The evolving nuclear-weapons order in South Asia is remarkably striking. The
region's nuclear weapon states - India and Pakistan - have, since the start of
the twenty-first century, been following the rival 'credible minimum deterrence'
and 'full spectrum' pathways to secure strategic stability.
The diametrically opposite or rival posture, however, widens the spectre of a
nuclear-flash and increases the plausibility of a holocaust. In fact, they call
into question the true intention of the parties and cast a shadow of doubt over
the pledge to use nuclear weapons as 'the instrument of last resort'.
This paper deciphers India's 'credible minimum deterrence'; disentangles
Pakistan's 'full spectrum; and examines the resultant consequences. It argues
that the rival deterrent postures are the result of mutually reinforcing
elements present in the respective nuclear paradigms.
India and Pakistan, the regional nuclear powers, are in a truss of mutually
assured destruction. The chosen paths, however, are (apparently) distinct:
'credible minimum deterrence' and 'full spectrum deterrence'. Irrespective
of the chosen paths, the ultimate fate will be analogous though - total
Whether a credible minimum deterrence or a full spectrum posture, it promises
obliteration of 'the enemy'. Yet, India's deterrence posture is, strictly
speaking, neither credible nor minimum as it cannot be credible and minimum,
simultaneously. Correspondingly, Pakistan's full spectrum posture most certainly
is not 'full' in any substantive comparison either.
The cumulative effect of such yet-to-fully-blossom and diametrically opposite
postures on strategic stability is daunting. And, it ought to be understood in
depth if one wants to find a prudent paradigm to enhance the prospects of
stability. This paper deciphers India's 'credible minimum deterrence';
disentangles Pakistan's 'full spectrum; and examines the resultant consequences.
The central argument is - the rival deterrent postures have sprung from mutually
reinforcing elements present within the respective nuclear paradigms. The paper
has five sections - the first deciphers India's 'credible minimum deterrence;
the second disentangles Pakistan's 'full spectrum'; and the third stipulates
mutually reinforcing complementarities. The fourth section elucidates the
resultant consequences, while the fifth concisely sketches India's policy
India - The Credible Minimum Deterrence
Deterrence as a concept, according to Barry Buzan, aims to impede an unprovoked
action by the antagonist before it occurs, and is comprised of both 'denial' and
'retaliation'. The core message to an antagonist is that the cost of an
unprovoked action is going to be greater than the perceived rewards. Such an
unequivocal message demonstrates not only a protagonist's understanding of the
antagonist's motives, decision-making process, places, procedures and modes of
delivery system and political resolve, but also one's own ability to influence
the antagonist's cost-benefit calculus.
The credible deterrent, simply worded, involves systematic calculation of one's
own threat capacities as to assured punishment through nuclear means. Here,
the judicious point is an 'assured retaliation' or second-strike capability with
or without a rider such as 'minimum deterrence'.
Even if minimalist riders are attached to underscore the defensive nature of
deterrence, it means little in the operational sense of the term. Moreover, a
minimalist orientation fused with credible deterrence is a conceptual device to
keep a leeway for arsenal expansion, if necessary. It is in this context, that
one tries to decipher India's so called 'credible minimum deterrence'.
As the term indicates, it has two key components-credibility and minimalism
Credibility, conceptually speaking, connotes an exceptional combination of
operational prudence, systemic sturdiness and political resolve to undertake
assured retaliation, if provoked. The other related imperative is survivability
- the capability to circumvent the first strike and the will to retaliate in a
large way. The minimalism, on the other hand, is about size, posture, cost and
strictly monitored delivery of arsenal. Such a minimalist rider, nonetheless,
does not mean much from an operational standpoint.
The liaising concept between credibility and minimalism is the 'no first use' of
nuclear weapons (NFU). The NFU is premised as an acceptance, albeit
hesitantly, of the fact that it will absorb the first nuclear strike on its soil
assuming it as the necessary evil or price to be paid for a defensive posture.
On taking a nuclear hit, the NFU constraint is swiftly suspended and a massive
realisation ensues. Despite recent debates surrounding resultant benefits and
viability of unequivocal NFU, India continues to adhere (as of now) to the NFU,
if not in practice but rhetoric. 
One, however, needs to put India's repetitive insistence on credible minimum
deterrence in perspective. First, India's adherence to credible minimum
deterrence is inherently rhetorical. Second, the repetitive insistence is
theoretically realistic and methodically rational.
Third, India's deterrence targets China, a far bigger and more powerful
adversary. By highlighting a minimalist orientation of deterrence, India is
probably trying to pacify China's strategic anxieties. Fourth, India hopes to
insulate the border dispute with China from a nuclear weapons standpoint as it
could hardly expect a decisive win against China.
Finally, India may also be trying to forestall prospects of China's direct
involvement in India-Pakistan confrontation in the future. In other words,
India's credible minimum deterrence is truthfully an outcome of fact-induced
analysis, not merely a self-serving moralistic proposition. While Pakistan is
definitely a factor in India's nuclear calculus; however, India's proven
conventional superiority is probably being perceived by policy makers as
sufficient to tackle any Pakistani nuclear misadventure.
Accordingly, India has patiently been developing, updating and/or enhancing
delivery vehicles, surveillance systems, cyberspace security and command and
control architecture of its nuclear weapons programmeThe nuclear weapons
programme has four key components - arsenals, missiles, aircrafts and
submarines. India, for example, possesses around 130-140 nuclear warheads and
about 150-200 warhead-equivalents of fissile material.
The preferred delivery vehicles include short, medium and long-range ballistic
missiles - Brahmas 1 (300km) land-attack cruise missiles; Prithvi-1 & 2 (150 and
250km) short-range ballistic missiles; and Agni-1,2,3 (700, 2000, and 3200km)
medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Other delivery vehicles are
aircrafts - Mirage 2000H, Jaguar IS/IB and MiG-27.
India also has a ballistic submarine project comprising K-15 Sagarika (SLBM)
with a range of 750km and a longer-range 3500km K-4 SLBM. Besides, India has the
capability to carry out manned/unmanned reconnaissance using IAI Searcher Mk II
(300km) unmanned aerial vehicles, IAI Heron (1000km) remotely piloted vehicles,
and a range of satellites such as Cartosat-2 Series - national imagery
satellites; Digital Globe Worldview-4 - commercial imagery satellites;
RISAT-1/RISAT-2- - national radar satellites; and TerraSAR-X -commercial radar
Pakistan - The Full Spectrum Posture
The full spectrum deterrence posture  theoretically speaking, is an
amalgamation of three elements. The first is perceptual. It means, the full
spectrum distributes nuclear arsenals, platforms, delivery vehicles,
surveillance and command and control spatially - on land, air and marine, and
this complicates the task of detecting, tracking, disarming and destroying them.
Moreover, this raises the possibility of misinformation, miscalculation and
systemic malfunction across the spectrum.
The second element is quantitative-qualitative. Quantitatively, the full
spectrum splinters the arsenal by increasing numbers and qualitatively makes
them small and sturdy. This enhances, in real time, plausibility of accident,
theft and unauthorised use. The third element is the low nuclear threshold.
The full spectrum deterrence posture lowers the nuclear threshold by deploying
low-yield nuclear devices close to the battle zones. In other words, nuclear
arsenals, as the taboo goes, are not the means of war but of deterrence. The
full spectrum posture could, however, undermine this much desired restriction by
spreading nuclear arsenals all over the battlefield.
Pakistan, as stipulated by official statements has shifted from 'strategic' to
'full spectrum posture' so as to extricate its conventional military equation
with India by increasing dependence on nuclear arsenals. The full spectrum
is also being justified as a befitting reply to India's limited war strategy
against Pakistan, the Cold Start Doctrine. The CSD is believed to be
designed to penetrate Pakistan without crossing its nuclear threshold.
The oft cited scenario when Pakistan might resort to use of nuclear arsenal is
when India invades a sizable chunk of Pakistani territory, the 'space
threshold'; India knocks out a large Pakistani land or air force, the 'military
threshold'; India tries to weakenPakistan's economy, the 'economic threshold';
or India subverts Pakistan's domestic stability, the domestic destabilization
threshold. In short, the full spectrum is a comprehensive, castigatory and
focused paradigm aimed at nullifying India's conventional superiority.
The 'full spectrum deterrence', can also be viewed as strategic, operational and
tactical. At the strategic level, Pakistan possesses multiple medium and
intermediate range missiles: Ghauri (1300km), Shaheen-II (2000km), and Shaheen-III
(2750km) ballistic missiles. This ability, reportedly, enables Pakistan to
strike any target in India. At the operational level, short-range missiles (Nasr)
can also contribute. The Nasr is a surface-to-surface multi tube ballistic
missile with a range of 60 km. It is said to be capable of carrying nuclear
warheads with a shoot and scoot feature.
In addition to Nasr, the operational short-range systems include the subsonic
Babur Land Attack Cruise Missile (700km), Raad Air Launched Cruise Missile
(350km), Abdali (180km) and Ghaznavi (280km). At the tactical level, the most
potent devices are 'Tactical Nuclear Weapons' (TNWs). The TNWs, the battlefield
nuclear weapons, are principally crafted to obliterate large military formations
of the enemy.
One, however, needs to view Pakistan's shift from 'strategic' to 'full spectrum'
from a counterbalance standpoint. This rectifying standpoint, in the nuclear
weapons context, refers to an ability of the protagonist to raise, organise and
incessantly maintain appropriate levels of force or a combination of forces. The
main objective of counterbalance is to be able to match, in the broad sense of
the term, the balance of power of the antagonist. Such a counterbalance has to
be of such character and design that it will be enough to manage, contain or
dismantle the fighting ability of the antagonist.
Pakistan's full spectrum is believed to be of the same character. As with any
other counterbalance strategy, Pakistan's goal to manage India's conventional
superiority using an increased nuclear defence posture is as insubstantial as
any similar attempt elsewhere in the world. Pakistan, nevertheless, continues to
rely on nuclear deterrence to stand up to India with all related advantages and
Mutually Reinforcing Elements - The Complementarities
India's credible minimum deterrence and Pakistan's full spectrum have a number
of mutually reinforcing elements. The first is India's conventional superiority
vis-�-vis Pakistan India's ability to overpower Pakistan on account of
conventional superiority is pervasive, besides being politically advantageous.
Similarly, the great desire to somehow overcome Indian superiority is also
equally pervasive in Pakistan.
Crucially, Pakistan's parity desire, and India's superiority complement one
another. For example, anti-Pakistan or anti-Indian rhetoric, across the dividing
line, is a potent tool to stroke nationalist sentiment in order to gain
electoral and/or political mileage.
This is probably one of the main reasons why they discredit one another in every
possible way and in every plausible field. The deterrent postures are symptoms
of this self-serving rhetoric. Moreover, whether defensive or offensive, the
deterrent postures cannot exist in a vacuum. Rather, they demand political,
cultural and nationalist complementarities that perpetuate them, and both India
and Pakistan seem to have plenty of it.
The second reinforcing element is India's desire to teach Pakistan a lesson
and Pakistan's ambition) to daunt Indian designs to mutilate Pakistan,
as it did in 1972. Indian leaders, cutting across ideological divides, strive to
punish Pakistan for its support to militancy in Kashmir which often continues to
cause deaths and destruction. Indian leaders, therefore, vow to teach Pakistan a
Likewise, Pakistanis elite seem equally determined to defeat India's designs to
mutilate Pakistan, and it views support for militancy in Indian Kashmir as an
indispensable pressure tactic. In a nutshell, the pervasive Indian desire to
teach Pakistan a lesson and Pakistan's ambition to deter India's anti-Pakistan
activities is prompting both sides to build a nuclear muscle.
The third reinforcing element is Pakistan's policy of challenging India's
regional hegemony and the analogous Indian policy of ruining Pakistan
economically. India, for reasons not difficult to fathom, desires to rise and
rule the subcontinent. The Indian elite, cutting across most party lines, assert
that India was, for millennia, a great power and that the time has come to
reclaim that status. According to this account, India had lost its power status
due to the British invasion.
Nevertheless, India is now rich and powerful enough to bear the cost of
reclaiming the past glory. The reclaiming endeavour demands acquiring,
augmenting and exhibiting all dimensions of power and nuclear weaponry is one of
the momentous ingredients of power. Conversely, Pakistan challenges India's
power-position in the subcontinent.
However, Pakistan lacks the means of denial. It does, nevertheless seek support
from competitive powers. China is plausibly the most relevant competitor who
unconditionally supports Pakistan. India's reply is to run down Pakistan
economically. The desired methods include trapping Pakistan into a conventional
and non-conventional arms race; depriving Pakistan of development opportunities
and imposing trade barriers on Pakistani imports. Indian strategists probably
believe that a poorer Pakistan will eventually mend its ways.
The fourth reinforcing element is India's endeavour to raise the prospect of
limited war against Pakistan and Pakistan's embrace of "tactical nuclear
weapons". India intends to conjure up conventional forces which will
seriously harm, in the shortest time possible, Pakistan's strategic assets. In
response, Pakistan has lowered the nuclear threshold with the TNWs. The TNWs are
smaller and sturdier devices and Pakistan believes that they will jeopardise
India's limited war strategy. This policy in India is known as 'cold start
doctrine' and in Pakistan as 'pouring cold water on cold start'.
Finally, the dispute of Kashmir, in the view of both nations, could
decisively be resolved using the ultimate instrument - a nuclear bomb. In fact,
they had publicly stated that the real intent behind the acquisition of a
nuclear arsenal was to change the Kashmir equation. The entire enterprise of
acquiring, augmenting and organising nuclear capability, the proponents argue,
was to alter in their favour the situation in Kashmir.
It calls Kashmir's accession to India a 'stab in the back' and demands its
return saying Kashmir's accession violates the agreed principle of partition -
all Muslim majority regions were to become parts of Pakistan. In other words,
Kashmir is a major irritant in India-Pakistan relations and a real nuclear flash
The adverse consequences of the evolving nuclear-weapons order are many;
however, this section explicates the major ones: The most visible consequence is
regional segregation. The prospect of sustainable development, in this era of
globalisation, global finance and melting glaciers, hinges on how the countries
integrate themselves in a regional (supranational) single market, common
currency and defence policy, besides being willing to shake hands with anybody
who is able and willing to support welfare endeavours. The European countries,
for example, have more or less integrated themselves into a regional forum and
now boast of a single market, currency and defence policy.
South Asia, in fact, has its own regional arrangement, the South Asian
Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). SAARC, however, turns out to be a
failure because of India-Pakistan strategic rivalry. The diametrically
opposite nuclear deterrents are a manifestation of this rivalry which has
adversely affected regional affluence, welfare, and otherwise attainable
prospects of regional integration.
Moreover, the rival deterrent postures and resulting strategic acrimony have
rendered millions hostage to a potential nuclear holocaust; for, no country will
be immune from a nuclear fallout, given their cultural, economic and
geographical proximity. SAARC, an otherwise promising concept, has therefore not
been able to take off 
Another adverse consequence is seen in the economies of the region. The whole of
South Asia, for millennia, had been a closely knit economic entity, the strings
of which were the traditional trade-routes that connected key cities, towns,
ports and trade centres. The colonial masters, the British in particular, had
extended the road and rail network to a significant extent, but carelessly
disrupted it, during the process of partition.
Nevertheless, the subcontinent, more or less, remained economically connected as
regional economies struggled to salvage dwindling profits by accessing each
other's raw material and ready markets. Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh were and still
are dependent on access to ready markets in India. Pakistan had also been part
of this regional network until it became a separate political entity.
Moreover, the regional economies, India and Pakistan included, faced analogous
economic problems, challenges, constraints and opportunities and were very keen
to boost trade. The India-Pakistan rivalry has however been hampering regional
economies and is being blamed in part for the region's poor performance. In
a nutshell, without meaningful involvement of the region's two largest economies
- India and Pakistan - sub-continental integration remains an illusion.
The evolving nuclear weapons equation has also adversely affected the domestic
politics of India and Pakistan. India's domestic politics is essentially a
caste, creed, language and region-based process, despite some tall claims of
India's political pundits. It is affected by social segregation, discrimination
and violence between communities, especially before and during election periods.
The incidents of intimidation, disproportionate presence of security forces
during elections in the name of security, particularly in border areas, are too
common to ignore. Such a domestic environment lends itself to easy exploitation
to milk maximum political benefits by politics of polarisation.The
bickering between India-Pakistan becomes useful for predatory political forces.
The Pakistani domestic scene  is not very different either. The same tactics
are deployed in Pakistan as well - social segregation, discrimination, violence
against religious minorities. In fact, Pakistani political actors share
remarkably similar socio-cultural and structural attributes with their Indian
counterparts. The consequences are often comparable for polity, politics and
society. The ever-deepening rivalry and the consequent postures, thereof
continue to add fuel to fire in domestic domains.
Finally, the consequence of the rival deterrent postures is also visible on the
military machines of both the countries. However, the Pakistan military appears
to influence its security policy more than their Indian counterpart. The
difference, nevertheless, is more in style than substance, for both the
militaries have acquired a dynamic of their own and revel in an unprecedented
level of freedom.
The Pakistan military, due to historical, political and strategic reasons, has
been driven to oversee the process of national reconstruction, economic
development and social cohesion by directly seizing power again and again, apart
from preserving the country territorially.
These unique circumstances have been utilised smartly by the Pakistani military
leaders to position themselves as the sole guardians of the other governing
institutions - the legislature, executive and judiciary, as a result, have
been left with little option but to collaborate with the armed forces.
In practice, this means accommodating the military's viewpoint with regard to
national stability, security and foreign relations and any other issue that the
army brass perceives as imperative for preserving Pakistan. Subsequently, the
national security policy, including the nuclear weapons programme has become the
prerogative of the military.
The Indian military, though formally under civilian control, has also grown by
leaps and bounds. It is now a powerful establishment that no political
dispensation could afford to displease. The Indian military's rise is an outcome
of consistent political support since political independence in 1947.
Yet, it has smartly carved out a niche of its own, where any interference,
including political, is fiercely resisted. India's Kashmir policy, for instance,
is largely influenced by the defence forces, particularly the army. The
around-the-clock surveillance of civilians use of pellet-guns against
protesters, burning peoples' houses for flushing out militants, unlawful
abductions, custodial deaths and encounter killings reveal the legal, political
and operational latitude earned by the army. In short, the Pakistani and Indian
military machines have been instrumental in forging the security, strategic and
foreign policies of their respective countries, including the nuclear deterrent
India's Policy Options
Though India has several options for achieving nuclear-weapons stability, the
most logical one is to crystallise and adequately anchor the existing credible
minimum deterrence, including the NFU. First, the crystallised deterrence
expunges ambiguity by elucidating theoretical, organisational and operational
Such deterrence meticulously postulates the textures, tasks, technologies and
targets intended. The Indian deterrent, nevertheless, lacks adequate clarity.
Indian pundits, for instance, have lately been arguing about the so called
inherent flexibility present in its deterrence doctrine as to the NFU. This,
however, erodes 'assured retaliation'. A demonstrative deterrence is all about
assured reprisal and not about a straight or veiled threat of 'pre-emptive
Second, India must place in the public domain all theoretical as well as
practical elements of its nuclear deterrence - arsenal diversity, institutional
accountability, operational integrity, readiness of surveillance systems and
relevant delivery modes. This does not however mean revealing everything.
The concrete elements in the public domain nevertheless fetch substantial
dividends in the form of positive opinions, endorsement and support. For
instance, if the public is aware of the probable numbers of weapons, spatial
spread of delivery platforms, distribution of liability across institutions, and
command and control architecture, the anticipated goal of nuclear weapons will
be more widely appreciated.
Finally, the deterrence posture needs to be properly anchored. The purported
deterrence delivers intended outcomes only when it enables wider acceptability,
while enduring wider contemplation. This, nonetheless, requires a concerted
campaign to raise public awareness, coupled with a commitment to avoid actual
use of nuclear weapons. India's deterrence, at the moment at least, does not
appear to enjoy wider appreciation due to inadequate, improper and deficient
anchoring in the larger audience.
The evolving nuclear weapons situation in South Asia is unquestionably
obstructive for nuclear stability, for the parties concerned seem more
interested in undermining the credibility of their own deterrence by espousing a
protracted notion of 'counter-force' (pre-emptive strike) as opposed to 'assured
The peaceniks, however, hope that the parties - India and Pakistan - will
eventually recognise the dangers associated with nuclear weapons and appreciate
each other's strategic concerns by issuing categorical official statements that
nuclear weapons are not weapons of war but tools of deterrence.
Written by: Nadiya Ayyan
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