Battlefield Nuclear Weapons (BNWs)
Under a “No First Use” (NFU) doctrine a country declares that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, that they would only use them in response to a nuclear attack. The United States never embraced such a doctrine, under the theory that the US might have to initiate the use of tactical nuclear weapons on a European battlefield in order to counter a massive Soviet conventional attack. In 2008 President Asif Ali Zardari gave an interview to the Hindustan Times in which he said that Pakistan was ready to commit to a policy of no first use (NFU) of nuclear weapons just like India had a declared no first use policy.
Pakistan's chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani does not support President Asif Ali Zardari's "no-first-use" nuclear policy, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. On February 19, 2009, just days ahead of General Kayani's week-long trip to America, Anne Patterson, who was the US ambassador to Pakistan wrote, "Although he has remained silent on the subject, Kayani does not support Zardari's statement last year to the Indian press that Pakistan would adopt a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons." She stressed, "Despite increasing financial constraints, we believe that the military is proceeding with an expansion of both its growing strategic weapons and missile programs. Pakistan's strategic assets are under the control of the secular military, which has implemented extensive physical, personnel and command and control safeguards."
Pakistan has substantially increased its capacity to produce plutonium and uranium for nuclear weapons, and by the year 2020 might have the world’s third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The hundreds of nuclear weapons that Pakistan is set to produce have no plausible role in a city-busting deterrent posture, of the sort adopted by India. Instead, Pakistan appears intent on offsetting India’s growing conventional advantages by deploying battlefield nuclear weapons, as the United States did during the Cold War.
As Pakistan has closely guarded its stance on how it would implement battlefield nuclear weapons, comparisons must be drawn from other instances in history. The position Pakistan has taken is reminiscent of the post-World War II NATO - Warsaw Pact rivalry in that its greatest perceived threat has an enormous conventional force advantage. Therefore, it will be assumed Pakistan has the same concerns towards India that NATO had towards the Soviet/Warsaw Pact and has or will adopt a similar battlefield nuclear weapons doctrine.
NATO’s BNW Doctrine
In order to assuage European fears of the Soviet Union’s overwhelming conventional force advantage as well as their expansionist aims, the United States and NATO planned to exploit their nuclear superiority. There were two ways to go about this: (1) develop thermonuclear weapons (“The Super”) to maintain a relative nuclear advantage. The United States and NATO would have roughly the same number of atomic weapons as the Soviets, but the thermonuclear weapons could inflict significantly more damage per bomb. Or (2) The United States/NATO could develop smaller, battlefield and tactical nuclear weapons and deploy them to allied states and overseas command posts. BNWs would be cheaper to manufacture and would have a similar deterrent effect, but require significantly larger numbers to fully utilize. Furthermore, in order to enjoy fully the deterrent effects of tactical nuclear weapons, they would need to be deployed to allied states on the Euro-Soviet Border to enable quick, accurate strikes should the need arise.
NATO’s Nuclear Doctrine during the Cold War and up until 1991 established a fundamentally defensive nuclear weapons policy. NATO would use nuclear weapons in a purely defensive nature, with an emphasis on war prevention, the importance of collectivity, the role of nuclear weapons in the world, as well as strategic unity within geographical diversity (The Strategic Concept for Defense of the North Atlantic Area, December 1949). A policy of “massive retaliation” was adopted in 1957 in the face of increasing Soviet nuclear activity. As the Soviet nuclear arsenal grew, the credibility of “massive retaliation” as a viable strategy diminished, resulting in a switch to a strategy of “flexible response” in 1967. An attack using conventional forces would be met with conventional forces, tactical nuclear weapons with tactical nuclear counterstrikes, and an attack on the home soil with retaliation against the enemy homeland.
The economics of building enough weapons to keep both Soviet nuclear and conventional forces deterred eventually came into play. It was eventually decided that the destruction of 20-25% of the Soviet population and 50% of its industrial capacity was sufficient. This meant that anymore than 1,000 Minuteman, 41 Polaris submarines, and nearly 500 strategic bombers would cost more than the benefits gained. This triad of nuclear capabilities (ICBM, bombers, and submarines) gave the US/NATO the ability to destroy the Soviet Union three times over and allowed a counterattack to be launched in case two of the three groups were taken out by a first strike. To increase the destruction a force this size could cause would require an unreasonable increase in forces, and therefore in cost.
The first deployment of nuclear armaments to Europe by the United States occurred in October 1953 with the delivery of several 280mm Atomic Cannons. Additional TNWs, the Regulus and the Honest John, were deployed in 1954. The United States sent 60 “Thor” missiles to England and 45 Jupiter missiles to Italy and Turkey between late-1959 and early-1960. 1979 saw an expanding Soviet nuclear arsenal, and with it, the modernization of NATO’s nuclear armaments, including the deployment of 464 GLCMs and 108 Pershing II missiles.
The United States and NATO had as many as 20,000 Battlefield and Tactical Nuclear weapons deployed to NATO-member states in 1967 and more than 7,000 TNW in service in the late 1970’s. This number dropped to under 6,000 by the 1980’s, and fell below 1,000 by the mid-1990’s. Again, NATO felt that it could deter or rebut an attack with a smaller but more advanced weapons stock. During and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO reduced its armaments and relaxed its nuclear posture, though it retained its first and second strike and retaliatory abilities. Nuclear weapons became political bargaining chips, rather than the strategic weapons they were originally.
NATO Tactical/Battlefield Nuclear Weapons:
* denotes TNWs/BNWs deployed to Europe
Pakistan’s BNW Doctrine
The intentions of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program are as of yet unknown, but the program is assumed to act as a deterrent to conventional and nuclear attacks by India. Pakistani leadership has stated that its nuclear doctrine is based on the principle of “credible minimum deterrence”. They have adopted a “no-first-use” policy and have stated that nuclear weapons will be used only if the very existence of Pakistan as a state is at risk. India has also established a “no-first-use” policy, but has also stated that nuclear weapons would potentially be used in retaliation to a chemical or biological attack on the nation. However, in the case of war, and one side does use nuclear weapons, the other side would not hesitate to retaliate with nuclear weapons of their own. A “no-first-strike” policy does not equal a “no-usage” policy, as evident by General Zia-ul-Haq comment during the Indian military exercise Operation Brasstacks: "If your [Indian Armed] Forces cross our [Pakistan’s] borders by even an inch, we are going to annihilate your cities."
The most likely scenario for Pakistani deployment of BNWs is in the case of an India invasion, such as one under the “Cold Start” initiative. Pakistan could follow several policies in such a case. They may fire a few BNWs (likely of the Hatf-1B SRBM variety) at the Indian invasion forces, providing area denial while simultaneously destroying a large portion of the enemy forces. The Pakistani government would then engage in talks with the India government, demanding the immediate cessation of military activities within and against their state or face the utilization of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons on highly populated Indian cities. An alternative situation involves the attempted outright destruction of the Indian invasion forces with Hatf-1B SRBM or Hatf-9 SRBM platforms, both of which can be equipped with nuclear warheads. Both circumstances would inevitably require engagement of enemy combatants by conventional Pakistani forces.
The largest problems with either of these scenarios are the dispersal of Indian forces, particularly their armored divisions, as well as the likelihood of nuclear retaliation by the Indian government. The Indian military has run various war-games and military exercises (e.g. Operation Brasstacks) to prepare its forces for combat involving irradiated environments and the use of BNW/TNW. If the Indian forces have been dispersed to properly deal with the usage of BNW, at 540 meters between armored units, Pakistan would need to use upwards of 100 BNW with 15kT yields. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons reserves have been estimated at 70-90 nuclear weapons, and if all were utilized, the country would be at risk for nuclear retaliation or a continued invasion without its nuclear deterrent. Moreover, armored units can adequately protect their crew from the heat and shockwave produced by a nuclear blast provided they are not directly hit with the warhead. Pakistan would need to develop enhanced radiation (ER) weapons to ensure the destruction of the Indian armored divisions as the neutron radiation produced can penetrate armor more effectively without requiring an increase in yield size or blast radius.
Though NATO revised its policy of “massive retaliation” in favor of a policy of “flexible response”, its seems unlikely Pakistan would even entertain a “massive retaliation” policy. In order to effectively use such a strategy, a nation must be able to match the production of weapons of their enemy, if not exceed them. Pakistan lacks the economy to develop weapons at the same rate India can, and moreover, lack the materials and equipment needed to do so. Since 2000, Pakistan has been spending nearly 3.9% GDP on defense, whereas India has spent under 2.7% GDP in the same time period. More importantly, Pakistan’s GDP for 2010 was $178.4 billion whereas India’s 2010 GDP stood at $1.53 trillion. China has been the only nation to deal in nuclear equipment and materials with Pakistan since the United States pressured France to ends its nuclear aid to Pakistan at the end of 1976. Without the aid of the international community (excluding China), India has a clear advantage.
The deployment of BNWs comes with several risks. Command and control has to be dispersed down to military units on the ground. This increases the risk of things going wrong, either through miscalculation, an accident, or the worst-case scenario of infiltration by militant groups, nuclear experts say.
Within Pakistan itself, security experts have questioned the logic of deploying tactical weapons, arguing that it has exposed the country to bigger risks rather than improved security. These smaller weapons could be easily misplaced, stolen by a terrorist group and used against the state, or smuggled into another country. Furthermore, if Pakistan plans to use these weapons as the Indian military crosses the border, it would effectively be dropping them on its own soil. The use of a BNW would irradiate a chunk of Pakistani and Indian territory, potentially leading to an international incident. Moreover, the Pakistani government has not made any indication that protective measures for their troops or the civilian population have been formulated.
To diffuse any potential crisis-situations, much like during Operation Brasstacks, Pakistan and India should discuss the possibility of an Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty or Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Any diplomatic solution in the same vein as the INF or CFE treaties would go a long way to preserve peace and prosperity in the region.
Judging from the similarities between NATO’s and Pakistan’s respective situations, it is unlikely either Pakistan or India would use their nuclear arsenal. The potential disasters and social, political, and economic backlash far outweigh any perceived benefit the use of BNWs could bring. Should the occasion rise, though, Pakistan would likely use its arsenal of Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in the following circumstances:
BNWs at Pakistan’s disposal:
All viable Pakistani BNWs are plutonium-based and rely on implosion-detonation mechanisms (Pu-based weapons can be made smaller than HEU-based weapons and degrades too quickly for reliable use in a gun-assembly detonation mechanism).
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