Pakistan on March 9 test-fired Shaheen III, a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, into the Arabian Sea. Lieutenant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, director general of the strategic plans division, termed it a major step towards strengthening Pakistan’s deterrence capability.

Dawn got in touch with Sadia Tasleem, Robin Copeland Memorial Fellow for non-proliferation and lecturer at the department of defence and strategic studies, Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, via email to discuss Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear programme.

Read| Test launch of Shaheen-III ballistic missile successful: ISPR

Q. Pakistan recently test-fired nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile Shaheen III. Why did it do so when Pakistan adheres to minimum credible deterrence policy?

A. The ISPR statement explains the recent testing as a step that will further strengthen Pakistan’s deterrence capability. The recently tested Shaheen III with a declared range of approximately 1,700 miles has the ability to hit the farthest parts of India. In Pakistani perception, increasing India’s vulnerability would help strengthen deterrence.

As far as “minimum credible deterrence” is concerned, it is important to know how Pakistan defines it.

Pakistan considers minimum credible deterrence as a dynamic as opposed to a quantitatively definable concept. It implies that Pakistan will keep calculating its nuclear deterrence requirements based on the Indian nuclear related developments. This not only affects the criteria for what is minimum yet credible but also often makes “minimum” and “credible” irreconcilable.

Q. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence policy seems to be India-centric. Is India’s nuclear deterrence policy apparently Pakistan-centric?

A. India has larger objectives in the region and beyond. Its nuclear policy is aimed at multiple actors.

Q. India continues to increase its nuclear arsenal. Does that mean Pakistan will also continue to do so and not set a bar?

A. What Pakistan will or will not do will in the long run depends not only upon its willingness or unwillingness to do certain things but also upon many other variables including the availability of resources, infrastructure and national priorities. However, as long as Pakistan perceives each Indian development as destabilising, it will continue to make an effort to respond to them. Current trends suggest that Pakistan is deeply concerned about Indian developments and it is trying to, if not, match to at least counter them in whatever ways possible.

Q. Is Pakistan doing the right thing in terms of its national security strategy by test-firing Shaheen-III and to quote the ISPR “strengthening the country’s deterrence capability”?

A. The answer to this question largely depends on our worldview and understanding of the concept of deterrence. Anyone who looks at diversity of weapon systems and nuclear-armed missiles as a fundamental requirement for making deterrence credible would approve of decisions like test-firing of missiles with different ranges. However, those who look at deterrence as largely a psychological phenomenon in which even the rudimentary capabilities would make as much or as little difference as more weapons would consider such actions redundant. The question that may follow then is, should Pakistan pay the cost of redundancy?

Q. Are we engaging in a nuclear arms race?

A. India and Pakistan are not engaged in a traditional arms race — where two actors try to outpace each other. In case of Pakistan, we appear rather to be engaged in a nuclear competition.

Q. Will adding more nuclear-capable missiles increase the quality of stability of the country?

A. The answer to this question also varies depending on how deterrence and stability are defined. In my view, however, adding more nuclear capable missiles may not necessarily increase stability. We need to carefully analyse if the introduction of a new weapon system strengthens deterrence only in an abstract sense or does it make any concrete difference in the perception (and behaviour) of the actor we intend to deter.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2015

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