In Its Nuclear Race With India, Pakistan Catches Up

January 12, 2017

Real Clear Defense:

The nuclear race between India and Pakistan is intensifying, thanks in large part to Islamabad’s fear that its military is starting to lag behind New Delhi’s. Over the past decade, Pakistan has become alarmed by the widening gap between its ability to wage conventional war and India’s. Pakistan has turned to its nuclear inventory to level the playing field.

But in doing so, Islamabad has spurred its nuclear competition with New Delhi forward even faster, a rivalry that culminated in Pakistan’s Jan. 9 test-fire of the Babur-3 submarine-launched cruise missile. The test of the sea-based nuclear-capable weapon was the first of its kind in Pakistan, underscoring the country’s investment in mitigating the threat looming on its eastern border. But as Islamabad takes steps to bolster its nuclear deterrent, New Delhi will almost certainly follow suit, each state engaging in a dangerous contest to stay one step ahead of the other.

Unable to match India’s massive military expenditures, Pakistan has taken an asymmetric approach to compensate for its comparative weakness: building up its nuclear arsenal. In fact, Islamabad has already begun to design and develop tactical nuclear weapons that could someday be deployed against Indian troops on the battlefield. Now, Pakistan is searching for the second-strike capability that the Babur-3 might provide. With a reported range of 450 kilometers (280 miles), the newest cruise missile could reach most of India’s major cities, though much of the country’s interior — including the capital of New Delhi — would still be out of range.

Pakistan has its reasons for pursuing these capabilities. For one, India is ramping up its investment in anti-ballistic missile defense systems in response to recent advances in the field by Pakistan and China. This, in turn, has prompted Pakistan to shift its attention to producing cruise missiles as an alternative delivery method to ballistic missiles.

India has also begun to develop its own sea-based nuclear deterrent. Based primarily on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, this deterrent would make India’s second-strike measures far more credible, pressuring Pakistan to respond in kind by boosting its second-strike capabilities to better discourage a nuclear attack. This objective has become all the more important to Islamabad in recent years, since its introduction of tactical nuclear weapons has lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in the region.

Pakistan’s own progress in nuclear weapons is part of the reason India has chosen to modernize its nuclear arsenal. But New Delhi is also becoming concerned by China’s attempts to speed up its nuclear program. The fact that India has to account not only for Pakistan’s weaponry but also for China’s will complicate any efforts to negotiate an arms control deal between New Delhi and Islamabad. As a result, India and Pakistan will continue down their circular path of nuclear buildups and deterrence….

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