The nuclear deterrence equation in South Asia is gradually changing amidst the acquisition of advanced technologies and missile developments by India, most notably the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system. Similarly, India is heading into the continuous modernisation of its military build-up, aspiring to become a giant arms trader in the South Asian region.
India has left China behind as the world’s largest importer of weapon systems, indicating the country’s intent of modernising its military capabilities with an outreach beyond South Asia. It is feared that Asian security across the region is fuelling arms trade; accounting for 46 percent of the total global imports in the past five years. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), six of the world’s ten largest arms importers are in Asia and the Oceania.
In the field of missiles, India and Russia have agreed to extend the range of their missiles eg BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles beyond the current 300 km. The land-attack version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with an extended range; from 290 km to 450 km was also recently successfully tested.
It is evident that India and Russia have extended the range while keeping Pakistan in mind because BrahMos with a 300 km range was unable to target inside Pakistan but after enhancing the range the missile can hit anywhere inside Pakistan. So it carries serious regional implications in this regard. It would be worrisome not only for Pakistan but for China too.
An Indian military official stated at some point of discussion, that “our threat perceptions and security concerns are our own, and how we address these by deploying assets on our territory should be no one else’s concern.” The statement depicts the aggressive and offensive mode of the Indian mindset, regarding the Asian arms race. So, a greater range for BrahMos would imply that India’s power to strike would get an unprecedented fillip.
The nuclear exchange in South Asia could become more plausible and believable right at the onset of a crisis or a terrorist attack which can escalate the situation between India and Pakistan, leading to devastating repercussions
Unfortunately, these developments are also compelling Pakistan to take necessary actions to maintain a strategic balance in the region. In addition to these state of the art weapon procurements; India is also in a process of introducing changes to its nuclear doctrine and may adopt a pre-emptive nuclear position. This stance would be an extremely destabilising action which would fundamentally alter the nuclear deterrence equation and strategic stability in South Asia.
The Indian pre-emptive doctrine would be a serious threat for regional peace as it may pressurise Pakistan to consider pushing the nuclear button even before India exercises the pre-emptive nuclear option in a crisis. The No First Use (NFU) actually refers to a pledge by nuclear powers not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons.
It clearly depicts the pre-emptive mindset of India’s conscientious nuclear weapons managers and regulators. Evidently when it comes to India and Pakistan, each and every bit of such intentional or unintentional rhetoric plays a major role in shaping the future.
Consequently, the nuclear exchange in South Asia could become more plausible and believable right at the onset of a crisis or a terrorist attack which can escalate the situation between India and Pakistan, leading to devastating repercussions.
However, looking at the current hardliner Indian government, there is little optimism that India may consider the options to meaningfully resolve the existing issues which perpetuate this instability. It thus becomes imperative for the international community, especially the global powers, to facilitate a dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad and to mediate on the unresolved disputes which pose an existential threat to one third of the world’s population.
Regional forums like South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) can play an important role in facilitating conflict resolution between India and Pakistan.
The writer is associated with the Strategic Vision Institute and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, July 30th 2018.