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PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR CAPABILITY: Fallacious Claims

Paper no. 224          05. 04. 2001

by  Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

Nuclear weapons, like all technology are morally and politically neutral . . . Weapons are not actors but pliant tools to be used or misused by fallible human beings. : Ernest W. Lefever, Foreign Affairs. , November/ December 2000. USA

Regional conflicts . . . international terrorism . . . can be effectively met only by the concerted efforts of the world community. This is attainable, however, only when international relations, first of all among the nuclear powers, become stable and predictable. Igor Ivanov, Foreign Affairs. , September/October 2000., USA.

In one our earlier papers ( Nuclear stockpile of Pakistan: a reality check- www.saag.org\papers2\paper195.html) we had discussed the fallacious claims of the Washington times report of Pakistan’s superiority in nuclear holdings and we had pointed out that Pakistan in the short term has no means to catch up with India in fissile material holdings for bomb making and that even its uranium route cannot be sustained. The recent controversy over replacement of A.Q.Khan in the Khan Research laboratories throws further doubts on Pakistan’s enrichment programme as the laboratory may henceforth concentrate on improving liquid propelled missiles obtained from outside.

Last week the Indian papers have again picked up another story, from the Jane’s report that Pakistan is ahead of India in nuclear capability (e.g. Times of India- 26.3.2001). This time, the story has been picked up from a report of 13 December 2000 of Andrew Koch, Janes Defence Weekly Staff reporter.

Andrew Koch is a respected nuclear analyst who had worked earlier in the Center for Non Proliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, California and later as Senior Research Analyst in Center for Defence Information, Washington.  He had just visited both India and Pakistan and therefore coming from him, this paper has to be taken seriously.

In making repeated claims that Pakistan is ahead of India in all that goes by the term "weaponisation" and in repeated references by many analysts that the thermo nuclear test of Pokhran II was a failure, one wonders whether there is a pattern and motive to make such claims.

Could it be

a.  to push India to make another thermo nuclear test to prove its capability or to force India to come out with full details about its nuclear capability?

or

b.  Is it to send a message to Pakistan that if its nuclear programme is India centric and the objective to attain nuclear parity is already achieved, is there any need to continue with testing or continue the arms race in the subcontinent?

It is not clear as yet.

Such statements have a dangerous dimension too.  It is now known that Pakistan in the later of half of 1980s did seriously think of using an atomic bomb in its confrontation with India.  The Gates mission to India soon after the controversial operation Brass Tacks, was perhaps a result of information with USA that Pakistan did seriously consider the option.  After the May 1998 tests Pakistan has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear bombs in defence of its security of what the reputed British journal Economist calls "indecent frequency."

There is no doubt that Pakistan by fair or foul means has managed to get a temporary lead in acquisition and operational usability of missiles.  Given India’s vast resources in its scientific pool and infrastructure in terms of funds and experience, it is only a question of time before the so called "missile gap" is closed and in the meantime it is hoped that Pakistan does not go for another misadventure as it happened in Kargil.

It was pointed out in our paper (www.saag.org\papers\paper71.html) that geographic proximity, population centres being close to the Indian border, lack of strategic depth, absence of space to disperse the delivery systems-factors that were not in favour of Pakistan in a nuclear exchange.  Yet Pakistan chose to initiate a major confrontation in Kargil.  It looks to us that Pakistan’s reasoning was based on the false premise that since Pakistan is nuclear armed, in any conventional confrontation chosen by Pakistan to its advantage, India will not "dare" to retaliate.

No self respecting nation, least of all India where public opinion does matter could have allowed foreign intruders into its territory to remain in such heights and they would have been evicted anyway may be, with more casualties on the Indian side and after some more time.  But evict they would, no matter whether Pakistan had the nuclear devices or not.  The restraint shown by the Indian side was because of US assurance that Pakistan will be persuaded to withdraw its troops and the intruders.

This aspect has to be understood by Pakistani planners when their command and control mechanism and their nuclear doctrinal structures are supposed to be in an advanced stage!

Coming to Andrew Koch’s paper, the points made by him could be briefly summarised.

* India has not proceeded to develop an effective missile-based nuclear deterrent with only Prithivi-1 and -2 and Agni ballistic missiles.  Agni II (range 2500 km) is not being produced in quantity and that Agni III will take a decade to start mass production.  On the other hand Pakistan has developed or acquired a range of liquid and solid fuelled missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and has nearly completed the development of a solid fuelled missile that meets its requirement of striking key Indian cities from deep within Pakistani territory and that Islamabad could use the Ghauri series (actually Nodong series of North Korea) for offensive operations while Shaheen series of solid fuelled missiles would for defensive purposes. ( Chinese origin).

* In the matter of "weaponisation" Pakistan has moved more quickly to implement an effective command and control (C2) system for its nuclear forces and to develop a strategic use doctrine.  The National Command Authority (NCA) started in February is now comprised of an Employment Control Committee (ECC), a Development Control Committee (DCC) and a Strategic Plans Division (SPD) which acts as its secretariat.  The NCA now controls KRL ( Khan Research laboratories), NDC (National Defence Complex) and PAEC ( Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission). Mr. Koch has been told that NDC is developing indigenously fuzing, safety and arming systems and that its forces are in a higher state of alert

* In the case of India, quoting Indian officials it is said that though India is going for a survivable nuclear arsenal and C2 through "secrecy, dispersal and having the warheads separately," sufficient steps have not been taken to weaponise.  It is further said that the government changed the status of the nuclear doctrine to one of "draft"and that there is lack of a "clear Indian nuclear strategy."

It looks to us that whereas the Pakistanis have generally been boastful of what their country is doing as "a responsible weapon power" with all details of their state of readiness, fuzing of weapons etc., the Indian counter parts have been reluctant to give the details of what exactly has been happening thus giving the impression that Pakistan is way ahead in nuclear weapon capability.

It needs to be emphasised that weaponisation is not just having a fool proof command and control system.  There are other equally important aspects like, tested designs with confidence on their reliability, a stockpile programme with safety measures to protect nuclear stockpiles, bomb components, a stewardship programme, reliable delivery systems and finally a viable nuclear doctrine.

On India’s reaction and response to a nuclear attack, two recent incidents trouble us. The earthquake in Gujarat early this year happened exactly when the entire top leadership of the government including the military and the bureaucracy were in the midst of a parade.  Had it been a nuclear attack we dread to think how we could have managed an assessment of the attack and a quick response in real time for retaliatory measures.  Another recent incident was the Tehelka exposure when the whole government was in a state of paralysis for a whole day or two.

On command and control systems, there are two excellent papers which need to be studied before making any value judgment about the progress in both countries.  One is in the Non Proliferation review (Spring-Summer 1999, vol6. Number 3) by Clayton P. Bowen and Daniel Wolven on "Command and Control Challenges in South Asia" and the more recent Rand issue paper 192 of March 2000.

The Rand paper has pointed out the immense difficulties faced both by Pakistan and India in deploying a fully developed weaponised force which would require hard choices from the delivery systems, mobility and deployment of missiles, targeting and use doctrine and above all expenditures involved firstly to raise a force and secondly to maintain it.  However the paper highlights more the problems that India would face in creating and maintaining a nuclear deterrent force against China and not against Pakistan.

Whatever the progress Pakistan may have made with regard to weaponisation, it is our view that in the near term, both countries are in no position to have a fool proof command and control C3 system envisaged by western analysts.  The three deficiencies of both countries are in infrastructure, communication and in strategic warning systems when the warning time is hardly between 4 and 7 minutes.

The Rand paper is too pessimistic and focussed more on the risks involved.  There are differing views whether the highly sophisticated and technical advances made in the C3 system are necessary at all.  One view is that "no nuclear command and control system has ever experienced the need to function under nuclear attack, there are great unknowns about what effectiveness means or what it requires under nuclear attack." (Nadeem Iqbal, in Asia Times -on line of March 14,2000)

The paper also by way of conclusion and a solution suggests that the US policy to try to stop nuclear weaponisation is "eminently sensible" and that the risks to the rest of the world are undeniable.  Rather than making this unrealistic approach as both India and Pakistan are far involved in weaponisation it would be better at one level for US to help both countries by providing the technical know how for nuclear stability.

There is no doubt that Pakistan by means of "off the shelf acquisition" of missiles from China and North Korea has taken a lead in the missile delivery systems.  But this has not placed Indian security in jeopardy as many analysts make it out to be.

Firstly, India’s vastly superior air force along with the available operational Prithivi missiles are in a position to penetrate Pakistan’s air defences and cover the whole of Pakistan.  The 2500 km range Agni II, contrary to Press reports are not transitional either and would be operational in greater numbers before the end of the year.  This will give added punch.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine envisages a "first strike" to offset the asymmetrical advantage India has in conventional forces.  There is a fallacy in the argument as Pakistan will be in no position to decapitate the entire nuclear force of India with a first strike.  India’s retaliatory capacity is real and could cause "unacceptable damage" with both nuclear and conventional forces.

Thirdly, much is made of Pakistan’s single chain of command with the nuclear trigger firmly in the hands of the army and that in India it is diffused in the civilian leadership.  In the beginning of this paper, we quoted Ernest Lefever’s remarks that weapons are but pliant tools to be used or misused by fallible human beings.  Going by past history of Pakistan, is it a good thing to keep the nuclear trigger with such fallible military leadership we had seen in the past?

Fourthly, analysts have also concluded that whereas Pakistan’s nuclear force is ready and operational close to the Indian border ( Sargodha), India’s is dispersed with the components separated faraway in Secunderabad and far removed from the border and vulnerable to a decapitating attack.  Without going into details we could confidently say that even now a decapitating attack (total annihilation) is not possible and that India has the ability to make a retaliatory attack.

Fifthly with the economic problems facing Pakistan, it is in no position to enter into an arms race with India.  Though the initial cost of developing the missiles may be high for India, in the long-run Pakistan will have to spend more both in acquisition and maintenance.  With a large scientific pool and having the cutting edge in information technology and electronics, the gap between India and Pakistan both in the conventional and nuclear build up will only widen in India’s favour.

In quoting Igor Ivanov in the beginning of the paper, it is to  emphasise that with both India and Pakistan going nuclear, relations between the two will have to be stable and predictable.  Given the current security environment, a framework for a strategic restraint regime proposed by Pakistan in October 1998 talks at the foreign minister level is difficult to achieve.  Pakistan is in no mood either to accept a "no first use" pledge suggested by India.

As a first step both countries will have to have a transparent interaction as to what each country has and what each is capable of, so that misconceptions do not arise.  At some point India has to interact with China too as no nuclear stability in the sub continent is possible without China’s cooperation.

 

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