Let's stop being MAD, move to CBMs

In 1998, India went nuclear. Within weeks, Pakistan followed suit with multiple nuclear tests. Having included nuclear weapons in their ever-growing arsenal, both India and Pakistan now have incorporated nuclear capabilities into their defence planning. Though we now have the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine as the guiding philosophy of minimum credible deterrence, it is a fact that asymmetries exist in the forces of the two countries. As the neighbours look at their threats, strategy and tactics in different ways, it's quite natural that these differences will continue. But, we believe, India and Pakistan have both reached a point where they should move from being MAD to following CBMs (confidence building measures).

The time is right for India and Pakistan to share information about their respective deterrence postures with each other. Such understanding could be critical in a tense situation. Both the countries have mutually resolved to enhance strategic stability in our region, as affirmed in the Lahore Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 1999. One possibility for furthering this goal is to consider retiring their oldest, first-generation, nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), which are at the end of their natural lifespan. Pakistan's HATF 1 & 2, and India's Prithvi 1 & 2 have served their purpose and will be eventually retired unilaterally according to each nation's normal decommissioning process. We propose a plan of mutual transparency measures that would share information about the retirement of these missiles on a reciprocal, bilateral basis - without impinging on the continuing modernisation of both sides' strategic forces. The retirement of other nuclear capable, obsolescent ballistic missiles can then follow in the same cooperative spirit.

Some people may find this proposal absurd, but we know what we are talking about. We have participated in an in-depth study and, recently, in a mock exercise to explore how information exchanges between the two countries could be conducted. We are confident that such an exchange could be achieved with minimal risk and costs and yet provide important reassurance about significant changes in deterrence postures. 

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, S M Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, recently reaffirmed their commitment to pursue CBMs in connection with their ongoing composite dialogue. A working group on peace and security matters is charged with exploring CBMs in the security area. For starters, the two countries can begin the CBM process by conducting a Joint Transparency Exercise (JTE) to exchange information about retired missiles. With the voluntary retirement of these obsolescent missiles already imminent, New Delhi and Islamabad could make a virtue of a necessity by adding reciprocal transparency to the process. Our studies show such a joint CBM is ripe for consideration and could be conducted in the near term. A first step might be to declare these nuclear capable missiles to be non-nuclear delivery systems. Then, as these missiles are removed from the nuclear arsenal, the two governments can build trust and understanding as experts from both the countries expand cooperation in the drawdown of obsolete forces.

This is a small step. It has been endorsed by several prestigious expert groups. We have studied the practical details of how such ideas could be implemented. We concluded that such exchanges could be powerful tools in enhancing mutual confidence and signal maturity as responsible nuclear powers. The costs and risks for India and Pakistan are small, but the potential benefits are great. It is a step whose time has come.