Nuclear Command and Control in South Asia


A bulletin author named Mustafa Kibaroglu in his essay Humanity can’t indefinitely avoid the use of nuclear weapons, writes that, “What is overly idealistic is to believe that humanity, if it possesses nuclear weapons indefinitely, will indefinitely manage to avoid nuclear war”. He then argues, “So is it realistic to wait passively for disarmament while the power to launch nuclear-tipped missiles rests with leaders whose rationality is in question?”1

I’ll argue the opposite – the claim is puzzling and over mystifying the real dangers allied with the nuclear weapon, which incorporates: the threats of nuclear terrorism and nuclear thefts.

Nuclear decision making engrosses a long list of: strategic decision makers, government officials, military officials, scientific community and political authorities – thereafter at last negative security measures such as the two men, three men rule, environment sensing devices and coded locked devices ensures that the weapons may not be used in an unauthorized fashion or accidently. Therefore, a leader single-handedly cannot order the launch of nuclear tipped missiles.

In the case of Pakistan; the lucid, comprehensive, hierarchical and legal structure of actors involved in nuclear decision making is available in open source information. ‘National Command Authority’ is chaired by Prime Minister of Pakistan – other members are Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Defence, Minister for Finance, Minister for Interior, Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff – Director General Strategic Plans Division plays the role of secretary and Strategic Plans Division is the secretariat of National Command Authority. 3

Likewise in India; the nuclear decision making brings me around to apprise the ‘Nuclear Command Authority’ which is counselled by its political and executive council. Thereafter, it includes the role of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and National Security Council (NSC) respectively – the supreme authority rests with the Prime Minister, who heads the ‘Nuclear Command Authority’ 4 5. Therefore, In South Asia nuclear decision making authority rests with multiple actors rather than any single individual.

The Cold war was organized under costly arms race and strategic competitions between super powers – At present; South Asia undergoes the Cold war fashioned arms race and strategic competition between India and Pakistan. India enjoys the lures of proliferation by the virtue of its powerful allies: the United States and U.S based Indian Diaspora – this intimidates the regional security and balance of power. This is being said for number of reasons: India has a bad record of proliferation and U.S support to India is provoking nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Last year, NTI published a risk assessment report which stipulates that in theft ranking, India has improved and ranks 21.6 Similarly, according to International Atomic Energy Commission report 1996, India has 130 occasions of safety related concerns – this is in fact alarming. 7

My own view is that the US support to India may have resulted in strengthening Indo-US relations, but at the same time it has given birth to the costly arms race in South Asia – intimidating the International Security Environment.

The newly elected republican government should immediately cut the defence and nuclear agreements with India – which otherwise is idealistic and anything more than a wishful thinking to stop the nuclear arms race in South Asia. The United States should force India to stop the activities such as illegal procurements and nuclear thefts which are the gravest threats to humanity.

On the other hand; In Pakistan’s case, it is generally believed that to realistically appraise its nuclear program, requires the coloured lens – that oversimplifies and supports the notion of world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal. However, I’ll argue opposite – that in nuclear arms stockpiling, the United States and Russia are keeping up marginally less than 1,600 operational, 3720 deployed and 8990 stockpiled warheads each 8. The United Kingdom stands around 225 warheads, Chinese and French stands steady at 250 and 300 weapons each 9  10.

This means, Pakistan is far behind those of its nuclear counter parts in stockpiling and vertical proliferation – keeping up marginally 100 to 110 nuclear weapons.11 Therefore, the notion of fastest growing nuclear arsenal is an academic myth rather than operational reality.

In case of India and Pakistan as argued above – leader single-handedly cannot order the launch of nuclear weapons. Perhaps, it may not be the case with the United States of America – the President carries nuclear football and codes to launch the order of nuclear weapons. President Trump’s control of nuclear weapons may be flustering for policy experts in US, and can be a threat to International Security.

I’ll argue – this time opposite of Mustafa Kibaroglu – once your leader presses the button, was true once upon a time.

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