Cheering Pakistan’s missile test

May they have ever longer ranges!

It is in India’s interests that Pakistan should acquire missiles with very long ranges. The greater the range, the better it is for India. No, this is neither sarcasm nor flippancy, this is logic.

Pakistan does not need more nuclear warheads or missiles to deter India. It achieved that deterrence in the mid-80s even before testing nuclear weapons on its soil. There is no Indian leader who will risk as much as a radioactive wind blowing towards an Indian population centre, leave alone suffer a nuclear attack. The moment Pakistan had one nuclear warhead that it could deliver on one airplane, it had already substantially achieved the deterrence it sought. Pakistan now supposedly has over a hundred warheads, is feverishly cranking up fissile material (for others) and has scores of missiles of varying ranges and payload capacities. It is even claiming to develop “second strike” capability, which is absurd given the India-Pakistan nuclear relationship (It’s MUD, not MAD). Again, this absurd claim is being used to obfuscate the inventory it is building for Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan doesn’t need any more warheads or new missiles to deter India. Why then did the Pakistani establishment feel the need to react with a ‘test’ of its fully-developed and working Hatf4/Shaheen 1A (?) in response to a development test of India’s Agni-V? Well, as my colleague Rohan Joshi remarked on Twitter today “Pakistan’s desire to match India trumps its desire to deter India.”

In doing so the men in khaki have been trading security for a psychological kick. Every new warhead, every new missile, every bit of additional range actually diminishes Pakistan’s security. Why? Because a strategic arsenal is not target-specific. Even if every single bomb, missile and aircraft is aimed at India, every single country within range will feel a non-zero increase in threat perception from Pakistan. The threat perception is subjective, depending on the country’s relations with Pakistan, so Israel might be more worried than Saudi Arabia today. But the point is that even Saudi Arabia will be a little more worried than it already is. Now imagine if Pakistan’s missiles were capable of reaching Japan, Russia, Western Europe and, err, the continental United States.

India’s leaders have been scared of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons for three decades now. They are already beyond the point where they can be further scared. But the more Pakistan’s behaviour scares the leaders of other countries, not in indirect ways like a subcontinental war or through the export of terrorism, but in direct ways, the more they will see a need to tackle the military-jihadi complex that lies at its source. Few countries of the world, whether they admit it or not, are oblivious to military-jihadi complex’s use of nuclear weapons to shield its jihadi terrorists. If a direct nuclear threat is a high threshold risk, a nuclear blackmail has a relatively lower threshold of probability. (See That’s Washington’s problem)

The effect of all the stockpiling and all the launching by Pakistan will be to spread the risk among a wider group of nations. The quantum of risk India faces doesn’t change…but it will have others sharing similar risks albeit at a lower level. If the men in khaki in Rawalpindi think scaring the important powers of the world is in their interests then, to use a phrase I heard from Arun Shourie (but attributed to Napoleon) we must not interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake.

So let’s join them in cheering the Pakistani military-jihadi complex on the successful launch of Hatf-4/Shaheen1A missile—incidentally a gift from the Clinton Administration—and encourage them to acquire missiles with ever greater ranges. (There’s a small question of whether China will sell them this stuff, but let’s not be curmudgeonly and discredit the scientific talent in Pakistan.)

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2 Responses to Cheering Pakistan’s missile test

  1. Nerus 25th April 2012 at 12:44 #

    Pakistani planners, if they are smart, will test a 1000 km missile and claim 5000 km range. This will satisfy their domestic constituents (who will have no way of verifying the 5000 km claim).
    Simultaneously, western and other powers will know that the 5000 km claim is bunkum (via satellite monitoring). No cause for alarm. NATO can do business as usual.

    Two birds with one stone.

    • Nitin Pai 25th April 2012 at 22:56 #

      I think that’s what they’ve been doing…although its possible to guesstimate from footage & photos.

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