Pakistan’s Nuclear Posture

Well, it’s not all babe-blogging and punk flashbacks around here! [Here, actually.] I do actually find time to read some professional literature — although that won’t matter to those attacking me as a sh**ty political scientist! (I’ll respond to that later … idiots!)

Anyway, here’s a great piece from the latest International Security, Vipin Narang’s, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability.” From the introduction:

On November 26, 2008, terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba–a group historically supported by the Pakistani state–launched a daring sea assault from Karachi, Pakistan, and laid siege to India’s economic hub, Mumbai, crippling the city for three days and taking at least 163 lives. The world sat on edge as yet another crisis between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed states erupted with the looming risk of armed conflict. But India’s response was restrained; it did not mobilize its military forces to retaliate against either Pakistan or Lashkar camps operating there. A former Indian chief of Army Staff, Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, bluntly stated that Pakistan’s threat of nuclear use deterred India from seriously considering conventional military strikes. Yet, India’s nuclear weapons capability failed to deter subconventional attacks in Mumbai and Delhi, as well as Pakistan’s conventional aggression in the 1999 Kargil War. Why are these two neighbors able to achieve such different levels of deterrence with their nuclear weapons capabilities? Do differences in how these states operationalize their nuclear capabilities–their nuclear postures–have differential effects on dispute dynamics? ….

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To many scholars and practitioners, the world’s grimmest security concerns converge in Pakistan. Pakistan has supported the Taliban, against which the Pakistan Army is fighting a de facto civil war; it supports cross-border terrorism in India, provoking periodic crises in South Asia; and, of course, it has a growing nuclear arsenal. In addition to the risk of inadvertent nuclear use by the Pakistan Army, the arsenal could be vulnerable to malicious elements within the state, whose acquisition of nuclear material or weapons could be catastrophic for regional and international security. Pakistan’s designation as one of the United States’ “major non-NATO” allies cannot obscure concerns in Washington that Pakistan may be the world’s worst security nightmare. Given this nexus of instability, a sober analysis of the pressures and compulsions of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program is of critical importance to South Asian and international security.

It’s available in PDF, and while long, it’s worth a look.

Narang lays out the evolution of Pakistan’s strategic doctrine, which deviates dramatically from the expected predictions of traditional deterrence theory. Especially fascinating is the concept of “catalytic” deterrence, a posture Pakistan adopted to “catalyze” U.S. intervention during a South Asian crisis. The regime in Islamabad would move toward nuclear use amid military confrontations to “signal” to the United States a potentially catastrophic security breakdown. Nuclear mobilization wasn’t designed to deter India, but to bring about U.S. intervention: “Pakistan exploited U.S. interests in the region’s stability to impel the United States to intervene on its behalf when its interference in India triggered periodic crises.”

There’s a summary table on page 45 of the essay. Noteworthy is the theory of why Pakistan’s proxy fighting groups (peripheral terrorist organizations like Lashkar) are able to wreak devastating carnage on the Indian state without provoking retaliation against Islamabad. Focusing on “asymmetric escalation,” Narang argues that Pakistan relies on a policy of nuclear first use, so that India, while sustaining devastating losses in sub-conventional warfare, hesitates to respond militarily for fear of catatrophic nuclear escalation:

India’s frustration with Pakistan-backed aggression reached deafening heights after roughly a dozen Lashkar-e-Taiba militants executed a precision commando attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008.98 From the outset, India’s Congress government, and even General Malik (ret.), conceded that its military options to retaliate against Pakistan were again limited, because any meaningful strikes risked uncontrollable escalation, possibly quickly up to the nuclear level.99 India was therefore once more largely restrained by Pakistan’s low nuclear threshold from executing retaliatory airstrikes against suspected Lashkar camps in Pakistan. Former Army Chief of Staff Roychowdhury conceded that “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons deterred India from attacking that country after the Mumbai strikes . . . [and] it was due to Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons that India stopped short of a military retaliation following the attack on Parliament in 2001.”

A great piece of research.

More at the link.

Cross-posted from American Power.

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