Pakistan’s Nuclear Use Doctrine, An ambiguity prevails

Pakistan's Nuclear Use Doctrine, An ambiguity prevails

By: Asfand Yar Bhutto

An overview of Pakistan’s Nuclear Use Doctrine

Since the start of its nuclear weapons programme, particularly nuclear tests of May 1998, Pakistan has not come up officially with its nuclear use doctrine. However, No First Use (NFU) policy has remained deeply rooted in its nuclear deterrence assumptions with the objective to make the deterrence more credible and dynamic so that no aggressor could speculate what is its nuclear threshold. Pakistan has retained such posture owing to its numerical inferiority vis-à-vis India in conventional warfare. But, the lack of nuclear use doctrine manifests the ambiguity as to when, where and how nuclear weapons would be used. Some security analysts are of the view that Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons only as a last resort. Thus, this sort of ambiguity plays a central role in pursuing Pakistan’s interests better.

Pakistan’s nuclear threshold clarifies the policy goal which is ‘to safeguard territorial integrity by deterring India’s conventional as well as nuclear aggression’. There is no evidence that the doctrine entails threats beyond India. Since the test of nuclear weapons, the policies in the realm of nuclear power have remained India-centric, owing to Pakistan’s perception of security threats emanating from its eastern neighbour, and an arch-rival.

In the wake of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, declared that the purpose of these weapons is only ‘to deter aggression, whether nuclear or conventional.’ This statement evinces that Pakistan may use its nuclear capability first to thwart all forms of aggressive attacks against it. Moreover, Pakistan rejected India’s offer of ‘No First Strike” pact after its nuclear tests because Pakistan quested to ensure balance of power – and threat – in South Asia via Credible Minimum Deterrence.

Ambiguity between the ‘First Use’ and the ‘Last Resort’

It is quite perplexing to know as to why Pakistan retains the first use posture and why, at the same time, it claims that it would use its nuclear weapons only as a last resort. To understand Pakistan’s rationale for both the stances, it is necessary to observe the Cold War debate on ‘First Use’ and ‘No First Use’ which indicates that the proponents of the latter stance failed to convince the established nuclear weapons states, in general, and minor nuclear weapons states, in particular, to renounce the first use to offset conventional vulnerabilities. During the Cold War era, the US adopted the First-Use posture which relied on two principal reasons as stated by Dr Zafar Khan in his book, ‘Pakistan’s Nuclear Proliferation, A Minimum Credible Deterrence’. He says, “The US and NATO were not in favour of First-Use policy option but due to the need of ensuring security assurances and guarantees to the US allies and making them credible, the US had to retain the First-Use option; and secondly, the adoption of NFU policy posture by the United States could have increased its vulnerability against possible chemical and biological attacks from enemies.

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