India is accelerating induction of advanced weapon systems and platforms putting the South Asian strategic stability in danger. These developments include the Ballistic Missile Defence system. According to Defence Research and Development Organisation chief V.K. Saraswat, BMD system was ready to be deployed for two cities namely New Delhi and Mumbai on short notice in 2012. India has commissioned nuclear powered ballistic missile INS Arihant submarine 2016. The Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile was tested in 2012. Reportedly, India is also developing the Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle System. The US-India Nuclear Deal was signed in 2008 giving India access to advance nuclear technology. Indian strategic partnership with the United States is another major factor, which is causing trilateral security dilemma in South Asia.
Most of these new systems are unjustified when it comes to deterring and balancing Pakistan. India has already an edge vis-à-vis Pakistan in conventional forces. Ideally, the presence of nuclear deterrence on both sides should significantly minimize the chances of war. But India had developed thinking of limited war after Kargil Crisis of 1999 when both countries refrained from escalating the crisis. India later developed a limited war doctrine named Cold Start Doctrine. The idea of a limited war under a nuclear umbrella is dangerous. There are a number of factors which can escalate the crisis to a nuclear exchange, i.e., the break up of the chain of command and any miscalculation and miscommunication.
With large conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons provide Pakistan deterrence against an Indian attack. But the development of further advanced capabilities by India, i.e., the Prithvi BMD system and Arihant, negatively affect Pakistan’s credible minimum deterrence posture. The BMDs are destabilizing because there are challenges and limitations attached to BMD system. The BMD system has a high cost, and its success rate is not hundred per cent. This can give India false sense of security. This false sense of security and confidence from the third leg of Indian nuclear deterrence can tempt India to use pre-emptive strike against Pakistan’s strategic assets. The situation was further exacerbated when the Indian No First Use (NFU) doctrine became controversial with statements coming from former national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and former defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
Pakistan’s security calculus has become more complicated due to these developments on the Indian side. These advances will push Pakistan to take steps to restore the credibility of its deterrence vis-à-vis India. It is not possible for smaller Pakistani economy to counter every new Indian manoeuvre in equal measure. Although Pakistan has tested sea-launched version of Babur, nuclear-capable cruise missile, a step towards nuclear triad but it was launched from the diesel-electric Agosta submarine that is the conventional powered submarine. Nuclear powered submarines operate at higher speed and can stay submerged for a longer time than conventional powered submarines. This tilts strategic balance in Indian favour. It is difficult for Pakistan to get nuclear-powered submarine due to budgetary constraints to make its nuclear triad more credible. Same is the case with BMDs. For Pakistan, it’s not possible to acquire its own BMD in response to Indian BMD due to financial limitations.
China is the primary reference for Indian justification of its fast military growth. India developed Agni V enabling it to target Eastern China. India also engages in the naval developments and nuclearisation of Indian Ocean –a response to growing Chinese presence in Indian Ocean Region. China, on the other hand, sees the US partnership with Japan, India, Australia and South Korea against its interests in the region. China has its economic interests spread from Asia to Africa. Most of its trade is conducted through Pacific and Indian Oceans. China feels that its supply lines in Indian and Pacific Oceans can easily become subject to blockade in case of conflict with the US or its allies. China terms its enhanced naval capabilities are for the protection of sea-lanes of communications (SLOCs) and to avoid any potential blockade.
When justifying these developments, India cites dangers from the Chinese and Pakistani side, which are mostly exaggerated. The major driver behind these Indian developments is its ambitions of acquiring great power status and hegemon of Indian Ocean Region. India sees itself as a natural leader of IOR. The United States in its desire to keep a check on China is letting India build its military muscles. The US policy of Pivot of Asia and maintaining the status of the sole supreme power of the world is affecting Asian security adversely.
The United States is not playing its role for arms control in the region as it sees India as an export market for its arms manufacturing industry. According to US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells, US military sales to India has gone from zero to $15 billion in the last ten years. It also hopes to get a major share in Indian military modernization program 2030. The US policies are creating arms race and security dilemma in the region. The US raises concerns over Chinese or Pakistani military developments, but Indian developments go unchecked. Also, there is little or no talk and debate on the Indian military growth in Western discourse.
The US should understand its policies are causing instability in the region but with Donald Trump in office; there is little hope in this regard. United States can facilitate talks on confidence-building measures (CBMs) including a BMD treaty and other arms control agreements between India and Pakistan. Otherwise, the spiralling arms race characteristic of the worst days of the Cold War will be manifested in South Asia.
A version of this article appeared in The Nation, newspaper.
Samran Ali is working as a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS). He holds a masters degree in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include the geo-political and strategic issues of South Asia, with special reference to nuclear politics and relations between India and Pakistan, and foreign policy issues of Pakistan.