Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Operational Myths And Realities

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By Jeffrey D. McCausland:

The Stimson Center will release a new collection of essays in April, Deterrence Instability and Nuclear Weapons in South Asia. One of these essays, "Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Operational Myths and Realities," by Jeffrey D. McCausland, is being released early to whet the appetite of readers.

Pakistan has decided to rely on short-range, nuclear-capable delivery vehicles to deter India, which enjoys conventional military advantages, from launching military offensives. Much attention has been placed on the HAFT IX, also referred to as the Nasr, which is reported to have a range of 60 kilometers. The flight testing of the Nasr is only one manifestation of an ongoing arms competition in South Asia.

India and Pakistan have fought one limited war and have defused major crises since testing nuclear devices in 1998. Their nuclear arsenals continue to grow at a steady pace, and both have invested in infrastructure to increase this pace.  McCausland argues that Pakistan's efforts to develop and produce short-range, nuclear-capable systems will seriously undermine deterrence stability and escalation control on the subcontinent. This places a heavier burden on India, Pakistan and the United States - the preeminent crisis-manager in South Asia - to address the underlying causes of deterrence instability on the subcontinent.

McCausland argues that the development of tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan to confront growing conventional advantages by India is similar, but not identical, to the challenge that confronted the United States during the Cold War. The U.S. military sought to develop its own stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons as well as associated doctrines and operational plans to blunt a Soviet conventional offensive in Central Europe. Over time, many, if not most American military planners realized the enormous operational and practical challenges associated with the effort to integrate nuclear fire planning and operational maneuvers in an effort to enhance deterrence.

If U.S. and Soviet Cold War experience is any indication, Pakistani military planners and front-line soldiers will find battlefield nuclear weapons to be a logistical nightmare. Indeed, the unanticipated challenges that arise with the forward deployment and use of tactical nuclear weapons-incorporating nuclear fire planning with conventional maneuver operations, maintaining a clear chain of command in crisis scenarios where nuclear weapons are being used, and hardening communications against EMP blasts, among other dilemmas-offset the deterrent value these systems are purported to provide.
            Pakistani leaders appear to believe that the "signals" conveyed by their actions during a confrontation with India with respect to their tactical nuclear forces would be interpreted clearly by Washington and New Delhi, and that risks for escalation would be manageable. McCausland doubts that these signals would be interpreted as intended by New Delhi.

McCausland concludes that the induction of short-range, nuclear-capable delivery vehicles on the subcontinent is both dangerous and problematic.

The South Asia program would like to thank the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Nuclear Security Administration for their support of Stimson's programming on nuclear issues in South Asia.

 

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