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Nuclear Testing resurgence due to crumbling arms control frameworks

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Recent media reports that China started nuclear testing and Trump administration is also mulling ideas to initiate nuclear testing is the precedent of extremely dangerous trajectory in the 21st century. The erosion of arms control framework, may bring us to the obsolete ruins of nuclear testing sites. This paper will discuss the emergence of possibility of limited and high yield nuclear tests by the major nuclear powers especially the US China and Russia at the global level, and India and Pakistan at the regional level. We will note and observe trends which will decipher the quite resurgence of nuclear weapons test sites, not just for delivery means but for its actual yield. The erosion of arms control treaty was perceived as impossible a decade ago, and the arms control frameworks and the verification procedures evolved enough which become routine for the members of any such frameworks, after resurgent posturing from Russia and the new dislike for treaties by the administration in US, which sought solo flight in the global affairs by scraping and renegotiate almost every deal and agreement America made since its came into being. This new fragmented world is reintroducing some serious nuclear fallouts, almost from all the nuclear weapons states, with new ones in the offing, as the commitment to proliferation is eroding, the nuclear testing can be seen in the near future.

Prelude: Throughout the ages the invention of weapons systems brought about a seismic change in the world, whether it’s a castle warfare techniques of the medieval wars, where a formidable castle was an enduring challenge for the invaders, the castle was considered as the political and military heart of any territory, without getting control of the castle the invaders were considered as defeated in their mission. The siege warfare emerges to exhaust the castle strength by laying a siege. The evolution of weaponry to have a decisive edge in any conflict remained the prime focus of humans. The careful examination of conflicts over the ages shows that conflicts intent evolved overtime, first it was about getting more territory, then it shifted to arable lands, then acquiring supremacy through both, the religion was a late entry into the fray, the ideas and ideologies away from religion also shaped the dynamics of conflicts, the ideologies played a crucial role in the conflict we see today. The emergence of nuclear weapons after the two horrific great wars, was the single most event which changed the conflict we see today. The American atomic bombs may have killed millions, but the very nature of this weapons changed the way we see conflict and wars.

The memory of the cold war generation in Europe, Americas and Soviet Union, is a stark reminder that the world divided in two poles on the basis of ideology and economic system, put their bet on the most powerful weapons system human ever built and used, the nuclear genie from 1945 onwards was captured in a transparent fragile glass, but its horrific consequences was periodically shown to the world in the form of nuclear explosion by both poles. The nuclear testing is still the stark reminder of the world which was convinced enough to turn the world into ashes, if other side tried to intrude into its sphere of influence or resort to force to pursue that end. The colonial and major powers used a vast swath of land, air and sea for the nuclear testing. The nuclear testing have two intended objectives to demonstrate the power of the weaponry, and to show the rival pole that they are willing to pursue any end if they are threatened. Vast literature available on the emergence of nuclear testing, testify these findings. The nuclear explosions in the cold war era where not just limited to the gigantic blasts, but were also introduced at the small level, by experimenting atomic weapons at the battlefield and asymmetric or sabotage level, in the form of man pack. The legacy of nuclear testing still haunt us in many ways, whether it’s the cases sought by Marshall Islands and the ex-French colonies against its colonizers, the United States and France and ex-Soviet Union, the nuclear testing today have many facades and emerges as a well-researched area in the nuclear politics realm, the history of nuclear testing by all the 5 major nuclear powers is a history of human suffering. Nuclear explosion is all history and there is much written on the topic, from the world first nuclear explosion to the last one in contemporary history when North Korea tested its thermonuclear weapon on 3 September 2017.  We will focus on the possible emergence of nuclear testing in South Asian region. Both India and United States was the first country to detonate a series high yield nuclear weapon in the bravo test in 1954, followed by the Soviet Union in 1961, the explosion was the most powerful in the human history, the bomb was labeled as Tsar Bomba means Tsar’s bomb.

The culmination of high yield weapons by both countries provided them with evidence about the actual data about the status of damage, in few of the explosion actual military assets are being placed in the range of tests to gauge the effects of nuclear explosion of those assets. The history of nuclear testing and fissile material seem capped till the Obama presidency, but the Trump administration’s revival of the old concepts, like new tactical nuclear weapons, the space force and possible future nuclear tests, as the Trump’s America seem to negate the global treaties and frameworks, the recent pullout from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, opened the hatch for the testing of new delivery systems, the hypersonic both in Intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs and cruise missile realms are ready to be developed by the leading weapons manufacturers.

As the established and time tested, treaties and arms control frameworks fell apart in the form of CFE treaty, INF treaty and the slow but sure erosion of the Open skies treaty, because of the growing mistrust between the major global powers. As we revisit the history of nuclear history, it has three visible trends, that is development of the warheads, its development system, followed by the sabre rattling and potential threats because of offensive nuclear postures In the form of doctrines and strategies, followed by the new frameworks to control the threat, by reaching a common understanding to eliminate the threat posed by that weapon system. The complete architecture of arms control which was the bedrock of global security by not just minimizing the nuclear threat, but excluding it entirely from the conflict scenario, is now crumbling, both at global and regional level. Few years back the concept of crumbling of the arms control framework was unimaginable, though various factors were there to rollback treaties but both Obama administration and Russian government never tried to go for such options, but the world saw a revival in the form of new start and later at regional level in proliferation realm when EU and US opted to go for a treaty with Iran. The spirit of rule based order was seen in all these steps, where threat was being caped using the existing frameworks, which neutralizes threat to the world peace posed by the nuclear realm. The commitment and trust factors are driving major stakeholders away from their global commitments, which already initiated the global arms race, in which the possible resumption of nuclear tests may make a debut, the last reported US nuclear explosion was in the 1992, at the dawn of the new world order, the France and others closed in 1996. The regional nuclear rivals, has its solo show stealer in the 1998, after that the only nuclear mad child North Korea remained in news because of their nuclear testing.

Regional Nuclear Rivals: These explosions Pakistan are observing a moratorium on further nuclear explosions but the changing nature of leadership in India pose a threat to this mutual understanding. The US and French companies involved in the nuclear commerce with India and the recent push by the US to make India a de jure nuclear power by admitting them in the Nuclear Supplier Group, is a step seen with suspicion by Pakistan and China. The blind western eye on India in its human rights violations, and other global issues, mainly with Pakistan shows US clearly accommodating India, in the club, where they have the luxury to go ballistic in the nuclear realm. Pakistan opposition to the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty FMCT and the US and Indian support to the treaty shows that they lift India out of the fissile material deficiency, and India at any stage can turn this fissile material allowed to obtain for energy use, for the weapons purposes, the steps which validate this argument, are the inclusion of India in various strategic export control regimes, like Wassennar Arrangement, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control regime, MTCR, and its push for NSG Nuclear Supplier Group. India Pakistan nuclear equation can only be balanced with parity between both at the nuclear level. Any gigantic leap on Indian part which is already happening, will move Pakistan away from its commitments, as national interests and its security won’t allow it to observe those moratorium, and will ward off its defensive strategies which are in place since it detonated its first device.

Make in India may mark the end of moratorium: Defense acquisition is normal activity in almost every country, countries acquire weapons from foreign countries according to their arms forces need, few countries in the world go all alone to suffice their defense needs, the prime example of such counties are United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, means all the UNSC permanent members, others countries rely heavily on foreign purchases to either feel safe or threaten others by those acquisitions. India is among this second tier vast grouping which rely heavily on foreign input for its defense needs. India under Nrendar Modi introduced an ambitious plan to convert Indian defense needs into entirely domestic domain, to lessen and at later stage eliminate any foreign input in its defense acquisition, in nuclear realm they gain much by signing up to nuclear deals with United States, France and Russia, at the space level they made sufficient advances, by thrusting for ingenious GPS system and space Prowse which can seriously rival that of major powers, Indian military plans in almost all domains defy its regional posture which they tout being influenced by China and on later stages Pakistan, but its military ends are truly global In nature. Whether its acquisition related to naval assets or aerial combat fighters they are pushing for indigenous build and operate model, by purchasing technology from the lead tech countries. The Indian nuclear programme is running full pace and unnoticed in the western circles because of their newly formed alliance against China. India at later stage may come up with their nuclear testing plans. Totally ingenious India for its defense need and its global economic clout will make it hard for the global powers to punish India the way did in the aftermath of 1998 nuclear tests.

Pakistan and the nuclear tests: Pakistan being vigorously pushed by the leading western scholars in their famous Stimson’s paper the Normal Nuclear Pakistan, written by Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon. The paper said that Pakistan should not wait for India and tread its own way to join the test ban framework. This will put pressure on India, to sign up to those frameworks in response, citing Pakistan recognition at the global level. Pakistan nuclear weapons program remained robust, and emerge as one of the most advanced among the nuclear weapons, the rational posturing vise a vis India, and various proposals being presented by Pakistan, to introduce a strategic restraint regime, and others measures to sign up to those frameworks which can put a visible limit on the uncontrolled arms race being imposed by India on Pakistan. The introduction of other domains into the nuclear foray by India, such as the concept of nuclear triads, aircraft carriers, to carry out long range nuclear air strikes, to dilute Pakistan defenses, the expansion is disturbing enough for Pakistan to commit to any such frameworks in recent future, because the south Asian nuclear politics is still an unfinished business, as Pakistan is being dragged below by its opponent in parity. Any future decision by India to test nuclear devices, whether low of high yield will invite Pakistan to demonstrate its capability to maintain deterrence vis a vis India, and thus remain relevant in the nuclear game. The political and economic fallout will be worse for Pakistan as compared to India. But looking at the development at international and regional level it seem possibility that nuclear testing may become a headline in the strategically unstable South Asia.

China and nuclear testing: China remained the only constant in nuclear equation. Its swift and decisive nuclear forces seem to replace Russians in the Western strategic lens, as the growing literature in leading research organizations is dedicated to China vs. United States nuclear equation, discussing number of delivery means, the strength and type of payload, its role and place in nuclear arms control domain, and the offset technologies China is pursuing and testing in nuclear realm. The Chinese being the efficient partner in nuclear nonproliferation and arms control domain remain committed to nuclear peace.

Russia and nuclear testing: The Russians being labeled as bully in the recent skirmishes in the nuclear realm, by introducing a series of violations, in various treaties and frameworks, most notably the cold war milestone called INF intermediate nuclear forces treaty. The CFE treaty and other framework related to fissile material was set aside by the Russian Federation, citing it as contrary to Russia’s global influence and non-compliance from west. The Russian concept of Poseidon which is in its infant stages, the concept is terrifying for test ban advocates, as the Russian calculations of this weapons till now is only limited to computer generated models, the downward trajectory in US West relation, with harsh sanctions in place, and Russia fighting it out with extending influence In other parts of the world, like Middle East, Asia, Arctic and the Eastern Europe, the United States and Russia may find them in the loggerheads, to offset any coercion in the future the nuclear testing to demonstrate its new arsenal seem possibility.

The Russian introduction of hypersonic missiles in the nuclear and conventional realm, forced other western powers like France and United States to keep up with the pace, in the nuclear delivery, France announced to have hypersonic missiles by 2021, United States also on project to introduce such missiles. The steps in the delivery means by all the rivals, won’t be limited to the delivery means alone, the strength of any weapon is its payload, the gradual evolution of kilotons to megatons, and then its fragmentation according to strategy in the cold war era and post-cold war era, will require these powers especially Russia to come out of computer simulation and test weapons in real time, to reintroduce the concept of arms control for the 21st century, where weapons, range, payload, target and all other parameters got new definitions. The US seem to initiate or follow the testing, as there already plans in place. The Russian actions shows that they are planning for this eventuality to happen.

United States and Nuclear test ban : The US remain the only nuclear weapons state to have conducted the most nuclear tests to gauge its weapons vitality for both performance and signaling purposes. United States is not party to comprehensive test ban treaty. Under Obama, various programs like Nuclear Security Summit and Proliferation Security initiative were bolstered and used to ensure nuclear safety and security, the administration dedicated much focus to these areas, but its last leg the fourth summit was briefly politicized and the major nuclear power Russia skipped the summit, citing nuclear bias. The NSS remained active platforms to discus and implement ideas, the Trump administration is not willing to commit to such platforms.

The nuclear testing threat from United states is two pronged, one, it’s from the United States itself, and second, the United states commitment and concrete steps to export nuclear technology to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states like United Arab Emirates, the geopolitical standing of these countries is precarious in a troubled region, which cite Iran as a security threat, the Iran nuclear program is a no secret and they like United States and Israel are vary of the Europe efforts to stop Iran from acquiring bombs. The India Pakistan nuclear rivalry completing its second decade proved to be the enduring one, but with a rational underpinnings, both countries maintained the relevance of these nukes, by not restoring to cold war’s hair trigger strategies, nor the weapons are being put on table as option like the North Korean regime, the North Korean like nuclear brinkmanship is anticipated from Iran and its Arab rivals, if they get their hand on these weapons.

The nuclear testing genie can erupt from the Arabian sands, because of the blind us strategic exports. With trump at the helm, the United States which is developing and upgrading its SSBN fleet, may find it necessary to test the trident or its successor, with a new payloads. One enduring feature remained constant at the end of cold war, is the development of delivery system but no side tested its revised and updated payload. The evolution in fissile material technology is evident from the fuels like MOX and others, the payload for nukes evolved over time, adding lethality to the device. . The cold war strategies like massive retaliation flexible response are dust now, all the strategies were carefully designed citing the delivery means and payload used in those devices, United States and Russia are both convinced to have updated nuclear delivery means to dilute each other strategies, the nuclear testing remain the most relevant item after they get their hands on updated delivery means.

Nuclear Testing in Brexited Europe, France and UK nukes: The nuclear testing in Europe is not a realistic assumption, France carried out almost its nuclear tests on the foreign occupied territories and islands. The last one being in 1996, The France resorting back to nuke testing holds no ground, the same hold true for United Kingdom, which also remained committed to the nuclear test ban, in the greater interest of humanity. Others factors being on the back foot in this realm, is the gradual military weakness of both countries vis a vis their rivals, the parity is unachievable and they still rely on united states to guard them against any future nuclear threat.

Conclusion: The examination of developments that occurred in all these nuclear countries shows that, the halt in the nuclear weaponry that the world saw in the first two decades of the 21st century is disappearing. Large scale nuclear developments, commitments for upgrading and replacing those weapons with new one is established fact. The United States will have new SSBNs operating in the oceans, a force that clearly offset the major power like China and even Russia, Russia offsetting United States in aerial delivery means, China being the newcomers among both of them on the path to have efficient nuclear force to take on the largest nuclear weapons states, Pakistan, India parity dilemma, European countries grappling with their own security dilemma, all these factors surely bring back the nukes as tool for the survival. A lot have been appearing and written on the delivery means but they payload problem is just resurfacing, and these nuclear weapons states may initiate a new wave of cold and hot tests to rewrite the rules of nuclear game in their respective regions. The major powers need to commit to the test ban, the world may not see high yield testing in the near future, but once a low yield new material weapon is tested by any power, it will reverse the gains of test ban, and will give reprieve to others to start the menace of nuclear testing, which is not just lethal from the environmental and human perspective but will also relive the horrors of nuclear winters, which have just started to fade from the human memory.

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Evolution of Indian Nuclear Doctrine: From NFU to Preemption

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India’s obscure nuclear doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) had evolved over the years since it was first declared in 1999 by NSAB’s (Nuclear Security Advisory Board) in the ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’(DND) that forms the very basis of the official Indian nuclear doctrine. Subsequently, in 2003after a review by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the DND had emerged as India’s official nuclear doctrine. However, the later developments are quite evident that India has shifted its nuclear posture from NFU to preemption. In August 2019, a statement made by Mr. Rajnath Singh (Indian Defence Minister) made headlines amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan, the two arch-rivals in South Asia. This was an assertion of India’s likely shift from its long doubted NFU policy. This has further exposed the pretense of India‘s NFU policy, to which Pakistan has never given any credence. This shift in Indian nuclear doctrine seems to be purely Pakistan centric.  Such an Indian shift is further evidence of India’s focus towards nuclear war-fighting rather than maintaining deterrence. In the wake of the evolved tensions in the region, India’s offensive nuclear posture of preemption would have dire implications for the strategic stability of South Asia.

Over the period, various statements by the Indian government officials and prominent academicians have raised serious concerns over India’s adherence to the NFU policy. In 2010 Shivshankar Menon, the then National Security Advisor of India stated that according to Indian nuclear doctrine NFU policy is meant only for non-nuclear-weapon states. Hence, it implies that using a nuclear weapon could be a resort against nuclear-weapon states, particularly against Pakistan. Later on, in 2016 Manohar Prakar the then Indian Defence Minister questioned “Why do lots of people say that India is for no first use? Why should I blind myself?”  Moreover, in 2017 a prominent Indian scholar, Vipin Narang while speaking at the conference at Carnegie stated that India would not let Pakistan go first.  These assertions are quite evident that in a crisis, India might take a nuclear first strike against Pakistan. Such drifts in Indian policy have further enhanced Pakistan’s threat perception vis-à-vis India. Similarly, Pakistan would be further compelled to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence posture to overcome India’s offensive nuclear posturing.

India’s pursuit of offensive nuclear capabilities further reveals its aspirations of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pakistan. This, for instance, is further evident from the fact that India has been involved in developing ground-based and space-based surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence capabilities, and new precision weaponry for the last few years.  These would further embolden India to take any move toward pre-emption or first use. In the same vein, India’s adoption of Pakistan specific policy of first use would likely result in the lowering of the Indian nuclear threshold. This might bring serious implications for Pakistan’s existing nuclear deterrent posture which covers a broad spectrum of threats coming from India including its conventional advantage. It would further generate an unnecessary arms race in the region and might force Pakistan to further revisit its doctrinal and force posture vis-à-vis India’s notions of preemptions. The likelihood of India’s shift towards preemption would also mean that India’s nuclear weapons would be kept in the state of readiness. This would also increase the risk of unauthorized or accidental use of Indian nuclear weapons. Such a scenario would likely create a complex security dilemma for Pakistan, thus undermining the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia, primarily ensured by Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.

In recent years, India’s massive naval buildup is also aimed at maintaining an offensive sea-based nuclear posture. In this regard, India’s acquisition of SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines) is quite significant since along with the assurance of second-strike capability, they are also meant to be used to launch a multitude of nuclear weapons. Other than that, India has been maintaining an operational BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) system; also, it would have the most advanced anti-missile systems like the Russian S-400 in its inventory very soon. Hence, having been assured that it would be protected against any counter-strike by Pakistan by its BMD systems; India might potentially launch a land, sea, or air-based pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. This would create a false sense of security among the Indian decision-makers and they might act aggressively in the time of crisis. Pakistan needs to keep a close eye on India’s shifting nuclear policy to counter the probability of a nuclear first strike initiated by India. Pakistan has already developed MIRV (Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle) capable short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Apart from that Pakistan has also developed a sea-based delivery system such as Babur-3, a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) which is aimed at ensuring a credible second-strike capability. These would serve as a reliable and credible deterrent against Indian notions of preemption.

Hence, at the present, the assertions of Indian officials to abandon the long doubted NFU policy and a move towards pre-emption is mere irresponsible and belligerent behavior. India in its pursuit to become a regional hegemon would destabilize the already conflict-prone South Asian region by further provoking an arms race. Pakistan needs to further increase international pressure by highlighting India’s aggressive and irresponsible nuclear posturing. The world needs to know that India’s shift from NFU is merely reckless and dangerous. On the other hand, Pakistan also needs to ensure its safety by further enhancing its assured second-strike capability and acquiring advanced BMDs while staying within its existing posture of minimum credible deterrence.

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Afghan Peace Talks And Prospects For Pakistan

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On 3 September 2020, the three brave sons of Pakistan, soldier Usman, Naek Imran and Lieutenant Nasir Khalid embraced shahadat during a patrolling in North Waziristan in a terrorist attack. Since US officials and representatives of the Taliban signed a peace agreement on 29 Feb 2020 in Doha to end the conflict, the various affiliated groups of TTP began launching attacks against the security forces of Pakistan. According to the report of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in August 2020, 12 terrorist attacks were launched in Pakistan. In these terrorist attacks, 14 people lost their lives and 68 people were injured. The terrorist carried out 75 % terrorist attacks against the security forces. These terrorist attacks on the security forces of Pakistan are evident that TTP and its affiliated groups are confident after the peace deal of the Taliban and the USA. It illustrates the scenario of post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following the deal, the US will withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months. Even though the Taliban are negotiating with the USA and Afghan government but fighting is continued in Afghanistan from both sides.

The US withdrawal will create a power vacuum not only in Afghanistan but also in the South Asian region that is likely to be filled by a stronger state or a group. The US withdrawal is creating the same challenges that are similar to the USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1990. After the withdrawal of the USSR, civil war broke out in Afghanistan for the assumption of power. Taliban emerged as victorious after a deadly civil war. Afghanistan is the home of various terrorist groups and their presence is a threat to the South Asian Region once the USA leaves Afghanistan. The US withdrawal will also affect Pakistan.If the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan then TTP will be strengthened in Pakistan. As soon as the USA making arrangements to leave Afghanistan, various militants groups of Pakistan are uniting. The two militant groups Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have merged into one terrorist group on 17 August 2020. Both of the groups pledged its affiliation to Mufti Noor Wali as its chief. The leader of Punjabi Taliban Asmatullah Muawiya has joined the Taliban. Once the militant groups are on the same page, the impact will be disastrous for Pakistan as it did not chalk out a comprehensive policy following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Over a decade Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) wants to establish Sharia in Pakistan and for that, it is in confrontation with Islamabad. Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban is considered as the spiritual leader of TTP. Since its inception in 2007, TTP has proved to be the deadliest terrorist group in Pakistan. TTP was an ally of Al-Qaeda to operate from FATA. The group has its presence in Swat and Karachi. The TTP launched massive attacks in Pakistan like the terrorist attack on the General Headquarters of Army (2009) attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi (2011) and an attack on the Army Public School (20140in Peshawar. TTP also using different channels to radicalize youth like Sunnat-e-Khaula to radicalize and recruit females in Pakistan. The TTP and Afghan Taliban worked in partnership in the past and they are interconnected. In the past couple of months, TTP has increased its terrorist attacks against Pakistan.  The JuA took the responsibility of an improvised explosive device (IED) thatwas planted on a bike to hit a vehicle that has killed 7 members of the anti-narcotics force in Chamman, Baluchistan in August. 

The report of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) is evident that since 2019, TTP remained a major source of instability in Pakistan. It carried out 82 terrorist attacks in which 69 attacks were taken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 13 from the province of Baluchistan. It seems that TTP is becoming stronger after living in the shadows for years. According to the UN report approximately 65000 militants of TTP are stationed in Afghanistan. With a merger, it will become a force that cannot be neglected. The merger of various factions of TTP is a threat to CPEC. China has begun the number of development projects like infrastructure and hydroelectric in remote areas of KP.

Currently, Chinese companies are working on Karakoram Highway Phase II,SukiKinari Hydropower Station and the Havelian Dry Port. TTP have kidnapped and killed Chinese from Baluchistan and KP. In 2013, Pakistan banned 3 militant groups that were affiliated to Al-Qaeda namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union and East Turkestan Islamic Movement on the request of China. TTP targets China as a retaliation of mistreating the Uyghur Muslim minority in the province of Xinjiang. In 2014,the leading Al-Qaeda ideologue Mufti Abu Zar al Burmi in a video message that was titled as let’s disturb China stated that the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan is a victory for the Taliban. In the video message, he also urged the militant groups to carry out attacks on Chinese companies and embassies and kidnap Chinese nationals. Foreign CPEC is hope for Pakistan to bring investment and embark on the road of peace and prosperity. The reunification of militants can’t be ignored as once they are strengthened they will carry out massive attacks against Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan needs to chalk out a comprehensive policy to root out terrorism. It’s up to the policymakers to shake hands with militants like the US or take coercive military operations.

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The South Asian Dilemma

Rida Fatima

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Setting the Context: Straying Away but Staying Along

The South Asian region holds a highly potent geostrategic quotient covering around a third of the world’s population. Initially, the region was considered an outlier in the international strategic equation. However, this argument does not hold any water after the shift of the pivot to Asia. The advent of the 21st century with its accompanying trends of globalization, IT revolution, and interdependency coupled with the rise of China and India as an economic powerhouse have shifted the center of gravity of international politics to the Indo-Pacific region and South Asia has gained renewed significance.

Despite this potential of geostrategic significance, South Asia has never been truly unified. To add fuel to fire, the internal animosities remain a glaring example and it is a bitter reality that states cannot change their neighbors. Initial efforts were made during the Cold war to chalk out a comprehensive plan of regional integration based on equality and equity among the states within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).However, the dissent within the organization, the rising role of India, and the Indo-Pak imbroglio has exacerbated the enmities among the member nations.

However, alongside SAARC-led integration, there is a nuanced trend of Indian hegemony which is becoming apparent. The failure of the recent SAARC summit which was to be held in Pakistan indicates the increasing Indian influence on the littoral states of the South Asian region which form India’s periphery. The regional politics is a direct reflection of the extra-regional animosities as well. The Sino-Indian rift has generated new coercive mechanisms to attain political, economic and security ends. And within the region, forces are counterbalancing Indian rise, but the scene remains bleak.

Regional Security through SAARC: A Tri-Dimensional Reform Agenda

Three crucial features transform simple confrontations to open warfare: fear, interest, and honor. The prevailing regional environment suggests that any miscalculation o part of the regional actors can transform the region into a new shelterbelt. In this way, SAARC though apparently moribund can still play a crucial role to solve the conflicts and provide avenues of negotiation within the ambit of the regional organization. It requires robust and prudent revamping by shifting its policy priorities into three separate realms.

This set of compartmentalized reform based on three principles will firstly serve as a base to stop the practice by the larger nations who bypass the SAARC resolution mechanisms while stuck in a conflict with other states. Secondly, it will expand the avenues of interaction and negotiation on part of the member states. This method of internalizing dissent was used in the United Nations after the failure of the League of Nations. The power of veto was introduced in the UN so that the great powers would address their interests within the organization. Though, still flawed the process has halted the bypassing practices in the UN. Within SAARC, the veto cannot be introduced however, a compartmentalized mechanism of integrated decisions can be introduced through a phased change.

Regional Stability through a Hegemon: A Structural Analysis

The rise of India as a South Asian strong player has altered the regional dynamics and the balance of power. Its ambitions are not merely regional but extra regional as it seeks to counter the Chinese geopolitical, economic, and military rise through its ‘project of the century’. This India-led process of regionalism is based upon the idea of hegemonic stability. Where India can serve a leading road for the peace, stability, and security of the region whereas, the other states are considered of secondary significance.

To actualize this idea, the major hurdle is Pakistan, a nuclear power. This structural preponderance through which India seeks to deliver stability in the South Asian region is centered on hierarchy and inequality among the states of South Asia. This structure would work under a system of ‘distribution of goodies. Where India will deliver stability within like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Maldives and the states in return pool their sovereign to the Indian state. This structure of stability though highly controversial but has been a predominant feature in international politics as the US till today has served as a hegemon serving international peace through various international monetary and fiscal regimes until the rise of China. This can be classified in two classes of states, on the top tier is the prospective regional hegemon and on the lower tier remain the peripherical underweights as indicated in the figure. 3.

Regional Policy Direction: A Comparative Analysis

To shape the future of the South Asian region, two models suggest the best explanation of the current scenario and provide a view of how, if applied, these models can create benefits to the regional security. However, both models hold substantial loopholes.

SAARC-led IntegrationIndia-led Hegemony
Assumption
Collaboration leads to peaceEqualityPreponderance begets peaceHierarchy
Modelsof Stability
Horizontal mechanismSystem of low politics Economic, political, and socio-cultural associationVertical mechanismSystem of high politicsPolitico-economic band-wagoning  
Prospects
Functional spillovers from economic activities to political integration as exemplified by the EU.A context for negotiation among membersHierarchical spillovers where economic benefits will trickle down in the peripheral states of IndiaThe negotiation table will always be tilted in favor of India. And the states might suffer a nuanced South-South divide
Challenges
The clout of intangible identities Organizational and regulatory complexitiesUnequal rise of power of India The nuclear capacity of two giant neighbors, India, and PakistanUndermines the sovereignty of the other South Asian states Might financially burden India and if it falters, the vacuum might lead to more turbulence, i.e. rise of non-state actors, populist leaders, etc. Pakistan’s challenging role based on nuclear deterrence China’s increasing collaboration with the South Asian players through BRI

These models in the contemporary security situation of South Asia are not acting in isolation or preponderance of one over the other. Rather, these two are working hand in glove in a state of transitive turbulence. India is pulling the strings of SAARC from behind as suggested by the hegemonic theory and SAARC as internalized India’s expansive and hegemonic role, even if in a passive manner. This calls for an alternate reform model to ensure regional peace and harmony. This is possible by revamping SAARC substantially to inculcate a system of interactive governance. 

Rethinking South Asia: A Multi-Faceted Approach

In SAARC, the state-based rifts between India and Pakistan have retarded the integration process. The political rivalry has hindered the inter-regional trade and obstructs the interdependence which can lead to a customs union or a security community. Of the total trade based in South Asia, only 5% of it is intra-regional. Although the percentage is much higher in the EU at around 50% and the ASEAN+3 at 38-45%.In addition to that, the populist rise in the region provides a leadership role in mobilizing bias. Hence, the Pareto-optimal bargaining or agenda-setting is directed away from integration due to the security dilemma. To set aside this prevailing dilemma, there are three prospective ways to revamp the SAARC-led model of integration to substantially increase collaboration, communication, and integration.

Multi-level Governance: It signifies the tangled structure of authority at multiple levels, both horizontally and vertically. It will bring input from the localities and communities within SAARC member states. It will increase the legitimacy and the implementation mechanism of the organization.

Donor-Driven Governance: This approach to SAARC needs investors as in the case of AIIB for CAREC-2030.This will increase the incentive-based working of SAARC. The donor-driven interest will lead to renewed investment and a shift of focus on the benefits offered by SAARC.

Interactive Governance: This mechanism will focus on diagonal dialogue about the various sectors with the member states of SAARC. It will increase the avenues of connection and investment thus revamping interdependency among the member states.

These three mechanisms to revamp SAARC in this phase of transitive turbulence with the rise of Sino-India rivalry on the extra-regional level and the hegemonic rise of India with Pakistan’s rebuttal in the intra-regional dynamics. This is a comprehensive strategy to make sure that the SAARC-member states do not bypass the SAARC platform in their decision making. For that purpose, incentivizing SAARC membership will attract and align the states. This can be aptly done through regional or international donors as this pivot holds the greatest market and the deepest pitfalls if not handled right.

Conclusion

The South Asian region is known for being the hub diversity, but that question is the effective management of that diversity through pluralism and inclusivity. This paper analyzed two modes which can ensure stability in this hotbox. But the challenges of hegemonic stability are too gruesome that the only option is to collectively reform, reshape and strategize SAARC and its functioning. This can do through donor-led investment incentivizing the new modes of governance within the structure of SARRC.

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