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Dynamics of Escalation in South Asia and Pakistan’s Nuclear Threshold

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The South Asian region has always been regarded vulnerable to military escalation based on its ever-changing complex security dynamics and volatile relations between India and Pakistan. Since the year 2019, the prevalent security environment of the South Asian region has once again become a dominant regional and global concern. The world witnessed India’s continued brutalities in Kashmir and a prospective fear of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan against the backdrop of the Balakot crisis. Moreover, in August 2019 India changed the special constitutional status of the Kashmir region by revoking Article 370 and 35A thus further adding to the volatility of the region. Despite the international criticism, India imposed a lockdown in the disputed region which is still reportedly continuing. This demonstrates India’s motives for dominating the escalation in the region with its provocative strategies. All these factors would likely provoke Pakistan revisiting its nuclear threshold level vis-à-vis India’s aggressive and provocative policies to dominate the region. 

Based on India’s provocative strategies, there remains a continuous fear of escalation in the South Asian region which is adversely impacting regional security, stability, and strategic equilibrium. In recent years, India has continuously enhanced its counter-force offensive posture vis-à-vis Pakistan with the notion of ‘Surgical Strikes’ and its proactive war doctrines which include the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD). All of them are based on proactive strategies and indirect threats of preemptive strikes against Pakistan aimed at challenging Pakistan’s nuclear threshold.

Furthermore, the recent technological advancements which form the very basis of India’s military expansion include its supersonic and hypersonic missile development programs, provision of an enhanced air defence shield, space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR), and its nuclear-capable submarines fleet. India’s anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test back in March 2019 is also indicative of this continuing trend. These technological advancements are clear indicators that India’s policies seem to deliberately dominate the escalation in South Asia and ultimately destabilize the deterrence equilibrium in the region.

India’s approach to challenging Pakistan’s nuclear threshold is also evident in the February 2019 short-lived military engagement between India and Pakistan. India, under its notion of limited war and proactive strategy, threatened Pakistan with a ‘preemptive splendid first strike’ and had reportedly entered Pakistan’s air space with fighter jets; this led to a dangerous escalation of hostilities at the political and military levels between both countries. The whole episode has also questioned the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence and, ever since there has been an ongoing debate at the domestic and international levels about nuclear deterrence and its applicability to such a critical situation. India’s sub-conventional aggression was appropriately met by Pakistan at the same level the very next day. Still, Pakistan’s nuclear threshold remained relevant during the whole episode because of the widely regarded perception that if both countries escalate further, the situation might turn into an all-out nuclear war.

Pakistan’s threat perception has, over the years, become even more inclined towards India primarily based on its conventional asymmetry vis-à-vis India. Furthermore, India’s quests for limited conventional or sub-conventional aggression (which it expects would remain below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold) would likely provoke Pakistan to further intensify its nuclear threshold. This would further strengthen Pakistan’s resort to neutralize the Indian challenge of breach of sovereignty in the form of low-intensity conflict in a much better position. In the same vein, Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence approach which over the years has evolved from ‘minimum credible deterrence’ to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ would likely remain a key component of the overall security apparatus. This posture provides deterrence against all forms of aggression from India with the combination of conventional forces and nuclear capabilities.

It is worth mentioning here that, Pakistan’s timely and calculated responses have all played a significant role in the preservation of minimum credible deterrence and the assurance of full-spectrum deterrence at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. The responses such as the development of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (Shaheen III), short-range ballistic missiles (Nasr), multiple independently reentry targetable vehicle (MIRV-Ababeel), air and sea-launched cruise missile (Ra’ad and Babur) and the speculated development of a naval second-strike capability all have played their role. Moreover, Pakistan’s induction of the tactical nuclear-capable ‘Nasr’ missile is also perceived as battlefield nuclear weapons in response to India’s aggressive and proactive strategies. It has further enhanced the deterrent value of Pakistan’s nuclear threshold and would likely serve as a ‘weapon of deterrence’, which aims to deny space for conventional or sub-conventional aggression and avoid any escalation-domination from India.

Hence, at present, Pakistan has been threatened by India’s conventional and unconventional military modernization and its proactive strategies, which India hopes would likely stay below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. At the same time, Pakistan has been in an asymmetric equation of conventional forces vis-à-vis India, an equation that has led the former to preserve its security with the assurance of credible nuclear deterrence. However, time and again India has tested Pakistan’s nuclear threshold notably at the sub-conventional level as evident from the recent examples. Pakistan, which has been relying on its nuclear program to overcome both conventional and unconventional threats from India, needs to further enhance its deterrence posture at the sub-conventional level as well. This would likely remain a plausible determinant of the nuclear threshold in the years to come. 

Haris Bilal Malik is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.

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Defense

A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces

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The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly reflects the situation in the Lithuanian armed forces. It is it unclear how the army will carry out its tasks, if everything that happens there runs counter to common sense.

The conscription took place in Lithuania. The recruits once again were revealed by an electronic lottery on January 7, 2021. 3,828 recruits were selected from the list of 38 thousand conscripts aged 18 to 23.

The idea of using electronic lottery in such a serious procedure arises a lot of questions among Lithuanians. Young people are suspicious of this method and fully admit the possibility of corruption. Nobody could check the results and so nobody could be blamed for random selection. The more so, the armed forces could get weaker recruits than in case of using usual ways of choosing among candidates. So, the army buys a pig in a poke.

This approach to recruitment in Lithuania results in presence of those with criminal intents and inclinations. Сases of crimes committed by Lithuanian military personnel have increased. Incidents with the involvement of military regularly occurred in Lithuania in 2020.

Thus, a soldier of the Lithuanian army was detained in Jurbarkas in October. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Lithuanian soldier suspected of drunk driving was detained also in Siauliai in December. Panevėžys County Chief Police Commissariat was looking for a soldier who deserted from the Lithuanian Armed Forces and so forth.

Such behaviour poses serious risks to public safety and leads to loss of confidence in the Lithuanian army in society.

Lithuanian military officials have chosen a new way to discourage young people from serving in the army, which is already not popular.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ministry of defence decided to run a photo contest that would reflect service in the country’s armed forces. It is doubtful that such pictures will attract to the army, but the real situation is provided.

Usually, popularization is the act of making something attractive to the general public. This contest served the opposite goal. Look at the pictures and make conclusions.

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Defense

Fatah-1: A New Security and Technological Development About Pakistan’s Indigenous GMLRS

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Islamabad: It seems like 2021 has been a good start for Pakistan specifically with regard to stepping up its missile testing. On the 7th of January, the Pakistan military has successfully conducted a purely indigenously developed missile test flight known to be Fatah-1. As stated by various reports, Fatah-1 is an extended-range Guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which itself is a developed variant of the guided MLRS family.

According to the recent statement given by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) about the newly developed rocket, it was stated: “The weapon system will give Pakistan Army capability of a precision target deep in the enemy territory.” Director-General of Pakistan Army, Media Wing, major general Babar Iftikhar on 7th January tweeted: “Pakistan today conducted a successful; test flight of indigenously developed Fatah-1, Guided Multi Launch Rocket System, capable of delivering a conventional Warhead up to a range of 140 km.”

Defense analyst Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali also stated in his capacity: “the new system was very fast, accurate, survivable, and difficult to intercept”. A video was also shared by ISPR on their official website, in which the missile launch can be seen while being fired from the launcher however, the details on when and where the test flight has taken place, along with the specification of the rocket system are yet to be announced.

Currently, Pakistan Army owns a wide range of Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM), Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Battlefield Ballistic Missiles (BBM), Rocket Artillery, and Surface to Surface Cruise Missile (SSCM). In the previous year, Pakistan had also maintained prime success in conducting the Ra’ad-II cruise missile and Ghaznavi surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM). Besides, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 30thDecember made apt progress when it comes to the national air defense arsenal as it was announced that PAF is beginning the production of the State-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jets, at the same time acquiring the 14 dual-seat Jf-17 aircraft.

According to various reports, the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be said to have a new radar operational capability which will be far better in the practical domain as compared to the Raphael aircraft acquired by India. Whereas, the exchange of 14 dual-seat aircraft, manufactured with Pak-China cooperation were also given to the PAF which will be used for extensive training.

The recent successful testing of Fatah-1 has been considered to be another milestone for Pakistan as it tends to be a fitting response to the recent developments in the conventional capabilities carried out by India and also to India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

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Defense

Aspects of the American maritime strategy

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Let’s start from a premise that should be completely obvious from a strategic point of view: Any maritime strategy, whether the English one – from the eighteenth century to the Second World War – or the American one, is necessarily a long-term strategy and therefore requires long-term investments by looking for where it is possible to anticipate future challenges. We think in this regard of the nuclear aircraft carriers of the Gerald Ford class whose first series should be put into place next year. If the United States has decided to invest substantial resources in the context of the projection of maritime power this depends on the need to consolidate its naval power, consolidation possible both thanks to the economic and financial power they have at least until today and thanks to technological innovation. (let’s think both of the fact for example that the USA is the only nation that builds catapults for flat deck aircraft carriers and to the fact that with the new class of Ford aircraft carriers the Navy will equip itself with electromagnetic catapults that will be able to increase by about one third the current capabilities of the catapults).

Of course, such large investments on the aircraft carrier front are certainly not accidental since these play a fundamental role of traditional deterrence – both in the sense of being able to threaten armed intervention in the event of a crisis – and of nuclear deterrence as long as the aircraft departing from the aircraft carriers being equipped with nuclear weapons, albeit with low potential, they play a very important deterrent role. In short, the aircraft carrier allows the use of gradual or flexible deterrence.

But in order for the US naval power to be effectively consolidated – especially in the context of the Indo-Pacific and therefore as a function of anti-Chinese containment – today as yesterday (we allude to the cold war) the American military infrastructures present in key strategic junctions on a global level allows it to exercise its naval power effectively: the strengthening of the military partnership with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines must be read just as a renewed interest on the part of the American in the fundamental role of naval power. all these reasons together can only lead us to define the United States as a real modern thalassocracy.

It is no coincidence, on the other hand, that the Obama administration has turned its attention to East and South Asia starting from the realization that the future of the world is at stake in these geopolitical contexts.

In fact, on the front of economic competition with China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed in 2016, a treaty to which – among others – Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, excluding China. Barack Obama has spelled out his foreign policy program, called The Obama Doctrine, rejecting isolationism and supporting multilateralism. In other words Obama has explicitly pursued the tradition of realism embodied by “senior” Bush and by Scowcroft military interventions, too often supported by the State Department, the Pentagon, and think tanks, should only be used where America is under imminent and direct threat. In an environment where the greatest dangers are now climate, financial or nuclear, it is up to US allies to shoulder their share of the common burden. While agreeing that the relationship with China will be the most critical of all, his political program emphasizes that everything will depend on Beijing’s ability to take on its international responsibilities in a peaceful environment. If it did not do so and allowed itself to be conquered by nationalism, America will have to be resolute and take all initiatives aimed at strengthening its multilateralism in the function of anti-Chinese containment. It is therefore very likely that the current US president Biden will carry out a strategy of this nature.

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