Challenges in Nuclear Posture and Deterrence from Pakistan’s Perspective

Author: Sultan, Adil1

Published in National Security Journal, 24 December 2021

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20211224.05  

Download full PDF version – Challenges in Nuclear Posture and Deterrence from Pakistan’s Perspective (263 KB)


India and Pakistan are engaged in a nuclear arms competition with new technologies and systems that have a direct bearing on their respective doctrines and nuclear postures. The statements by senior Indian leadership over the past few years throw into question the viability of India’s no-first-use posture and have placed further stress on the deterrence relationship between these two regional adversaries. India’s efforts to explore space for a limited war in a nuclearised environment have encouraged Pakistan to introduce remedial measures in the form of short-range ballistic missiles. These are part of its full spectrum deterrence, which aims to deter an entire spectrum of conventional and nuclear threats. India’s work to operationalise its second-strike capability, acquisition of ballistic missile defences and development of hypersonic weapons could undermine regional strategic stability. These efforts require countermeasures on the part of Pakistan to ensure deterrence stability between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

Keywords: Cold Start Strategy, Pro-active Operations Strategy, Full Spectrum
Deterrence, No First Use, South Asia


China, India and Pakistan are building military nuclear capabilities and developing new doctrines that are generally perceived to be part of a triangular competition.1 However, the scope and trajectories of their military developments suggest that even if these three are embroiled in an arms race, they seem to be moving on different tracks. China is building capabilities to counter the US threat. In turn, India reacts to China by making qualitative and quantitative improvements to its own nuclear arsenal, which forces Pakistan to take corrective measures to ensure the credibility of its deterrence posture against India. This action-reaction phenomenon may give a perception of triggering a triadic nuclear competition in South Asia. Yet it could best be described as a set of two asymmetric dyads between China and India, and between India and Pakistan. There are several explanations behind this. India perceives China to be its principal adversary but continues to maintain Pakistan-specific conventional and nuclear postures. As India grows in size in terms of conventional and nuclear capabilities, in the process re-orienting its security interests, it may decide to ‘decouple’ its military doctrines to deal with China and Pakistan differently.2 This could result in a more aggressive posture against Pakistan to assert its dominance over relatively smaller regional powers, while ensuring credible deterrence against China. Maintaining two different sets of doctrines and planning to fight a ‘two-front’ war would have its own inherent problems of operationalisation.3

This is due to the fact that no nuclear state has the capacity to maintain two different sets of nuclear postures against two different nuclear powers. Thus, while Indian discourse may argue that both China and Pakistan are linked, in reality India deals with the two differently, as was witnessed during its recent border skirmishes with both China and Pakistan. Notwithstanding the discourse in India, the reality is that neither China nor Pakistan will fight for each other against India. Both have their own security interests and military doctrines. To better understand these shifting dynamics, this essay will address prevailing uncertainties and misperceptions about nuclear use policies of India and Pakistan to analyse South Asian nuclear developments that keep the region in a state of flux between stability and instability.

1 Adil Sultan is the Dean and Head of Department at Air University in Pakistan.