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Monika Chansoria

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

Want true CBM? Banish short range missiles in South Asia

India’s short-range Prithvi II ballistic missile, which failed a September 2010 test, found its target during a follow-up firing on 9 June 2011.

he security dynamics between India and Pakistan perennially keep the subcontinent on a simmer, with the equation becoming far more complex since 1998, when both nations tested and formally declared themselves as states possessing nuclear weapon capability. The nuclear dimension has added to the volatility of the security equation in South Asia given the debates surrounding India and Pakistan's respective deterrence doctrines and force postures. The apprehension of a conventional or sub-conventional conflict triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a potential nuclear crisis haunts South Asia's strategic peace and security scenario.

There is considerable pessimism with reference to nuclear confidence-building measures (CBM) between India and Pakistan. The 1999 Lahore MoU recognised the nuclear dimension of the sub-continent's security environment and accepted the need for mutually agreed CBMs in the nuclear and conventional fields. However, the Kargil war and a series of terrorist attacks across India thereafter, created a fissure of acute trust deficit between the two nations. Nonetheless, in wake of the ongoing Indo-Pak composite dialogue process, commitment towards exploring these CBMs has been acknowledged yet again.

As part of an enduring endeavour to improve and augment strategic stability between New Delhi and Islamabad, necessary steps to stabilise nuclear deterrence and minimising existential nuclear dangers becomes even more pronounced. The author is part of a group primarily consisting of South Asian security experts who, in their respective private capacities, propose a specific nuclear CBM exercise.

The proposal made by this group entails mutually verified, irreversible and transparent elimination of obsolescent short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from the arsenals of India and Pakistan on a cooperative basis. While both nations understandably have compelling concerns for their respective defence and deterrence policies, the dangers of nuclear escalation and consequent catastrophe are equally established.

SRBMs, namely India's Prithivi I and II and Pakistan's HATF I and II held in the inventory of both sides since decades, are fast approaching obsolescence, thus outliving their strategic utility for operational and technical reasons. Notwithstanding costs of maintenance, the obsolescent factor also adds to related safety concerns. With better delivery capabilities becoming available with both India and Pakistan, the utility of SRBMs falls substantially, though some continue to perceive them as useful tools for conduct of coercive diplomacy.

One cannot brush aside the dangers of miscalculation or unauthorized launch, in addition to better ISR capabilities, allowing both sides to quickly pick up signs of the missiles being prepared and this can prove extremely dangerous for crisis stability.

Given the fluidity of security equations in South Asia, the group deliberately chose to focus on the technical aspects of the draft proposal so as to add credibility to verification/transparency measures. The group in mention has participated in what could be described as a one-off missile dismantlement mock exercise on full-scale solid and liquid-fuelled missiles, in which the participants went through a phase-by-phase approach beginning with identification of the missiles to be included in the elimination exercise. To help the group get a grasp on the practical and technical feasibility of verification and transparency, measures undertaken included exchanging photographs of the designated missiles, reciprocal on-site inspection visits, negotiations over the use of tools, techniques and procedural detailing for managed access. All this was done while ensuring that each side secured its sensitive information from the other side. The phased approach could also include a joint decision on the constitution of an enforcement mechanism that could address complaints of non-compliance, if any, by either side. In the South Asian context, both sides could invest necessary diplomatic energies in seriously addressing each other's concerns by arriving at detailed modus operandi for verification through conduct of inspections.

In the said reference, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty stands as a case in point, wherein, despite the high trust deficit between the US and erstwhile USSR, the treaty became the first ever successfully negotiated and implemented international verified arms elimination agreement to actually reduce nuclear arms, rather than establish ceilings that could not be exceeded.

he removal and ultimate elimination of SRBMs cited above, from India and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal will, firstly, eliminate disadvantages of SRBMs and secondly, serve as an excellent CBM as well as a Nuclear Risk-Reduction Measure (NRRM). In the current geo-strategic context between India and Pakistan, this proposal can be undertaken for deliberations initially since it is not as complex and arduous as negotiating any sort of arms control agreement.

The proposals made by this group could be followed up by conducting a Joint Transparency Exercise (JTE) in the region with stakeholders from India and Pakistan. Without impinging upon the continuing modernisation of either sides' strategic forces, this proposal can prove to be a diminutive, albeit, substantial step in the direction towards enhancing strategic stability in the subcontinent.

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