New Year, New Problem? Pakistan's Tactical Nukes
Image Credit: Inter Services Public Relations (Pakistan Military)

New Year, New Problem? Pakistan's Tactical Nukes

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October of last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Many Asian policymakers will read the lessons of that harrowing episode with some self-satisfaction.

When India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear weapon tests in 1998, foreign analysts repeatedly told them that, as poor countries with weak institutions, they could not be entrusted with such awesome weaponry. Nascent nuclear powers were simply less reliable stewards than their Cold War counterparts. Over a decade on, and multiple crises later — Kargil in 1999, a military standoff in 2001-2, and the Mumbai attacks of 2008 — India and Pakistan have experienced nothing quite as perilous as the Cuban scare.

U.S. officials claim that Pakistan readied nuclear weapons during the Kargil conflict without the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But, even at the height of their crises neither India nor Pakistan have attempted, as the U.S. did in 1962, anything quite as foolish as depth-charging nuclear-armed submarines or scrambling aircraft equipped with nuclear air-to-air missiles towards hostile airspace. The dawn of Asia’s nuclear age has been calmer than that of Europe, and far calmer than the nuclear alarmists predicted.

But, as Paul Bracken and others have warned, we should not get complacent. When India tested its Agni-V missile in April, I and others raised a number of potential issues: Indian scientists were making cavalier statements of nuclear posture best left to political leaders, and the development of multiple warheads for each missile (known as MIRVs) and missile defense technology could all be destabilizing if not handled extremely carefully. India has legitimate deterrence requirements vis-a-vis China, but it would be counterproductive for this to become an open-ended expansion.

Pakistan’s nuclear trajectory is, however, altogether more worrying.

Comments
86
Kip
August 1, 2013 at 09:21

At first I thought your usual savy tech staff had screwed up: "nuclear air-to-air missiles"? Seems like an unlikely concept. What about the crew firing it and flying into the blast wave and radiation? What about fallout on civilians below, particularly NATO allies? But, amazingly,  you were quite right!

June 7, 2013 at 17:59

[...] Indian army’s interest in conventional limited war, creates numerous operational and strategic concerns, ranging from its actual utility in a conflict to security dangers associated with dispersal and [...]

john
May 3, 2013 at 02:48

27th of October is being celebrated every year as the “Black Day” by every Pakistani and Kashmiri all over the world as a protest against Indian illegal occupation of the Kashmir, when India had forcibly taken over the land on October 27, 1947.
Why the westerns underestimate the bitter reality of kashmiri people india is a bigger terrorist then any nation,since 1947 they are killing innocent people in kashmir why the western media dont show it this is double standards…The Indian government’s disregard for human rights in Jammu and Kashmir means that in practice people reportedly died in custody and that the whereabouts of the disappeared persons continue to be unknown…government forces continue to commit serious violations of humanitarian law…the Muslim majority population in the Kashmir Valley suffers from the repressive tactics of the security forces. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas

Humayun
April 8, 2013 at 06:10

Please don't fight here wasting words, you can't win wars with words. Pakistan is not building all these weaponse for India. Pakistan had enough to take any Indian city out but now Pakistan is far ahead. Atomic and nuclear missiles are the past technologies. FYI  Pakistan stopped research in these fileds in 1998. Chemtrails Weather Modification Weapons are the future but right now Pakistan has nicely diverted world attention into number of nukes so no ones really get to know what actually they are building…

[...] maximally, Pakistan has diversified its nuclear arsenals by including tactical nukes January this year. Add to this the frequent missiles tests, of ever increasing ranges and payloads. South Asia is [...]

alpha roger
March 17, 2013 at 04:00

correction:  not by "sheltering terrorists" but by being terrorists.  pakistan doesn't need india for a war.  terrorists have already declared a war on that benighted country.  like they say those who live by the sword die by the sword.

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