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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 63, March - April 2002

News Review

Missile Tests and Military Tension In South Asia

Political and military tension between India and Pakistan remains acute, despite concerted international efforts to defuse a crisis triggered by the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13 last year (see last issue). India has been making clear its determination to keep large numbers of troops in a condition of effective battle-alert on the border with Pakistan until the authorities in Islamabad decisively sever all links with terrorist organisations both within Pakistan and in the disputed territory of Indian-controlled Kashmir. For its part, Pakistan insists it is continuing to take far-reaching and unprecedented steps to tackle the terrorist issue, and that India should immediately begin a military de-escalation of the situation. The United States, meanwhile, continues to urge dialogue between the two sides while consolidating its military and political relationship with each.

The worst-case scenario for all concerned is that conflict breaks out and leads to a nuclear exchange. In Congressional testimony on February 6, CIA Director George Tenet stated: "The chance of war between these two nuclear-armed states is higher than at any point since 1971. If India were to conduct large-scale offensive operations into Pakistani Kashmir, Pakistan might retaliate with strikes of its own in the belief that its nuclear deterrent would limit the scope of an Indian counterattack. Both India and Pakistan are publicly downplaying the risks of nuclear conflict in the current crisis. We are deeply concerned, however, that a conventional war - once begun - could escalate into a nuclear confrontation." Visiting New Delhi on February 7, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov commented on Tenet's remarks: "I would not dispute the point raised by the CIA Director. It is a professional body and it has its own means of making an assessment". Klebanov added: "I absolutely agree when India tells Pakistan that something needs to be done at the ground level against terrorists. Russia appreciates the restraint shown so far by India but at the same time feels that recourse to military action is not the only solution."

Klebanov was in India partly to discuss a major arms deal, reportedly including the transfer to New Delhi of one aircraft carrier (the Admiral Gorshkov) and two nuclear-capable TU-22 bombers. Reports that the lease of two nuclear-powered submarines would also be on the table were dismissed by both sides. Three general military cooperation protocols were signed, however, paving the way for potentially major sales of conventional air-, land-, and sea-based systems.

In Washington on January 17, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defence Minister George Fernandes signed a US-India General Security of Military Information Agreement, "paving", in Rumsfeld's words, "the way for greater technology cooperation between the United States and India". Fernandes stated: "I am very happy that today...we have been able to revive our [military] relationship, and we look forward to much greater cooperation between the United States military and also procuring items that we need to procure from here..." On February 18, General Richard Myers, the Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that a deal to sell New Delhi a surveillance radar system was expected to be concluded soon. The same day, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aziz Ahmed told reporters: "We certainly are alarmed by India's relentless pursuit and acquisition of defence equipment which are far beyond India's genuine defence needs... [Such spending] creates an unnecessary arms race and tensions in the region... We should be putting all our scarce resources for the alleviation of poverty in the subcontinent..."

Meanwhile, the US and Pakistan are moving quickly to resume significant military contacts. Speaking alongside Pakistan's military leader General Pervez Musharraf in Washington on February 13, Secretary Rumsfeld said "we have discussed various types of ways that the United States and Pakistan can go back to our pre-sanction cooperative arrangement, and those discussions are ongoing". Musharraf reported "a wonderful interaction...on all military matters", adding: "It is Pakistan's desire to increase the level of cooperation with the United States in all fields of military activity".

Perhaps the most significant military development of the period under review, however, came on January 25 with the successful test-flight of the latest version of its nuclear-capable, 420-mile range surface-to-surface Agni missile. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, told a press briefing: "It was the flight test of a short range version of the Agni I missile. ... The test was undertaken in a non-provocative manner across international waters fully in accordance with international practice. ... The test was part of the technological evolution of our missile programme, and the timing was determined solely by technical factors." The view was very different from Islamabad, where a Foreign Ministry statement complained (January 25): "The test comes at a time of tensions, when the Indian forces are massed on our borders. We hope the international community will take note of this Indian behaviour which is prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell managed to sound both mildly disappointed and fairly relaxed at the news (January 25): "I would just as soon they had not performed that test at this time of high tension, but I don't think it will inflame the situation particularly." Similarly tempered criticism was forthcoming the same day from Germany - whose Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, observed, "against the background of the current tensions with Pakistan, this test could lead to avoidable misunderstandings" - and Britain - whose Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, commented, "I believe that restraint in developing possible nuclear weapon delivery systems is in the long-term interest of India and the region." On January 28, the Spanish Presidency of the European Union issued a statement on behalf of all EU and associated states: "Given the heightened regional tension that exists at the present time, the EU considers that the ballistic missile test that India has carried out...risks giving a negative signal to the region and to the international community at a time when restraint is of the utmost importance."

On January 27, General Musharraf's chief spokesperson, Major General Rashid Qureshi, made clear that Pakistan would not respond to the Agni test in kind, adding that this should not be seen as a sign of weakness: "Pakistan is neither in a race with India, nor is it going to do anything in reaction to what India does... We are exercising restraint... But our deterrence is in place, and our response is ready... We don't want the enemy to know how ready we are."

Interviewed on NBC television in Washington on January 23, General Musharraf was asked to explain Pakistan's reluctance to follow India in adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. He replied: "When you talk of no-first-use, Pakistan has been offering denuclearisation of South Asia...so we are going far, far beyond them. It is not an issue of no-first-use, but far beyond that... We want to denuclearise South Asia. We want to sign a No War Pact with them. Isn't that better? I think the world community should insist on that. Pakistan is offering a much bigger deal."

Musharraf's comments were seized on by numerous peace groups in the region. On January 28, the Pakistan Peace Coalition in Karachi issued a statement noting: "It is regrettable that instead of reacting positively to President Musharraf's peace overtures, the government of India has chosen this juncture of heightened tension between the two countries to test-fire a new version of its...nuclear missile Agni... We urge President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan not only to stand by their public commitment to a No War Pact with India and the denuclearisation of the subcontinent, but [to] be bold enough to proceed unilaterally to cut down military expenditure in the forthcoming budget and take concrete steps to progressively move away from the suicidal path of nuclearisation..." The same day, a statement from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) in India stated that it welcomed "the latest statement by General Pervez Musharraf offering to work with India for the denuclearisation of South Asia. ... Musharraf's statement stands in sharp contrast to the Pakistani establishment's refusal till recently to give even a no-first-use guarantee and New Delhi's misleading campaign about 'minimum nuclear deterrence' and [its] persistent opposition to a No War Pact with our neighbour. By rejecting General Musharraf's denuclearisation offer, the Indian government has only exposed the hollowness of its professed commitment to nuclear disarmament. The folly of India's rulers has been compounded by the test-firing of a new Agni missile on Republic day's eve...[which] is a reaffirmation of New Delhi's resolve to proceed with nuclear weaponisation."

One of the signatories of the CNDP statement, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy Admiral L. Ramdas, expanded on his fears of nuclear disaster in South Asia in a speech in Washington on February 26 jointly hosted, along with other speaking engagements by the Admiral in the US, by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and Women's Actions for New Directions (WAND). Ramdas warned: "Right now, India and Pakistan are eyeball-to-eyeball with the largest military build-up in their history - a million soldiers confronting each other at the border. The risks of escalation - from a conventional war over the disputed territory of Kashmir to a nuclear exchange - is greater than it has ever been. The governments of both India and Pakistan must immediately de-escalate the military build-up on the border, revive people-to-people contacts, and come together in the cause of global nuclear disarmament." The Admiral added: "India and Pakistan lack effective command, control, communication and intelligence systems. When these infrastructures are not there, it makes the whole system more sensitive, accident-prone, and therefore dangerous. Global zero alert would be a major step towards providing a de facto security guarantee." (Note: the full text of Admiral Ramdas' remarks is available from IEER at http://www.ieer.org/latest/ramdas2.html.)

During his mid-February visit to Washington, Musharraf startled reporters and US officials by commenting (February 12): "The [Agni] missile test carried out by India [last month], and some information, some news even, of maybe a possibility of a nuclear test, is most untimely and may I also say provocative." The Bush administration quickly emphasised it had no indication whatever of an Indian test. In Madrid on February 14, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh commented: "I think this canard about India undertaking another nuclear test is really simply that, a canard..." Singh added: "we have publicly stated...that there is a voluntary moratorium that is in force. It shall remain in force and it is not time bound..."

On January 21, a study was released by scientists from the Landau Network in Como, Italy, detailing their assessment of 'Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Stability and Nuclear Strategy in Pakistan'. The report, based on meetings and interviews held in Pakistan in December 2001, quotes Lt. General Khalid Kidwai, a senior official in the government's Strategic Plan Division (SPD), defining the country's current nuclear-use policy as follows:

"Nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India. In case that deterrence fails, they will be used if: a) India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory (space threshold); b) India destroys a large part either of its [Pakistan's] land or air forces (military threshold); c. India proceeds to the economic strangling of Pakistan (economic strangling); d) India pushes Pakistan into political destabilisation or creates a large scale internal subversion in Pakistan (domestic destabilisation)."

The report's authors - Professor Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Professor Maurizio Martellini - conclude: "It seems that the combination of the diversity and broadness of the motivations that may justify the use of nuclear weapons, on one side, and the use of the nuclear threat to enforce a rational decision-making, i.e. a not-too-aggressive behaviour, by the opponent, on the other side, is suggesting a vision of...Pakistani nuclear weapons that is not reassuring... Presumably Pakistan feels or will feel compelled to enlarge and diversify its nuclear arsenal so as to increase the nuclear options and make the threat of nuclear retaliation more credible".

In a note appended to the report on February 11, the authors comment on the response they have received from Pakistani officials to the "four scenarios" section of their report: "It has been pointed out to us that the four thresholds considered in section 5, that would trigger a Pakistani nuclear reaction, were 'purely academic'. The comments go on saying, 'These are matters which, as elsewhere, are primarily the responsibility of the political leadership of the day. ... The elaborate command-and-control mechanisms introduced with the establishment of the National Command Authority which is chaired by the head of state and assisted by political and civilian leaders...ensure the highest level of responsibility and due deliberation on all matters of strategic importance'. Still we underline that the four thresholds were explicitly mentioned to us and this has not been denied."

By late February, over 300 British parliamentarians had expressed their alarm at the situation by signing a concise motion tabled by Labour MP Malcolm Savidge, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global Security and Non-Proliferation. The motion (Early Day Motion 633) reads: "That this House urges the governments of India and Pakistan to seek to resolve their differences and to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict."

Reports: US, India move to resume arms transfers, Reuters, January 17; Nuclear safety, nuclear stability and nuclear strategy in Japan, Report by the Landau Network, January 21 (http://lxmi.mi.infn.it/~landnet/Doc/pakustan.pdf); Pak ready for denuclearisation of S. Asia, sign No War pact, Hindustan Times, January 23; India test fires intermediate-range missile, New York Times, January 25; India successfully tests missile, Associated Press, January 25; Comments by Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, January 25 (http://www.meadev.nic.in); Missile test by India raises nuclear ante, Washington Post, January 26; Experts speculate on India, Pakistan, Associated Press, January 26; Pakistan to refrain from missile test response, Global Security Newswire, January 28; Statement from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CBDP), India, January 28; Statement by Pakistan Peace Coalition, January 28; US for pact with Pakistan, India on nuclear devices, News International, January 28; Statement on behalf of the EU by the Spanish Presidency, Agence Europe, January 29; India-Pakistan letter leads to motion in British Parliament, News International, February 3; Economic threat may push Pakistan to nukes, Inter Press Service, February 4; Pakistan - four scenarios considered for nuclear weapons use, Global Security Newswire, February 4; Worldwide threat - converging dangers in a post 9/11 world, Congressional Testimony of Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, February 6; Russia sees high risk of nuclear war, Indian Express, February 7; India boosts sea power with Russian defense deal, Reuters, February 8; Pakistan, US boost military ties, Associated Press, February 9; India - officials fail to agree with Russia on weapons contracts, Global Security Newswire, February 11; US distances itself from Pakistani nuclear charge, Reuters, February 12; Transcript - US, Pakistan move to strengthen military cooperation, Washington File, February 13; Pakistan shares clues of new Indian N-test with US, Dawn, February 14; India tells EU it won't test more nuclear arms, Reuters, February 14; Navy, IAF train in handling nukes, Hindustan Times, February 15; Gen. Myers - India to buy US radar, Associated Press, February 18; Spokesman - Pakistan alarmed by India's defense purchases, asks New Delhi to spend on the poor instead, Associated Press, February 18; Danger of nuclear exchange in South Asia greater than ever before, says former chief of the Indian Navy, IEER Press Release, February 26; 'India and Pakistan', UK House of Commons Early Day Motion 633 (http://edm.ais.co.uk/weblink/html/printable.html/ref=633).

© 2002 The Acronym Institute.