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NASR: A Disadvantage for Pakistan

Reshmi Kazi was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for profile
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  • August 19, 2011

    On April 19, 2011, Pakistan successfully fired the NASR short-range surface-to-surface multi-tube ballistic missile. The nuclear-capable missile from the family of Hatf-IX missiles with a purported range of 60 km has high accuracy and a shoot and scoot delivery system. According to the Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Divions, Khalid Kidwai, the NASR will provide Pakistan with short-range missile capability. NASR is believed to be a battlefield deterrent, capable of inflicting damage on mechanized forces such as armoured brigades and divisions. This quick response system is expected to deter evolving threats and will provide battlefield support for the Pakistan Army.

    The development of the NASR raises several questions. Firstly, does Pakistan require operational Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) for battlefield purposes? The rationale offered by Pakistani analysts for developing the NASR is that it is a counter to India’s Cold Start doctrine and is meant to deter any Indian mechanized offensive into Pakistan. The general opinion is that India will launch an offensive surgical attack into Pakistani territory by virtue of its Cold Start doctrine. Pakistan believes that given its inferior conventional capability vis-à-vis India, tactical nuclear capability will serve to deter an Indian riposte to any Pakistani misadventure like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

    But this is a fallacious assumption. India’s Cold Start doctrine has been devised because of Pakistan’s proxy operations against India at the sub-conventional level and because of the concern that retaliatory strikes against Pakistan may escalate into a full-fledged war. In any event, the Indian military strategy is not to dismember Pakistan but to have a stable neighbour and to foster a beneficial relationship at all levels. Nor does India favour initiating surgical attacks against Pakistan without grave provocation. Further, India is acutely aware of the risk of escalation from sub-conventional to conventional and nuclear levels, and is therefore unlikely to embark upon a senseless war. The Cold Start has been devised precisely with this aspect in mind.

    Pakistan can actually discourage India’s Cold Start doctrine in two ways: by giving up its covert sub-conventional operations against India, or by formulating a prudent strategy to counter India’s proactive tactics. As has been argued by Rodney Jones, Pakistan need not resort to the nuclear option to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine since the results of the Azm-e-Nau III military exercises held in 2009-10 suggest that its conventional defences alone are fully capable of resisting a shallow penetration as envisaged by the Cold Start doctrine. 1

    Secondly, does Pakistan’s development of battlefield nuclear weapons erode India’s no-first-use (NFU) policy? It is a contentious idea that the use of TNWs will not escalate into a full fledged nuclear war. It is irrelevant whether a target has been hit by a strategic or tactical weapon. A nuclear attack is a nuclear attack. To quote Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik, “Tactical or strategic, it (NASR) is a nuclear weapon. Our response would be absolutely violent, if it is used, as per our existing policy. So, it's not a game-changer.” What this essentially means is that in the event India faces a nuclear attack, New Delhi will be left with no other choice but to use nuclear weapons in the form of a massive retaliation. In that case it makes little sense whether a strategic or tactical nuclear weapon or a long range or short range weapon is used, since the general response would be to carry out a punitive attack on the adversary.

    There is no universal definition of TNWs and hence it is difficult to categorize them. They cannot be defined either by their range or yield. Notwithstanding their battlefield utility, TNWs can lead to uncontrolled escalation given their inherent tendency to obscure the decision-making process thus creating confusion and leading local commanders with pre-delegated authority to use them. Further, there is a risk that they could be grabbed by terrorist groups.

    Although by definition TNWs are meant for employment against counterforce targets, they can also be potentially used for countervalue strikes. The moment a nuclear weapon whether tactical or strategic is used the deterrent factor suffers a failure. Thus, Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence against India will fail if it launches TNWs. Moreover, given the geographical proximity with India any detonation of TNWs by Pakistan will have radiation fallouts on the territories of both countries. Pakistan could thus find itself in a situation where it would be self-deterred. Considering the pros and cons of TNWs like NASR, it does not pose any advantage to Pakistan; it only creates disadvantages.

    • 1. Pakistan does not require another layer of nuclear deterrence necessary to meet the Cold Start. The results of the Azm-e-Nau III exercises (held in 2009-10) suggest that Pakistan's conventional defences alone are fully capable of resisting any shallow penetration envisaged by the Cold Start. See Rodney W Jones, “Pakistan’s answer to Cold Start?,” The Friday Times, May 13-19, 2011, at http://www.thefridaytimes.com/13052011/page7.shtml (Accessed on August 16, 2011).

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