Missile Race in South Asia: Linear Progression Required to Cap Race?

- Aabha Dixit



Missile related developments in South Asia in recent months have been causing proliferation concerns in the region as well as among several world capitals, which many fear is already leading to an overt sub-continental missile race between India and Pakistan. While New Delhi remains perched close to deploying its indigenously developed missile systems, traditional rival, Pakistan, has been furtively trying to redress the balance by seeking to deploy Chinese supplied M-11 missiles as a response. This action-reaction syndrome between the two South Asian countries has heightened suspicions about the other's intentions. A recent Congressional Research Service Report has noted that M-11 missiles imported from China in the early 1990s had now been deployed by the Pakistan Army1. The reported test firing of the Hatf III missiles has further complicated the picture. On the other hand, the near-completion of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) has led to pressure from some quarters within India that the success of the IGMDP has cracked open the ad hoc export controls regime and New Delhi should logically follow this up with serial production of the Prithvi and Agni missile systems. This has seen Western efforts to stymie the deployment of the Prithvi missiles.

Missile development in South Asia has gradually taken root since the mid-1980s. Although the routes adopted by these countries to get to this stage have been radically different, both appear now to have reached an advanced stage of integrating these missile systems into operational modes.

India started its ballistic missile development programme much earlier than Pakistan. It also undertook the project in a much more systematic manner. According to its principal motivating force, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the IGMDP, which is now 14 years old, has reached a stage where the project has become nearly self-sufficient in all major sub-systems and technologies. On the other hand, missile development in Pakistan has occurred in fits and starts and nearly 10 years after the military government of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq made a conscious decision to initiate work on indigenously developing ballistic missiles, the programme remains mired in technical difficulties, requiring import of foreign expertise, principally from China, to keep the programme alive. The failure to induct the indigenously developed Hatf I and II missiles has meant that the Pakistan government was forced to import M-11 missiles to counter the threat posed by the de facto deployment of the Indian SSM Prithvi, which Pakistan considers as its principal missile threat.

As a missile race gathers momentum, with both countries claiming legitimate security reasons for its acquisition, its impact is bound to be felt on a far wider region. Islamabad sees ballistic missiles deployment by India as primarily targetting it, with a latent threat to the Muslim world at large as well, while justification provided for the development of missiles by Indian security analysts points to the Chinese ballistic missile programme as well as to China's continued transfer and collaboration in the development of Pakistan's missile project.

This article would briefly describe the landmarks achieved by both countries in their quest for ballistic missile acquisition, highlighting the radically different choice of strategies—military and diplomatic—adopted by both countries to keep their respective programmes alive and meet their security requirements as well. The article would then seek to explore policy options of trying to slow down the missile race, taking into account these two countries' minimum demands. It would also seek to elucidate a possible course of action that would remove ballistic missiles from being a tension escalator between different countries.

Brief History of Indian Programme

The origins of the indigenous ballistic missile programme are officially rooted in the establishment of the IGMDP in 1983.2

Numerous reasons have been provided for the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) undertaking a high profile and stand alone project such as the IGMDP. One view instinctively links its creation to the Chinese programme which started in the late 1960s. This view tends to give credence to the security environment in which India operates, which necessitates a matching response to Chinese advances. But by the time the IGMDP was created in 1983, the Chinese programme had reached criticality, being several decades ahead. The second view believes that the IGMDP was solely driven by efforts of Indian scientists to indigenously develop missiles. Dr Abdul Kalam in an interview had stated that "we are not concerned with what is happening in other countries."3 These views contrast with the official reasoning provided at the time of establishing the IGMDP. The Indian government had noted that the "continuing arms proliferation in the region and the revival of tension between the USA and then USSR... (as well as) informal discussions on ad-hoc export controls on missile-related technologies had already commenced among the G-7 countries... It was, therefore, apparent that India would have to develop its missile capability indigenously in order to ensure its national security."4 But over the years, this argument has undergone change, with greater emphasis on the regional security scenario in South Asia. The 1995-96 Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence cites sale of missiles from China to Pakistan and the development of three medium and long range ballistic missiles by China, which are to become operational by "mid and late 1990s" as the compelling reasons for India "undertaking the technology demonstrator project so as to acquire a technology for future need, if required."5 The latest Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence reiterates this theme while noting that "the indigenous development of missile capability by India is in response to the evolving security environment in its region."6

In the West, it is generally assumed that the IGMDP is essentially a derivative of the space technology programme, which, however, is denied by the Indian government. In an article in the respected journal Scientific American in 1990, Janne Nolan and Albert Wheelon had written that "the missile called Agni, was derived from space launch technology provided by France and the Soviet Union." While it is true that the core group of scientists, including Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, popularly known as India's Missile Man were connected with the satellite launch vehicle programme, which received assistance from Western countries,7 there is a growing feeling that the programme in time has come to sustain itself, independent of the space programme, specially in areas where access to dual technologies was becoming increasingly difficult. The proof of this de-linking can be easily ascertained from the two organisations fighting a turf battle for allocation of increased budgets.

In its 13-year existence, the IGMDP has earned accolades from even its most trenchant critics.8 With a total expenditure of $260 million spread over a 15-year period,9 the IGMDP was mandated with the task of design, development and production of four missile systems. It was also given an additional charge of developing the long range Agni missile, which officially continues to remain a "technology-demonstrator".

The four missile systems include:

(a) Prithvi (Earth) — a surface-to-surface battlefield missile (SSM), with a reported range of 40-150 km, capable of carrying a conventional payload of 1,000 kg. There have been reports that the Prithvi which has undergone extensive field trials and has attracted the most attention because of Pakistani preoccupations with the deployment of this missile, has a second version which carries a smaller payload of 500 kg to a longer distance of 250 km. This version was also field tested recently and according to IGMDP scientists, it fulfilled all required parameters, a scientific jargon to state that the missile is ready for deployment. This version is being designed for the Indian Navy.

(b) Akash (Sky) — a surface-to-air (SAM) missile with a range of 25 km. This system has been further refined to handle multiple targets by using phased array radars. It has new features like command guidance systems and active homing in the terminal stage. Several test flights of the missile have been conducted and the missile entered user trials in 1996.

(c) Trishul (Trident) — a short-range surface-to-air missile, it is expected to be used by all three Services. The missile is designed to counter a low level attack with a very quick reaction time and has an all weather capability. The missile uses a single stage propulsion system with a composite propellant and command guidance. This missile has been extensively tested and has already been inducted into service. The missile has also been flight tested twice in a sea-skimming role and against moving targets.

(d) Nag (Serpent) — an anti-tank missile with a range of 5 km, is considered a third generation variant with fire and forget features. Like Akash, where the IGMDP scientists appear to be testing indigenously developed technologies on a wider scale compared to the Prithvi and Trishul, the Nag is designed to tackle new reactive armour and has infra-red or millimetre wave type of guidance. Like Akash, it entered into user trials in 1996.

The fifth task given to the IGMDP related to the development of a long range missile. This missile, Agni (fire), was termed a "technology demonstrator", which its critics argue was meant to dilute any pressure that would have been generated from the US for developing a missile that crosses the physical threshold of security threats to India.10 But supporters of the IGMDP in the Indian government believe that the concept of "technology demonstrator" is valid because in the case of the 2,500-km range Agni missile, the several indigenously developed technologies were sought to be validated. These included manoeuvring re-entry of the re-entry vehicle (RV) structure by using multi-mode autocheck systems;11 and multi-stage propulsion technology including stage separations among others. But there are very few takers for this line of reasoning. They believe that Agni has remained a technology demonstrator because of enormous pressure brought to bear on New Delhi by Western countries. The Clinton Administration too continues to publicly espouse the non-deployment and eventual roll back of the programme as a top priority item for US foreign policy in South Asia. New Secretary of State Madeline Albright in her confirmation hearings re-emphasised this point.

While two of the three Agni test flights went off according to plan, the political fall out from the success saw pressure being generated on the Narasimha Rao government by the US. This pressure now appears to have been sustained to a point where neither the Rao government nor the Deve Gowda government had taken steps to test the Agni further and make it fully operational. The head of India's defence research organisation had said in mid-1996 that further testing of the IRBM Agni would be taken up soon. Most analysts, however, believe that Dr. Kalam's statement was probably made to develop counter pressure on Western countries for their stand to get India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Even otherwise, Dr. Kalam's statement by itself does not automatically mean that the Agni would be tested further because it will require a higher political decision. Even when the third development test of the Agni took place on February 19, 1994, the Washington Post wrote, "Agni is part of a $285 million programme to develop medium and long range air defence and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. The firing of the Agni missile comes at a time when the US is pressuring India to reduce or abort its medium range ballistic missile programme."12 Critics contend that with the stalling of the development of the Agni, an unreported and unconfirmed development of an inter-continental ballistic missile—Surya—has also been stunted. The Indian government has soft pedalled the issue despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in its report of February 1996 recommending that "the (Defence) Ministry should chalk out a time bound strategy in a mission mode for maximum indigenisation of a whole range of weapon systems and adhere to the targets fixed thereunder. The Government should take expeditious decision regarding serial production of Agni missile for inclusion into the Armed Forces."13 In its recent reply, the government seemed to suggest that the Agni programme was shelved following a successful demonstration of its technologies. New Delhi officially continues to maintain that "it is examining the situation consequent to the successful flights of Agni with respect to its future plans."

Notwithstanding the Parliamentary report, political indecision and a possible problem with sourcing high technology items from the West may well be potential reasons for not announcing the formal induction of the Prithvi missile as well as undertaking further testing of the Agni missile. This inert policy has brought the government in for sharp criticism from Indian security analysts. A respected Indian commentator recently wrote that, "keeping the option open is an invitation to others to apply pressure on the country to close it. By talking all the time of keeping the option open, an impression is created that the leadership does not think that the need to exercise the option is acute... The problem today is there is no visible, publicly articulated Indian policy which the Indian diplomats are called upon to defend. There is no bottomline to Indian nuclear and missile strategic posture."14

Western sources believe that the Indian programme may not be completely self reliant. As early as 1992, the Director of the Strategic Defence Initiative Organisation (SDIO), in a report titled "Ballistic Missile Proliferation: An Emerging Threat" had indicated that halogen based propellants, thrust vector nozzle, other exotic propellants, inertial-cryogenic gyros and precision accelerometers and terminal homing devices are elements of the technology required to develop ballistic missiles, which would be difficult for Third World countries, including India, to obtain. According to another source, the Indian missile programme would require technology transfer and other off-shore procurement for composite materials, speciality steels, and high purity graphite to sustain the present progress.15 A third Western source has produced a detailed tabulated list indicating the items which would be required to make the IGMDP completely operational and self-reliant:

Item Sought Potential Use

Aluminium alloy 2024-T3 with Load bearing and structural

protective coatings members

Ceramic chip capacitors Electronics

FM signal generators Development and testing of telemetry and communication system

Function generators Calibration to support advanced instrumentation for guidance and control

Gas field effect transistors Components for integrated

& bare semi-conductor chip circuits

Gear head DC motor and slewing Guidance and control

ring bearing

Equipment & software for the Development of advanced design of optical systems including imaging modules

multimeter and calibrator

Oscilloscopes Support of advanced electronics for missile guidance and other electrical systems

Torque motors Guidance and control

Video imaging module Launch support and diagnostics intelligence collection.16

With a growing emphasis in India on putting up front security considerations as witnessed in the CTBT debate, it is increasingly likely that the same arguments would be used to seek deployment of the Prithvi missile and further development and testing of the Agni. Although the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which lasted a mere 13 days in office after the 1996 general elections, had promised both these developments in the party manifesto, it is unlikely that any government in New Delhi would seek to initiate a runaway missile race unilaterally. The catalyst from the Indian perspective for accelerating the missile race is region specific, with continued Chinese assistance to Pakistan and the failure of the US to impose sanctions under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) provisions being the principal causes.

Brief History of Pakistan's Programme

In the full glare of the top Army brass, the second test of the Anza III surface-to-air missile and the Baktar Shikan anti-tank guided missile was conducted at the Nowshera Missile Testing Range. It comes close on the heels of the Hatf III missile test, fuelling fears that Islamabad is seeking to take advantage of the Prithvi deployment scare to justify and push ahead with its own ballistic missile preparation. The two-pronged strategy being adopted by Pakistan—of highlighting the Prithvi scare as well as pushing ahead with development of deterrent systems including the Hatf III—is cause for considerable concern to India, given the fact that with the acquisition of this capability, Islamabad will have for the first time the ability to target cities and strategic centres deep inside Indian territory. Apart from this disconcerting fact, the quick development of an intermediate range missile capable of carrying conventional, chemical and even nuclear warheads, is another pointer of continuing Sino-Pak collaboration in the missile field. A measured response by India will be required to meet the new security threat. Although Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has obliquely hinted at New Delhi responding with resumption of test flights of the Agni, New Delhi has been unable to articulate a clear ballistic missile production and deployment policy, which is meshed with our national security objectives.

The test launch of the 800-km missile by Pakistan in early July was opportunistic as it came soon after Islamabad launched a high voltage international campaign against the alleged deployment of the Prithvi missile. Despite an official denial by Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, Pakistani authorities have continued to highlight the Prithvi deployment scare as being Pakistan specific, forcing the otherwise friendly Gujral government of admit that such efforts constitute hostile propaganda. While trying to raise the international profile of India's indigenous IGMDP as being a threat to regional security, the Pakistani defence establishment has been relentlessly seeking international cooperation, specially from China, to develop missiles capable of deterring the Prithvi and other tactical missiles developed by the IGMDP. Before the Hatf III test took place, the Anza III had reportedly been test-fired in Nowshera. This would make the latest test the second for the Anza III. The Anza III is reported to have an enhanced range and penetration and is capable of reaching targets 10 km away. Earlier versions of Anza-Mk I and Mk II, which were developed by the A.Q. Khan Laboratories in Kahuta, had ranges of 5,000 metres and 5,500 metres. The Anza versions were inducted into the Pakistan Army in 1990 and 1994. The Anza is based on the Chinese QW-I Vanguard SAM system whose technology Beijing had transferred to Pakistan before 1994. The A.Q. Khan Laboratories has also been involved in the development of the Baktar Shikan anti-tank guided weapon and the Azar multiple rocket system for use by the Artillery Corps. The Azar is a mobile unguided rocket system for saturation fire at long range.

Unlike the Indian programme, which may have to an extent been derived from the space programme that had international collaboration, Pakistan's indigenous ballistic missile programme has been based entirely on bilateral cooperation with China though some French inputs in terms of sounding rockets and technology were available with Pakistan in the 1960s. China is now believed to have assisted Pakistan in the full range of missile development activity from transfer of sub-systems, technologies for propellant production and inertial guidance systems related to the Hatf programme to outright supply of missiles. This assessment was available with the US from as early 1989. On May 18, 1989, then CIA Director William Webster told the Senate Government Affairs Committee that China was assisting Pakistan in the development of Hatf missiles.17

The Pakistani ballistic missile programme suddenly shot into the limelight on April 25, 1988, when it was announced that the country had tested two types of ballistic missiles named Hatf I and Hatf II.18 Despite this claim by then Army Chief of Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, it is generally considered that Pakistan's missile capability was nascent. The Hatf I with a range of 80 km and a CEP of 200 metres and reportedly capable of carrying a 500-kg payload, and the Hatf II, an improved version having a longer range of 300 km, are generally thought to have been built with Chinese technology and in the presence of Chinese technicians. Although these missiles resemble the old US Army Honest John systems, Chinese assistance was crucial to make modifications which allowed them to carry high explosive warheads, which could also include chemical weapons. According to a Pakistani newsmagazine, the field trials of the Hatf ended in failure, with the missiles frequently blowing up in the air and failing to achieve the desired trajectory.19 The Hatf I was reportedly very inaccurate and the Hatf II could not reach its target range of 300 km. After a few test flights from the Mekran Coast, the Hatf I and II appear to have been practically given up in favour of developing the Hatf III. According to experts, the missiles have been riddled with numerous problems ranging from lack of a reliable on-board guidance system to urgent improvement of rocket motors.

The third missile now under development, Hatf III, which at times has been confused with the M-11 supplied by China, is the result of more active cooperation with the Chinese. The M-11s supplied to Pakistan are perhaps meant to tide over difficult times, specially as Pakistan had started invoking a heightened threat perception from the development of the Prithvi missiles across the border. In the period 1989-93, it did not have any missile capable of challenging the Prithvi because the Hatf I and II programmes did not reach up to their expectations.

The Hatf III, appears to have drawn the finest scientific talent from across Pakistan and has also received backing from the Chinese, who see the indigenous development of the Hatf III as a way out of the their commitment on the MTCR given to the US whilst fulfilling their deals with Pakistan as part of their politico-strategic relationship which has evolved over four decades. Not only have the armed forces been actively involved in the project, but the civilian space research organisation too has been coopted into the project. The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) which was established in 1961, with US assistance, has gained some experience in launch technologies. While the sounding rockets that it has launched from its base at Sonmiani Beach, some 50 km north-west of Karachi have been rudimentary in comparison to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket launching programme, SUPARCO has developed two rockets—the Shahpar, a 7 metre solid fuelled two-stage rocket that can carry 55 kg to an altitude of 450 km and the Rakhnum which can lift 38 kg to a distance of 100 km. In addition, SUPARCO has tried to develop a small satellite launcher but the project has been stalled for want of technology. There have been other reports that SUPARCO has been seeking to buy sensitive equipment and materials for the ballistic missiles programme. In 1995, SUPARCO approached several European firms for composites, specialist alloys and a range of production and testing equipment, which in turn prompted the US to write to other MTCR states about SUPARCO's plans.20 Apart from the Ministry of Defence and the Space Research Council (SRC), other bodies like the Propellant Factory in Havelian, which has been producing rocket propellant since 1967, the Aerospace Institute located in Islamabad which conducts training in space sciences, the Computer Centre in Karachi that supports SUPARCO's technological and scientific projects, the Control System Laboratories, Instrumentation Laboratories and the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories, which initially was tasked with the production of missiles, are now involved in the production of the Hatf III. This would put into perspective as to why SUPARCO was openly involved with what the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman called "a routine test without military purpose." This massive effort undertaken by Pakistan to bridge the gap appears to be the primary motivation for Islamabad to test launch the Hatf III missile. Intelligence estimates believe that the missile would be ready for deployment by 2000.

The Pakistani scientists may have opted for the enlarged capacity because of demands by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), which too has been actively involved in the project and has allowed its clandestine network to be put to use to acquire technology and equipment. It is possible that Pakistan's nuclear programme, which according to intelligence sources has advanced in pure technology, may not have resulted in miniaturisation of a warhead which could have been delivered by the Haft I and II. Hence the decision to undertaken the development of a bigger ballistic missile capable of achieving longer ranges with bigger payloads. There have been additional reports that the National Development Centre (NDC) has also been engaged in a still secret project to develop a solid propellant drive SSM. This project, which is different from the Hatf III programme, also has Chinese assistance. Broadly, the existing details available within the intelligence community indicate that the missile under development would be closer to the M-11 and would have an bigger range (approx 500km) to strike deep into Indian territory. There have been reports that the missile is near completion and could be tested in 1997 itself. But it is unclear whether the Hatf III and the recently tested missile are the same. There have been reports that the NDC, which has recently been put on the restrictive list by the US Commerce Department has been engaged in a secret project to develop a solid propellant driven surface-to-surface missile. This project is also being undertaken with Chinese assistance and some reports indicate that the missile being developed by the NDC uses either the M-9 or M-18 platform.

Although Islamabad and Beijing have denied the deployment of the M-11 missiles, the Washington Times story which rattled the US State Department sufficiently to elicit a very strong response to leaks involving sensitive information, gives every indication that some activity in the direction of deployment was being undertaken in Pakistan. This is an entirely plausible scenario, because given the failure of the Hatf 121 and II missiles to achieve a high success ratio, Islamabad has been playing up the Prithvi threat from across the border.

A greater level of Pakistani effort in this direction, combined with continued and critical Chinese assistance, could result in Pakistan acquiring nuclear capable missiles by 1998.

Is a Regional Ballistic Missile Non-Proliferation Regime Possible?

While both countries have been either developing technologies to produce missiles or seeking collaboration from other countries, they have also made diplomatic efforts to ward off international pressures of being labelled as "proliferationists."

The United States, which is the most vocal opponent of the ballistic missile race in the subcontinent, has been vigorous in trying to deal with the issue. At a regional level, the US has not made any specific proposal that would lead to a reversal of the ballistic missile race. However, in several reports presented to Congress, successive Administrations have underlined the need to contain the ballistic missile development programme of both countries. But in its attempts to weigh proliferation concerns on account of ballistic missile developments in both countries, with other compulsions, it has been forced to act in different ways. It penalised China and Pakistan in 1991 for the M-11 transfers, invoking the less harsh penalties under Category II of the MTCR on the grounds that there was no adequate proof to suggest that the entire missile systems had been transferred. While the sanctions on Pakistan lasted the full term, the Chinese sanctions were lifted prematurely, a few months later, after Beijing reached a deal with Washington, promising not to transfer missiles to third countries, but sanctions were re-imposed in 1993. Very recently, however, a US State Department spokesman acknowledged that investigations were continuing, which if they reached a point of final determination, could unleash another round of sanctions. It looks increasingly evident that one aspect of US non-proliferation policy with regard to ballistic missiles appears to be to keep the Damocles sword hanging over Pakistan in a bid to ensure that Islamabad, which has received the M-11 missiles, will never be able to deploy them.

On the other hand, the one area where India enjoys a distinct advantage over Pakistan, i.e. the ballistic missile programme being developed indigenously, has technically seen no breach of US law. Therefore, direct application of sanctions has been difficult. Instead, Washington used ISRO's deal with the Russian firm Glavkosmos for the supply of seven cryogenic engines, to trigger sanctions under MTCR provisions as contained in its domestic legislation in May 1992, which lasted a full two years. As in the Pakistani case, these sanctions appear to have made very limited impact on the IGMDP, which proceeded in field testing the Prithvi and launching the Agni for a third time. For defence scientists, the application of sanctions has become necessary justification to develop the missile systems in as short a period of time as possible. They believe that the pace of the IGMDP has already blunted the efficacy of the MTCR, which is increasingly being turned into a Missile Control Regime (MCR) and rapid deployment of the various missiles presently under development would gravely hurt the MTCR.

Sanctions have not been the only strategem adopted by the US. Working the diplomatic channels in both countries, the US has been urging them to restrain from actually deploying their ballistic missiles in operational modes. Persistence in trying to convince Indian and Pakistani government officials about non-deployment as well as using other Western countries to spread the virtues of "adhering" to the MTCR norms have also been used since 1993.22 Four member teams (Quads) from MTCR member states engaged in official dialogues with India and Pakistan in 1994.

The third element of the containment strategy has been the progressive tightening of export controls. As sanctions appear to have had a limited impact and diplomatic pressure having failed to persuade these countries to stop undertaking work on the missiles programmes, the third element has become visibly important. Not only have MTCR reporting procedures among member states been tightened considerably, as have other ad hoc export control regimes like the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group, but there has been better coordination within different wings of the US government. While sanctions against export violations may be a political decision for the US Administration, there undoubtedly is a strong and effective information gathering machinery, which prevents sale of a growing list of high technology dual-use items to target destinations like India and Pakistan. The most recent case of expanding the scope of export controls by bringing in firms like BEL is another example of this route being adopted by the West.

While the US has followed a three tiered structure in a bid to advance its non-proliferation goals in South Asia, with respect to ballistic missiles, the strategy has not paid off any dividends in stopping the development of missile systems in India and Pakistan. The only success it has achieved has been not allowing an overt deployment of missiles by the two countries.23 In India, unlike the nuclear option, which is largely defended on principled grounds—non-discrimination and universality—the missile programme has been defended on security grounds as well as the general concept of any country's right to develop defence equipment indigenously.

Across the border, between 1983 and 1993, Islamabad seemed to be content with highlighting the missile threat that it faced from the Indian programme. This stratagem was resorted to because of two considerations: first, its own indigenous programme was floundering and all attempts to catch up with the Indian programme seemed difficult to achieve. Second, by joining in the chorus of Western concerns about the likely increase in tensions because of the deployment of Indian missiles, Islamabad was hoping that international pressure would force a slow down of the IGMDP. But lately, a shift in Pakistan's position has been noticed. Abdul Sattar, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan in a recent article in The Non- Proliferation Review appears to be suggesting that Pakistan could consider a freeze on the deployment of ballistic missiles by both countries. The motive behind the implicit proposal has also been explained by Sattar. He wrote, "Pakistan's missile development programme is in its infancy, with insignificant material and manpower resources dedicated to the programme. The indigenous Hatf missile is at present said to lack an adequate guidance system. However, in the absence of a limitation agreement, Pakistan would be obliged by its threat perception to try and develop an appropriate counter to Indian missiles. Meanwhile, it has procured a small number of short range tactical missiles from China. The acquisition provided for a basis for a possible understanding with India on missile limitation."24

Impact on Security in South Asia

From an Indian perspective, missile development and deployment is generally considered to be part of any country's right to self-defence as provided under the UN Charter. Therefore, the official Indian position seeks to delineate the ballistic missile issues from the larger goals of arms control and nuclear disarmament.

The Indian missile programme when viewed within the security prism, tends to take a wider position. After having fought a border war with China in 1962 and having an unresolved border question with that country, Indian defence planners have historically tended to keep the Chinese threat uppermost when seeking to develop weapon systems. But at a practical level, this equipment tends to get compared and even deployed against Pakistan with whom it has fought three wars. Therefore, while the Chinese, who been even more methodical in their defence development and production patterns than India, force a "catch up" situation for India, there is a replication of this scenario in the India-Pakistan context as well. There is a triangular interaction between China, India and Pakistan, on the one hand, but the seeming asymmetry in India's bilateral relations with the two countries in question tends to create a situation where a broader regional missile non-proliferation solution become impossible.

Predictably, the responses generated in these countries, particularly India and Pakistan, to security issues vary widely. For India, the acquisition of nuclear capable M-11 missiles by Pakistan, generates an uneasy feeling given the nuclear stand off between the two countries. On the other hand, the deployment of the Prithvi missile along the Indo-Pak border, provokes a military-cum-diplomatic reaction from Pakistan. Former Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar recently wrote that "with the MTCR working to its advantage, India has no incentive to consider a bilateral restraints regime. While Pakistan is barred from importing missiles, India with its industrial and technological edge can continue to produce more and bigger missiles. The one dimensional policy of restricting sales can only accentuate the power imbalance and foster the tendency of more powerful states to resort to coercion and aggression." The second element of this policy is to highlight the missile threat in South Asia and in the wider Asian region as well. The leading Pakistani newspaper The News in an article quoted the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto during a trip to Japan as saying that "compounding this problem is India's growing arsenal of long range ballistic missiles that can strike as far as the Straits of Malacca and Yemen. These developments have put enormous pressure on Pakistan."25 This policy was continued by the caretaker government of Meraj Khalid and the Sharif government would be expected to follow suit. By doing so, Islamabad hopes to argue its case about the inherent discrimination of the MTCR regime as well as seek to legitimise its missile purchases from China. The third element is to ensure that the Haft III missile is developed quickly to ensure domestic production, which would enable them to have a rough parity with India.

The conclusion that can be drawn from these divergent strategies is that missile development and deployment create tensions, which in the coming years will only tend to grow more acute. The IGMDP would have achieved a stage where at least three of the four missile would have reached an advanced stage. Given the current state of Indo-Pak relations, which have other divisive issues, including determining the final status of Jammu and Kashmir, a comprehensive solution to reducing overall military spending in the wider region would need to be contemplated to ensure that the ballistic missile race in South Asia does not become a catalyst for increased levels of tension in the region.

Is a Zero Missile Regime Possible?

Ideally, a policy of seeking to develop international mechanisms, which are non-discriminatory and which would do away with all classes of missiles in two phases (by the year 2000 all missiles up to 2,500 km be eliminated and the bigger missiles by the 2010) can ensure that the localised missile does not turn catastrophic. While a missile race may take place in South Asia, it is not geographically circumscribed and its effects will be felt in a very wide arc, notwithstanding the belief among a section of security experts in the West that the missile programmes of the two countries are primitive. Therefore, the ideal solution would lie in a comprehensive, non-discriminatory and universal solution, which gives all those states giving up the missile option, easier and unfettered access to technology, which can be used for peaceful purposes.

But this holistic approach would be unacceptable to European countries, specially France and the UK, which have nuclear weapons and would want to retain their missile capabilities for security threats emanating from elsewhere. This forces consideration of a regional or sectional variant. One proposal could seek to extend the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the US and erstwhile USSR to the rest of the world, eliminating all tactical and intermediate range missiles. This would automatically take care of the primary concerns of India and Pakistan and, at the same time, ensure that the US and Russian Federation and China only have missile systems to deliver their nuclear weapons across continents. This could be backed up by guarantees in the form of an international treaty to the rest of the world on non-use against them.

A second solution would be to seek to make Asia as a continent being declared free from all theatre, tactical, intermediate and inter-continental missiles. In such a scenario, countries from outside the continent would be called upon to pledge non-use of missiles against any country in Asia. But China's difficulties in giving up its ICBM capability and Russia's dilemma of being treated as an Asian or European power, would make the proposal difficult to implement.

If a global solution finds no instant takers and the regional solutions have difficulty in being accepted, incremental steps would be required by the international community to tackle the problem. These steps, which would seek to prevent missile races from occurring in different parts of the world, could be channellised through multilateral negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). If such an approach were to find favour, it would require the UN General Assembly to consider a resolution banning the production and deployment of all classes of ballistic missiles in a specified time-frame, which would contain the following elements: a binding pledge by all countries not to be the first to use missiles against another country, a commitment to not deploy ballistic missiles for an agreed time-frame during which the CD could undertake negotiations to achieve the objective set out by the General Assembly and also allow countries supporting the resolution to access dual-use technologies for legitimate peaceful purposes.

The second option would be to consider the democratisation of the existing MTCR by inducting new members who will abide by non-discriminatory laws, which automatically allow member states to access space technology without hindrance. Both India and Pakistan have argued against the existing MTCR because it does not guarantee "members" or "adherents" easier access to dual-purpose technologies that can be used for their space programmes.

The present strategies pursued by Western countries do not provide sufficient incentive to these countries to join regimes like the MTCR or even slow down their missile development plans. Only through concerted action at an international level can a missile non-proliferation regime succeed in South Asia. If the present strategies are continued, there could be a situation where the MTCR membership would increase, but it would not, as in the case of the NPT and now the CTBT, include crucial countries that matter in the non-proliferation scheme of things.



1. This has been subsequently confirmed by former US Defence Secretary William Perry.

2. According to Western sources, the IGMDP was essentially a follow-on programme to the "Devil's Programme" of the 1960s, which involved 880 experts and sought to develop a weapon based on the Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile. This project was reportedly scrapped in the 1970s. There is considerable secrecy surrounding the issue whether the Devil's Programme contributed substantially to the development of the Prithvi missile.

3. Interview with Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, by Amarnath Menon, "We can Design Any Missile," India Today, June 15, 1989, p. 12. There was been a strong tendency amongst the Indian scientific bureaucracy to indigenously develop weapon systems, albeit with questionable results.

4. This reason for the setting up of the IGMDP was conveyed to the author by a senior Indian diplomat closely connected with international security issues at the time.

5. Defence Research and Development-Major Projects, Standing Committee on Defence (1995-96), 10th Lok Sabha, Ministry of Defence, Fifth Report, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, August 1995, p.15.

6. "National Security Environment", Annual Report of Ministry of Defence, 1996-97 p.2.

7. Dr Abdul Kalam was Project Director of the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) programme, which was implemented within the broad parameters of the peaceful space programme.

8. Although critics like Dr. Eric Arnett from SIPRI continue to contend that the fundamental premise of the IGMDP is flawed. At a recent seminar in Wisconsin, Dr Arnett down played the Prithvi which he described as "just a big fuel tank with fins at the back of it, which flies for 150 kilometres before it crashes into the ground at the other end." He also believes that "Indian scientists and engineers have demonstrated that they can conduct highly quality theoretical research, develop modern components and produce working prototypes of simple systems." Dr. Arnett was quoted in The Pioneer-on-Sunday, July 21, 1996.

9. According to Parliamentary estimates, the IGMDP was estimated to cost Rs 388.83 crore, but an upward revision has been made in subsequent years. The present cost of the programme is Rs 784.66 crore.

10. The first test launch of the Agni took place on May 22, 1989. The third test flight took place on February 19, 1994.

11. The RV is nearly five metres long and is made up of five different sections. the inner carbon epoxy layers withstand structural loads and the outer layer is made in such a way that when it heats up to 2000-3000 degrees it ablates or peels away, carrying the heat with it and ensuring that the payload remains at 40 degrees centigrade.

12. "India Tests Ballistic Missile", Washington Post, February 20, 1994.

13. Defence Policy, Planning and Management, Standing Committee on Defence (1995-96), Ministry of Defence, Sixth Report, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, March 1996, vi.

14. K. Subrahmanyam, "Targeting it Right", The Economic Times, May 26, 1994.

15. Jane's Information Group, Special Brief on Defence Exports, February 1993.

16. The Risk Report, January-February 1995, p.9.

17. New York Times, May 19, 1989.

18. Milavnews, November 1989.

19. The Friday Times, February 21, 1996.

20. "Pakistan Seeks Rocket-Production Equipment : US", Dawn, May 26, 1995.

21. There have been reports that a Hatf 1A version with 100-km range has been put into service as an emergency measure.

22. Pakistan claims to have accepted the US proposal to defer deployment of missiles, while India is reported to have rejected the proposal.

23. This pressure has forced both countries into a classical denial mode, with Pakistan rejecting the idea that transfers of M-11 took place and India denying that the Agni is the delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon.

24. Abdul Sattar, "Reducing Nuclear Dangers in South Asia: A Pakistani Perspective," The Non-Proliferation Review, Winter 1995, p.48.

25. The News, January 21, 1996.