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“Seeking tangible deliverances”

Entertaining Pak’s wish-list will impact Indo-US relations.

This rather optimistic piece by Baqir Sajjad Syed surfaced in the Dawn yesterday, conveying GHQ’s wish-list and expectations from Washington.  Rawalpindi feels the need to tell the Americans that it is time to “move on from symbolism and concretely address Pakistan’s core security concerns and its immediate economic needs.”  Pakistan is therefore “seeking tangible deliverances” from the US.  Translation, give us the reigns to Afghanistan, get India to budge on Kashmir and give us a nuclear deal along the lines of the Indo-US 123 Agreement.

The last demand is interesting, given how its need is articulated in the Dawn.  While the article submits that nuclear energy was needed to meet its growing energy needs, Islamabad really wants it because it doesn’t want to see itself being discriminated against vis-a-vis India.  In other words, rehyphenate the dehyphenation. Polaris has an excellent take on this sort of fallacious equating.  But this theme isn’t a stranger to discourse in some circles in the US.  Christine Fair’s Wall Street Journal piece in February recommended a “glutton for punishment” approach, where the US would offer Pakistan a “conditions-based” civil nuclear deal in return for Pakistan refocusing its efforts in resolving Washington’s conundrum in AfPak.

Forget that such a proposal would be shot down by Congress (by non-proliferation nazis in Mr. Obama’s own party, for starters) faster than Dick Cheney with a rifle.  Or that even in the very unlikely event that the Obama Administration could succeed in obtaining the blessings of the House and the Senate, there would be no way the Nuclear Suppliers Group would grant a waver to Pakistan (a non-NPT signatory), given its rich and vibrant history of nuclear proliferation.  Indeed, the very notion that the Obama Administration would consider such an arrangement with Pakistan would hurt an already ailing Indo-US relationship.  This blogger will therefore suggest that such a proposition be relegated to intellectual discussion only.

But Mr. Obama has done a terrific job on foreign policy, these past several months: appease your adversaries and alienate your allies.  The Western media is replete with articles about Dr. AQ Khan, as if Dr. Khan ran his “nuclear Wal Mart” independent of any official sanction from the powers-that-be in Rawalpindi.  For those Pakistani apologists in DC suffering from short term memory loss, The Washington Post serves up a timely reminder:

As troops massed on his border near the start of the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein weighed the purchase of a $150 million nuclear “package” deal that included not only weapons designs but also production plants and foreign experts to supervise the building of a nuclear bomb, according to documents uncovered by a former U.N. weapons inspector.

The offer, made in 1990 by an agent linked to disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, guaranteed Iraq a weapons-assembly line capable of producing nuclear warheads in as little as three years. But Iraq lost the chance to capitalize when, months later, a multinational force crushed the Iraqi army and forced Hussein to abandon his nuclear ambitions, according to nuclear weapons expert David Albright, who describes the proposed deal in a new book.

Oh, and lest anyone seek to absolve the Pakistani State of any wrongdoing, let David Albright’s conversation on CNN with Wolf Blitzer serve as a reminder:

BLITZER: Is [AQ Khan] under any restrictions whatsoever?
ALBRIGHT: No. He’s actually launched a media campaign to try to say he didn’t do any of this. And so, it’s almost outrageous that he want us becoming free mounting a media campaign to clear his name supposedly, and ironically when he’s in court, he actually says he has no contact with western media, so he’s trying to have it all ways, and I think it’s a travesty in justice.
BLITZER: Because he was involved in helping not only the Iranians but the Iraqis and others, Libya, right?
ALBRIGHT: That’s right.
BLITZER: And then he was under house arrest by the Pakistanis, but no law even under house arrest.
ALBRIGHT: That’s right.
BLITZER: And the U.S. has never really had an access to questioning directly.
ALBRIGHT: That’s right. No one has. And the Pakistani government served as questioners for all, including the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other countries. It was very unsatisfactory.

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Urdunama: Seymour Hersh

Almost on cue, Pakistan’s Urdu media went to work, lambasting Seymour Hersh for his article in the “New Yorker” on US-Pak back-channel talks on securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, in the event of a debilitating security situation in the country.

Hersh was dismissed as a “Jewish agent” and his credibility immediately was called into question. This was followed by some chest-thumping on the integrity of Pakistan’s armed forces and the sanctity of the country’s nuclear assets.

Nawaiwaqt’s editorial was one of first to issue forth an opinion on Hersh’s piece:

The “New Yorker” claimed that the Obama administration is in sensitive talks with Pakistan to secure the country’s nuclear assets.  Under this agreement, American special units can secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets in the event of a crisis.

However, rejecting Seymour Hersh’s report as baseless, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Abdul Basit said that no help was needed from foreign nations to secure Pakistan’s nuclear assets.Because of his affiliation with the Jewish lobby, Seymour Hersh maintains a close watch on Pakistan’s nuclear program.

A propaganda campaign is underway in America which claims that extremists could take control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets — this propaganda is a result of the presence of the Indian lobby in America.The Hindus and the Jews have to this day not accepted Pakistan’s nuclear status.

The Americans and Europeans don’t seem to have any issues with the Hindu or Jewish bomb, but will never accept a Muslim country possessing such technology.Extremism has grown in Pakistan because of America’s war in Afghanistan and if there is any threat to Pakistan’s nuclear assets, it is from India, Israel and America.

Dr. AQ Khan has been put under house arrest and Blackwater, along with various other US officials have established a presence in Islamabad and elsewhere in Pakistan.

It is therefore important to pay close attention to the contents of Seymour Hersh’s report. Let there be no doubt that Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control is better than that of any other nation’s.  In the name of securing Pakistan’s nukes, Blackwater has tried to infiltrate Quetta and other cities in Pakistan.  This is part of a larger conspiracy through which America hopes to make India its slave by alleviating its fears over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

We have developed the nuclear program through our ability, hard work and resources.  We will provide for its security ourselves and if our enemies cast their evil eyes on our nuclear program, they will be given a bloody nose in reply.

In its November 11 editorial, the Daily Ausaf observes that consensus on maintaining and enhancing Pakistan’s nuclear program transcends the country’s dysfunctional and chaotic political environment.

Attempts to malign Pakistan’s nuclear program began with the genesis of the program itself. However, Pakistan’s politicians, despite their several faults, have continued to protect our nuclear program. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is credited with having the vision to embark on the nuclear program, then the credit to not only protect, but also enhance the program needs to be given to Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Zia ul-Haq.

The US has tried to repeatedly discredit Pakistan’s nuclear program — raising fears of instability in South Asia, of an arms race between India and Pakistan — but despite the US’s best efforts, our armed forces and politicians have safeguarded our nuclear program.We have been pressured to accede to several US demands.

Despite disapproval from the people, Pakistan was enlisted as a frontline state in US’s war on terrorism. But there will be no compromise on Pakistan’s nuclear program and if the day comes when a politician takes such a step, he will have to face the repercussions of his action and the awam will itself safeguard our nuclear program.

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Pakistan's nukes and those Harpoons

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.

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Nuclear Arithmetic, Deterrent Calculus

K Santhanam sent the Indian media into a flutter with his statement that the thermonuclear device (Shakti-I) tested in 1998 during Pokhran II was not completely successful and did not produce the anticipated (and reported) yield of 40-45 kT.  He put this apparent failure in the context of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), advocating that we do not sign or ratify the treaty until India’s thermonuclear capability can be successfully demonstrated.

Notwithstanding denials from APJ Abdul Kalam, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, R Chidambaram and Brajesh Mishra, the vast differential in the reported vs. observed yield is no secret.  International nonpartisan sources, such as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) indicated 10  years ago that yield of Shakti-I was between 12-25 kT.  Indeed, Santhanam’s statements were also corroborated by both former AEC chairman PK Iyengar, and national security expert Bharat Karnad.

However, this admission does not change India’s nuclear posture much, either with regard to Pakistan or China.  Nuclear weapons are a deterrent force and Pakistan will neither be emboldened nor hindered by the admission of this yield differential, in the event that it is contemplating a nuclear attack against India, in the face of rapidly deteriorating circumstances during a conventional war.

A nuclear bomb is a nuclear bomb. Indeed, the credibility of Pakistan’s own nuclear tests in Chagai were marred by reports of a significant divergence between reported vs. observed yields.  While Pakistan reported tests of six nuclear devices (two in the kT range, and four in the sub-kT range) with a total yield exceeding 36 kT, nonpartisan sources indicate the May 28, 1998 tests produced a total yield of between 9-12 kT.

However, despite such reports, Pakistan’s arsenal consisting largely of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) acted as a very credible deterrent against possible Indian offensives across the LoC during Kargil.  Additionally, had Pakistan’s “diminished” nuclear capability been a factor, India’s responses to the December 13, 2001 Parliament attack and the recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks would have been very different indeed.

The nuclear calculus also doesn’t change much with regard to China.  India’s current nuclear posture continues to be incongruous to its “No First Strike” nuclear doctrine.  The nuclear triad, a corollary to the “minimum credible deterrence” and “No First Strike” policies remains unfulfilled, with two of three legs of the triad not currently being operational (with respect to China).  While India has taken the first step in the development of nuclear-powered submarines, the first of these, INS Arihant, will not be operational for sometime.

The most serious challenge to India’s “minimum credible deterrence” is its crippled missile program.  India’s longer range Agni-III IRBMs are as yet incapable of hitting strategic targets such as Beijing or Shanghai. The development, production and weaponization of the Surya-I and Surya-II ICBMs have experienced delays exceeding 10 years, as a result of high-technology denials by the US and the sloth-like inertia of DRDO.

Without true ICBM capability and bereft of an operational nuclear-powered submarine, India’s deterrence against Chinese aggression remains challenged; a 12 kT fission bomb or 50 megaton hydrogen bomb changes nothing under these circumstances.

The low yield of Shakti-I alters neither Pakistan’s perception of Indian retaliatory capability in the event of a Pakistani nuclear first strike, nor does it hurt any further, India’s credibility in being able to deploy nuclear payload to strategic targets in China, should the need arise.  Shakti-I changes nothing with regard to Pakistan; however, if looked through the prism of maintaining a credible deterrent against China, should reignite a debate  on the sorry state of India’s delivery systems and the credibility and logic behind our “No First Use” posture.

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