By M Suleman Shahid

July 22, 2016
India's BMD System and Challenge to Strategic StabilityOn May 15, 2016, India conducted a trial of its ballistic missile defence (BMD) system by testing its new anti-ballistic missile, Ashvin Advanced Defense (AAD), from the coast of Odisha – home to the Integrated Test Range, the primary missile test facility in India, located in the Bay of Bengal. The AAD successfully hit the incoming ballistic missile Dhanush, which was launched from Indian Navy vessel from the Bay. Intrinsically, the primary motive behind the Indian BMD program is to counter Pakistani missiles in the event of war, and provide a shield to main Indian cities. Furthermore, it is also probable that India is trying to test the space for fighting a limited war with Pakistan under the shield of the BMD system.

Pakistan has reacted to this test with concern, arguing that such Indian BMD tests will disturb the regional balance of power, and said the issue would be raised at international forums. Alongside, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sartaj Aziz stated that Pakistan will now also certainly acquire the advanced technology it needs to similarly improve its defense.

India began work on its BMD systems program in the early 1990s to especially counter the threat of Pakistani ballistic missiles. Initially, over 40 companies were involved in the program, whereas currently the US and Israel are also involved in providing assistance to India for developing this dangerous technology that will certainly disrupt regional stability.

Currently, in the same context, India is also developing other war machinery projects, such as nuclear submarines, SLBMs, Anti-satellite technologies (ASAT), cyber warfare technologies and shaping a‘Cold Start Doctrine’ (CSD) to identify the space it has for limited war. These asymmetrical advancements are great concerns for strategic stability, and may further entice the host country towards the actual pursuit of a limited war.

Irrespective of these other projects however, the BMD system alone will severely undermine the strategic stability between these two relatively equivalent nuclear weapons states. It will not only disturb deterrence stability by limiting the enemy’s capability to inflict ‘unacceptable’ damage, even if it can absorb a‘first strike’, but it also instigates an opponent to strike first, if they believes they are threatened. Such developments increase the level of strategic instability so much that any false alarm, technical fault or miscalculation has the potential to become an accidental cause of war. In the case of India and Pakistan, the former holds the advantage by possessing a BMD system, nuclear submarines and ASAT technology, while Pakistan, lacking all these advanced technologies, gets placed in the position of the threatened state.

In times of crises, these technologies will cultivate a sense of military ‘superiority’in India, encouraging it to activate its provocative CSD strategy, under the cover of the ballistic missile shield and second strike capability. Pakistan’s defense is similarly ‘India centric’, and unquestionably, in order to maintain the integrity and defense of the homeland, not only its armed forces but the civilian leadership will be looking to take every tough decision in the book, and utilize every measure it has available. If India attempts to start a limited war under the umbrella of its BMD system, then there is very limited possibility that the limited war will remain limited.

Secondly, given that the Indian BMD system is currently in its development phase, the impetus is now on Pakistan to put in place any necessary countermeasures to assure its defense, before the Indian shield goes live. It is the only way that any Indian superiority in war machinery will not compel Pakistan into further ‘gunboat’ or coercive diplomacy.

In this context, Pakistan must seek to improve the quality and quantity of its entire nuclear arsenal – in particular its ballistic missile force. The number of the nuclear warheads it possesses ought to exceed the ‘actual’ number of defined targets, so that in the event of war, despite the shield of the Indian BMD system, some missiles and warheads should be able to penetrate the offensive territory. Alongside, Pakistan must also concentrate on the development of its long range missiles, given that India is shifting some of its nuclear force into the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. An improvement in the quality and quantity of Pakistani ballistic missiles, like Shaheen III (range 2700 kilometers), especially long range missiles, could have the potential capability to counter the Indian second strike capabilities located in these islands, and hopefully discourage India from taking any provocative initiatives against Pakistan.

Currently, on the one side, India is stockpiling massive numbers of arms and fast becoming a serious source of regional instability, while on the other, the major powers, especially the USA, are assisting India in mega-projects that encourages this instability such as the development of the BMD system, the Indo-US nuclear deal, and most recently, supporting the Indian entry into Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) on a ‘favoritism’ basis. During every crisis between India and Pakistan, the USA has played the role of a mediator, defusing crises and emphasizing upon confidence building measures, and yet it is also the US that is assisting India in the projects and agreements which are at the heart of strategic instability in the region. With Pakistan however, the US takes no such stance, and is far from ready for any similar cooperation with Pakistan. The major powers’ dual policies in the region therefore, are primarily responsible exacerbating tensions among these historic adversaries.

Provocative Indian actions are compelling Pakistan to not only improve the quality and quantity of ballistic missiles, but also modernize and increase the size of its entire strategic force. In this context,the country is being forced to concentrate on options like improvements in its cruise missile force and Multiple Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) missile, improvement in tactical missiles and assured second strike capability. These capabilities are being developed not only to deter India from taking any unnecessary aggressive action towards Pakistan, as has been its wont, but it also becomes a source of confidence to Pakistan during any crises. Historically, Pakistan has always been the one to propose confidence building measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and stabilize the strategic competition between the two, but India has always furthered the arms race by perpetually introducing modern war machinery in the region. Pakistan has also proposed the ‘strategic restraint regime’ to India, to decrease missile and conventional forces proportionally but India rejected this idea as well. In the end, Pakistan is left with no option but to take effective measures to restore the strategic stability and decrease the likelihood of any war between two nuclear armed countries.

He tweets at (@M_S_Shahid)