Pakistan Wants 'Battlefield' Nukes to Use against Indian Troops

The Buzz

Pakistan is continuing to develop tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield against India, a senior U.S. intelligence official said this week.

In providing a worldwide threat assessment to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, discussed Pakistan’s expanding nuclear delivery systems.

“We anticipate that Pakistan will continue [its] development of new delivery systems, including cruise missiles and close-range ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons to augment its existing ballistic missiles,” Stewart said during his opening statement, according to an official transcript.

Tactical nuclear weapons are low-yield, short-range nuclear missiles designed for use against opposing troops on the battlefield, rather than against enemy cities like strategic nuclear weapons. Both the U.S. and Soviet Union deployed them in Europe (among other places) during the Cold War, and Washington and Moscow continue to deploy them today. They are not covered  in existing U.S.-Russian arms control treaties like New START.

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In April 2011, Pakistan first tested the Hatf-9 (Nasr) missile, which it called a “Short Range Surface to Surface Multi Tube Ballistic Missile.” In the official statement announcing the test, Pakistan’s military said the Hatf-9 missile was nuclear-capable and had been developed to be used at “shorter ranges.”

“NASR, with a range of 60 km, carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot and scoot attributes. This quick response system addresses the need to deter evolving threats,” the statement said. It added that the “test was a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.”

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Testing continued throughout 2012 and 2013, and Pakistan’s Strategic Forces are believed to have inducted the missile into service following an October 2013 test. Pakistan has continued periodic testing since that time, most recently in September of last year. However, it is unclear whether Pakistan is capable of building nuclear warheads small enough to use on the Hatf-9.

The missile itself is a derivative of the Chinese-made Weishi-2 (WS-2) short-range ballistic missile, which Beijing developed specifically to export. Starting in 2012, Pakistan began firing the Hatf-9 in four missile salvos from what it called a “state-of-the-art multi-tube launcher,” which was also derived from Chinese systems.

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Pakistan developed tactical nukes as a way to counter India’s conventional military superiority. In particular, Islamabad's tactical nuclear weapons were a response to India’s development of the so-called “Cold Start” military doctrine, which calls for using small and limited excursions into Pakistani territory to respond to Islamabad-sponsored terrorist attacks.

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As one analyst explained “The idea is that smaller nuclear weapons, used on Pakistani soil, would stop invading Indian forces in their tracks.” Similarly, a Pakistani missile expert told local media outlets at the time of the first test: “This is a low-yield battlefield deterrent, capable of deterring and inflicting punishment on mechanized forces like armed brigades and divisions.”

As The National Interest has previously noted, Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons are one of the most dangerous nuclear threats facing the world today. That’s because fielding tactical nuclear weapons underscores Islamabad's willingness to use atomic weapons even to counter non-nuclear threats (unlike India, Islamabad does not maintain a no-first-use nuclear doctrine.) Moreover, in order to be effective, Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons would have to be kept in a more ready state in order to be usable on short notice. Furthermore, once deployed on the frontlines, the battlefield commanders would likely be granted the authority to use them, raising the danger of a rogue general sparking a nuclear armageddon. Finally, tactical nuclear weapons, especially when deployed, would be more susceptible to theft by any one of the countless terrorist groups that find safe haven in Pakistan.

For these reasons, the U.S. intel community expressed alarm about Pakistan’s development of tactical nukes back in 2013. Stewart’s statement confirms that this remains the case today.

Image: Wikimedia/One half 3544

TopicsSecurity RegionsSouth Asia

Tony Abbott: The Worst Leader of Any Industrialized Democracy? You Decide.

The Buzz

Is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott the most incompetent leader of any industrialized democracy? Of course, a leader’s popularity, to some, depends on that leader’s political orientation. Many conservative Republicans think Barack Obama is one of the worst presidents in modern history, while many liberal Spaniards think conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is one of the worst leaders in Spain’s modern history.

But competence and popularity are not necessarily the same things. Even conservative Republicans would admit that Obama has achieved major accomplishments in office – they just do not like those accomplishments at all. And Obama, Rajoy, and other rich world leaders, whatever their problems, usually seem to be making their policy decisions based on advice from a retinue of advisors and after careful consideration of policy options. Even leaders criticized for acting too slowly, and offering uninspired policy ideas, like French President Francois Hollande, appear to be capable of running their countries’ day-to-day policymaking. There are world leaders who appear dangerously unhinged, making policy based on whims, advice from a tiny handful of advisers, or some other highly unscientific formula. Argentina’s president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, comes to mind, as does Ecuador President Rafael Correa, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But none of these leaders run a rich and powerful democracy.

Tony Abbott, however, is in charge of a regional power, a country that is the twelfth largest economy in the world and the only rich world nation to have survived the 2008-9 financial crisis unscathed. Yet in less than two years as prime minister, Abbott has proven shockingly incompetent, which is why other leaders within his ruling coalition, following a set of defeats in state elections, may now scheme to unseat him. They should: Abbott has proven so incapable of clear policy thinking, so unwilling to consult with even his own ministers and advisers, and so poor at communicating that he has to go.

Abbott’s policies have been all over the map, and the lack of coherence has often made the prime minister seem ill-informed and incapable of understanding complex policy issues. In press conferences, Abbott has offered mixed public messages about some of the health care reforms that were at the center of his agenda, and sometimes has seemed unsure himself of what health legislation has actually been passed on his watch. He also has seemed unsure of what he promised in the past regarding Australia’s major public broadcaster – he promised not to touch it – before he went ahead made cuts to it. He also looked completely baffled on climate change issues at the G20 summit in Australia last year.

Abbott also does not seem to think it necessary to even discuss policy proposals with his top ministers and other leading members of his conservative coalition. His lack of consultation has made it harder for him to pass some critical legislation. In addition, he appears to have one of the worst senses of public relations of any prime minister in recent Australian history. At major economic summits, he has embarrassed Australia with his coarse rhetoric. He recently decided to give an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip, husband of British Queen Elizabeth II, even though nearly half of Australians would prefer the country to be a republic, and even those who support the monarchy disdain actions that look like Canberra sucking up to the British royals. Australia had not given out its own knighthoods for nearly decades, and even to many monarchists the very idea of Australian knighthoods seemed archaic. And if Abbott was going to give out archaic knighthoods, Prince Philip was a bizarre choice. Even among the conservative supporters of Abbot’s coalition, giving a knighthood to the notoriously gaffe-prone and fusty Prince Philip went down badly. Abbott did not appear to have consulted with most of his top ministers before deciding to give Prince Philip the accolade.

I take no position on whether a left or right coalition can govern Australia better – whether Australia needs a revolt from within the ruling coalition or a national election victory by the left. But a country that for decades has punched above its weight on nearly every international issue surely can do much better for a prime minister than Tony Abbott.

This piece was first posted on CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsAustralia

US Navy's 6th Generation Fighter Jets Will Be Slow and Unstealthy

The Buzz

The U.S. Navy’s next generation air superiority fighter will not be “super-duper fast” or employ much in the way of stealth, a senior navy official announced on Wednesday.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s top officer, divulged some details about the Navy’s so-called Next Generation Air Dominance F/A-XX fighter jet during a speech at an industry conference.

“I don’t see that it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles.” Greenert said, the Washington Examiner reported. “And you can’t become so stealthy that you become invisible — you are going to generate a signature of some sort,” he also noted, adding “You know that stealth may be overrated…. If something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”

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In lieu of stealth and speed, Greenert said that the F/A-XX would gain access by deploying “a spectrum of weapons” that could suppress enemy air defenses.

Greenert made the remarks while speaking at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, DC.

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His concerns about speed and stealth appear to be valid. As USNI News notes, the proliferation of high-speed anti-air weapons to America’s potential adversaries greatly reduces the value of speed. Stealth also is a wasting asset, as Dave Majumdar recently explained on The National Interest:

“Russia and China are already working on new networked air defenses coupled with new radars operating in the UHF and VHF-bands that threaten to neutralize America’s massive investment in fifth-generation fighters. Fighter-sized stealth aircraft are only optimized to perform against high-frequency fire control band radars operating in the Ku, X, C and portions of the S-band.”

That the next generation fighter will gain access primarily by suppressing enemy air defenses also isn’t entirely surprising. After all, the Navy already employs the Boeing EA-18G Growler, an electronic warfare variant of the the F/A-18F Super Hornet, one of the planes that the F/A-XX will eventually replace.

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Still, Greenert’s claims about the declining value of stealth and speed pose some stark questions for the armed forces and American taxpayers. The U.S. has spent decades and hundreds of billions of dollars developing and fielding the “super-duper fast” F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, both of which rely on stealth to be effective. These fifth generation aircraft are expected to be the foundation of the U.S. fighter fleet for years to come. If their capabilities quickly become inadequate to meet America’s security needs, the U.S. could find itself facing a glaring fighter gap.

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It’s little wonder then that the military is already fast at work trying to develop the next generation X-plane even though the F-35 JSF is not even operational yet. Unfortunately, these sixth generation fighters might not operational until 2035.

Image: Wikimedia/Boeing

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited

Assad Will Have to Stay for Awhile

Paul Pillar

The intractable, multidimensional civil war in Syria is as intractable, and immune to clean solutions, as it ever has been. The basic conundrum is that we loathe two players in the conflict—the Assad regime and ISIS—and would like to be rid of them both, but they are the two strongest players and each constitutes the most significant opposition to the other. This multilateral structure of the war, however frustrating and policy-complicating it may be, is for the foreseeable future inescapable.

We are reminded, especially by those in what passes for a secular opposition in Syria, that the regime is genuinely brutal, with its barrel-bombing of civilian areas and similarly inexcusable tactics. But making sound policy, by the United States or any other outside power, is not a simple matter of reading a brutality meter—and that was true even before the most recent act of unspeakable brutality by ISIS. The most prudent, and least bad, U.S. policies toward Syria need to be based on the assumption that Bashar Assad is not likely to go away any time soon. There are at least three reasons that policy should be based on that assumption.

One reason involves a pragmatic recognition of reality, in that Assad's departure is simply beyond the ability of the United States or any player inside Syria to bring about any time soon (barring a full-scale U.S. military intervention, which would be folly for a host of other reasons). There are soft and brittle parts in this regime, but it would be useful to recall how many predictions of the regime's demise since the Syrian war began have proven to be wrong.

A second reason is that in most conflicts it would be a prescription for failure, and/or for embarking on an incredibly costly enterprise, to take on simultaneously two different antagonists who are fighting against each other. Think about what World War II in Europe would be like if the United States had tried to take on Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR at the same time.

The repeatedly expressed hopes placed in a Syrian “moderate opposition” as an alternative winning horse to back in this contest have repeatedly been shown to be held in vain. This situation is not something that can be corrected with more voluminous aid or more alacrity in dispensing it. If the dispensing has been measured and hesitant, that is an appropriate recognition of how with the fluid line-up of protagonists in this civil war, men and materiel easily move from one participant to another and get into what we would consider the wrong hands.

A third reason is that collapse of the current Syria regime under the pressure of war could easily mean the loss of the only structure separating Syria from anarchy that would be even worse than what exists there now. We should have learned some lessons in this regard from what happened in de-Baathicized Iraq and what is still happening today in Libya.

In recent months the Obama administration appears to have accepted an understanding of these realities and talks less than it did earlier about the ouster of Assad as a policy priority. Because of that, it has been criticized by some other governments in the region who have different priorities. The United States needs to consider its own interests in setting its own priorities rather than bowing to the priorities of others. The Turks, for example, have their own particular issues with Assad and Turkey-specific concerns about any cooperation with the Syrian Kurds. Many Arabs, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, think of Syrian affairs the same way they think of many Middle Eastern affairs, viewing them in terms of sectarian conflicts and asking first of all, “What's good for the Sunnis?” That is not the sort of question that should guide U.S. policy.

In the longer run, significant political change in Syria will be necessary for that country to have any hope of stability. Bashar Assad will not be atop any Syrian political order that is reasonably just and stable. But the near term is what we face now, and what needs to be navigated successfully before we ever get to the long term.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0.                                 

TopicsSyria RegionsMiddle East

Ghosts of Imperialism Past: How Colonialism Still Haunts the World Today

The Buzz

While the days of European colonialism may be long over, it's legacy is ubiquitious.

That was the message that Michael Ancram, Lord Lothian, a British conservative politician and former MP, delivered to an audience at the Center for the National Interest on Tuesday evening.

In focusing on colonial borders, Ancram gave a unique perspective on some of the most dangerous geopolitical flashpoints afflicting the world today.

Ancram began in the east with the Line of Control (LOC) that delineates the border between India and Pakistan. He noted that the British government’s failure to solve the Kashmir crisis during partition has cast a long shadow over the world. And that shadow has since gone nuclear.

Moving slightly to the west, Ancram next turned his focus to the Durand Line along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Much as Pakistan disputes Indian control of Kashmir, successive Afghan governments since 1947 have rejected the borderline drawn between the British Raj and the Afghan Kingdom in 1893. When U.S. officials have said that the Durand Line is the international border, Kabul has accused Washington of meddling in its “domestic” affairs.

While not as well known as the Kashmir crisis, the Durand Line is in many ways more dangerous. For one thing, the current Afghan government claims all lands stretching from the Durand Line to the Indus river, which—according to some estimates—constitute 60 percent of Pakistani territory. The two sides have already been waging a vicious proxy war over the Durand Line for years now, and this is likely to intensify as international involvement in Afghanistan decreases.

The land bordering the Durand Line could not be better suited for this proxy war as it plays host to just about every terrorist group and undesirable element imaginable. It is, of course, from this area where al-Qaeda plotted against the U.S. in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The remnants of al-Qaeda central are still plotting against America there today, and they are joined by militant and terrorist groups planning attacks on countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Pakistan itself. Even the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is getting in on the action along the Durand Line.

The crisis engulfing the Middle East as a result of ISIS’s rise was another major focus of Ancram’s discussion on Tuesday. He noted that, in many ways, the origins of the current crisis can be traced back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom and France. Like the Durand Line—which arbitrarily divided the Pashtun people between Afghanistan and the British Raj—Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot redrew the Ottoman Empire after World War I without regard for the people on the ground. The result divided existing societal groups—like the Kurds—among different countries, while grouping historical adversaries—most notably, Shia and Sunni—together.

As a result, the international borders of the Middle East have long been contested by everyone from Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda. ISIS is only the latest the join the fight. It also might be the most dangerous. Calling the group a “virus,” Ancram noted that ISIS had already conquered a landmass roughly the size of the United Kingdom. It also has the potential to “spread like a virus” to other places like Jordan, Yemen and perhaps even Saudi Arabia. Despite this danger, Ancram advised against the West continuing to intervene militarily, which has proved ineffective and in fact further fueled nationalism and Islamism in the Middle East.

Western military interventions in the Middle East have also alienated the growing Muslim communities in the West, who themselves are one example of how Europe is still being impacted by its colonial past. Another legacy of colonialism in Europe today, according to Ancram, is the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West, which have their roots in the Yalta Agreement. At Yalta, “three old men” bequeathed Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Once this area was under Soviet control, large numbers of ethnic Russians began moving into the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. Often they concentrated in certain areas.

They soon became “trapped” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as NATO and the European Union began rapidly expanding eastward. As former Warsaw and Soviet states aligned themselves with the West, they began viewing their ethnic Russian populations more and more like “fifth columns.” This, in turn, further alienated the ethnic Russian populations. The results of these dynamics have been all too apparent as of late in places like Ukraine.

Fortunately, Ancram sees a potential way out of these conundrums. Specifically, he pointed to Northern Ireland as a potential model for Ukraine and other countries living under the long shadow of colonialism to follow. In particular, the concept of “parity of esteem,” which is the foundation of the Belfast Agreement, could help the world extinguish the ghosts of imperialism once and for all.

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Menendj​