Waving at Weaponization: The Next Step


Waving at WeaponizationHow does one control an unimaginable and unmatched power of destruction? How does a state that houses in a plethora of views and opinions to partake decisions that are paradoxical in nature? What ensures a failsafe when dealing with instruments of absolute devastation, associating with them an absolutely equal response on the practitioner? These are questions that are summarized in one word, ‘deterrence’; a word which has in it countless interpretations and options and concerns.

When we ask men of strategy and test their knowledge of the subject, we come across countless paradigms that can never be prioritized, as every one of them secures a vital factor or a circumstantial crucial threshold. We come across the idea of installing theoretical ‘red lines’, violating which will be tantamount to the deployment of strategic assets to ensure state sanctity. Then we come across the contours and constraints of the state under question while defining the limits and ‘thresholds of tolerance’, which can be either geographic or ideological in nature. Some states surpass their mainland and to secure their own foreign leverages, move a fraction of their assets to like-minded nations under the option of ‘extended deterrence’ against an enemy that may or may not pose a direct threat to their actual sovereign territory. There are other nations that are in a geographical quagmire and their only option is an aggressive approach in defense,) against adversaries in either close proximity or adversaries offering direct justifications for aggression by indulging in minor conflicts.

The sum total of all the interpretations and instances that we come across all collectively shares unique qualities and offers grave concerns, but they all have one thing in common; the question of authorization. As soon as this question is floated, an endless debate ensues, rather a fierce joust of possibilities. Some nations compare their adversarial relationship with the Cold War between the US and the USSR, while some nations uphold their nuclear reality to be a unique instance, some go for rapid expansion in their strategic arsenal while others suggest global zero but all of them, yet again, stop short at the repository of authority, the decision making institution, in layman terms; the people who will push the button.

The Understanding of deterrence within India and Pakistan is based upon a complex system of accumulation of nuclear weapons; and like the Cold War indicators of deterrence, the  presence of nuclear weapons at a certain level is a must. Considering this to be a baseline, the small range ballistic missiles present in India and Pakistan is a complex matter. Understanding this fact and small range ballistic missiles to be the subject matter, the possibility of elimination or systematic removal of this missile system seems farfetched. This is because of the complex  yet delicate balance of deterrence among the two nations. The implication of the fact that small range ballistic missiles seem to be an outdated technology, considering the status quo, their impact on a strategy still remains constant. The following imperatives must be kept in mind while assessing the issue of the dissolution of small range ballistic missiles systems:

Considering the absence of arms control mechanisms between India and Pakistan and the fact that both nations have not yet agreed to settle a precise quotient of arsenal to maintain the fabric of deterrence, the small range ballistic missiles systems will remain constant. Furthermore, because of the absence of any substantial CBMs concerning nuclear weapons between both the nations, the correspondence restricted to the exchange of necessary information concerning nuclear weapons, there are less chances of any reduction of the nuclear arsenal through the disbandment of SRBMs. The geographical proximity of both the nations is such that the ICBM technology is of no use when it comes to issuing direct deterrence. The development of the ICBM technology would always pose an ideological or theoretical threat rather than an actual geo-strategic apprehension.

The fact is the economic condition of Pakistan and the rapid expansion of the Indian Nuclear arsenal (Chakri systems, BrahMos systems) do not allow Pakistan to reduce their nuclear arsenal by disbanding the SRBM systems. This will weaken the MCD among the two nations and can lead to aggravation of the situation. Furthermore, India will also avoid any reduction-based ventures, as their nuclear policy is addressing the relation between two nations, and a reduction by removing outdated SRBMs would indicate fissures in their nuclear deterrence which is not affordable. Where rapid technological sophistication is not occurring amongst the two nations in terms of their nuclear arsenals, disbandment of any existing stockpile project is quite a distant future as it seems.

Where we are engaged in our own concerns and problems, we come across a country that takes nuclear weapons and the idea of deterrence to a whole new level. The recent Hypersonic Glide Vehicle tested by China puts nuclear weapons and the future of deterrence to unimaginable heights. The Ballistic Missile Defense Shields, as per the requirement of developed nations possessing nuclear arsenals, served as one of the few viable contingencies to avoid any sort of nuclear exchange. The BMDS may merely be an apprehension, and full operational success may only be an apparition of the accomplishment that the states possessing this technology portray, but the existence of even an inch of apprehension of failure in case of a first strike is enough to deter an adversary from engaging into any frenzy of emotions.

But what exactly is the consequence of this endeavor launched by China? How has China and their newly tested weapon tilted the delicate balance of global deterrence? Has China taken what may be dubbed as the ‘first proper step towards the weaponization of space’? Has this new device tested the American wits as the Soviets did by launching Sputnik I? All these questions pose rather threatening challenges to the global disarmament initiative. Where the US and the Soviet Union had had enough of accumulation of considerable stockpiles, at the end of the Cold War and now, the Chinese initiatives have changed the name of the game. But to keep up with the participants, there are a few things that one has to keep in mind.

Technological Advancement: The idea of staying within the space race is cemented by the requisite that all participants must have an ample level of technological advancement to ensure that they ‘stay in the game’. This requires that states should have vast space-related expertise like rocketry, ballistics, robotics, satellite-based expertise and other technical knowledge.

Investment: The states engaged in space must have an economic structure that allows vast investments and allows programs that require the government to make massive budgets, as space exploration is an expensive ordeal and cannot be conducted if the level of investment does not match the respective program to be initiated. The current space race contenders (US, China, Russia and others) have invested a lot in the space race and exploration, and still continue to fund programs even though they do experience failures which result in a direct kickback on the economy of the country.

Stamina for competition: The idea of launching a satellite or any space-based technology is not enough. The basic idea behind the space race is continuity of the course once taken. Even though many states have collaborated and have cooperated through joint ventures in order to reach the space, this is not enough. Countries aspiring to join this endeavor must have the sustainability within their aspirations in order to keep up with the level of competition that exists at status quo.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars Initiative) by the Ronald Reagan administration gave a boost to the idea and the Fall of the Soviet Union augmented the same, but quite the contrary to what was speculated, the Russian Federation joined the club and continued from where the USSR left. The turn of events took China and India as it went along and quickly, the threat level escalated. The US dominance within the space in terms of technology and militarization of the outer space was evident, and even though the Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) was initiated by the Conference of Disarmament within the United Nations framework, the United States declared such initiatives unnecessary claiming that there was no weaponization of the outer space and the committee dissolved in 1994.

The United Nations, through resolutions like the Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities and the 2008 Russo-Chinese draft on the Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, and the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) are trying to create legitimate checks and balances and procedures to address the issue of space militarization, but the nature of the issue and the technicalities involved thereof allow excessive leverage and flexibility for states to maintain their current streak and this, in essence, is detrimental to the entire issue at hand.

The space race has had severe repercussions over the globe as it has triggered a series of strategic instabilities that have created a lot of queries to global security. The idea of space dominance has turned into a frenzy where the competing nations cannot withdraw or forfeit their participation because of several factors, and the nations that cannot compete now feel insecure and apprehensive beyond comprehension. The following major implications can be identified:

1-Nuclear Weapon States: The space race has severely deteriorated the essence of deterrence and the idea of a balance or parity between contending nations. This raises the level of apprehensions within states and particularly those that have nuclear weapons. This instability factor causes states to have more hair-triggering and any set of actions can cause grave consequences.

2- Global Economic Fabric: Even though states have invested a lot in space exploration and this counts as an advancement of the knowledge quotient of mankind, the idea of using space and space-related technology to serve military purposes can carry an entirely different connotation. The levels of military budgets of the countries contending this race have risen exponentially, instead of investments in civilian frameworks like poverty reduction or agricultural innovations. Considering the current global economic trends and the recent economic fluctuation, the idea of excessive spending in space-based military programs can cause further economic degradation.

3- Environmental Hazards: The space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk and space waste, is the collection of objects in orbit around the Earth that no longer serve any useful purpose. These objects consist of everything from spent rocket stages and defunct satellites to erosion, explosion and collision fragments. This not only degrades the space environment and poses a potential risk to the operational satellites and spacecraft programs, but can also be attracted to the earth and cause a catastrophe if potent enough to do so.

4- Militarization or Weaponization: There is widespread confusion within the understanding of the idea whether the states are pursuing militarization or weaponization of the space? Militarization is the utilization of space-related technology to support and assist the armed forces, like reconnaissance or weapon guiding systems, whereas the weaponization of space is the idea of making space-based weapons; but the word ‘space-based weapons’ is flexible and open to interpretation which causes apprehensions. The states that have developed Anti Satellite Weapons (ASAT) are also utilizing this flexibility to their advantage, as ASAT weapons can also be categorized as space weapons, apart from ballistic missiles or other relevant weapons. This allows states to pursue further weapons development and weapons programs that causes apprehensions, insecurities and can cause instability beyond comprehension.


Whatever the rationale provided by the nations and the subsequent Anti Satellite Weapons Systems developed thereof with constant development of space-based weapons, the idea is that nations within the space are indulged into activities that are causing massive strategic turbulence within the international security framework and can cause massive damage of an irreversible nature. Besides, the nations are focused on using space as a means and a medium for military domination, and this can also cause severe dents in the contemporary deterrence. The idea that satellites are themselves targets and the idea that a satellite can target ground objectives, apart from the fact that satellites do assist nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, allows states to naturally escalate in a tense environment and can erode deterrence faster than we can imagine.

The environmental hazards posed by the space race can also cause massive irreversible consequences for the planet and can also expose the earth to unimaginable risks. Furthermore, the technological dependence of the population is also a factor that must be taken into consideration. If a satellite, communications satellite for instance, is targeted and subsequently destroyed, the debris from that destruction would cause damage to other satellites in its path and would cause the communications links on earth to be severed until the damaged satellite is repaired or replaced which would cause severe economic repercussions to the world.

Even though the space race has had countless benefits in the field of science and knowledge, the risks of strategic instability cannot be excluded from the equation. Any satellite or space-related equipment can be viewed as a military instrument as they do serve the purpose.

is a Masters in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defense University. He can be reached on m.sharrehqazi@hotmail.com

Discussion8 Comments

  1. Nice one. Author has attempted a genuine concern. Nations like US, Russia, China, India and Japan and may be West Europe are working towards using space for military purposes. Today China is flexing muscles because it has advanced militarily and economically and has put herself in the space race. While Japan a one time economic and technological super power is losing its grip because it did not do enough for military advancement. Now Japan has realized its mistake and going to work on military build up. It has realized that it can not outsource its defence to a third party (read US).

    Nuclear Weapons are no longer a deterrent as only a rogue will use it. Kargil War between India and Pakistan both nulear armed nations is an example as also the border issues between china and India. So what will give a nationa an edge? its the economy and super advanced technology like space as weapons. Weapons that would only cause economic loss and no loss of life.

    It requires an imagination and vision to foresee the future requirements. Indian space program, mostly its moon and mars missions, is being criticised for reinventing the wheel but today its emerged as one of the space powers with indigenous cryogenic technology. US put immense pressure on Russia and other nations to deny indian technology and to fail india’s space program but india succeeded. Now US is doing the same with Iran which too has realized that space is more important than nuclear weapons.

  2. The great rivals of cold war era invented massive number of nuclear weapons with sophisticated delivery systems. To become global hegemon east west confrontation reached at peak. In order to deter each other nuclear weapons and missiles tests were used as policy tools. The nuclear arms race between east and west resulted in massive weaponization of entire world. Soon after Indian nuclear tests of 1974, the arch rival, Pakistan felt great threat from Indian side. To counter Indian nuclear domination Pakistan tested its 1st nuclear weapon in 1998. Today in order to maintain BOP in south Asia both states are developing more lethal weapons. The nuclear race was initiated by India moving towards an unending journey. India is thinking to become regional power hence pursuing hawkish policies to deter regional adversaries. But the Indian dream of regional power is totally unacceptable for Pakistan.

    • There is absolutely no balance of power between a Tiger and a jackal regardless of how much nail the jackal grows or sharpen its teeth. There is nothing like nuclear race. I got 100 bombs of 1 kg each and you got only 10 bombs of 1 ton each makes no difference when it comes to nukes. Indian stand is clear, if anyone drops on india 1kg nuke, India will bombard it with tons of nukes. End result…. the end of the world.
      India is not going to ask Pakistan on its way to be the super power. Its among top 10 economies and among top 4 militaries. It hardly matters if someone acepts it or not.

  3. The logic of nuclear deterrence downplays the likelihood of preemptive war between new nuclear states. For Kenneth N. Waltz, preemption is viable “only if the would-be attacker knows that the intended victim’s warheads are few in number, knows their exact number and locations, and knows that they will not be moved or fired before they are struck. To know all of these things, and to know that you know them for sure, is exceedingly difficult.” Also, because nuclear weapons are easy to hide and move, creating uncertainty for the attacker does not require advanced technology.

    • Nuke deterrence is only for nuke war. Pakistan fought India in Siachin despite knowing India is a nuclear power and again in 1999 when both nations were nuclear.
      The only deterrence for future wars will be ability to crush the enemy economically and perhaps through space weaponization. The article has tried to bring out this very point.

  4. Situation of Cold War and South Asia has many differences, Indian increasing conventional arms and missile technology is not providing any leverage to its neighboring countries and started a new arms race. India forced the nuclear weapons race and Pakistan has to become a nuclear capable state for deterrence. Now the battlefield weapons are also a major threat but Pakistan has responsibly responded to the war imposing strategies of India, international community should restrict India as it is not only a threat to regional but to global stability.

    • Indian nuclear test in 1974 did not deter pakistan from fighting Siachen and also Kargil War in 1999. Hence nuclear arms are no deterrent. Nuclear weapon will be suicidal for any country that will use it.
      India did not start nuclear race in south asia, India’s nuclear program dates back to pre 1947. Its Pakistan which vowed to make nukes in 1971 even if that amounted to eating half rotis by pakis. then indiahad not even tested its nukes. So plz dont try to fool the world.

      Reg arms race, India has to defend more than 21000 kms of borders and sea coast. India faces threat from china and Pakistan together. China occupies Aksai Chin and still claims Arunachal. India spends nothing on its army as compared to china. Tomorrow Srilanka, Bangladesh, Maldives etc all can get into arms race with India, no one can stop them. Plz remember, India’s arms race is with China and Pakistan combined. Please compare the two armies against India and then blame India for the arms race. china and pak combined have 30 lakh army against 13 lakhs of india. Chinese defence budget is more than 3 times of India. Indian army needs to be more than double to match up the threats.

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