By Raja Muhammad Waqas
May 29 2017
Few will disagree that a state will seek out and capitalize on any opportunity it can avail itself of in furtherance of its strategic objectives. However, the problem remains with some states which prefer to act in isolation, expanding their ever-growing military arsenal without much consideration for the stability-instability paradox and foregoing broader implications. Such decisions are faced with serious consequences that again become the fueling constituent of a never ending vicious circle. In a globalized world, this discussion is more pertinent than ever. The degree of interconnectedness we are experiencing today makes events at distant locations increasingly influential in determining circumstances at home and vice versa. Naval strategy is greatly affected by regional developments in a globalized environ. Therefore, it invites attentiveness to restructure naval power and ensure its inclusion as a vital component in national security policy. Such a revision is imperative essentially for those smaller states whose national security constructs are centered upon the belligerent developments taking place in the neighborhood under the garb of peace and security.
Challenges arrive alongside opportunities. The Indian Ocean presented long awaited opportunities to be availed of until the testing and subsequent induction of the INS-Arihant nuclear submarine in India’s naval strategic force. This development enabled Indians to claim an assured second strike capability but at the cost of adding to others’ insecurities, and relegating the long-rotten concept of security dilemma to the backburner. Arihant is the first Indian ballistic missile submarine which can carry nuclear capable intermediate range ballistic missiles K-4, as well as the short range ballistic missiles K-15. The challenges faced by Pakistan in the wake of these developments were responded to in a much anticipated way. Following the Indian tests, Pakistan successfully test fired submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) BABAR-III in January 2017 to restore deterrence stability by reinstating mutual vulnerabilities. While the missile was launched from a mobile underwater platform, and questions arose as to the compatibility of BABAR-III with Pakistani diesel submarines, the action communicated a clear message: remaining incognizant of belligerent strategic attitudes in the region is not an option for Islamabad.
However, Pakistan still needs to plug holes which, if it does not, may provide India the chance to exploit bilateral conventional asymmetry in seemingly more vulnerable naval sphere. Unlike the land forces, which are equipped with NASR to deter any proactive misadventure, the naval domain may not find it handy to avert any possible sea-based conventional attack from the eastern neighbor. One may purport that the triggering of a naval conflict by India against Pakistan to gain conventional profits seems unlikely, given that any such attempt would be met with a diversified response from Pakistan and create a high cumulative cost of hazardous advancements of war. Nevertheless, providing freedom to the rival state – no matter how limited – to initiate war could prove detrimental to regional stability. Response to these threats must come from a meticulous national security policy. The urgency is further expedited by the emergence of new opportunities in the Indian Ocean as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” project; a development which requires Pakistan to strategize a smart and cost effective naval power to respond, without resorting to equivocal options.
The presence of off-shore U.S. fleet in the Indian Ocean and the assistance extended by it to India in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) also poses serious threats to regional stability by abolishing mutual vulnerability. Exercise Malabar unearths this stark reality. Therefore, it is also the involvement of multiple actors in the region and their interconnectedness in economic and strategic spheres that influences regional stability. Therefore, restraint should be observed by major stakeholders, especially those whose actions have been fueling this vicious cycle of action-reaction continuity directly or indirectly. In this context the United States shares a huge burden of responsibility to bring peace and stability to the region by courageously embracing the tradeoff between its dream of Chinese encirclement and the long-term strategic stability of the region. Greg Theilmann, Director Arms Control Association and a Senior Fellow at Princeton University, proposed in a Threat Assessment Brief in 2016 that the U.S. Asia Security Policy must entail assuring mutual vulnerabilities by discouraging the deployment of nuclear weapons on naval ships. This implies that stability in volatile South Asia is ensured through maintenance of mutual vulnerability rather than advancement in vertical proliferation. Moreover, the idea that the naval advancements in pursuit of acquiring assured second strike capability shall bring stability to the region is hitherto far from being practically valid. For nuclear capable submarines to ensure their survivability in case of any counter-force targeting, these must be permanently deployed without waiting for the emergency to erupt. This is not the case in Indo-Pak context. Similarly there are many concerns related to the management of nuclear warheads off-shore, as well as the reliability of communications network; issues which may lead to untoward scenarios including unauthorized or accidental launch during crisis.
In a nutshell, the opportunities and challenges provided by the Indian Ocean to the region and beyond- owing to its unique geostrategic characteristics- need to be managed aptly. Colin S. Gray says in Modern Strategy that the difficulty in strategy lies in its performance rather than its permanent nature. So it is the performance of strategy that has to play a constructive role to replete itself with opportunities and minimize the shared challenges through cooperation and not confrontation, for the greater regional benefits and beyond.