Nuclear Deterrence and Doctrines in South Asia


By: Ahyousha Khan     27/2/2018


Even after witnessing the harrowing devastation of nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2 many states still wanted to have nuclear bombs in their arsenals. States knew the potential of nuclear weapons to inflict unacceptable damage yet they chose to develop these arsenals. The reason behind the pursuit of nuclear weapons could be many, but nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis one’s enemy has been the main reason motivating enough to build nuclear weapons. Deterrence enables two nuclear rivals to avoid war due to fear of unacceptable damage to one’s vital interests. It relies upon the understanding of the threat from nuclear weapons in case of an attack.

So, states acquire nuclear weapons against their adversaries to validate nuclear deterrence that enables them to achieve national security because of the threat of nuclear retaliation. As nuclear deterrence is not the actual utilization of nuclear weapons but the threat of use of these weapons if national security of the state is in question. However, to make nuclear deterrence work as a credible threat, it is necessary to have nuclear weapon delivery capability as well as the credibility of in question capability and the ability to communicate that capability and credibility. To explain the operationalization of its nuclear assets doctrines is drafted.

South Asian nuclearization brought about the idea of nuclear deterrence that led to the strategic stability in the region. After their overt nuclearization, policies of minimum credible deterrence and credible minimum deterrence were chosen by Pakistan and India respectively for amassing nuclear capabilities. In its Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) India adhered to the credible minimum deterrence regarding its nuclear arsenals and relied upon a policy of “no first use” and rationale of “punitive retaliation” to implement nuclear deterrence. On the other hand, Pakistan, to implement nuclear deterrence against India relied upon the minimum credible deterrence and first use even if conventionally attacked by India. Pakistan developed its nuclear capability specifically against India. However, Indian nuclear assets are not only against Pakistan but China as well.

Nonetheless, if India’s objectives are closely analyzed, it considered itself a nation destined to play a great role, so it’s nuclear capabilities are designed to go hand in hand with its national policy objectives. Although doctrines are important in determining the destination of states future endeavors and they give insight into the command and control structures but they mostly are more obscuring than revealing. In murky South Asian landscape, doctrines and postures are changing with the improvement in technology and states ambitiousness.

In South Asia, Pakistan happens to be a defensive player which mostly retaliates to Indian aggressive stances. Right from the start of its nuclear posture, Pakistan was certain that nuclear weapons should enable both countries to not launch any kind of attack against each other. Yet India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) and its joint military force doctrine enables ideas of limited conflict below the nuclear threshold, which are not well-reasoned ideas for a volatile region like South Asia. So, to counter Indian proactive aggressive strategies that nullify the nuclear deterrence, Pakistan resorted to developing nuclear deterrence at all spectrums of threat. Thus, the policy of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) is developed by Pakistan, which will follow the broader spectrum of minimum credible deterrence.

To maintain deterrence equilibrium, it is necessary that both countries avoid an arms race in the region. Pakistan’s national policy regarding its nuclear and conventional arsenals calls for avoidance of arms race. If Pakistan’s recent technological innovations are assessed carefully, they clearly depict Pakistan’s resolve to validate nuclear deterrence and strategic equilibrium in the region. For instance, to maintain the credibility of its nuclear deterrence Pakistan has developed Multiple Independently Reentry Target Vehicle (Ababeel) and is also developing second strike capability in response to Indian naval nuclear fleets. On the other hand, India’s nuclear doctrine or its policy statements never show any validation in arms control in the region rather Indian nuclear doctrine fascinates nuclear triad for credible minimal deterrence. Many international scholars and former Indian National Security Advisor believe that India’s nuclear doctrine is much more flexible and should be given more credit. Moreover, recent Indian military developments suggest that in case of attack India might not allow Pakistan to go first and would use the first decisive blow.

But these all speculations about India’s nuclear doctrine are not new for Pakistan. As it is understood in policymaking institutions of Pakistan that nuclear doctrines are just the declarations and not verifications. It is impossible to elaborate beforehand that state will only rely upon punitive retaliation in case of conflict. But there are a few additions in the operationalization of India’s nuclear doctrine that must not be neglected as they deny no first use policy. India regarding the operationalization of its nuclear doctrine in 2003 states that India reserve the right to use a nuclear weapon in response to an attack (can be CBW attack) on its forces even outside its territory. These windows in India’s nuclear doctrine indicate that India wanted to keep its options open if required to use a nuclear weapon in the crisis situation. But, the point to ponder here is why Indian forces will be attacked outside its territory. This indicates that under the guidelines of CSD and surgical strikes, India’s military forces might be launching an attack somewhere and to ensure their survivability nuclear threat is jotted down in the official doctrine.

However, the question that arises here is; for how long South Asian neighbors will indulge in this arms race that is draining economic resources of both countries. Moreover, for how long false declarations in the name of nuclear doctrines will be used by the states to gather international support. Maybe till the time India becomes the member of Nuclear Suppliers Group.