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DEPLOYMENT STRATEGY IN PAKISTAN : Is it leading to Nuclear Instability?

Paper No. 517                                11.09.2002

by Dr. Rajesh Kumar Mishra

Pakistan’s nuclear strategy has been heading towards eventual deployment of nuclear weapons even at normal peacetime. As far as deployment of nuclear weapons are concerned, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine that does not adhere to no-first-use principle poses a threat to nuclear stability and security in the region. 

The prevailing fragile government regime and inadequate command and control technologies do have regional ramifications for perpetual nuclear terror.

Deployment as defined and status of deployment of nuclear weapons in Pakistan:  The status of Pakistan’s deployment of weapons may depend on many variables (such as intention, capability, readiness, resources etc.), but towards the same end namely, to create nuclear deterrence as a tool of bargaining for national objectives. It may be arguable then as to what limit should the weapons be considered as “deployed” in case of Pakistan. 

 David Albright of Institute for Science and International Security, defines deployment  as weapons having been transferred to military units for storage and rapid mating with delivery systems at military bases. 

According to Neil Joeck of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, deployment can be defined as the process of transferring bombs and/or warheads to military units for storage and rapid mating with delivery warheads. 

Therefore, deployment actually refers to the status whereby weapons are transferred to military units for storage and rapid mating with delivery systems

Other than the conventionally understood meaning of “deployment” of nuclear weapons, few more terms are now in use in describing the status of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons such as “partially deployed”, “operationally deployed”, “disassembled form” or  “in the component form”. No matter, how different the terminologies are, the fact of the matter is, current deployment of Pakistan’s weapons should be cause for worry for the world community.    For Indian Defence strategists, this can be a long-term challenge to be dealt with, politically, strategically and scientifically. 

Basically, the deployment of nuclear weapons includes three necessary components - the core, weapon frame and the delivery vehicle. Conventionally, all three are to be kept separately.  Since they are all under the control of the Army, the core and frames are kept in army bases scattered around Pakistan.  

David Albright who is considered as one of the authorities on Pakistan’s nuclear weapon complex has opined that “the situation in Pakistan may be murky and may in fact best be described as partial deployment.” 

A CIA report also makes mention of Nuclear weapons of Pakistan in “component form.”  While the term component form has not been spelt out, it looks that Pakistan will be able to mobilse and use a weapon within a matter of a few hours. 

In case of Pakistan, the status of deployment of nuclear weapons can be discussed in three different scenarios: 

* First, weapons, (frame and core kept separately at the storage facility) at the military units, to be mated with the delivery systems only within a matter of a few hours. 

* Second, weapons (core plus frame) stored at military bases for rapid mating with the delivery systems 

* Third, weapons (fissile cores minus frame), kept in the storage, to be mated rapidly with the frame readily mounted on the delivery systems. 

Gen. Musharraf  on record is said to have declared that the weapons are  in a "disassembled state". All the three cases mentioned above might be interpreted with the implicit meaning of deployment depending on the location of storage facilities and their proximity with the military bases in Pakistan. 

Though the First scenario may need more time than the Second, the two cases may involve higher risks of accidents or technical errors at the time of “quick” requirements. The most plausible status of Pakistan’s deployment, therefore, might be similar to the Third scenario. 

Reported news and interviews through various literature on Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability suggest that the storage sites of Pakistan are mostly located at military bases. As a corollary, one can say that the Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are functionally deployed if we go by the commonly accepted definition of deployment.  This can further be amplified with the statement that Pakistan deploys nuclear weapons even as part of the normal peacetime deterrence posture against India.

Pakistan’s past record:  Pakistan’s intention to use nuclear weapons against India has a long history of inappropriate  and desperate moves. It is said that on “three occasions -in mid 1980s, in 1987 and April-May 1990, Pakistan had considered to take nuclear strikes against India.   Had they been used it would have been catastrophic.

In the post December 13 India- Pakistan stand off situation, when the Indian army was mobilised along the LOC, there were reports that deployment had been made from the Pakistani side.  It is still arguable that deployment would mean the delivery system mated to the weapon frame and readied. The core would have been kept separately but usable within a short time from within the military complex.  This again is a dangerous situation. 

Relevant to the current discussion is the issue of bottom line for use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. This has  been spelt out by Gen. Kidwai, head of SPD under the National Command Authority,  to a delegation of Italian Scientists.  These are, to quote him ”Nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India. In case that deterrence fails, they will be used if  

* India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory (space threshold)

* India destroys a large part either of its land or air force (military threshold)

* India proceeds to the economic strangling of Pakistan (economic strangling)

* India pushes Pakistan into political destabilization or creates a large scale internal subversion in Pakistan (domestic destabilization).

 These are subjective thresholds and could be misunderstood or action taken on a wrong assessment. 

Another aspect to the whole issue is that Pakistan’s claimed nuclear and missile capabilities are mainly imported with inherent infrastructural fragility. Handling of weapons for transitional failures or malfunctions of delivery systems can remain vulnerable to accidents. 

Systems implementations in this context may require matching technological advancement that could hardly have been adequately developed or acquired as yet.  In spite of this, Gen. Kidwai had declared that the well known and reliable PAL ( Permissible Action Links) are not required by Pakistan. 

As an alternative, manual supervision and collaboration of imported and self-developed technical know-how through reverse engineering may lead to greater degree of risks involving command and control mechanisms/authorizations. 

In the absence of sufficient advancement of technologies related to communication network, there might be provisions for delegated authorisation to take nuclear launch decisions under certain prescribed circumstances. As the Pakistani weapons components are scattered at various military locations, the vulnerabilities may remain imminently high for unauthorised access or inadvertent misuse or slippage of the weapons components. 

In addition to the technical challenges, the close nexus between fundamentalist and official entities together may grossly undermine the notion of effective command and control system in Pakistan. 

Therefore, Pakistan’s much claimed “impeccable record of custodial safety and security” of nuclear material, equipment or technology  is questionable. 

Though there are no press reports, it is likely that the weapon systems and cores, were moved to different locations soon after US troops made its presence. The US in its anxiety to ensure that the weapon systems of Pakistan are secure, could have provided some technology relating to PAL. 

One cannot but quote Gen. Kidwai again when we discuss the command, control and deployment of nuclear weapons in Pakistan.  He had claimed that they follow “three men rule”- namely any procedure involving nuclear weapons requires the concurrent decision of three persons.  This has been contrasted with the two men rule that exists in US nuclear operations.  When Gen. Musharraf wears all the three hats namely, as President, Chief of Army Staff and Head of the National Security Council- the three men rule has no meaning and at any rate when the nuclear operations are under the control of the army, there could be any number of men involved but the decision will be in army hierarchy of only one person.  This again reflects an unstable deterrence situation in Pakistan.

(For comments e-mail: rajeshkrmishra@hotmail.com )

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