World View: Pakistan Will Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons Against India


This morning’s key headlines from

  • In major strategic escalation, Pakistan will use tactical nuclear weapons against India
  • India threatens use of its ‘Cold Start’ conventional tactics
  • Implications of Pakistan’s nuclear strategy for Iran and Saudi Arabia

In major strategic escalation, Pakistan will use tactical nuclear weapons against India

Nasr tactical nuclear weapon missile system
Nasr tactical nuclear weapon missile system

For the first time, Pakistan is declaring that it will develop tactical battlefield nuclear weapons, and that they are intended for use against India’s conventional forces.

This is a historic strategic escalation for Pakistan, because it changes its nuclear strategy from “minimum credible deterrence” to “full spectrum deterrence.”

In 1998, Pakistan conducted nuclear weapons tests and declared itself to be a nuclear weapons state, with a strategy of “minimum credible deterrence” This effectively meant that Pakistan would not use its nuclear devices unless provoked to do so, which would only occur on a nuclear attack by India or a massive attack by conventional forces.

Pakistan’s new nuclear missile is the Nasr (Hatf-9). There are two significant differences between the Nasr and other strategic nuclear missiles. The first difference is the short range — only 60 km (37 miles). This range is too short to attack strategic targets within India, such as far-away cities or military bases. The second difference is the low yield, which makes them more powerful than artillery shells, but far below what most people think of as “weapons of mass destruction.”

Thus, the Nasr missile is a nuclear weapon that could be used as an ordinary battlefield weapon against conventional forces.

According to Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhury, who on Tuesday announced the new strategy:

Pakistan has built an infrastructure near border areas to launch a quickest response to Indian aggression… Usage of such low-yield nuclear weapons would make it difficult for India to launch a war against Pakistan.

The result is that Pakistan has now adopted a “full spectrum deterrence” nuclear strategy, which means that they are capable of deploying nuclear weapons in response to both large scale conventional attacks or small border incursions. In particular, the new Nasr missiles will be deployed near the borders with India, so that they can provide a quick response.

Chaudhury’s statement contains an implied admission that Pakistan is unable to repel a conventional Indian military incursion with a conventional military counterattack, and so tactical nuclear weapons will be needed.

Analysts foresee a big danger in the use of tactical nuclear weapons by conventional forces. The problem is that if conventional forces are losing a battle, and a tactical nuclear weapon is available right there near the battlefield, then the tactical nuclear weapon will probably be used. The use of a tactical nuclear weapon could easily trigger the use of strategic nuclear weapons by the other side, meaning that the chances of all-out nuclear war are increased by the availability of tactical nuclear weapons.

In fact, India has said that any nuclear attack, even a small one, on its forces would be treated as a strategic nuclear strike on India itself, and would meet an appropriate response. Pakistan Defence and Passive Voices (Pakistan) and Times of India

India threatens use of its ‘Cold Start’ conventional tactics

Pakistan’s decision to change its nuclear strategy from “minimum credible deterrence” to “full spectrum deterrence” was triggered by an announced change in the use of conventional forces.

The particular issue is the Kashmir region, which has been disputed by Pakistan and India since the 1947 Partition war that followed the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and the creation of the states of Pakistan and India. The Kashmir region was a particularly bloody site of the war between Hindus and Muslims, and it is still disputed, with an internationally recognized Line of Control (LoC) separating the regions currently governed by Pakistan from those governed by India.

The problem for India is that whenever a Pakistani jihadist group crosses the LoC and conducts a terrorist attack on the Indian side, it takes a long time for India to deploy its army to respond.

So India has developed a “Cold Start” strategy. India will prepare army units, including attack helicopters and multiple rocket launchers with a 100 km range, to be able to respond immediately to a terrorist attack from Pakistani jihadists.

The Cold Start strategy goes farther than that. In addition to repelling the jihadist attack, the army unit will take control of a small piece of Pakistani territory, as a kind of retribution for the attack. The reasoning is that such a small army counterattack cannot be repulsed by Pakistan’s smaller army, and will not trigger a nuclear response because of Pakistan’s “minimum credible deterrence” strategy.

Pakistan’s “full spectrum deterrence” strategy with tactical nuclear weapons is specifically targeting India’s Cold Start strategy. A small Indian conventional military incursion can now be met with a tactical nuclear weapon.

It is worth pointing out that, although Cold Start has been discussed for years, it has never been deployed, and apparently no actions have been taken to deploy it in the near future. Arms Control Association and BBC

Implications of Pakistan’s nuclear strategy for Iran and Saudi Arabia

As I have been writing for years, nothing is going to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — not because of some obscure weaknesses in the recent nuclear deal with the West, but because Iran’s population across all generations demands it. Iran has already been the target of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein, and Iran sees itself surrounded by nuclear states — Pakistan, Russia and Israel. So Iran sees the need for a nuclear weapon capability as a requirement for self-defense.

However, Iran has no intention of preemptively using such weapons on Israel. Iran sees them in a purely defensive light.

Pakistan’s new announcement will certainly inflame Iran’s concerns about being surrounded by nuclear powers. If tactical nuclear weapons are going to become commonly intermingled with conventional forces near Pakistan’s borders, then it is quite possible they will fall into the hands of jihadists, for use in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. It is also quite possible that Pakistan will supply these weapons to Saudi Arabia, as they have close military ties. All of these factors will make the Iranian people even more nervous, and demand the development of nuclear weapons, despite the nuclear agreement with the West.

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Pakistan, Nasr missile, India, minimum credible deterrence, full spectrum deterrence, Cold Start, Aizaz Chaudhury, Kashmir, Line of Control, LoC, Saddam Hussein, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia
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