“Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia” – A study cautions nuclear instability in South Asia

As per a study entitled Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia released by a major think-tank in Washington has warned that in the fifteen years since India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998, both have introduced 17 new nuclear weapon-capable delivery systems and this has produced “conditions that could lead to uncontrolled escalation.”

According to the experts contributing to the study, although India and Pakistan were of the view after the 1998 tests that acquisition of nuclear capabilities would be stabilizing and that it would facilitate more normal relations, it has not worked out that way.

Key developments contributing to nuclear risk:

  • Pakistan’s introduction of short-range, tactical delivery vehicles, or “theatre nukes” whose utility depends on their propinquity to battlefields.
  • India’s “Cold Start” conventional military strategy as a risk factor that could prompt a nuclear response and may have already driven Pakistan’s interest in battlefield nuclear arms.
  • Sub-conventional actions of violent groups can also trigger nuclear action. For instance, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s 26/11/2008 terror attack on Mumbai, and this unique situation in terms of nuclear deterrence implies that the escalatory danger posed by these groups is more likely than the threat of nuclear terrorism.
  • The progress in diplomatic efforts to cut nuclear risks has so far been insufficient in comparison to nuclear weapon-related developments and doctrinal change. Thus far, only four military-related Confidence-Building and Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures have been negotiated between India and Pakistan since 1998, and no new measures have been agreed since 2007. 
What is Cold Start Doctrine?

Cold Start is a military doctrine developed by the Indian Armed Forces. It involves the various branches of India’s military conducting offensive operations as part of unified battle groups. The Cold Start doctrine is intended to allow India’s conventional forces to perform holding attacks in order to prevent a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan in case of a conflict. High levels of preparedness and rapid mobilization are the main aims of this doctrine. 

Operation Parakram

Post December 13, 2001 Parliament attack, it took over 3 weeks for India’s strike corps to mobilize to border by Operation Parakram. In this backdrop, Indian army announced a new limited war doctrine in 2004 that would allow it to mobilize quickly and undertake retaliatory attacks in response to specific challenges posed by Pakistan’s “proxy war” in Kashmir. This doctrine aims to establish the capacity to launch a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan that would inflict significant harm on the Pakistan Army before the international community could intercede, and at the same time, pursue narrow enough aims to deny Islamabad a justification to escalate the clash to the nuclear level. This was further strengthened to fight with hidden war like 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

The Cold Start Doctrine emphasises on 3 main problems with India’s erstwhile doctrine as identified to handle sudden tides across border of Pakistan – quick deployment and manoeuvre, lack of strategic surprise, holding corps lacks offensive power. Though India has denied having a cold start treaty, yet in January 2011, while speaking to the media in the run-up to Army Day, the then Army chief, General V K Singh, came closer than any other government official, while describing the widely speculated Indian war fighting doctrine popularly referred to as “Cold Start”. On the same goals and interest, On May 12, 2011, India launched Operation Vijayee Bhava defence exercise involving 50,000 troops in Bikaner and Suratgarh near the Pakistan border in order to boost the synergy between the defence forces.

  • The main objective of the operation was to cut down mobilization time of military, which took 27 days to mobilize during Operation Parakram.
  • The Indian Army confirmed that exercise was successful and it has reduced mobilization time drastically to 48 hours.
  • In July 2011, a new solid fuelled tactical ballistic missile Prahaar, of 150 km range, was tested. Prahaar is designed to provide the Indian army’s invading battle groups with lethal fire support.
  • During Oct-Dec, 2011 Indian army conducted its largest war game in the last two decades, titled “Operation Sudarshan Shakti” under the Southern Command Headquarters, to revalidate its cold start doctrine.
  • The entire doctrine has been built keeping in mind two factors, Rapid, Unpredictable Response, Not crossing the nuclear threshold. 
Analysis:

This Cold Start doctrine represents advancement in India’s conventional capabilities. The persistent disengagement of India’s political leadership from security issues is a cause for concern, for they may turn to a limited war strategy during the next crisis without having evaluated the potential consequences. At present, Cold Start remains more of a concept than a reality. However, with favourable political and diplomatic atmosphere of trade and talks, India’s will to use it is under the cloud as it was not

put into use after the 26/11 attacks but its contemplated that India’s traditionally risk averse political leadership has been unwilling to use it unless guaranteed of sure results and of late seem to be a culmination of India’s military capability to do so which has taken a long while to bring into effect the changes required to give effect to this plan and this has raised questions if India’s political leadership will be firmer in possibly authorizing its use in the future. Military operations of the type envisaged in Indian Army’s new war doctrine incorporates swift, fluid and relentless offensive operations, without the luxury of pauses and time duration spans of defensive operations to which Indian Army’s higher echelons are so conditioned to today.

Hence, cold start doctrine is one of the punitive options short of war available to India to raise Pakistan’s cost in waging a proxy war and designed to avoid crossing Pakistan’s nuclear red lines through large-scale offensive operations with Strike Corps deep into Pakistan.

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