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Evolving Naval Nuclear Dynamics in the Indo-Pacific
03 December 2012

To address the issue of ’evolving naval nuclear dynamics in the Indo-Pacific’ region, Observer Research Foundation invited R. Adm. (retd.) Raja Menon, career officer and a submarine specialist in the Navy, and Iskander Rehman, an Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, for a discussion. The event was held on November 29, 2012 and was ably chaired by Lt. Gen. (retd.) Nirbhay Sharma, while Dr. P.K Ghosh was the principal discussant.

Navies in contemporary times: The declining importance of navies in the post-Cold War security scenario was brought out. However, the fact that China and India continue to invest in the naval sector was also highlighted. The trends all over the world were noted: Japanese navy’s concentration on ASW (anti-submarine warfare); and South Korea’s strong technical cooperation with Germany was elucidated. The formidable force of South Korean submarines, capable of shallow water cooperation was taken as a cause of concern for People’s Republic of China. The late 1970s unsuccessful Chinese Xia class and Han class submarines were discussed and it was pointed out that Han was the most photographed submarine even while it possessed a limited operating profile (probably 100 days). Further, talking about the Soviets incapability to deploy submarines in the sea it was stated that the submarines were kept in ’caves’ as the state was afraid of a decapitating first strike. Doubts were raised about the longevity of the submarine in the post cold war submarine downsizing era.

India-Pakistan-China and ’the tyranny of proximity’: The ’criss-crossing’ nuclear transactions in the region were explained, given that the nuclear bi-polarity was over. The tension in the Sino-U.S relationship over South-China Sea and the uncompromising stance of the Chinese on the contested water was discussed. ’Close proximity’ among the states, according to some speakers was leading to conflicts. After the 1998 India-Pakistan nuclear tests, sea based nuclear systems had come into picture. The motivations for underlying militarization in India and Pakistan were analyzed during the meeting. Prestige and rationality were some of the reasons for India to pursue militarization while Pakistan had strategic issues and comparative conventional military inferiority on its mind. According to experts, the ’Tyranny of proximity’ was leading to misunderstandings. Nuclear brinkmanship and escalation of risk in the region was brought to light. The cyclic effect of India-China nuclear interactions on India-Pakistan and vice versa was deliberated. Hot lines for coast guards and efficient missile testing notifications were suggested as potential provisions to mitigate these tensions.

Pakistan and naval nuclear technology: In the context of superior nuclear technology being required for naval purposes, the question of Pakistan’s ability to possess such technology or acquire it from its allies, was raised. It was stated that issues in South China Sea will not escalate to nuclear level and China will not use its nuclear assets in this area. It was informed that there were mechanisms in the region to contain escalation. Confidence building measures also existed and Pakistan had no naval nuclear assets yet, so the asymmetry was immense. ’No first use’ announced by India and the Chinese vulnerability due to dependence of its SLOC (Sea Lines of Communication) in the Indian Ocean, was pointed out. The case of the Arabian Sea and Israel-Iran confrontation were raised during the discussion along with consideration of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones and the subsequent effect it would have on the Sanya base.

It was also pointed out that naval nuclear capability was the subset of the entire larger nuclear dynamic. The possibility of using the lessons learnt from the North Korean case to handle Pakistan’s situation was sufficiently elaborated on. Conflict resolution was pitted against conflict management in the context of India and Pakistan in the due course of the discussion. It was pointed out that Pakistan was infusing instability in nuclear dynamics, unlike China. The role of cruise missiles in infusing instability was also discussed in this regard.

The event was attended by members of the strategic community and diplomats apart from the ORF faculty.

(This report is prepared by Rishika Chauhan, Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)