Finally the grand old lady speaks!
Tribune, 23 May 2012http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120523/edit.htm#4
Signalling strategic deterrence
Chinese link to Pak N-programme
by Arundhati Ghose
Signalling has been an intrinsic part of human communication — at interpersonal and international levels — to send messages to the other party or parties, subliminally avoiding direct methods which may have unwanted consequences. From the days of the chest -thumping hirsute cave man to the nuclear weapon power, signals have been used to threaten, persuade and even cajole. The danger lies, of course, if the signal is misread or not read at all and the consequences of such misperceptions may, in fact, be the opposite of what was originally intended. Deterrence is perhaps one of the most direct yet subtle forms of signalling, depending, of course, on the perception of credibility of the deterrence.
Recently, there has been a series of events which illustrate this proposition. On May 10, Pakistan carried out what it called a “training launch”, when it tested the Hatf III short-range (290 km) nuclear capable ballistic missile at an undisclosed location. Given that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are India-specific, this would be seen as routine, if troublesome. Earlier, however, Pakistan had tested what it called the Shaheen IA in what could only be seen, because of the timing, as a ‘response’ to India’s test of Agni V. Yet Agni V’s range was 5000 km, clearly not of relevance to Pakistan.
India, particularly its strategic community, and the world took note of the test launch of Agni V on April 19 this year. While most of the more serious commentators focussed on the technological advances achieved, others identified the diplomatically described ‘strategic deterrent’ as one which had China as its ‘raison d’etre’, given the range and capacity of Agni V. Though the deterrent is some way away from becoming operational, the signalling, in the form not only of the actual test and its coverage, but also the several statements from the senior leadership, was clear. For several years now, according to a detailed study by the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, Chinese nuclear tipped missiles in Qinghai and Yunnan have been targeted at India, with the ranges of the missiles covering most of the Indian mainland. The successful launch of the Agni V introduces the beginning of a balance in the situation. The Chinese government has reacted with some sobriety, calling for partnership rather than rivalry, though its statements in the UN Security Council would indicate that the signal had been received. Its official media, on the other hand, seemed to have taken umbrage, dismissing the challenge to China as being untenable — from India’s poor infrastructure to the enormous technological and military lead China had over India to even suggesting that, for reasons not explained, that India had not revealed the true range of the missile. Then, on April 25, Pakistan tested what it called the ‘Shaheen IA’.
There has been little or no comment from India on this test, following as it did the usual pattern of Pakistan imitating each action of India’s; only a few foreign commentators felt, somewhat unimaginatively and ignorantly, that this illustrated ‘an arms race between two nuclear armed neighbours in South Asia’. The question that really needs to be asked is: was this ‘business as usual’ like the Hatf III, or was a signal being sent? If the latter, given that Pakistan would appear to be absorbed in trying to handle an economic and political crisis domestically, and a foreign policy one on the US and Afghan front, what was being signalled?
The Inter-Services Public Relations of Pakistan in a Press release claimed that the Shaheen IA was an ‘improved version’ of the Shaheen I with ‘improvements in range and technical parameters’. However, no specific range was announced. The ISSSP, which studies the missile capabilities of India’s neighbours, has assessed that the Shaheen IA is only marginally different from the Shaheen I (estimated range-673 km), which has already been tested 10 times. The range could, they feel, be improved if the missile throw mass is reduced to below 1000 kg. In any case, Pakistan has already tested the Shaheen II which has an estimated range of 2000-2500 km. So what could have prompted Pakistan to test the Shaheen IA ‘as a response to Agni V’ at a time when it is faced with such severe internal and external problems and when it appears to want to move to a more rational relationship with India? What, indeed, is being signalled by Pakistan with its second missile test in less than a month?
Some of the answers might be found in the sequence of events in May 1998 when India conducted the nuclear tests at Pokhran. It will be remembered that Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons two weeks after the Indian tests; even at that time, it was clear that the Pakistani tests could not have been their first ‘hot’ tests as no country could have been so ready to test as to take only two weeks’ preparation to do so.
According to US nuclear scientists Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman in their book, ‘The Nuclear Express’, ‘... during Benazir Bhutto’s initial term in office, the People’s Republic of China tested Pakistan’s first A-bomb on their behalf, on May 26,1990, at the Lop Nur nuclear test site.’ The close nuclear weapon collaboration between Pakistan and China are described in some detail in their book (and in other open literature), the credibility of this narrative resting on the time spent by one of these scientists within the Chinese nuclear establishment, at the latter’s invitation. It is also fairly well known that China has supplied Pakistan with the M-9 and M-11 missiles — in fact, the Shaheen I is a ‘reverse-engineered M-9 missile originally supplied by China’, according to the US Natural Resources Defense Council.
This would suggest that the Pakistani nuclear weapon programme is a part of the Chinese one, with the Pakistani arsenal serving the purposes of both countries. If this is accepted, the Shaheen IA test could very well be explained as a signal from China rather than from Pakistan, as it makes little sense from the latter’s point of view. It would be natural for China to respond to the Agni V test, in a manner that makes clear to India that it would have a joint front to contend with in the event of any misadventure on her part or any ambition of balancing the Chinese nuclear supremacy in Asia. Using Pakistan thus would leave China with more elbow-room for managing its relations with India, which is not yet in focus in China’s attention, just as North Korea keeps Japan and South Korea occupied.
It is quite possible that such an interpretation might be dismissed as smacking of paranoia; yet it is difficult to explain the Pakistani test last April in any other way, given the timing and the probable capability and range of the missile tested. The more recent test of the Hatf III is less intriguing; it seems to reiterate Pakistan’s intention of envisaging the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield. The implications of the Shaheen IA test, however, requires serious consideration by Delhi, which hopefully is underway.