The report of a successful test of a submarine launched cruise missile, Babur III, by Pakistan claims achievement of second strike capability by Pakistan. It is unambiguously clear that Pakistan’s nuclear capability, missile forces, and even conventional army have been focused, developed and designed against India. As is well-established Indian Nuclear Doctrine has the most stringent basis of No First Use (NFU). Since India will not be conducting first nuclear strike as per its vowed doctrine and ground evidence, what is the rationale of Pakistan describing this SLCM test as “achieving a credible second strike capability”?
On the nuclear end of the spectrum Pakistan has been developing diverse and deeper nuclear capabilities that can only be termed usable and all of them are first strike capabilities.
Indian Nuclear Doctrine and need for a credible second strike capability
When I explained in my Agni-V article in Indian Defence Review (Please see Agni-V : A True Game Changer article) that Agni V gives India second strike capability, I meant second strike counter force capability it is a way to destroy enemy missile launchers in hardened sheltered strategic command and control systems in hardened underground with Target Strength of above 300 pounds per square inch of pressure, on second strike even with one single MIRVed Agni V at 5000 km range.
For Indian Nuclear Doctrine with deep roots in No-First-Use and creating a credible nuclear deterrence with massive retaliation on first strike on India, it is imperative that India should develop a counter value second strike capability. The counter value second strike implies an ability of some nuclear forces to survive the first nuclear strike on India, which may be a decapitating first strike, by say Pakistan, and launch sufficient nuclear warheads to annihilate major cities of the potential opponents.
Given the consistent, complete and comprehensive posture that India has taken since 1974 PNE, Indian Nuclear Doctrine is a clear case of an unambiguous anti-nuclear stance of India as a model nation of the world. A nation that had taken almost a quarter century (1998) to carry out further nuclear tests only when it became clear that Pakistan has the nuclear bomb – acquired under Nelson eyes of superpowers of the time. Since we have three key attributes of Indian Nuclear Doctrine – NFU, Credible Minimum Deterrence and Massive Retaliation on receiving a nuclear attack, it is but obvious that India needs to develop credible, visible and viable capabilities to be able to accredit the nuclear doctrine. In this regard, India needs to have second strike counter value capability.
Our uniquely articulated doctrine requires massive retaliation that should decapitate the capability of the attacker to launch any further nuclear attacks on us. Agni-V with MIRV capability as well as SLBMs provide that capability.
Further, since India must create a massive retaliation capability in second strike – it is imperative that we should develop not only the second-strike counter value but also the second-strike counter force capability. Our uniquely articulated doctrine requires massive retaliation that should decapitate the capability of the attacker to launch any further nuclear attacks on us. Agni-V with MIRV capability as well as SLBMs provide that capability.
Pakistan Nuclear Doctrine – Quick First Use and Strike below Indian Threshold
Pakistan has been developing a dangerous doctrine after the ignominious defeat in Kargil. In 1999, in what can be the only direct war between two nuclear armed adversaries, Pakistan miscalculated the value of its overt nuclear status and carried out the Kargil adventure. Since then, there have been umpteen attacks below the conventional levels. On the nuclear end of the spectrum Pakistan has been developing diverse and deeper nuclear capabilities that can only be termed usable and all of them are first strike capabilities.
NASR, Babur, Cold Start Doctrine and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)
NASR – the 60 KM range nuclear capable missile – test fired by Pakistan, couple of years back was a very specific response to India’s so called “Cold Start Doctrine” ostensibly conceived in 2004 to send eight Independent Battle Groups (each an armored brigade group/combat command equivalent) into Pakistan at high speed and quickly. Pakistan has been giving this excuse – the CSD excuse – to develop tactical nukes and delivery mechanism like NASR.
Mutually Assured Destruction is a cold war term – Nuke deterrence term indicating the balancing of each side against nuclear strikes by the other side. However, NASR, cannot be construed as MAD. In NASR’s case, the spiral of increasing deterrence may lead to increasing probability of an actual nuke use – and looking at current state of Pakistan – the danger has increased manifolds – as non-state actors may get NASR and arm and launch it. You never know what Hafiz Saeed types can do with what they can get their hands to. In fact, with each such increase the possibility of such nukes falling in the hands of terrorists is increasing considerably (please see my article here)
NASR is a first strike capability and by keeping it as tactical nuclear weapon, Pakistan brings it to forward edge of first use.
With NASR Pakistan gave us a key message – “You keep on spending on conventional weapons and bleed your economy. We will sandwich your conventional capability which is not agile and anyway cannot create a tempo quick enough for any real gains – we will sandwich you in the Nukes dimensions with full spectrum capability and keep on poking you in lower end with variety of mechanisms – Kargil, Parliament attack, 26/11, beheading your soldiers and many more to come.” NASR is a first strike capability and by keeping it as tactical nuclear weapon, Pakistan brings it to forward edge of first use.
Babur III -SLCM will NOT be counter force second-strike although it does increase the counter value second strike ability, as it is submarine launched. But the warhead that it carries is sufficient for a Nagasaki/Hiroshima type of nuclear bomb on a city. It cannot destroy the hardened, underground missile launchers or mobile launchers.
Quick First Use is the nuclear doctrine of Pakistan in contrast to India’s NFU. Therefore, a second-strike capability has no logic and doesn’t make sense. NASR and all HATF versions including the Babur III are not second strike but a potential third strike capability.
The escalatory ladder that Pakistan envisage, as discernible by their key nuclear capabilities developed and being deployed, is – (a) Pakistan’s asymmetric/hybrid/multi-domain attacks leads to India launching a Conventional attack – on a variant of Cold Start (b) Pakistan thwarted 2-3 of the eight Integrated Battle Groups that were rapidly approaching deep in Pakistan with NASR – sub-KT nukes (c) India retaliates massively to completely decimate Pakistan (d) Pakistan uses SLCM to destroy couple of Indian Cities – say, key cities in West and South of India with SLCM – Babur III.
Positioning SLCM Babur III as credible second strike capability is a misnomer, as second strike in the nuclear exchange will be by India – and it will be massive.
These stages of escalation make the SLCM a third strike capability and not the second strike. As the second strike, will be by India under massive retaliation as defined by our Nuclear Doctrine.
Pakistan has been consistently developing a full-spectrum first-strike nuclear capability including the tactical nuclear weapons such as NASR and now the submarine launched cruise missile Babur III. In contrast to India’s No First Use (NFU) nuclear doctrine, Pakistan’s nuclear posture and capability can only be termed as Quick First Use (QFU) – a trigger happy posture, capability and intent, that is not only dangerous for the sub-continent but potentially disastrous for the world at large.
Positioning SLCM Babur III as credible second strike capability is a misnomer, as second strike in the nuclear exchange will be by India – and it will be massive. As best, if Pakistan survives Indian second strike, Babur may be a third strike counter value capability that may destroy an Indian city, after Pakistan has been eliminated from the world.