A missile misfiring and its trail of poor strategic stability

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ballistic and cruise missile

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for mechanisms in the time of crisis

Context

The accidental firing of an Indian missile into Pakistan highlights the sorry state of bilateral mechanisms for crisis management between the two nuclear adversaries where there is a missile flight time of barely a few minutes.

Balance response from both side

  • The Pakistani response to the accidental firing of the missile was a balanced one.
  • While New Delhi maintained a silence over the issue until it was brought up on March 11, the Indian response was also far from denial.
  • In that sense then, the Indian and Pakistani responses to the missile (mis)firing were the best possible outcome under the circumstances given that there is little bilateral mechanism for crisis management.
  • The two sides do not have high commissioners on the other side, there is no structured bilateral dialogue, and, most importantly, the two sides have not held ‘Expert Level Talks on Nuclear Confidence Building Measures’ or ‘Expert Level Talks on Conventional Confidence Building Measures’ for several years now.

Lack of strategic stability regime

Following are the reasons why the strategic stability regime in South Asia is hardly prepared for dealing with accidents such as the one that just happened, or enhancing effective crisis management and deterrence stability.

1] Pre-notification agreement does not include cruise missiles

  • For one, although India and Pakistan signed a ‘Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles’ agreement in October 2005, it does not include cruise missiles.
  • Notably, the missile that was misfired by the Indian side earlier this month, suspected to be the BrahMos, was a cruise missile (even though it was a misfire, and not a flight test).
  • Way forward: Given the many sophisticated cruise missiles that are now a part of each side’s arsenal, it is important to include them in the pre-notification regime.

2] No structured meetings on nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs)

  • The two sides have not held their structured meetings on nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) and conventional CBMs for several years now.
  • Given the nature of the India-Pakistan relationship — adversarial, nuclear-armed, crisis prone, and suffering from trust deficit — there is an urgent need, especially in the wake of the recent incident, to revive these two dialogue mechanisms.

3] China has so far refused to engage in strategic stability discussions with India

  • The third state with nuclear weapons in the region, China, has so far refused to engage in strategic stability discussions with India even though China today is involved in the India-Pakistan conflict more than ever before, apart from being in a military standoff with India.

Way forward: Mechanisms for communicating sensitive information during crisis periods

  • India and Pakistan should consider setting up mechanisms such as nuclear risk reduction centres (NRRCs), established between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • The primary objective of NRRCs, or similar structures that can be set up on either side, is risk reduction by providing a structured mechanism for timely communication of messages and proper implementation of already agreed-upon confidence-building measures.
  • Such a body could routinely exchange messages, provide timely clarifications, and review compliance to agreements, among others.

Consider the question “The incident of the accidental firing of a missile by India highlights the issues with the strategic stability regime in South Asia. Discuss the issues and suggest the measures needed? 

Conclusion

New Delhi should provide assurances to Pakistan that efforts will be made to avoid such mistakes in the future. And both sides should use risk reduction mechanisms.

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