Here are some thoughts after reading Perkovich’s excellent paper on non-unitary model of nuclear deterrence

So if I get it right, essentially the world believes that: Pakistan is ‘irrational’ enough to pursue an inherently unstable nuclear doctrine whereby its deterrence has dual purpose:  (a) to establish mutual nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India and (b) to deter India from engaging Pakistan in a prolonged conventional conflict or even to gain quick and cheap military victories. And therefore the ‘irrationality’ of Pakistan’s deterrence is enshrined in the fact that the strategy it has adopted ‘for credibility of its deterrence’ is based on ‘its sponsor of irregular forces to operate from its territory and perpetrate sub conventional violence inside Indian territory.’

Well, if I were as irrational as the strategy, I would believe that following pros would justify such a strategy:


a)     Since Pakistan is a weaker state pitted against India, (which is seven times larger than Pakistan; a stable economy developing at a rapid rate and far superior to Pakistan in conventional force strength), such a strategy allows Pakistan to engage India, keep it on its toes and remain relevant in its otherwise indifferent strategic calculus. Given that the past three wars fought between the two have been more damaging for Pakistan than for India, I being a clever military strategist, find this to be a useful way of bringing India to its knees without fighting them directly.

b)     This constant pressure and engagement diverts Indian focus and attention (from its economic development for example) to dealing with terrorism and developing strategies for fighting sub conventional warfare as opposed to conventional or nuclear war fighting strategies with Pakistan. I am a wisenheimer who believes that this lower level of war fighting is something my military is comfortable with, devoid of strategic nuances of nuclear weapons, since we believe Indians to be rational enough not to step on the escalatory ladder.

c)      This strategy works for my military because it not only infuriates India but also limits Indian response options below the nuclear threshold (it is of course assumed by Pakistani military planners that Indians firmly believe in the principle of proportionality of response and thus would not want to immediately escalate) and keeps Pakistan worry free to pursue engagement on Kashmir issue. (It seems that these irregular forces or ‘freedom fighters’ keep the issue of Kashmir alive by other means constantly reminding India that Kashmir is not quite the ‘atoot-ang’ as is claimed to be. It serves Pakistan’s political agenda too and provides politicians with gusto while making fiery speeches on ‘Kashmir baney ga Pakistan’).

d)     Pakistan’s constant denial of knowledge about presence of irregular forces operating from its territory or denial of Pakistan’s sponsor of such irregular forces to conduct acts of terrorism inside Indian territory, provides Pakistan strategic thinking space to sit back and study the limits of an otherwise ambiguous Indian doctrine and nuclear thresholds. (Yes, between you and me, Pakistani military is conducting some sort of long term strategic experiment on the caged Indian tiger and poke the tiger every 2-5 years to understand the limits of its otherwise ‘profound restraint’).

And since I am irrational, I do not believe that cons exist. They are merely a conspiracy therefore I do not pay any attention to the facts that:

a)     Retaliation from India might come in whatever shape, form and force when Pakistan least expects it if the ‘poking’ continues.  So far, the international community (USA to be precise) has brokered peace deals between the two and their crisis management strategies have been the only source of crisis stability in the region. Both India and Pakistan lack bilateral crisis stability mechanisms and are reliant on third party mediation.

b)     Deterrence can breakdown and escalation to the nuclear ladder might come rapidly spiraling out of control and USA might not be able to make peace between the two countries for any number of reasons. (It could be that India might act without U.S. knowledge or consent when the limit is crossed while Islamabad is awaiting a call from Washington to tone down the rhetoric and signaling).

c)      Issuing denials about knowledge of irregular forces operating independently from its territory can be seen as loss of sovereignty and might not leave any room for compassionate analysis. ‘Denial of loss of sovereignty’ is ostensibly a much bigger sin than acknowledging loss of sovereignty.

d)     Pakistan’s failure to control, capture and punish the perpetrators can be seen as an act of cognizance, which can warrant action from the international community to step in and prevent a collapse of deterrence in South Asia by preventing internal collapse of the state of Pakistan with or without Pakistan’s consent. With already rapid decline of Pakistan’s economy and internal law and order situation, this might become a popular course of action to stop Pakistan from failing on all fronts with ‘nukes on the loose’. Since the entire world is already sitting on the edge awaiting an opportunity to say ‘look, we told you so!’, such a coalition will require little momentum.

A state has to be utterly foolish to pursue such a strategy with such horrific consequences. To assume that Pakistan is pursuing such a strategy by design is to assume that the state is completely devoid of any strategic logic and that its military planners are totally nuts and highly unreasonable. The enemy is neither ‘imaginary’ nor ‘hypothetical’. It is real. When the West talks of ‘deterrence stability’ and mechanisms to ensure it, it acknowledges this reality. Pakistan is acutely aware of this reality and much more. It knows that the international structure is an incentive based system where international relations progresses only based on mutual cooperation. To pursue any other strategy is suicidal given that the penalties for non-cooperation are costly. Pakistan has probably learned this lesson the hard way after having paid significant costs at each given crisis, but the fact that this learning has taken place needs to be acknowledged. What the world needs to learn is that Pakistan might be many things, good, bad and the ugly but ‘irrational’, it is not.

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