Recent articles published by the leading news organizations reflect a blatant bias that is dangerous in its dishonesty.
It would be laughable if the intent weren’t so obviously slanted and, therefore, perfidious.
Let’s begin with an April 6 editorial in The New York Times, titled “Nuclear Fears in South Asia.”
The term “South Asia” in the piece is misleading. The “agonized” piece is all about Pakistan. I did an exercise, a simple one. It’s called Ctrl-F! India comes up 13 times, Pakistan 17 times. Seems okay so far given the South Asia in the caption. Except, statistics, like appearances, can be deceptive. A closer reading throws up these lines where “India” appears in the editorial:
- capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India.
- whose only purpose is use on the battlefield in a war against India.
- continuing obsession with India as the enemy.
- especially since India’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at about 110 weapons, is growing more slowly.
- Narendra Modi of India has made it clear that Pakistan can expect retaliation if Islamic militants carry out a terrorist attack in India, as happened with the 2008 bombing in Mumbai. But the latest major conflict was in 1999, and since then India, a vibrant democracy, has focused on becoming a regional economic and political power.
- cannot match the size and sophistication of India’s conventional forces.
- China, which considers Pakistan a close ally and India a potential threat…
This sample of 13 mentions of India in an editorial that deals with nuclear fears in “South Asia” should give readers a sense of the content and thrust of this piece. But wait. Let me give some examples by completing some of the sentences above!
- Last month, Pakistan test-fired a ballistic missile that appears capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any part of India.
- And a senior adviser, Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, reaffirmed Pakistan’s determination to continue developing short-range tactical nuclear weapons whose only purpose is use on the battlefield in a war against India.
- These investments reflect the Pakistani Army’s continuing obsession with India as the enemy…
- Pakistan now has an arsenal of as many as 120 nuclear weapons and is expected to triple that in a decade. An increase of that size makes no sense, especially since India’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at about 110 weapons, is growing more slowly.
- Even more troubling, the Pakistani Army has become increasingly dependent on the nuclear arsenal because Pakistan cannot match the size and sophistication of India’s conventional forces.
To put things in perspective, the editorial opens thus: “The world’s attention has rightly been riveted on negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. If and when that deal is made final, America and the other major powers that worked on it—China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—should turn their attention to South Asia, a troubled region with growing nuclear risks of its own.
“Pakistan, with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, is unquestionably the biggest concern, one reinforced by several recent developments…”
As if on cue, the BBC’s Jawad Iqbal, identified as “Analysis and insight editor” published a piece on April 14, titled “Nuclear tensions rising in South Asia.” While those of us who deal with these matters haven’t seen any indication of said rising tensions—quite the contrary, in fact—the BBC insight editor’s insights cannot be faulted by people in a former colony.
For some “inexplicable” reason, Iqbal also begins with the lamentation that “The time, attention and effort devoted to reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions has unwittingly tended to obscure the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation elsewhere in the world.”
In other words, Iqbal believes—at least that’s what the above-quoted sentence conveys—that the world should pay equal attention to “proliferation elsewhere in the world,” i.e., South Asia, i.e., Pakistan. Perish the thought, however, that South Asia is in a completely different category. Facts, as the cliché goes, must never stand in the way of “analysis and insight.”
Iqbal’s piece also takes Pakistan first, mentions its internal troubles and instability, its growing nuclear arsenal, its deal with China for eight submarines, its first-use doctrine, its strategic partnership with China. All of this is pro forma. Check any writing and you will find analysts after analysts picking up these phrases, as if from a shelf in journalism’s Walmart in the section labeled ‘South Asia.’ India is mentioned, of course, but in the context of security threats to her from Pakistan, China and, worse, the Sino-Pakistan strategic partnership. Oh, and yes, India’s arsenal is growing at a slower pace and India has a no-first-use policy.
Corollary: Something needs to be done to tackle South Asia, code for Pakistan, so India’s security concerns are addressed and the country, the only power that has defied history and its lessons in realpolitik, can be allowed to grow peacefully and acquire its rightful place as a regional power, thank you.
It takes a genius, clearly, to realize that threat—perceptive or real—does not flow in and from one direction. It is always bi- or multi-directional. Salvador de Madariaga, once chairman of the League of Nations Disarmament Commission, put it most poignantly:
“The trouble with disarmament was (and still is) that the problem of war is tackled upside down and at the wrong end… Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.”
But let’s get down to the nuclear issue, starting with first-use and the mythical no-first-use (NFU). NFU declarations mean nothing in operational terms. There are two important factors here. One, NFU is insubstantial in military terms unless it can be verified; two, since Indian and Pakistani capabilities, despite the tests, remain opaque it is impossible to verify that the forces on one or both sides are configured for an NFU policy.
Simply declaring NFU intent is merely a political statement. How, if at all, can it be verified that such a policy declaration has any military meaning? Are there any parameters through which this can be achieved?
Li Bin, a Chinese nuclear strategist, presented five important parameters through which a state can project its NFU intent (and the rival states can verify that intent): the size of the nuclear force; the composition of that force; the number of warheads on each missile; the accuracy of nuclear weapons (whether counter-value or counter-force targeting); and, the strength of the conventional forces.
Let’s consider them in order.
Force size: Is the force configured for a first or a retaliatory strike? This, says Li Bin, can be worked out by comparing ‘the number of retaliating warheads with the minimum number of warheads required for producing intolerable damages.’ In other words, if the number of retaliating warheads is much bigger than the minimum number required for causing intolerable damage to the adversary, then the force is not configured for NFU. If, on the other hand, the number of retaliating warheads is much smaller than the minimum number required for a counter-strike, then it not only reflects an NFU commitment but a no-use commitment. Clearly, then, the NFU commitment lies between these two extremes. Even so the problem with this approach is how to determine the minimum number that lies between first- and no-use commitments. While Li Bin estimates the number at several warheads (itself rather vague), others have estimated it at several hundred warheads.
The other problems with this parameter relate to whether that minimum number should be deployed; if not, what should be the distance between the delivery vehicles and the warheads and so on. Overall, however, this is an approach that seems to eschew LOW [launch on warning] or even LUA [launch under attack]. It must verifiably be wedded to LAA [launch after attack].
Force composition: Does the force have TNWs [tactical nuclear weapons] designed for battlefield or theater use? Are they deployed in operational mode, which might suggest the country intends to use them first? On the other hand, as Li Bin notices, a country may interpret its NFU commitment to mean ‘not to use its nuclear weapons first outside its territory.’ It could then use a TNW on its own soil against advancing enemy troops without breaking its NFU commitment. Again, determining this intent is extremely difficult.
Accuracy of weapons: If the CEP [circular error probable] of the missiles is much less than the lethal radius of the target, then the weapon is very accurate and would be configured for attacking point targets. And counterforce targeting would usually point to first use, indeed pre-emption with the intention of taking out the enemy’s arsenal. This is not the case with counter-value targeting where accuracy does not count. Still, it would be very difficult to determine the accuracy of the adversary’s missiles unless one is sure of what technologies are being used for missile development.
Conventional force: A country can give an NFU commitment only when it is confident that its conventional capability renders the use of nuclear weapons unnecessary. If that is not the case, then it would escalate to the nuclear level quickly. This is why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was (and remains) wedded to first-use. But the interesting point here is that post-cold-war documents from East Germany have revealed that the Soviet commitment to NFU was eyewash. In case of a conflict in central Europe, the Warsaw Pact forces were configured for first-use.
In simple English, NFU is for birds, thank you. [NB: Iqbal of the BBC, incidentally, needs to check if the United Kingdom, probably still threatened by the Russian Federation and possibly France and Germany, has a first-use policy. His next insight should then be on that topic.]
As for India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, to equate the ‘problem’ with Iran’s ambitions and to refer to their arsenals as “proliferation” in the legal-coercive sense of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is to betray a clear lack of understanding of the issue. Incidentally, one of the baskets in the India-Pakistan dialogue framework relates specifically to nuclear risk reduction measures. The sherpas on both sides have done a lot of work and instituted some safeguards. A lot more work needs to be done, for sure, but none of that is the business of journalists belonging to either the redoubtable New York Times or the equally impressive BBC.
Finally, the issue of growing arsenals and Pakistan’s acquisition of submarines. The first is based on guesstimates, the second is crucial for stabilizing deterrence.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider