BMD Dangers in South Asia

Perhaps Russians faced the scourge and sufferings of war more than any other nation on the surface of the earth. The frequent interventions and invasions of Russian territory, particularly from the European side, made them security paranoid – that caused a Russian belief that security is better assured through preponderance rather than equilibrium. Similarly, one can argue that the bitter history of the sub-continent has resulted in Indian paranoia with regards to its security from outside powers. And it is this syndrome that might be one of the major factors that forces India to pursue increased military capabilities.

South Asia is a region with an active nuclear volcano that may ultimately burst, engulfing large swaths of the human population as well as other living beings. It seems that the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan will remain unbridled at least for the foreseeable future. Pakistan’s nuclear anxieties are likely to jump up with every passing day as India is very skillfully consolidating its nuclear legitimacy and an image of a responsible nuclear weapons state with the connivance of major players from the nuclear enterprise. Nevertheless, India’s China paranoia makes the overall regional strategic situation a quagmire and a nasty circle – triggering tremors of global repercussions.

India is on the tedious road to achieve a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system. Let me analyze how Indian moves towards the development of BMD systems risks undermining the already fragile deterrence equation in South Asia – and instigates Pakistan to aim at a nuclear arsenal based on a large number of nuclear devices and associated delivery vehicles, especially ballistic and cruise missiles. In my next post, I will try to examine how Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons are equally destabilizing factor. BMD systems, even when technically not impregnable or fool proof, in practice weaken Pakistan’s counter-value strategy that it envisages to buttress its ‘credible minimum deterrence’.  Given this fact, on one hand it provokes Pakistan to rapidly increase its nuclear capabilities and on the other it causes China to seriously think about the efficacy and credibility of its nuclear deterrent vis-a-via India.

Though the Indian BMD system is in its infancy, once it is matured it may provide more space to India for strategic and tactical maneuvering in South Asia.  In the wake of any terrorist attack on its soil by non-state actors, India may contemplate a compellence strategy more vehemently – especially vis-à-vis Pakistan. It is widely, perhaps rightly perceived by many defense analysts that non-state actors having roots in Pakistan may replicate Mumbai-like attacks inside India that could prompt a crisis between India and Pakistan. In that kind of scenario, BMD systems may embolden India to execute its ‘proactive operations’ strategy under the ‘false’ belief that its metropolitans and Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) are secure from enemy missile attacks in the event of conflict escalation.

In nut shell, an Indian BMD system introduces a very dangerous dimension in the South Asian nuclear template that slowly but surely leads to an arms race between India and Pakistan. The sooner India gets rid of China paranoia the better for South Asia. Strategic stability in South Asia is in the interest of both countries – Pakistan must assure India that its soil will not be used, in any way, by non-state actors for attacks inside India and the latter must relinquish its BMD ambitions. After all, a nuclear arms race is not the solution of any problem in the region – only peace is.

Posted in , BMD, Deterrence, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Muhammad Sadiq

Muhammad Sadiq is a lecturer at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quiad-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan since 2007 and a former visiting fellow (fall 2012) at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, MIIS California. He also served at Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as an “International Relations Analyst” for a short period of time in 2007. He has M.Sc and M.Phil degrees from DSS, QAU. Besides teaching, he is pursuing his PhD from the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. His area of research and teaching include Nuclear Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament, and Nuclear Strategy.

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3 thoughts on “BMD Dangers in South Asia

  1. To play devil’s advocate…why should Pakistani nuclear decision-making and force requirements be shaped by a weapons system that 1) isn’t deployed, 2) doesn’t work, and 3) is easily overcome if it were deployed?

    1) There have been 8 interceptor tests, but India is still a long way from deploying a system. We also know that two of the tests, including the last one, have been failures.
    2) If the US, which has spent billions of dollars over three decades on BMD, can’t field a fail-proof system, how can we expect India to do the same.
    3) Even if India fields an “effective” system, Pakistan can already overcome it. Pakistan has the Babur and Ra’ad cruise missiles, which a BMD system can’t touch. It actually wouldn’t even need more warheads, it could just launch more missiles with dummy warheads in an attack to overwhelm any system.

    I get the psychological impact of BMD, but Pakistan augmenting its arsenal because of BMD would be, on paper, unnecessary and costly.

  2. Shane:

    I fully understand your point of view, these are valid observations. But, if BMD systems are so costly and ineffective then why Indians are adamant to pursue them?

    Pakistan considers its ballistic missiles more essential and credible with regards to its counter-value nuclear strategy. Cruise missiles with relatively less range would face difficulty to reach their targets in the event if they are deployed deep inside Pakistani territory for the purpose of survivability in any eventuality.

    With regards to psychological impact, I would argue Pakistani nuclear decision makers tend to exaggerate threats emanating from any kind of Indian armament. They prefer dispositional factors over situational ones. Indian BMD aspirations are very conveniently used by Pakistani ‘hawks’ to provide a ‘false’ rationale to augment nuclear arsenal.

  3. I agree with the writer. It is a test for Indo-Pak leadrships to carry forward a framework for arms control arrangements for strategic stability in the region. If the Pre War hostile European countries can build consensus on common agendas by forming EU, why not India and Pakistan can take a path for progressive South Asia.

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