The End of Cold Start Doctrine?

By Ahmed Khan


India’s development of an offensive military doctrine after the 2001 attack on its parliament was meant to create a strategic advantage over Pakistan. Has it worked?

The imbalance created between India and Pakistan due to the Indo-U.S nuclear agreement, coupled with their strategic partnership with the U.S. in various technological and scientific fields, has created a new security situation in South Asia. Pakistan has limited economic strength and military capabilities compared to its historical rival. The asymmetric nature of their conventional and non-conventional military forces has created a disparity in their strategic relationship. Moreover during the past decade and a half, Indian policymakers, along with its military leadership, have devised a new strategy that envisions and enables a limited war by conducting surgical strikes on Pakistan.

The more offensive doctrine formulated became known as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) after the military standoff in 2001-2002 with Pakistan. Prior to CSD, Indian military formations were deployed alongside its western border. This military posture – referred to as the “Sundarji Doctrine” – was defensive, and relied on utilizing deterrence through the presence of large military formations to ward off incursion from Pakistan. During the 1980s and 1990s, these formations were in large part located deeper inside India. However, the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament demonstrated the limitations of this approach; it took almost two weeks to gather the full strength of the Indian military along the Pakistani border, losing any strategic advantage. The Indian military establishment thus took a cold, proactive step to change its strategic posture and enable a more rapid response. This strategy positioned ‘pivot’ corps closer to the border that could be more swiftly mobilized for an effective strike.

The foremost objective of the Cold Start doctrine was to act offensively against Pakistan in case of a perceived threat. In doing so, India could launch pre-emptive strikes without giving Pakistan time to react militarily and diplomatically. For the last two decades, India has steadily built up a strong Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system in order to strengthen its missile capacity. Taking all this into account, according to Robert Jervis, “most means of self-protection simultaneously menace others”. This has pushed Pakistan to readjust its credible minimum deterrence vis-à-vis India. Pakistan’s approach has always been defensive with the intention of maximizing its security in the region.

In response, Pakistan sensed the opportunity to develop its tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, to both strengthen its credible minimum deterrence and respond to CSD. This was the chief reason behind the development of HATF-IX (NASR) – the tactical weapons delivery system – and its 2011 test. NASR—a 60 KM range missile—can carry both conventional and non-conventional warheads, employing counter-force targeting strategy. The development of such systems—Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) and their delivery systems—assures a strengthened Pakistani position in the subcontinent and challenge to India, despite the varied implications of the development and deployment of such military weapons.

Indian defense policies in South Asia have been to coerce smaller states, including Pakistan, through its military superiority. Far from coercion however, the Indian BMD system and its overwhelming conventional capabilities has prompted Pakistan to readjust its deterrence capabilities. Pakistan’s efforts to equalize its deterrence capabilities will eventually bring more stability in South Asia. NASR proved to the world that Pakistan has attained a sufficient number of nuclear weapons, including their delivery means, with assured second strike capabilities. Currently, Pakistan is facing multiple threats to its security, both inside and outside its borders. However, Pakistan continues to focus on its external security environment, and will not hesitate to readjust the level of its credible minimum deterrence, to maintain military equilibrium with India. Far from creating a strategic advantage, India’s military doctrine has continued to raise the stakes for power in the region and ensures that “the contest remains at the doctrinal level”.

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