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The worst offense

The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by holding on to tedious “arms race” narratives about India and Pakistan.

Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense ran a blogpost this morning entitled “The most likely apocalypse in our future: An Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange.”  As a fan of the blog, I was disappointed with the sort of arguments put forth in the blogpost, peppered as it was with pedestrian and illogical arguments (many sourced from discussions at a recent Carnegie event) . My INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar has exceptional rebuttal to the above blogpost, but this post will try to touch on a couple of other points.  Let us examine some of these arguments put forth in the blogpost (emphasis added as needed):

The fuse to ignite a war has been lit before — at Kargil in 1999, after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and most recently, after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 — but a nuclear exchange has been prevented each time. With each of these incidents, though, the fuse has been cut shorter.

Way to use the passive voice.  But it begs the question, “who lit the fuse exactly?” If memory serves one right, during Kargil, it was Pakistan’s COAS, the good Gen. Musharraf, who moved his nuclear assets to the border with India at a time when India responded with limited conventional force in the face of extreme provocation from Pakistan.  Similarly, during the Mumbai attacks, it was Pakistan — not India — that tried to sell the rest of the world the story of an impending nuclear war with India. But such Pakistani hullabaloo is only to be expected — conveying the threat of a nuclear fallout is  a vital component to insulating itself, while continuing to use sub-conventional warfare against India — a “derivative of nuclear deterrence,” as K. Subrahmanyam called it.

The blogpost further states:

The greatest risk for nuclear war in our time is the scenario in which a Pakistan-based terror group with ties to ISI launches another attack on India. It’s nearly happened before. Aparna Pande, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the strong pro-nuclear strike faction in Indian politics after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the common sentiment of, “if Pakistan can cross the border and hit us, why can’t we hit back?”

I would submit that Ms. Pande’s quote is presented out of context.  When one state continues to use terrorism as an instrument of policy against another, isn’t it only logical that the victimized state would assess its response options?  Why does the blogpost assume that India’s response would necessarily be nuclear?  In fact, given India’s conventional superiority wrt Pakistan, why would India ever consider such an option?  “Pro-nuclear strike faction” indeed!

And the pièce de résistance:

A journalist for the Pakistani Spectator, in worried and urgent tones, told the panel that, with the prevailing popular opinion in Pakistan, the United States is “pushing Pakistan in the corner, and they are depending more on the weapon because Pakistan is literally collapsing.” It will be up to the international community, and largely the United States, to help buttress Pakistan’s faltering democracy. The success or failure of stabilization efforts in the next several years will determine which cliché the Pakistani bomb will become: common ground, bargaining chip, or loose cannon.

First, this blogger would like some clarification on what corner Pakistan is being pushed into, who is pushing it into said corner, and what all this pushing-about business has to do with its accumulation of nuclear weapons.  Are we to understand from the Pakistani Spectator’s journalist that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are no longer India-centric and that it is now acquiring nuclear weapons as a contingency against the U.S. (the alleged entity pushing Pakistan into a corner)?  And second, how would Pakistan’s continued accumulation of nuclear weapons save it from collapsing?  Nuclear weapons, after all, are built to destroy, not built to build.

As this blogpost has pointed out previously, Pakistan sees value in portraying itself an an irrational and unstable state. A nuclear-armed Islamic state teetering on the precipice is bound to attract Washington’s attention, and benevolence. There is simply no link between the sort of assurances that the U.S. seeks to obtain on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project and the emergence of true democracy in Pakistan.  In fact, Pakistan’s proliferation track record under the leadership of the likes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto should worry D.C. even more.

But if you think you have heard this sort of spiel somewhere before, it’s because you have.  Many in D.C. are so captivated by the theme of India and Pakistan — each apparently as equally likely as the other to initiate a nuclear attack — endangering the region unless the U.S. steps in to resolve their disputes, that they have long forsaken much required rational assessments of the situation in the subcontinent.

Yet, that these sorts of dangerous arguments are perpetuated in high profile opinion pieces does the world no favors. In a recent, carefully articulated op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Messrs. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Hunn, wrote as follows:

Fifth, we recognize that for some nations, nuclear weapons may continue to appear relevant to their immediate security. There are certain undeniable dynamics in play—for example, the emergence of a nuclear-armed neighbor, or the perception of inferiority in conventional forces—that if not addressed could lead to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and an increased risk they will be used. Thus, while the four of us believe that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective, some nations will hesitate to draw or act on the same conclusion unless regional confrontations and conflicts are addressed. We must therefore redouble our efforts to resolve these issues. [The Wall Street Journal]

Thinking in the U.S. will hopefully evolve to understanding the nature of Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship and its impact on India, the U.S. and the world.  This will require folks in D.C. to truly examine what Pakistan is seeking to achieve and depart from the tedious narratives about a non-existent regional nuclear arms race.  Not altering the current trajectory of thought, and not doing so quickly, will be the worst offense.


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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

What’s at stake and who should be worried.

Foreign Policy ran a piece by SWJ’s Robert Haddick on recent disclosures about Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal.  Pakistan’s single-minded pursuit of destabilizing the subcontinent should not come as a surprise to those that have followed Pakistan’s weapons program.  However, this article, like many others in the West, perpetuates the notion of an “arms race” in the subcontinent that Pakistan is swept helplessly into.  This blogger finds such narratives very disturbing, and hence the rebuttal.  Mr. Haddick’s first paragraph on Pakistan reads thus:

The most obvious and enduring explanation for the continuing buildup in Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is the inescapable demographic and economic superiority enjoyed by India. India’s economy is nearly nine times larger than Pakistan’s, it spends 7.6 times more per year on its military and can mobilize 6.8 times as many military-aged males. Absent the arrival of previously unknown trust between the two countries, nuclear weapons are the only way for Pakistan to reassure itself about this unfixable strategic imbalance.

No, the explanation is neither the most obvious, nor enduring.  Because it presupposes and rationalizes the argument that Pakistan must gain strategic parity with India under all circumstances.  This, of course, is misleading because there simply is no reason for a country one-ninth that of India to try and gain parity with it, especially when India has never provoked conflict with it.

Let us also be careful about throwing about numbers on defense spending.  Yes, India does spend considerably more than Pakistan does in absolute numbers.  However, India’s defense spending, firstly, isn’t Pakistan-centric.  And second, when considered as a percentage of GDP, Pakistan’s defense spending is at about 5%, while India’s is below 2.5%.  This does not even factor in the $2 billion the U.S. provided Pakistan in overt military aid, which in and of itself amounts to about 1.2% of Pakistan’s GDP.  That should put Pakistan’s defense “spending” at 6.2% of GDP for FYE11.  And let us not even get into discussions about the misappropriation of aid provided to Pakistan.

Next, the article attempts to draw parallels between Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal and the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement:

The completion of the civil nuclear agreement between Washington and New Dehli was no doubt highly disturbing to Pakistan. With India’s nuclear technology and expertise fungible, the civil nuclear agreement allowed India to divert resources to its military nuclear program. Pakistan likely concluded that it had to respond to a potentially much larger Indian nuclear program at some point in the future.

Again, a very convenient excuse.  No doubt, the civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. does disturb Pakistan.  But not because it “allows India to divert resources to its military nuclear program” but really because it negates the parity that Pakistan imagines it has with India.

If India really wanted to produce more nuclear weapons than it already has, it can, since it has sufficient fissile material reserves (as opposed to Pakistan).  The fact that India hasn’t weaponized its reserves amply demonstrates that it is committed to maintaining minimum credible deterrence (something that Pakistan has never been committed to).

But here’s the kicker in the article:

The latest round of nuclear news out of Pakistan demonstrates that South Asia has not found a way out of the security dilemma it has long been in.

Excuse me, “South Asia?”  Let us not equate the actions of a rogue state with one that has been a constructive participant of several nonproliferation and disarmament discussions, including the FMCT talks.  Let us not also assume that Pakistan has no option but to add more weapons to its stockpile because of India.  If Pakistan was concerned about deterrence, it should revisit the unfolding of events subsequent to the December 13, 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament and 26/11.

The question that the West must ask is why Pakistan continues to add weapons to its stockpile, especially when their payloads are unlikely to give India any more of a headache than they already do. Mr. Haddick alludes to one aspect of this in his discussions about Iran — but the key here isn’t Iran per se, it is Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Rawalpindi sees value in portraying Pakistan to be an unstable and irrational state.  An Islamic state teetering on the precipice while adding nuclear weapons to its stockpile quicker than any other nation is bound to attract Washington’s attention — and benevolence.

Pakistan’s most successful industry today is selling its irrationality to the rest of the world.  Rawalpindi is the snake-oil salesman and Washington, the wide-eyed wonder.  The U.S. has doled out billions of dollars to Pakistan since 2001.  How does it know how the money was spent, and if it ever made it to its intended recipients? What has the U.S. received from Pakistan after 10 years of appeasement?  The answer to these questions should worry D.C. more than it should New Delhi.

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Guestpost: Stuxnet and India

[This is a guest blogpost by Srikanth R., Senior Research Associate at the Takshashila Institution. In this blogpost, Srikanth provides context to the Stuxnet Trojan and highlights preventive measures India can take to minimize collateral damage.]

News on the impact of what has come to be known as the Stuxnet Trojan on Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and Bushehr has generated a considerable amount of media and academic interest on its origins.  In a briefing to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sean McGurk, director of Homeland Security’s national cybersecurity operations center, described Stuxnet as a “game changer.”

According to the Siemens product support site, Stuxnet affects Microsoft Windows PCs with WinCC and PCS 7.  The malware spreads via mobile data carriers, for example USB sticks, and networks. The Trojan is activated solely by viewing the contents of the USB stick.  The website also suggests that Stuxnet was not developed by a hacker but “with the product of a team of experts who must have IT expertise as well as specific know-how about industrial controls, their deployment in industrial production processes and corresponding engineering knowledge” and “This means that the malware is able, under certain boundary conditions, to influence the processing of operations in the control system.”

There is a procedure to clean a system infected with Stuxnet, but the Trojan can be activated by plugging in a USB device that has been infected, and cleaning a network of infected machines cannot be done without disrupting all activity and shutting down the entire network. As explained in the support website:

It deliberately searches for a certain technical constellation with certain modules and certain program patterns which apply to a specific production process. Stuxnet is obviously targeting a specific process or a plant and not a particular brand or process technology and not the majority of industrial applications. [Siemens]

Indeed, Iran’s centrifuge program had to go through a shutdown and restart process to cleanup its infected system, delaying its schedule. The implications of the Trojan for the India’s own nuclear program have thus far been unreported.  Since the Trojan’s target is system-specific (WinCC and PCS7), the impact is likely minimal unless India employs the same software to program its spinning machines.  However, it is still conceivable that similar SCADA systems are used in Indian industry for a variety of other purposes and could potentially be vulnerable to Stuxnet-like attacks in the future.

Given the inherent vulnerability of WinCC-based processes to such attacks, it is prudent to take precautions and design processes to ensure that no unverified software can be loaded onto the system, either over the Internet or via USB memory sticks.  Industries that are currently vulnerable to such attacks must consider moving to non-WinCC systems in the long run.

What Stuxnet tells us is that a malignant organization or country can put together a team of experts to create Stuxnet-like Trojans to target SCADA systems in India or elsewhere.   While cybersecurity policy makers assess the long term implications of Stuxnet-like Trojans, short term precautionary measures are necessary to prevent further collateral damage.  Sites operating such systems should segment their different SCADA systems in different isolated subnets to ensure that infection of one system does not spread to others. Furthermore, it may be useful to institute security protocols to prevent the ingestion of USB devices into any machine in the network. USB devices of unknown origin must be forbidden from being used.

It is also advisable to move towards more secure Unix-based platforms for Industrial Control systems, where the security architecture is more robust than those in Windows-based SCADA systems. Windows-based systems are affected by about 2 million known malware, with Linux a distant second with 1,178 vulnerabilities.

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Big leaky tent

The Economist’s article on India and the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.

The Economist ran an article (h/t Anantha Nageswaran) on June 24, 2010 on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal.  Or so the title of the article suggested.  However, a closer inspection will take you, the reader, through an elaborate labyrinth of half-truths, baffling arguments and sweeping generalizations. They all come to a close, not as one might expect, with a stern rebuke of China and Pakistan’s nuclear shenanigans, but with an admonition of India’s “growing nuclear arsenal.”

The writer should have stopped writing when it was clear that this was going to be the article’s first sentence:

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India.

The Economist fails to makes no attempt to substantiate the statement.  The argument is lazy and fallacious, and deserves to be challenged. But the fun doesn’t end there.  With regard to the India–U.S. nuclear deal, the  article contends:

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t).

Raise your hand if you’d like an explanation on India’s supposedly blemished non-proliferation record.  Let us say, for argument’s sake, that the  writer is alluding to India’s use of fissile material from the CIRUS research reactor towards its first nuclear test in 1974.  This act by India could be called a lot of things, but nuclear proliferation, it most certainly wasn’t.  Moreover, India’s actions were neither an infraction of any international treaties nor of agreements it had with Canada or the U.S.

The article’s final paragraph, though, is an absolute zinger:

If Pakistan really is worried about India’s growing nuclear arsenal, diplomacy might work better than an arms race. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank, says Pakistan should lift its veto on a ban on the production of fissile materials for bombs. That would put India (which claims to support a ban) on the spot. Like enriched uranium, hypocrisy can be costlier than it seems.

Really? India’s growing nuclear arsenal? Just last year, U.S. CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen, commented on Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arms in a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Adm. Mullen’s observations were further corroborated by reports by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The Federation of American Scientists. That being the case, it should be pretty clear which country’s been adding to its nuclear stockpile like nukes are about to go out of fashion.

The bigger issue with the article though,  is its defense of the discriminatory nature of the existing non-proliferation order, and the convoluted arguments it employs to suggest that “renegade” nuclear powers like India have endangered non-proliferation regimes  (most of which came into force, by the way,  after the Big Five had acquired enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over).

And if the hypocrisy of the article isn’t immediately apparent, a gander at the accompanying chart, which displays  the status of all nuclear weapons’ programs, excluding those of NPT nuclear powers (as if they were somehow above scrutiny),  should put all skepticism to rest.

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