New Delhi: Pakistan also has been smarter in nuclear power projection than India and in this a Chinese hand may be detected. China and Pakistan act in unison faced with India’s strategic threat while India has no ally or friend to lean on likewise.

Nuclear weapons have a variety of deterrent utilities. At its simplest, deterrence means two equal nuclear powers are deterred from taking offensive action because there will be assured mutual destruction. But nuclear weapons also come in complex theatre configurations in addition to the strategic systems which in turn have different weightings assigned to land, air and sea assets. For example, US arms controllers during the Cold War were spooked by the Soviet lead in mega MIRVed ICBMs while American air and sea weapons seemed comparatively backward in destructive capability. The concept of throw weight emerged from that perceived disproportion.

Further, strategists like Henry Kissinger actually gave thought to nuclear war-fighting as a middle option between conventional war and an all-out nuclear one which could have no winners. Nuclear war-fighting thus conceived had to be waged at theatre level with weapons’ yields reaching a ceiling of Hiroshima/ Nagasaki but for all practical purposes being drastically more modest in destructive power. Nuclear war-fighting was envisaged to be prosecuted at the peripheries of the Soviet empire in a highly militarized version of “containment” that its chief architect, George F. Kennan, keenly contested. Indeed, Kennan found the whole concept of nuclear war-fighting repugnant as part of his general abhorrence of nuclear weapons and deterrence theory.

As a means to prevent escalation of a conventional war to an all-out nuclear one, however, Kissinger’s philosophy of nuclear war-fighting had a fundamental flaw. He designed field plans for victory in nuclear war-fighting without factoring that the losing side would escalate the conflict to produce Armageddon. Nuclear war-fighting could only serve to deter a conventional war or at best its escalation. In and of itself it could not contain escalation. Once prosecuted, it is highly unlikely that it would not lead to all-out nuclear war. In the event, nuclear war-fighting doctrine never gained currency in the Cold War theatres it was designed for; but Pakistan learnt important lessons from it for its periodic confrontations with India. It is in this narrow but critical realm that Pakistan has proved somewhat smarter and more imaginative than India since the May 1998 test.

Pakistan has bolstered its conventional weapons asymmetry with and generic geopolitical subordination to India with nuclear weapons. This is over and above the orthodox strategic deterrence that operates between two roughly comparable nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan. To thwart India’s plans for a rapid land invasion to seize, say, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Pakistan is ready for nuclear war-fighting on the vulnerable fronts. Should India press on with the invasion despite horrendous casualties, then all bets are off. Pakistan will most likely escalate first since the loss of PoK will damage its sovereignty unquestionably and beyond repair. India may escalate on its own first (though unlikely) or secondarily respond. In both cases, the consequences would be infinitely tragic. Civilizations will vaporize in minutes.

However, there is not the remotest chance of such a scenario coming to pass. And there is a simple reason for this. Having determined Pakistan’s seriousness about nuclear war-fighting to preserve its national sovereignty, India is fully aware of how far it can go. As a lesser power, Pakistan is one up on India on this count. India has not been able comparably to narrow its power differential with China with the clever employment of nuclear power: For instance, in the front overlooking Doklam. In the Indian nuclear discourse, disproportionate time is allotted to Pakistan. Pakistan is an obsession. A former defence minister thoughtlessly voiced abandoning the no-first-use policy in the special context of Pakistan. If he had spent a quarter of the time analyzing the Sino-Indian nuclear power-play and how it ought to shape up, it should have been eminently more worthwhile. But the bitter truth is that the Indian nuclear doctrine has scarcely evolved since Pokhran II while Pakistan, aided by China, has made important and spectacular strides.

To be continued...

Also read “Testing time - 1” and “2” here and here.

Editor’s Note: 1. The nation has come virtually to a stop because of the Karnataka election and the post-poll power game. This constitutes a national waste and its mass proportions make it an obscenity. If the trend persists, India has scarce chance to overcome its backwardness and poverty.

2. Too many voices have been raised in suspicion of electronic voting machines; and they do not all belong to the opposition. The 2019 general election must revert to full ballot paper. If the election process is subverted (and there is some cause to fear it may already be happening), Indian democracy has no meaning. As it is, the Election Commission has not covered itself with glory in controversially delinking the Gujarat election or in disqualifying AAP MLAs without giving them a hearing. Those in power cannot be always trusted to play fair.