Formulating a rational strategic doctrine

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Contributing Editor Dr SHIREEN M MAZARI discusses the future concept of our nuclear posture. As Pakistan does not have the required depth, therefore, tactical and strategic use of these weapons requires a thorough study to come with a national policy which has to be pragimatic, effective and well coordinated

It is almost a year now that Pakistan tested its nuclear devices. As a result of these tests, it not only altered its covert and ambivalent nuclear posture to an overt and specific one, it also showed its intentions of retaining the nuclear option within a weapons framework. After all, unless the intention to develop and deploy nuclear weapons was there, it made absolutely no sense to test not just nuclear devices but also missiles like the Ghauri and Shaheen.

That a nuclear weapons option is the only viable option for Pakistan has been clear for a long time now, given the nature of the Indian threat and the conventional military might of India. Now that the capability has become overt, Pakistan must not only set about mutually stabilizing the nuclear deterrent with India, it must evolve a clear-cut nuclear doctrine and strategy for its limited nuclear arsenal. This becomes very critical given the fact that the limited resources of Pakistan will not allow it to enter into an uncontrolled nuclear arms race. This does not mean that Pakistan will be at a permanent disadvantage and will not be able to develop and modernise its nuclear arsenal. All it means is that Pakistan even as it updates its nuclear arsenal will have to make choices and keep its arsenal limited to a minimum sufficient level to meet the Indian threat. And in that sense, India too will at some stage realise that it does not have unlimited resources for adventurism in the nuclear military field.

So the question arises as to what are the options for Pakistan and how can it evolve a rational nuclear doctrine for the present, which may be adapted and adjusted as its nuclear technology and resources develop further. Also, Pakistani planners must keep in mind the changing nature of modern warfare - where war for territory has been replaced by war for the hearts and minds of people. In other words, in many ways there are two types of warfare now: Direct, military confrontation between states; and indirect warfare where war is waged continuously through political, economic and psychological means against the enemy. Nuclear doctrines focus on the first type of warfare. But there must be equally precise, long-term planning for the other type of warfare that is constantly in motion against unfriendly states.

Towards a rational doctrine

Any consideration of military doctrines and strategy must take into consideration a country's geopolitical environment, its interests and its capabilities. Pakistan's geopolitical milieu confronts it with a hostile and large India in the East, an unstable Afghanistan in the north-west, a strong ally China in the north and a critical ally in the West, Iran. To the south is the Arabian Sea and the gulf states with whom Pakistan needs to develop and sustain a strategic relationship. The prevalence of the Kashmir dispute with India aggravates the threat from India which would have existed even otherwise, given the nature of Indian ambitions.

While Pakistan must take into consideration the Afghan factor, it is primarily in relation to India that there is a need to evolve a viable nuclear military doctrine.

The interests of a country refers to its territorial integrity and sovereignty and absence of a fear of threat, and also includes maintaining access to resources needed for the national economy such as energy and food.

As for capabilities, they include not just the measurable assets of the country but also immeasurable assets like governmental priorities.

So, Pakistan must evolve a rational nuclear doctrine keeping in view all the above factors. It must also begin on the premise that it lacks spatial depth and therefore cannot afford the luxury of distinguishing between tactical and strategic, within a nuclear context. In other words it must focus on strategic nuclear weapons rather than on battlefield nuclear weapons - especially given its limited resources.

Also, the underlying logic of maintaining a nuclear capability for Pakistan is to have a viable deterrence against India. Deterrence accepts that while you may not be able to match the opponent weapon for weapon, you will make the price of his action unacceptable to him. Of course, underlying all deterrence theories is the assumption that in case deterrence does fail, you will have the capability to defend yourself effectively. But overall, it is the unacceptable consequences that would follow the failure of deterrence that have maintained the viability of this notion across the globe.

Nuclear deterrence and war envisage three main types of targets: Nuclear-related targets such as missile silos, nuclear airfields, etc.; other military targets (OMT) including non-nuclear military forces, bases, installations, etc.; and, political and military command centres, economic targets and populations.

Now, since Pakistan lacks spatial depth, it cannot afford to get bogged down in a conventional war for any length of time. So Pakistan has to go for a one-rung escalation ladder strategy in terms of nuclear weapons. That is why a no-first-use notion is not viable for Pakistan within the context of the Indian threat.

Moving on from this one-run escalation ladder, the first generation of nuclear weapons that Pakistan would deploy would have large CEP (circular error probability) - that is, would not be too accurate. therefore, at least initially Pakistan would have to evolve a counter-value strategy: That is, targeting Indian economic, leadership and population centres rather than hardened military targets.

Given Pakistan's limited resources, it must consider its counter-value targets keeping in mind the limitations of its first generation of nuclear weapons - especially delivery systems.

The weapons

While one is not clear about the warhead payloads Pakistan has developed so far, the delivery systems available are its missiles and airplanes like the F-16s which are fast becoming out dated. Nevertheless, the F-16s can reach cities and industrial centres within medium-range striking distance, including New Delhi and - if it comes to a crunch, Bombay and the nuclear installations at Trombay.

For New Delhi, the mainstay of the Pakistan Air force presently, the Mirages and F-7s are more than sufficient. And within the next five years the Super-7 will be more than adequate for the aerial targeting of Bombay.

As for the spread of missiles, the Hatfs (I & II) are simply too basic - with a range of less than 200 kilometres to be anything more than battlefield nuclear weapons at best. But given that for Pakistan it is strategic nuclear weapons that are the need, it would be a diversion of precious resources to equip them with nuclear warheads.

Coming to the Ghauri-I and Ghauri II - the former with a 1500 km range with a 700 kg payload, and the latter with a 2000 - 2300 km range with a 1,000 kg payload - both these intermediate range missiles offer an attractive base for Pakistan's first generation nuclear weapons. Instead of going on to develop yet more variety, these missiles need to be further developed so that eventually they become solid fuelled rather than the more unstable liquid fuelled models that prevail presently. Also, in order to gain maximum advantage, these missiles need to be put on mobile launchers - as is the Indian Prithvi - at least till such time as Pakistan develops a sound second strike capability and the technology for proper hardened silos. The range of these missiles is more than sufficient to meet Pakistan's counter-value nuclear doctrine. In addition, Pakistan has also developed the Shaheen I which is solid fuelled and has a range of 700 kilometres.

Although, at the moment, Pakistan is focusing on missiles in the nuclear mode, it will eventually have to develop a viable triad nuclear system so as to utilise its naval and airforce potential. Even the US found that it could not premise a stable deterrence on missiles alone. Pakistan has the wherewithal to develop a limited triad already and there is no reason why it should not do so as long as it is done rationally and in a cost-effective manner. For instance, the new submarines that the navy is all set to acquire from France only make sense if they are eventually nuclear equipped - which they can be. Otherwise, the cost is too great for a poor country like Pakistan since they do not counter India's conventional naval capabilities.


As stated earlier, for Pakistan's first generation nuclear weapons - which will have large CEPs - and delivery systems, hardened military targets would not be appropriate. Instead, counter-value targets would include political and military command centres, population and industrial centres. At the same time, it would be politically rational to avoid targeting certain industrial and population centres - such as Amritsar and Sikh population in the Punjab and South and West Bengal - even when Pakistan acquired the capability to do so. For one, Pakistan could then inform Bangladesh that it did not want to put its population at risk by nuclear attacks close to the Bangladesh borders - and so on.

Also, India has a number of potentially attractive targets within the shorter and intermediate range of Pakistani missiles and bombers. Included in this would be New Delhi, Bombay and all the nuclear installations that come within this range. At the end of the day, Pakistan does not need to go beyond its intermediate range capabilities. India's nuclear installations are close to population centres so damage can be compounded by attacking these facilities.

Command & control

A lot is being made of the problems of maintaining effective command and control of nuclear weapons - and the example is cited of the US and all the problems it has had despite being a technologically advanced country. The assumption is that Pakistan being less advanced technologically will necessarily be unable to maintain effective command and control over nuclear weapons.

What is not realised is that, unlike the US which claimed the whole globe as its strategic arena thereby requiring long stretched-out lines of communication, Pakistan makes no such claims. Its strategic nuclear arena relates specifically to the subcontinent and its lines of communication are short and therefore not overly stretched. Also, in Pakistan the military has been involved in nuclear decision-making right from the start, so there is already an effective command and control structure in place. Of course, in any democratic society the political decision to use nuclear weapons rests firmly with the democratic leadership and so will be the case in Pakistan. At the same time, Pakistan is already evolving a Higher Defence Organisation to facilitate the civil-military coordination required for nuclear decision-making and the JCSC is also being reorganised with the intention of intensifying intra-military coordination. It may also be worth looking into the creation of a special strategic nuclear force with a separate command structure suited specifically to the needs of nuclear weapons.

Overall, it is within this strategic nuclear framework that Pakistan must not only stabilise its nuclear deterrence with India but also rationalise its conventional force structures so that defence spending is rationalised and the fat trimmed from the conventional forces. Finally, it is also imperative for Pakistan to adapt to the needs of the changing nature of warfare where the Clausewitzian dictum has been turned on its head - as it were - so that now politics (and economics and psy ops etc) is a continuation of war by other means. And with a stable nuclear deterrence in place in South Asia, the 'other means' become critical.