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Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Pak lowers nuclear threshold

Tactical nuclear weapons are inherently destabilising and this fact will never change.

he declaration by Pakistan army's Directorate of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) regarding the successful testing of the 60-km nuclear-capable short-range missile Hatf IX (Nasr) further cements Pakistan's commitment to developing full spectrum deterrence including the use of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). The declaration from Pakistan is that the Nasr missile can carry nuclear warheads of "appropriate" yield, with high accuracy and has specially been designed to defeat all known anti-tactical missile defence systems.

Tactical nuclear weapons, often referred to as "battlefield" or "non-strategic" nuclear weapons, usually have a plutonium core and are typically distinct from the bigger, strategic variety of nuclear weapons. The yield of tactical nukes is generally lower than that of strategic nuclear weapons and may range from 0.1 kiloton to a few kilotons. As Pakistan is already building its fourth nuclear reactor at Khushab, a plutonium producing unit, the clamour within the Pakistan armed forces for manufacturing tactical nuclear weapons appears to be rising by the day.

While Pakistan believes that the Nasr "adds deterrence value to Pakistan's strategic weapons development programme at shorter ranges," it has, in fact, further lowered its nuclear threshold through the likely use of TNWs. Pakistan has not formally declared a nuclear doctrine, but it is well known that nuclear weapons are its first line of defence. Its presumed "first-use" policy is aimed at negating India's conventional military superiority by projecting a low nuclear threshold.

Often citing what it terms as "India's conventional military threat", Pakistan forgets that given its offensive strategic posture and continuing involvement in terror strikes in India, it is New Delhi which is confronted with the problem of developing a strategy to counter Pakistan's "first-strike" and proxy war in light of its declared no-first-use policy. The use of tactical nuclear weapons in the India-Pakistan case will alter the strategic scenario completely as Pakistan would threaten India with the use of these nuclear weapons in the event of New Delhi responding against Islamabad with a conventional strike in reaction to a Mumbai 26/11-style terrorist attack.

What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world at large, as per Shyam Saran, chairman of India's National Security Advisory Board, is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai-like terrorist incident because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. This sort of reprehensible positioning is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.

India has always viewed nuclear weapons as a political instrument whose sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against itself. India's nuclear doctrine clearly outlines the strategy of credible minimum deterrence and also establishes that India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike. However, India shall respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail. The history of nuclear deterrence tells us that tactical nuclear weapons lower the nuclear threshold, which makes them inherently destabilising. Moreover, there are other related complications which tactical nuclear weapons bring along with them such as the complexity of manufacturing and difficulties during storage, transportation and deployment. No matter how carefully Pakistan has thought through its command and control structure, tactical nuclear weapons are inherently destabilising and this fact will never change.

Given that the military's perceptions are not fully anchored in Pakistan's overall domestic political (civil) narrative, the question of management of sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the existing backdrop of a dysfunctional polity looms large. Pakistan's nuclear command and control system is already a cause for concern, being prone to the risk of unauthorised or an "accidental" launch in the event of nuclear warheads being mounted on extremely short-range forward deployed ballistic missiles.

Pakistan should cooperate with India by taking requisite steps to stabilise nuclear deterrence and minimise existential nuclear dangers. It should not indulge in further destabilising nuclear deterrence in the name of "balancing the asymmetry with India in conventional capabilities." India, yet again, has acted as a responsible player by not going down the route to acquire the class of nuclear weapons required for battlefield use, thereby, fully acknowledging the dangers involved.

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