First, let’s get the recent reports about Pakistan’s nuclear program out of the way. Recently, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) reported that Pakistan was expanding its capabilities across the board, including significantly increasing its nuclear stockpile and developing the nuclear capable Babur (a reverse-engineered USN Tomahawk) cruise missile.
BAS now estimates that Pakistan has between 70-90 nuclear weapons. This, as BAS also reports, is comparable to India’s own nuclear stock, which is estimated to be about 70. However, alarmist news reports in the Indian media dilute the true impact of such enhanced capabilities on India.
Qualitative and quantitative enhancements to nuclear arsenal are part of the natural evolutionary course that nuclear powers traverse. Of course, Pakistan’s unnatural increase in nuclear arsenal in the midst of a debilitating internal security situation is a function of its pathological neurosis with India. But as The Filter Coffee has argued before, India’s nuclear posture with regard to Pakistan need not substantially change due to such revelations.
There are things that India should always continue to do to attain “minimum credible deterrence” — the quest for credible secondary strike capabilities and perfecting its delivery systems need impetus. But India must continue to do these things regardless of what Pakistan does or doesn’t do.
The truth of the matter is, Pakistan is not in a position where it can expect to “win” in a nuclear showdown with a neighbor seven times its size. The scale of damage that Pakistan’s largely sub-kiloton weapons can cause to a country spread across 1.2 million sq. miles with far-flung urban centers, cannot be compared to the cumulative impact of India’s retributive assault on Pakistan’s 2-3 main cities. India’s lesson from this revelation is to continue to develop, enhance and fine-tune its own weapons, and refocus on its laggard missile programs.
The second issue that I wanted to touch on was The New York Times’ article on Pakistan’s illegal modification of the Harpoon anti-ship missile into a land based missile that the US believes is intended for use against India. The US apparently made an “unpublicized diplomatic protest” upon learning of Pakistan’s actions.
At best, this shock and dismay that Pakistan would actually modify a US weapon to enhance its capabilities against India, can be put down to ignorance and naïveté. At worst, it is hypocrisy and mock outrage. If the US sold Pakistan an anti-ship missile, where would the US realistically expect the missile to be used by Pakistan? In a battle against Iran? Against Afghanistan? China? The target of the weapon was always clear — anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the subcontinent’s history will be aware of Pakistan’s preoccupation with India. So why the outrage?
The article also goes on to state: “Pakistan had taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that administration officials praised”. Presumably, Pakistan signed an EUMA with the US for the sale of anti-ship missiles. We are told that “physical inspection” is a standard provision of the US’s EUMA agreements. Indeed, we also know that similar physical inspections of US-supplied Pakistani military hardware have taken place in Pakistan previously (and found to have issues — see page 8). So how is this apparent magnanimity on the part of Pakistan “unusual”? Why does it warrant praise?
The continued sale of sophisticated conventional weaponry to Pakistan (refer to this, via FAS) for “good behavior” is like giving candy to a hyperactive child. The 36 F-16s and 115 115mm howitzers aren’t and won’t be employed by Pakistan in its COIN efforts in NWFP. The US needs ask itself if the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan is a solution to the problem, or part of it.