(Mr. Feroz Khan also contributed to the piece.)
Nuclear deterrence is growing roots in South Asia. India and Pakistan have both incorporated nuclear capabilities into their defence planning. Both are guided by a philosophy of minimum credible deterrence, although within this context modest growth is expected to achieve desired force postures. It is natural that asymmetries exist in the forces held by India and Pakistan. These will persist along with different perceptions of strategy and tactics. Despite these differences, we believe India and Pakistan have both reached a point where they should share perceptions about deterrence and nuclear stability in the region.
The time is right for India and Pakistan to expand shared understandings through cooperative exchanges of information about their respective deterrence postures. Such understanding could be critical in a crisis. Both India and Pakistan have mutually resolved to enhance strategic stability in our region, as affirmed in the Lahore Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 1999. One possibility for furthering this goal is to consider retiring their oldest, first generation, nuclear capable, short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which are at the end of their natural lifespan. Pakistan’s HATF 1 & 2 and India’s Prithvi 1 & 2 have served their purpose and will be eventually retired unilaterally according to each nation’s normal decommissioning process. We propose a plan of mutual transparency measures that would share information about the retirement of these missiles on a reciprocal, bilateral basis — without impinging on the continuing modernisation of both sides’ strategic forces. The retirement of other nuclear capable, obsolescent ballistic missiles can then follow in the same cooperative spirit.
We have participated in an in-depth study and also recently in a mock exercise to explore how information exchanges between our two countries could be conducted. We are confident that such an exchange could be achieved with minimal risk and costs and yet provide important reassurance about significant changes in deterrence postures.
The Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan have recently reaffirmed their commitment to pursue confidence building measures (CBM) in connection with their ongoing Composite Dialogue. A working group on peace and security matters is charged with exploring CBMs in the security area. One candidate CBM would be to conduct a Joint Transparency Exercise (JTE) to exchange information about retired missiles. With the voluntary retirement of these obsolescent missiles already imminent, New Delhi and Islamabad could make a virtue of a necessity by adding reciprocal transparency to the retirement process. Our studies show such a joint CBM is ripe for consideration and could be conducted in the near term. A first step might be to declare these nuclear capable missiles to be non-nuclear delivery systems. Then, as these missiles are removed from the nuclear arsenal, our two countries can build trust and understanding as our respective experts expand cooperation in the drawdown of obsolete forces.
This is a small step. It has been endorsed by several prestigious expert groups. We have studied the practical details of how such ideas could be implemented. We concluded that such exchanges could be powerful tools in enhancing mutual confidence and signal maturity as responsible nuclear powers. The costs and risks for India and Pakistan are small, but the potential benefits are great. It is a step whose time has come.
(Feroz Khan and Gurmeet Kanwal, both retired Brigadiers, are with the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, USA, and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, respectively. Views are personal.)