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Missile defense systems bad for India-Pakistan nuclear détente

Asia Times, By MOHAN GURUSWAMY AUGUST 24, 2018 It has been reported that theDefense Acquisitions Council (DAC), chaired by Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, has approved the “acceptance of necessity” (AoN) for the acquisition of the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II) worth around US$1 billion from the United States. However, in 2002 the US had vetoed India’s bid to acquire the Israeli Arrow-2 missile interceptor system.

Consequently, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization began developing the Prithvi Air Defense (PAD), which will provide long-range high-altitude interception during an incoming ballistic missile’s mid-course phase as well as interception during the terminal phase. At various times these systems had different monikers, such as ballistic missile defense (BMD) or anti-ballistic missile system (ABM).The people who decide on such things reside in New Delhi and understandably their safety gets priority. So it is the National Capital Region that will get the expensive and exaggerated sense of protection such systems tend to generate.But no air defense system can be deemed impenetrable. The Americans and Russians realized long before the Cold War ended that the costs involved were prohibitive, even for them. But the idea was seductive
……….We need to learn from how nuclear-weapons strategies evolved during the Cold War, instead of mimicking US and Soviet follies. The notion of deterrence between the US and USSR was based on no escape from MAD.

Cold War follies peaked with the two antagonists together deploying almost 70,000 warheads each aimed at a specific target. At the height of this madness almost every open ground was targeted as possible tank-marshaling or military-logistics areas.

Hence the last thing India wants is to get into a numbers game with Pakistan or China. Credibility depends on reducing the uncertainty of use from the opposite perspective. The Indian PAD missile defense system only increases them.

India and Pakistan have ensured a modicum of confidence by not mating the warheads and delivery systems, giving a vital period to roll back the unleashing of Armageddon. But now both countries will have to evolve a launch-on-warning doctrine.

Clearly, the two South Asian nuclear powers have a local version of MAD in place. The Pakistani doctrine “commits itself” to use battlefield nuclear weapons if an Indian conventional assault threatens its essential nationhood, and hence it has steadfastly refused to accept the notion of “no first use” (NFU). The Indian doctrine emphasizes NFU but also makes it explicit that any Pakistani use of nuclear weapons on India or its forces will be responded to with a massive retaliation.

India may have fewer nuclear weapons, not because it cannot make more, but because what it has is enough to ensure the complete annihilation of Pakistan, which is geographically a much smaller country.

For its part, China has moved on from NFU to a doctrine now called “credible minimum deterrence.” But how much is credible?

Mercifully, nuclear doctrines these days are couched in such abstractions since MAD requires a degree of predictability, ironically ensured by opacity. The United States’ “single integrated operational plan” (SIOP) began with the ominous words that its objective, after the outbreak of a general war with the then Soviet Union, was to turn it into a “smoking, radiating ruin.” This was written by its certifiable US Air Force chief, General Curtis Lemay Jr, based on whom the character played by George C Scott in the Stanley Kubrick classic Dr Strangelove  was created.

But it was people like Lemay who gave MAD credibility. Since no one of a sane frame of mind would even contemplate the enormity of the disaster of a nuclear war, uncertainty of use was a key element of MAD. It has been written that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev used to have sleepless nights thinking of a man like Richard Nixon with his finger on the button.

India’s nuclear strategy documents in detail who the nuclear command would devolve to in the unlikely event of a decapitating first strike on New Delhi with the aim of eliminating its national leadership. It is said that the chain of nuclear command keeps descending to a major-general, a modern-day Raja Parikshit so to say, who will perform the final obsequies.

At last count India had more than 600 military officers at that level. Decapitating all of them is a near statistical and physical impossibility. It would take tens of thousands to precision nuclear weapons to annihilate India’s military chain of command, and it can be speculated whether even America or Russia could achieve that, let alone Pakistan.

Ironically, the evocative acronym MAD is an eminently sensible doctrine. Good sense should tell us: Enough of this madness, and leave MAD alone.




August 25, 2018 - Posted by | India, Pakistan, weapons and war

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