Centre for International Strategic Studies organized a roundtable on the 23rd of August, 2017, titled Pakistan’s Nasr: A French Perspective on Short-Range Nuclear Weapons. The speaker for the occasion was Dr. Christine M. Leah, who is also the author of a paper by the same title. In her talk, Dr. Leah talked about how the Pakistani acquisition of short range, low yield nuclear weapons had led it to be singled out as a state that needs to “normalize” its nuclear programme, but how the French concept of nuclear weapons during the Cold War was rather similar to Pakistan’s perspective on short range nuclear weapons.
Dr. Leah pointed out that the French short range nuclear weapons, which started developing from the late 1960s and remained in service until the late 1990s, were not meant to be used for the purpose of war-fighting, but intended to serve for deterrence of a conventional invasion by the Soviets. Pakistan’s “tactical”, “battlefield” or “short range” nuclear weapons are meant to serve a similar function in the face of a conventional offensive by India, as is postulated in the latter’s Cold Start Doctrine.
The extent to which France’s nuclear policy was credible, including the extent to which France could deter the Soviet Union outside the context of NATO’s deterrent efforts, notwithstanding, Dr. Leah explained the French policy in terms of a dyadic relationship between Soviet Russia and France.
The term “credible minimum” has been much debated and also attracted some criticism in the past for being too vague.
Former Pakistani Ambassador Zamir Akram in the discussion that followed after the talks pointed out three things: First, that General Kidwai initially called the weapons “low yield” weapons and not tactical or battlefield. The other terms were adopted by outside states. Second, that France had more time and experience compared to Pakistan, which had to learn the ropes from scratch on its own. Third, “TNWs” are essentially meant for avoiding the breakdown of deterrence at the conventional level, and thus had to be categorized as a counterforce weapon.
Dr. Naeem Salik, Senior Research Fellow at CISS also made some important additions. The yield of French and other European TNWs had been 80-200 kilotons. In the South Asian context, the TNWs are 1kiloton, maybe a couple. It has a very small yield which qualitatively changes the effect that would come out of the strike as compared to French or European TNWs. It is the psychological impact that is more important than the physical one.
Brig Zahir Kazmi of SPD added that all TNWs are strategic weapons, intended to be a force multiplier. The term “tactical” nuclear weapon is a misnomer, he said.
The Round table was well attended by experts from academia and think tanks and representatives from foreign missions in Islamabad. The discussion was followed by an interactive question and answer session.