulwama attack exchange. After Pakistan accomplished a near-term goal through one of the Pakistani Air Force’s technological superior warfighting domain capabilities, she backed off from conflict per strategy, and wisely returned the shot-down IAF’s MIG pilot. This measured response along with international diplomacy was a textbook case of de-escalation.

To understand the meltdown risk, I was once provided the following preamble to Pakistan’s NCWF strategy by a retired senior officer. ‘Pakistan has deadly enemies—foreign and within. Recent events have exposed and put to test Pakistan’s friends. Pakistan is by herself. Pakistan has no ambitions for territory or invading even if the opportunity is tempting. The agenda to undo Pakistan has crystallized the camp formations. The “Incredible” India cannot fathom to grab an inch of Pakistan, but her allies are coaxing and prodding her to do so. If India commits that blunder, it would be Pakistan’s ultimate battle for survival. There will be no point of return. Any intervention will be futile as those have been always one-sided against Pakistan.’


India’s doctrine of nuclear deterrence can be looked at from two perspectives— refined policy and from a behavioral aspect. India’s nuclear policy of deterrence is as refined as her resources would permit, with modernization efforts to technically place a viable deterrence against China and Pakistan.

However, India and China have a huge disparity in resources. This disparity favoring China wins precedence over the use of the nuclear option. Therefore, the risk of nuclear war is low between the two.  Indian nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis Pakistan is from India’s strategic depth, and from Pakistan’s conviction in India’s First-Use intent. In the case of Pakistan, India can take a risk of striking first regardless of her stated use policy.

India’s nuclear policy is not a natural fit. India’s expansionist designs and RSS extremist views are confrontational, and her nuclear deterrence policy does not align with the synergy and spirits of the No-First-Use policy. Hence, the probability of proximity to the use of nuclear weapons from confrontation is greater than a country with a defensive posture.

India’s nuclear doctrine is underscored by the nuclear pessimist and the optimist schools of thought, which I translate into India’s behavioral aspect, i.e., the fear of Hindu race annihilation brings vacillation into the use of nuclear weapons.

Hindu race annihilation is a consideration and from vacillation can stretch the threshold of a fundamental security threat to India, and Pakistan’s “massive retaliation” aspect of the nuclear policy is adopted from this weakness. This behavioral aspect speaks to the lack of “willing to unleash,” is a weakness. Gen. Zia is said to have taken advantage of this weakness with Rajeev Gandhi in a 1987 standoff between the two countries, which was dubbed as the “Cricket Diplomacy.”

India’s behavioral resolve is assessed by China differently.  India has relatively no “will to unleash” in her quarrels with China. Chinese explains the Indian no “will to unleash” from the difference between GDP’s of the two countries. India’s GDP is 20% of China.

Although the India-Pakistan disparity is about five times larger than Pakistan, India’s military strategy primarily is reduced to intrigues to soften Pakistan and cultivates measures to decay Pakistan from her internal fault lines. Furthermore, when India’s future weapons could guarantee preserving the Hindu race, Pakistan and the international humanitarian law will face an imminent threat from India’s nuclear capability.

The RSS influence can bring erratic behavior to the No-First-Use policy. To ponder, at which point a decision justifies if the extinction of ‘RSS—ism’ and no ‘Modi-ism’ to survive would mean, ‘no meaningful India,’ which may trigger a nuclear launch. The world must not forget, extremist behaviorists fascists are at the helm of a nuclear country that the world appeases for a potential buck.

The beginnings of setting foundations for erratic behavior have materialized. Modi, in a surprise visit to Ladakh to boost the morale of his troops, gave us the opportunity to see the Indian troops have transitioned from the “Jai Hind” loyalty chant to “Vaday Matram” and “Baharat Mata,” an RSS loyalty chant. By implication, the Chief of Defense Staff Bipan Rawat has faithfully carried out the troubling mission of RSS.

India lacks a de-escalation policy. Therefore, India’s nuclear policy is not holistic. India’s de-escalation policy will mainly come from her erratic behavioral aspect—the acute worry of annihilation or placing the onus to de-escalate on Pakistan, is rather a dangerous strategy. We learned from the Indian strike on Balakot that India was on an escalation trajectory when Pakistan de-escalated the crises from Modi’s reckless and risky behavioral stratagem.

From the Indian side, we saw no de-escalation strategy in the Pulwama crises created by a twenty-year-old Kashmiri suicide bomber. Modi allegedly used the crises to his benefit. Arundhati Roy and the world press viewed the Indian trick, the Balakot ‘surgical air strikes’ as a politically motivated move to boost Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the run-up to elections, and paid off.

India, when in a strategic bind, can be a less of a security risk to the region. The Indian ‘non-conceding’ stance for domestic consumption has turned non-confrontational—an atypical blessing that did not make the “consequences from [Chinese] aggression incalculable and unacceptable.” The Modi controlled press has saved India from losing her face with a cowering response. “No one entered our territory, not an inch of land lost, says PM Modi.”–Business Standard, June 19, 2020. A psychiatric condition the nation bought.


China is a police state has purposefully allowed numerous schools of thought to disseminate mere thoughts to create a spectrum of comprehensive nuclear policy, which is actually uncertainty in the use of nuclear weapons, and is one of the criteria of good nuclear deterrence policy.  China professes to No-First-Use policy.

China’s modernization is far ahead of the nuclear convention of the triad, space concept is one. At the forefront of China’s nuclear policy is “escalation dominance,” from superiority in warfighting domains, i.e., electromagnetic spectrum, communication and operations, and cyber-attacks to name a few.  These domains are viable options for China in South Asia.

The Chinese massive imbalance from conventional weapons superiority and various unmatched warfighting domains in the region does not necessitate the use of nuclear weapons in South Asia. China seeing firsthand the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) array of tactics deployed by Pakistan Air Force (PAF), is guidance for how a Sino-Indo conflict would play out. China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) found a litany of a lack of non-Kinetic capabilities of the Indian Air Force and the Defense Operations Command, which would make India crumble against China’s domains.

The Chinese nuclear doctrine should be seen from a function of logic. It is not a natural fit, and it depends on the muscle posturing from superior kinetic and non-kinetic domains to achieve goals. It worked with India. China’s nuclear policy lives in the background of these domains and is also dependent on the world’s behavior towards China—hence, evolving.

China’s nuclear deterrence policy, as all good policies, have common sense and behavioral resolve—“strength” and “willing to unleash” force. China’s nuclear policy can be regurgitated as a mother with a strong protective sense with a wish list. The wish-list is developing the warfighting domains to help with China’s hedge not to compete with the U.S. in the nuclear arms race.

China’s de-escalation strategy manifests in avoiding nuclear confrontation. Avoiding nuclear confrontation is possible from developing unmatched warfighting domains. China will use these domains to flex posture, achieve immediate goals, retain those goals, and then back-off from the encounter to de-escalate. Ladakh is a good example. The No-First-Use policy pertains to South Asia.

(The No-First-Use policy claim in general of any country is fiction. In the case of China and the U.S., the Chinese No-First-Use will not hold, and the U.S. is well aware of it. If China has absolute superiority, China will strike first through domains, like High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) in an attempt to disable the U.S. capabilities.)

China has a strategy. As the world has maintained silence on India for abrogating article 370, China has managed to silence those on China’s entry into Ladakh.  The fiery dragon from here on has made her mind to faceoff the much taunted ferocious tiger, and does not expect the ‘peaceful’ eagle to only watch.


Therefore, one would be tempted to take the assumption off the table because of the (1) U.S. syllogism ‘true form’—the U.S. absolute policy to contain China and secure the U.S. influence;  (2) the U.S. India 2012 Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) and the 2015 Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship, 10-year pact; and (3) the U.S. signature move—demonize a country first, and deal with it next.

President Trump can no longer see India as a bogey to restrain China. For now, till the U.S. presidential elections, John Bolton suggested, Trump is uncertain to give guarantees to back New Delhi, and neither will Trump after elections, should he win.

Pompeo’s plan to reposition the composition of the U.S. troops is likely to protect the Indian interest in the occupied Kashmir. Since India is not mentally and technologically ready to face China, India’s hand-holding by the U.S. will stage tactical risks for Pakistan.

The U.S. India honeymoon marred by the Indian behavioral complexity, i.e., unable to hold any one of the states (Join the U.S., China, or remain neutral) showed us the not so envied couple.  The U.S. interest will play India against China, which allows India to self-actualize and eye technological and trade gains. China’s deep financial ties with Wall Street and access to the USD makes an un-ephemeral U.S. China relationship.

The U.S. China friend and foe relationship will continue. The U.S. president will struggle with a choice, to make America great again or nurture India at the expense of the American people, and increased turmoil in South Asia.

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