Full Spectrum Deterrence: An unequivocal message delivered to Indian hawks



Cold Start will have a sorry ending, Pakistan sends across a loud message

Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), the apex forum on nuclear matters, has delivered an unequivocal message to India; Pakistan will maintain the capability for a Full Spectrum Deterrence at all costs to meet the eventuality of any aggression from India’s hawkish posture it has developed in the recent past.

What is full spectrum deterrence (FSD) and why Pakistan was forced to travel from minimum credible deterrence, its initial nuclear doctrine, to FSD?

Pakistan had to become a nuclear state not by choice but by compulsion of circumstances due to growing conventional asymmetry and its threat perception vis-à-vis India who, by its own admission, fueled, manned, funded and actively supported an engineered insurgency for country’s break up in 1971. A country many times bigger in size and conventional military might which spends ten times more on its Pakistan-specific military initiatives persistently gives threatening messages and works closely with its internal and external enemies for destabilization, if not another break up.

When Pakistan detonated its nuclear device in 1998 in response to India’s nuclear tests, it like a responsible member of international community chose nuclear restraint as a part of nuclear policy and vowed to maintain its capability as a minimum credible deterrence to ward off security threats from India. This effectively meant that Pakistan would not use its nuclear devices unless provoked to do so. The provocation means that Pakistan would use its nuclear capability only when the enemy goes beyond Pakistan Nuclear Threshold.

There have been a number of developments since 1998 which forced Pakistan to make adjustments in its nuclear doctrine and take a posture deemed more effective to maintain deterrence. There have been talks about India’s Cold Start doctrine which aim at rapid but limited retaliatory incursions into Pakistan by the Indian army to seize and hold narrow slices of territory in response to a terrorism event in India involving Pakistanis. In India’s calculations, Pakistan would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons in response to a limited Indian incursion, thereby offering space for conventional conflict even in a nuclearized environment.

Pointing to this Indian war doctrine, Pakistani decision-makers now argue that the deterrent value of their current arsenal operates only at the strategic level. According to this line of reasoning, the gap at the tactical level gives India the freedom to successfully engage in limited Cold Start-style military operations if kept below the Nuclear Threshold, without fear of nuclear escalation.

With these developments, it was becoming increasingly impossible for Pakistan to maintain its original doctrine without making adjustments. Pakistan, therefore, developed low-yield, short-range, tactical battlefield nuclear weapon, the Nasr missile which provides “flexible deterrence options” for an appropriate response to Cold Start, rather than massive nuclear retaliation against India. Nasr is a war-horse in the eventualities like Cold Start and will deter India from carrying out its plan.

Pakistan’s Full Spectrum Deterrence thus gives it a flexibility to deal with conventional threats through low-yield nuclear weapons like Nasr. It is a ‘qualitative’ response to new warfighting concepts of ‘Cold Start’ and Pro Active Operations (PAO), introduced by India. Full spectrum offers a range of options to the decision-makers. According to Pakistan’s narrative, such nuclear weapons are to balance the conventional advantage of India. On the other hand, India perceives it to be a destabilizing factor in the region. In response India has announced its policy of massive retaliation according to which no matter what the nature of nuclear threat is (tactical or strategic) it would come under strategic realm and would be countered by massive retaliation.

Full Spectrum Doctrine effectively changes Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy; it no longer waits for nuclear attack to counter with nuclear weapons; it will deter conventional force by employing its nuclear might through all its dimensions. Who knows Pakistan may have developed tactical weapons which could be used from its maritime platform. Pakistan’s resolve to employ Full Spectrum Deterrence is not a hollow threat, it can be assumed with certainty. It should be understood by India that conventional threat would be inversely proportional to the scale of threshold to employ nuclear deterrence. Development of low-yield nuclear weapons gives more flexibility to Pakistani strategists as it would not be forced to use strategic nuclear weapon as a first response to India’s overwhelming conventional force in the eventuality of a major aggression against it.

When Pakistan’s apex nuclear body decides to maintain Full Spectrum Deterrence at all costs, it gives a loud message to the world in general and the adversary in particular; that Pakistan will use whatever it takes to defend its territorial integrity.