Ever since Pakistan became a nuclear weapon state, Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy has been in practice on the principles of restraint and responsibility. Pakistan was even reluctant to enter the club of nuclear weapon states but soon after India had conducted its first nuclear test in the year 1974, going nuclear became Pakistan’s strategic compulsion. India’s series of nuclear tests in 1998 had compelled Pakistan to demonstrate its nuclear weapon capability accordingly to restore the strategic balance in South Asia.
The development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability primarily serves the purpose of a credible and reliable defence against the existential threat from India and maintaining peace and stability in the region. After the inevitable nuclearization of South Asia, Pakistan has never been a part of any arms race in South Asia. Whereas India has always pushed Pakistan towards an arms race and Pakistan has to ultimately work to restore balance in the region. Pakistan is carrying the onus of maintaining strategic stability in the region and maintaining credible deterrent forces.
Understanding the matter better
The overt nuclearization of the region demonstrated that the nuclear deterrent capabilities of both states helped them to establish deterrence stability. This fact goes consistent with the assumption of deterrence theory that once the two adversaries acquire nuclear deterrent capabilities, the matters will stabilize. Pakistan attaches great importance to its nuclear deterrent capability. The South Asia strategic environment is shaped as such where the nuclear deterrence between the two neighbors has frozen the possibility of any all-out war. Despite little probability of such a war, the two states have been engaged in perpetual arms race and strategic competition. Ever since the partition, Pakistan and India have found themselves in great confrontation with each other.
The communal hatred and religious bias was also transformed into political aspirations that further lead to widening the gap between the two states. This gap has only resulted in infusing mistrust and animosity toward each other.
Moreover, the interplay of several international, regional, and local factors poses daunting challenges for deterrence stability in South Asia. Besides, India’s burgeoning behavior in the region continuously pushes the region towards arms race, by the introduction advanced delivery systems, more risk-acceptant doctrinal shifts, missile defense systems, hypersonic missiles and tactical, sea-based (surface and submarine), and dual-capable nuclear systems all raise new challenges for the strategic instability in South Asia. The Indian aspirations to accumulate maximum power based on its strategic partnerships with the technologically advanced countries in the world are characterized by the classic Indian strategic thinking to establish its hegemony in the region.
The introduction of new technology would only bring instability in the region, and would eventually greet the arms race, which is an expensive game and would result only in chaos in the already volatile South Asian region. Furthermore, the concept of deterrence would be ruled out, as the fear of mutual vulnerability would be diminished, and one side feeling vulnerable on the other could go for the offensive first strike; or out of the fear of attack, the other side could ultimately strike first. Moreover, for neutralizing the defensive posture, due to India’s offensive burgeoning behavior, effective countermeasures would be taken by Pakistan, and resultantly arms race will rise in the region.
The way forward
“The history of our strategic force development clearly indicates that Pakistan has never allowed this (strategic) balance to be disturbed to our disadvantage; we have always found effective solutions to redress induced imbalances from time to time,” has been reiterated by Lt. Gen (R) Khalid Kidwai. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is primarily India-centric and is aimed at deterring possible aggression from the eastern border. Pakistani leadership is cognizant of the growing conventional asymmetries vis-à-vis India and therefore resolves to not adhere to the ‘no-first-use’ option. Pakistani leadership intentionally exercises ambiguity with regard to the country’s willingness to use nuclear weapons in order to additionally strengthen the credibility of nuclear deterrence.
The nuclear deterrent of Pakistan is believed to be based on the principle of credible minimum deterrence. The introduction of full-spectrum deterrence does not in general negate the guidelines of credible minimum deterrence; rather the former complements the latter. Since Pakistan is committed to ensuring the credibility of its nuclear deterrent, which is expected to deter possible aggression of any sort – be it conventional or nuclear – the adoption of full-spectrum deterrence is by no means a violation of minimalism rather it reinforces the credibility of country’s deterrence.
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The full-spectrum deterrence is an implication of India’s aggressive military thinking. Therefore, in order to strengthen the deterrence stability of the region, it is first important that the two countries refrain from devising aggressive military doctrines and postures. It is also the need of the hour that two states enter into some meaningful arms control mechanism that could help them mitigate differences and explore the possibilities of cooperation.
The writer is a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.