Nuclear taboo: Imperative for preventing catastrophe in South Asia
The theoreticians' debate and practitioners contemplate the endurance of a nuclear taboo- a normative inhibition against the first use of nuclear weapons. However, the rebooting of the nuclear arms race among the nuclear weapon states has a lesser altering impact on the making of nuclear strategy, the cold war-like strategic rhetoric or signalling and steady erosion of 20th century arms control architecture alarms about the quashing of nuclear taboo in the increasing geo-strategic competition in Europe and Asia.
In February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Trump's refrain from unleashing “fire and fury" against North Korea in August 2017 offer a clear demonstration of the benefits of possessing a nuclear arsenal. Similarly, nuclear weapon states' seriously managing conflict stability rather than permitting their rivalry to evolve into a hot war testifies to nuclear taboo vitality.
Realistically, the nuclear arms control entailing nuclear disarmament under the current nuclear non-proliferation regime seems unlikely. Besides, the current war between Russia and Ukraine multiplies tension between the Kremlin and NATO/US, entailing the raising of nuclear alert levels and the likelihood of the first use of nuclear weapons.
Pakistanis commemorated the 24th anniversary of nuclear weapons tests last week. The government announced the holding of ten-day celebrations to highlight the importance of "Youm-e-Takbeer." The day's theme was "Na Jhuky thay na Jhuken gai.” Pakistan’s full spectrum nuclear deterrence doctrine and quid pro quo-plus military strategy testify its armed forces' preparedness to hold back India's military adventurism.
Global arms control and security architecture trends reinforce nuclear optimists' role in making Pakistan's nuclear strategy. Since India and Pakistan acquired nuclear parity, limited war escalating to total war has become an unthinkable rational military option between them. Indeed, such rational strategic calculations in Islamabad and Delhi are conducive to the permanency of nuclear-taboo in South Asia.
However, the failure of Islamabad and New Delhi to settle the chronic Kashmir dispute and inability to sustain an objective dialogue resulted in “sub-strategic militarized conflicts between them. Moreover, the involvement of belligerent neighbors in each other's intra-state conflicts does alarm about an inadvertent escalation of a conflict having the potential to overwhelm the nuclear taboo in South Asia.
Since India and Pakistan acquired nuclear parity, limited war escalating to total war has become an unthinkable rational military option between them.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The nuclear parity between India and Pakistan resulted in the origin of the stability/instability paradox, i.e., the likelihood of nuclear conflict declines, the risk of conventional war increases, and as the likelihood of nuclear conflict increases, the risk of conventional war declines. Nevertheless, this inverse relationship between the probability of nuclear and conventional military conflict debilitates the nuclear taboo in South Asia.
The nuclear parity dynamics accentuate that a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan would be catastrophically costly not just for the one but for both sides. Therefore, the perpetuation of the nuclear taboo is in the interests of India and Pakistan.
India has been making significant military investments to close the gap between its military and China's People's Liberation Army. This trend in the neighborhood could widen the gap between Pakistan and India's military capabilities if the former ignores the latter's military modernization under the pretext that New Delhi is preparing to fight two-front wars. The border tension between China and India could be a temporary sign of strategic relief but is not a permanent recipe for Pakistan's military challenges.
India tested non-strategic nuclear weapons—hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles to augment its offensive punch and missile defense systems to neutralize Pakistan's striking capability. Admittedly, it's still too early to say when the Indian interceptors, designed to knock out Pakistan's ballistic and cruise missiles, will join operational missile defenses. But these developments oblige Pakistan to invest in the emerging disruptive military technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence and Cyberwarfare, to deter India. Precisely, India and Pakistan have been entangled in the arms race, which is theoretically and practically anti-nuclear taboo.
The emerging gruesome strategic instability accentuates the efficacy of Pakistan's proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime. Indeed, such an arrangement between the belligerent neighbors strengthens the nuclear taboo. Hence, it seems appropriate that Islamabad and New Delhi restart nuclear confidence-building measures to sustain the nuclear taboo in South Asia.
– Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University.