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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1190, 23 October 2003
Missiles and Crisis Stability Firdaus AhmedFreelance Security Analyst
India and Pakistan do not fight wars; they indulge in periodic crisis, testifying, in the eyes of their security establishments, to the robustness of their respective conventional and nuclear deterrents. The time between crises is spent in crisis mongering; the latest being the remark by General Musharraf: ‘They (Indians) must know that we can retaliate in a big way and they should know that.’ Besides engaging in the usual war of words in the UN, India has chosen this moment to release news of operationalising its missile capability. It now has four Prithvi missile groups (222, 333, 444, and 555) with ranges up to 250 km and two Agni missile groups (334, 335) that can strike up to 2500 km. Some crystal ball gazing on the likely contours of the next crisis is therefore warranted.
There are precedents on the role of missiles in crisis that can inform this exercise. The Cuban Missile Crisis revolved around the placement of missiles in Cuba by the Soviet Union and earlier in Turkey by the US. The US has also been firing its cruise missiles on ‘rogue’ states for reasons ranging from punishment to diversion of attention from presidential misdemeanors, largely resulting in civilian deaths. Three points of relevance to the sub continental situation emerge. One, no taboo exists against the use of missiles like use of chemical and nuclear weapons. Two, civilians suffer most, even if only as ‘collateral damage’. Last, missiles have acquired a central role in a crisis owing to their ready employability, being deemed less escalatory than the use of air forces.
All South Asian crises over the past two decades had the nuclear factor inherent in their dynamics. Increasingly, the missile factor has become an ingredient. Ravi Rikhye begins his ‘The War that Never Was’ with India ‘taking out’ Pakistan’s budding nuclear capability, based on the rumors extant in the mid-eighties. It is claimed that the Gates mission of 1990 helped defuse a potential nuclear flashpoint when Pakistani F-16s with nuclear pods had made their appearance in the Sargodha airfield. But missiles were not then in evidence. With both states acquiring surface-to-surface missiles, they will figure more prominently in any future crisis. Indeed, they have already made their debut in sub continental crises. During the Prime Ministership of Mr. Gujral, the deployment of Prithvi missiles close to the border at Jullundur had drawn adverse attention. Thus far the role of missiles has been in sis signaling, as was done by Pakistan by testing three Ghouri missiles during the post Kalu Chak phase of the near-war situation in 2002. It can be safely hazarded that the next crisis could witness the deployment and employment of missiles as part of the military muscle flexing that characterizes South Asian crisis, along with emotive rhetoric.
A vivid scenario can be conjured up, of India using its Prithvi missiles to destroy the ‘jehad’ factories in POK and Pakistan. India has been self-deterred from launching surgical air strikes due to its unwillingness to use manned aircraft for such missions. Indian restraint may give way with the availability of missiles. Even if the targets are struck with great precision (genuflecting here to the ‘embarrassing accuracy’ claimed by the DRDO) the inevitable civilian casualties occurring will significantly heighten tensions. Since the likely response by Pakistan has not been articulated, the assessment of Indian hawks that missiles would be less escalatory than aircraft could prove drastically wrong.
It is not only the launch of missiles that is a cause for consternation. The very movement of missiles to their operational locations will serve to heighten the crisis. Such moves will inevitably find mention in the media on detection by its own resources or some spin doctor’s information-warfare-related design. The bright side is that missiles would make both sides more cautious, but an outbreak of unwanted hostilities could now take the form of a ‘bolt from the blue’ attack. The flip side is that the earlier cushion of recalling tanks racing towards the border, as revealed in by the reported sacking of a commanding general by India in early January 2002, will no longer be available.
It is therefore important to reflect on the impact on crisis stability by the formal induction of missiles as part of the new artillery division or controlled by India’s Strategic Force Command. The principal danger is that missiles can no longer be divorced now from their nuclear context which was evident in the past series of crises. As the inexorable logic of the Pokhran and Chagai tests reaches its culmination in the shape of a deployable nuclear arsenal, the inescapable conclusion that arises is the urgent necessity for both countries to engage in a mutually binding restraint regime contributing to crisis stability.

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