More Pakistani nukes? That’s Washington’s problem

India is already under risk from the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. So what if Pakistan has some more of them?

No, it should not surprise anyone that Pakistan has been cranking up its capacity to produce more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. ISIS analysts David Albright & Paul Brannan recently sounded alarm that two new plutonium reactors in the Khushab complex might be close to being operational. As Mr Albright says, there is not even the pretence that these reactors can be used for generating electrical power. The fact that Pakistan—international migraine, mortal threat, most dangerous place in the world, 60 miles away from being taken over by the Taliban and all that—is expanding its nuclear arsenal at a time when it is pleading for international aid for almost everything has shocked the Western media, and US Congressmen. This is good—especially if it is coupled with the realisation that the fungibility of money (linkthanks Chidanand Rajghatta) renders absurd the Obama administration’s argument that aid to Pakistan will be monitored, benchmarked if not actually made conditional. [Watch this video]

Now, a bigger Pakistani arsenal increases the risk to the United States and the international community in various ways.

And because of this, it undermines Pakistan’s own security. The more fissile material Pakistan has, the higher the risk (to the international community) with regard to its custodial security. The greater the risk the United States faces, the more it will coerce Pakistan. In the ultimate analysis, Pakistan cannot continue cranking up its nuclear weapons factory without running the risk of a direct military intervention by the United States. It is strategic stupidity—a well-known pathology affecting the Pakistani army’s general staff—that causes Islamabad to expand its arsenal beyond what it has.

But it shouldn’t worry India any more than it already does. So Pakistan has not 80, but 100 warheads now. Deterrence still holds.

So yes, the United States, China and the West need to worry—perhaps even panic—about Pakistan’s expanded nuclear arsenal: what goes around, comes around. The Pakistani government needs to worry about it too. On the other hand, India need not lose additional sleep over it. That’s why calls such as the one by today’s New York Times, which suggests that it is India’s ‘responsibility’ to prevent Pakistan from blowing the beleaguered US taxpayers’ dollars on churning out plutonium for more nuclear weapons, must be ignored. On the contrary, it is for the Obama administration to demonstrate “the kind of regional and global leadership expected of a global power” by ensuring that it doesn’t indulge Pakistan’s dangerously deceitful military-jihadi complex in pursuing its maximalist nuclear ambitions.

What the UPA’s election win means for foreign policy

Regaining lost ground on China, re-engaging the United States

Mint’s Samar Srivastava & Tanmaya Kumar Nanda have an opinion round-up on the prospects for India’s foreign affairs under the second UPA government. They find that the “UPA win (is) good for foreign policy, but (there are) clouds ahead”, and that the biggest of those clouds is China.

Most experts agreed that one of India’s largest challenges would come not from its west but east: China.

“China is recalcitrant. Forget magnanimity, things are becoming frozen. China is signalling its unwillingness to accommodate India, that is more worrying,” said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

Kapur added India would have to take steps to increase its bargaining power. “China’s approach is to speak softly but carry a big stick. India’s approach is to speak loudly and carry a small stick…. We haven’t even cultivated Taiwan or backed the Dalai Lama. As a country, we are apprehensive and insecure about China.”

Nitin Pai, editor of Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review magazine, agreed, saying India has done the worst in five years with regard to China. “India needs to (sit) bilaterally with key players like Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.” [Mint]

The point I made is that while the UPA government did generally well with respect to relations with the United States and was so-so with respect to Pakistan, it lost the plot with respect to China. Whether this was due to the presence of the Leftists or a strategic naivete-cum-pusillanimity within the Congress Party’s own senior leadership, the objective fact is that India failed to even mitigate the rise of Chinese power in East Asia. Such was the neglect that even the band-aid, in the form of approval for infrastructure development along the India-China border, was applied after the elections started. The single biggest task—in the medium term—is to draw out a vision of India’s geopolitical role in the 21st century, and begin to take purposeful steps to get there. (From the way the article is written, it might appear that I agreed with Dr Kapur on Taiwan and the Dalai Lama. I didn’t mention them at all)

The UPA government and the Obama administration will have to work with each other at least for the next four years. Here, far from a sense of defensiveness over Washington’s vaunted/troubled Af-Pak strategy, the UPA government must understand that President Obama’s success or failure in Afghanistan & Pakistan (and second term in office) is to a significant extent contingent on New Delhi’s support. This doesn’t mean grandstanding: quite the opposite, it means a confident and constructive partnership. It means allowing and ensuring that the United States ends up doing the necessary—confronting the Pakistani military-jihadi complex—sooner rather than later.

What about nuclear weapons? It’s good to see President Obama agree with the age-old Indian position that the world ought to be free of nuclear weapons. As K Subrahmanyam—by no means an anti-nuclear weapons ideologue says—the first step is to delegitimise their use: non-use against non-nuclear states, no first use against nuclear states, and, for those with thousands of warheads, a reduction in their number. That said—there will be disagreement on the NPT and CTBT—where a change in the Indian position can only come after a substantial change in the structure of the treaties. Can Dr Singh not persuade Mr Obama that an unprecedented change in US position over nuclear weapons requires jettisoning Cold War era dogmas? Or should the world await a global nuclear crisis—like the economic one—before concluding that the G7 needs to expand into a G20?

None of this is incompatible with retaining a minimum credible deterrent in the meantime. Dr Singh should know better than anyone else that ‘operationalising’ the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver is the key to ensuring that the size of the deterrent is appropriate.

Tall order this, so it’s important to start right: can Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first appoint a good external affairs minister, a good defence minister and a good national security advisor?

My op-ed in Mint: The lines of nuclear succession

the nuclear factor thus calls for both the declaration of a line of succession as well as ensuring that key cabinet portfolios are entrusted to separate individuals. It renders unacceptable practices that have either become norms or are compulsions of coalition politics. Parties preparing for the coming general election, therefore, would do well to go beyond announcing their prime ministerial candidates. They should announce their leadership succession strategy and the line-up for key cabinet positions.

The nuclear factor renders unacceptable practices that stem from the compulsions of coalition politics

In today’s Mint, I argue that “the nuclear factor thus calls for both the declaration of a line of succession as well as ensuring that key cabinet portfolios are entrusted to separate individuals. It renders unacceptable practices that have either become norms or are compulsions of coalition politics. Parties preparing for the coming general election, therefore, would do well to go beyond announcing their prime ministerial candidates. They should announce their leadership succession strategy and the line-up for key cabinet positions.”

Read the entire article over at LiveMint.

Pragati February 2009: Pakistan needs a MacArthur

Here’s the February 2009 issue of Pragati, a special on Pakistan.

This issue argues that if a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan is in the common interests of India, the world’s major powers and indeed the wider international community, then it is incumbent upon them to engage in a MacArthur-like intervention to transform Pakistan. Merely providing more financial assistance, albeit under different budgetary heads, is unlikely to suffice. In fact, as our in-depth look at one of Pakistan’s biggest jihadi organisations suggests, the export of terrorism from the country is only likely to grow.

In a discussion on India’s options, we examine the role of the use of force; surgical strikes are a fallacy, but credible military capabilities are a necessity. And as the book extract shows, there is a need for skilful diplomacy to use external pressures to bring about internal changes in Pakistan.

In a second perspectives section, we review Pakistan’s relations with its key benefactors—the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and Europe—and highlight how the dynamics of these relationships are changing. The composite picture suggests that after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and the arrival of the Obama administration, there is an opportunity for India to engage in bold, imaginative diplomacy to galvanise the international community to radically change Pakistan’s course.

Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review
Issue 23 – February 2009

Contents [Download 2MB PDF]

PERSPECTIVE

MacArthur should return
Only an international intervention can transform Pakistan
Nitin Pai

Pakistan 2020
Nine alternative futures
K Subrahmanyam, Pakistan Planning Commission, United States National Intelligence Council, Sohail Inayatullah, MD Nalapat, Nadeem Ul Haque, Stephen P Cohen, Rohit Pradhan & Harsh Gupta and R Vaidyanathan

FILTER

Essential readings of the month
Ravi Gopalan & Vijay Vikram

IN DEPTH

The assembly line of international terrorism
Why the threat from Jamaat-ud-Dawa is set to rise
Wilson John

PERSPECTIVE

Surgeries are messy
Surgical strikes are a conceptual fallacy and not a prudent option
Srinath Raghavan and Rudra Chaudhuri

Kind words and guns
Effective diplomacy needs credible military capacity
Sushant K Singh

Allies, not friends
The US and Pakistan will need to recast their awkward relationship
Dhruva Jaishankar

A flawed sense of security
The Saudi-Pakistan relationship, underpinned by opportunistic security interests, has run its course
Bernard Haykel

New dynamics of an all weather friendship
China’s influence in Islamabad has been subordinated to US priorities in the region
Zorawar Daulet Singh

Europe’s dilemma
Europe can do little in solving Pakistan’s problem
Richard Gowan

BOOKS

The logic of containment
Using external pressures to bring about an internal transformation
C Raja Mohan

R Venkataraman, RIP

Constitution-maker, defence minister, president

Former president Ramaswamy Venkataraman passed away in New Delhi today, aged 98. He was a member of the constituent assembly and rose to become president of the republic during a critical period in its history. His contribution to India’s strategic security is less well-known, but very significant. As defence minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in 1983 he set-up a unique committee consisting of the three service chiefs, the top defence ministry bureaucrats and the top scientists in charge of India’s nuclear and missile development programmes. The biggest decision he made was to ask Dr V S Arunachalam and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to accelerate the ballistic missile development programme by running five projects in parallel. It was Mr Venkataraman who allocated Rs 388 crores for the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP) that gave India the Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles.

In Wings of Fire, Dr Kalam writes: “He advised us to list all the resources we needed to achieve our goals, overlooking nothing, and then include in the list our own positive imagination and faith. “What you imagine, is what will transpire. What you believe is what you will achieve,” he said.”

An all-American dogma the size of Iran

The solution is staring at Barack Obama’s face—if he has the audacity to grasp it

It is good to hear General Petraeus acknowledge that Iran “had common interests with the United States and other nations in a secure Afghanistan.” Although he hinted that such interests might make talks with Iran feasible, he said he would leave the topic to diplomats and policy makers.

“I don’t want to get completely going down that road because it’s a very hot topic,” General Petraeus told a conference…Nonetheless, he said, “there are some common objectives and no one I think would disagree.”

Like the United States, Iran is concerned about the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the resurgence of extremists there, he said. “It doesn’t want to see Sunni extremists or certainly ultrafundamentalist extremists running Afghanistan any more than other folks do,” he said, while acknowledging that the United States and Iran have “some pretty substantial points of conflict out there as well.” [NYT]

And the most substantial point of conflict is Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Yet, it may well be that the best way to convince Iran to temper its quest for nuclear weapons might well be for the United States to engage it politically. After all, hostility with the United States and Israel is one key reason why Iran seeks those weapons (the Saudi Arabia-Pakistan nuclear nexus is another).

In fact, it is amazing how the US foreign policy establishment is thinking up options and throwing up names for special envoys without questioning whether the holy cow, or rather the holy taboo, of not engaging Iran is a position that has run its course (if it was ever tenable in the first place). If intellectual blinkers and dogma prevent US policymakers from considering the merits of engaging Iran, what prevents countries like India that would benefit from a US-Iran rapprochement from lubricating it? There is a need for strong, credible voices to support the likes of General Petraeus in helping the United States break the ice with Iran.

Aside: The word “ultrafundamentalist” now enters the lexicon thanks to General Petraeus. As for “ultrafundamentalist extremists”, now, there’s way too much redundancy built into that phrase.

Putting perfume on a skunk

Pakistan’s military mobilisation bogey didn’t work—it only exposed the army’s hand in the Mumbai attacks

It is hard to say whether the good retired brigadier Shaukat Qadir actually believes in his own fairy tale or is merely trying to make the skunk smell good in public. For he argues that “the token withdrawal of troops from our western borders was also an exercise in employing defence to further diplomatic ends and accelerate international efforts to defuse tensions between two nuclear neighbours; and it was successful.”

His first argument about how Pakistan showed tremendous restraint in the face of belligerent words and actions on the ground by India is factually wrong. According to the the same paper that published his analysis, Pakistan threatened to pull back 100,000 troops on 29 November 2008, even as the Mumbai siege was in progress. Far from responding to any hostile action from India, Pakistan’s alacrity in troop movements suggests that this was a pre-planned move, and half of which failed in the end.

And his argument that moving one armoured and one infantry division to a strategic location that would threaten India’s lines of communication is ridiculous. For if all it took to deter India from attacking Pakistan were army divisions at strategic locations, then why did Pakistan ever have to invest in nuclear weapons at such great cost to itself? It is plain and simple that Pakistan is using its nuclear weapons to provide cover and protection to terrorists. That smell won’t go away so quickly.

Nuclear terrorism is already here

And Pakistan is at the centre of it

The world’s strategic analysts worry about the how the “intersection of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction” poses the biggest threat to international security. [See these reports]

The truth is that the intersection has already occurred. In Pakistan.

Much of the discourse linking terrorists and nuclear weapons revolves around the question of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorists’ hands. A terrorist organisation can use a nuclear weapon for compellence—to force governments and people to yield to their demands—with or without actually using it first. Mercifully, by all accounts, this scenario is not upon us yet.

But terrorist organisations are already using nuclear weapons for deterrence—exploiting the nuclear umbrella to carry out attacks without the fear of punitive action by its adversaries. That nuclear umbrella is provided by Pakistan’s arsenal, which today protects both Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership and the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. And here’s the rub: the terrorists need not own it or even have their fingers on the trigger. There is enough to suggest that the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States and the November 26th attacks on Mumbai were both conducted with the knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military establishment. But even if the Pakistani Army were less complicit, its provision of nuclear cover for terrorist organisation makes it part of the world’s terrorists-with-nukes problem. Why would it extend them protection were it not for the fact that such protection promotes its interests?

The Zardari government, as indeed the Pakistani people who elected it, must contemplate on whether they too wish to be part of the same problem. Antagonism against India and national pride are fine, but they should spare a care for their own future. It is impossible for the Pakistani people to escape the consequences of allowing the military-jihadi complex to engage in international nuclear blackmail in their name.

The world’s great powers have already seen how the military-jihadi complex turned against the United States, its former ally. So Pakistan’s current allies won’t, therefore, rest easy merely on the basis of the military-jihadi complex’s current, non-threatening intentions. It is the capability and the willingness to use that they will be concerned about.

And how much are these nukes?

If your goose lays golden eggs, you’ll want to keep it

Like many thoughtful people, Bret Stephens zeroes in on the central problem—Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal protects jihadi terrorists, besides running the country down in various ways. He deserves appreciation for attempting to think up an innovative solution to it. (via Pragmatic Euphony)

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that Pakistan will give up its nuclear arsenal and capability for US$100 billion and an American nuclear umbrella. Forget US$100 billion, it’s unlikely to trade-in its nukes for any price that the world is prepared to pay. Why?

Because it can get the same money by keeping the nuclear weapons—by playing up the risk of these weapons falling into the hands of rogues and terrorists in case of widespread turmoil. So why sell the goose that lays the golden eggs? And we are not even talking about whether the ordinary and the elite would accede to a trade-in deal.

As for placing Pakistan under the American nuclear umbrella—it makes a good soundbite, but is not credible. Is the United States prepared to use nuclear weapons on Pakistan’s behalf should India launch a punitive strike against Pakistan’s jihadi training camps in retaliation to a major terrorist attack? If you are a Pakistani leader—civilian or military—you won’t count on this. Besides, your all-weather friends in Beijing are unlikely to be favourably disposed to it either.