How important is responsibility to Pakistani nuclear planning?

How important is responsibility to Pakistani nuclear planning?


Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is the fastest growing in the world and it is on track to being the fourth largest nuclear power in the world. With this in mind, the major question is how Pakistan will handle such a large arsenal and whose interest it will act in. The antagonistic relationship between India and Pakistan has led to a growing feeling of instability in the South Asia region and with a number of issues such as Kashmir and the Indus Water Treaty still contentious there is a fear that the region could erupt at any moment. To mitigate the risk that a miscalculation leads to the escalation of tensions, it is important to understand how Pakistan conceptualizes its strategic responsibilities around the deployment of its nuclear weapons.
How states understand their strategic responsibilities vary based on the circumstances afforded to a nation and the geopolitical climate at any given moment. It is important then to realize that strategic responsibilities are dynamic in their nature and may shift and evolve in accordance with the development of norms on a domestic and international level. We can categorize two approaches of states with regards to responsibility as being inwards and outwards. Inward responsibility refers to how states understand their responsibilities towards their own citizens and national security. Outward responsibilities might be understood as concerning the security of other states or the international system as a whole. Understanding how states value and balance these responsibilities is crucial when trying to understand their behaviours. It is therefore important that we look at these two ideas side by side in order to understand in the importance of strategic responsibility to Pakistan.
Inwards responsibility is well established in Pakistan’s nuclear framework. The political climate in South Asia has led Pakistan to be in a state of apprehension over its national security. At first India’s conventional superiority was the major threat to Pakistan but ever since 1974 Pakistan has had to deal with India’s nuclear threat as well. Historically, this has led to what is known in nuclear literature as action-reaction syndrome wherein the strategic actions of one nation lead to a proportional action from the other side that triggers a long-term chain reaction. The degree of inward responsibility that Pakistan has held has varied and this has been reflected in Pakistan’s nuclear posture. Many scholars have argued that Pakistan’s nuclear posture has shifted from catalytic to asymmetric retaliation. A catalytic nuclear posture is one which aims to catalyze action from a third party on a state’s behalf using a limited nuclear arsenal. Asymmetric retaliation on the other hand advocates for a development of nuclear capabilities and credibility to retaliate to a conventional attack with a first strike. In Pakistan’s case, one can argue that a shift in policy occurred at one of two points.
The first possibility is that Pakistan’s posture shift occurred as a result of India’s Shakti tests in 1998. Before these tests Pakistan believed the USA was its biggest ally. Pakistan had previously been recognized by US as an integral part of CENTO and SEATO, therefore, Pakistan felt that it could rely on the US to offer it protection in the event of conventional escalation with India. This tactic had previously worked for the likes of Israel and South Africa. But following the Indian nuclear tests, the response of the international community was not what Pakistan had hoped for. From Pakistan’s viewpoint, India did not get the condemnation that it deserved. The international cohort instead focused on stopping Pakistan from achieving the same capability. This displeasing response indicated to Pakistan that global norms were shifting. Pakistan no longer felt that it could look outwards to strengthen its national security and so turned inwards. The mobilization of Pakistani nuclear assets, which culminated in the Chagai-I, tests two weeks after India’s tests were testament to Pakistan’s sudden change in posture. Henceforth, two factors fueled this change: Firstly, the sudden appearance of a nuclear-armed neighbor and secondly the lack of support from the international community.

To be continued.