World Naval Developments: Thunder Rolls out of India and Pakistan

By Norman Friedman

The U.S. government apparently detected Indian preparations for a 1995 test and successfully dissuaded them from carrying it out. Now there are reports that the 1995 U.S. protest alerted the Indian government to just how the United States had detected preparations, and thus made it possible to conceal this year's endeavors. The evidence in question is apparently a combination of satellite photographs (which show the shafts for the bombs and the heavy cabling running into them) and communications intelligence (which indicated a rise in traffic in a nearly uninhabited area). Some years ago similar photographic evidence of an imminent South African test was used to dissuade the South Africans, in an apparent triumph of U.S. diplomacy. What was not known at the time was that the South Africans chose instead to explode their bomb in the atmosphere, suspended from a balloon over the Indian Ocean.

The entire issue of bomb intelligence is tricky. The United Nations, for example, polices the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It cannot discriminate against countries that do not yet have the bomb, so their scientists are included in the groups that monitor compliance with the treaty. By so doing, they learn just what it is that is needed to make a bomb-and how to conceal the evidence of doing so. The chief of the Iraqi bomb program, after all, is a former U.N. inspector.

The U.S. intelligence failure cannot be understated. Every time U.S. forces have been surprised by some conventional military development, the excuse has been that effort has been concentrated on the one vital issue, weapons of mass destruction. Now it is clear that U.S. intelligence either missed or grossly underemphasized a major nuclear weapons program. It did so at the same time the United States imposed an arms embargo on Pakistan for daring to develop a bomb—without testing it—because beginning in 1990 the U.S. government was no longer willing to certify that Pakistan did not have a bomb program. That was, incidentally, 16 years after India tested a nuclear "device," and then announced that it would not develop it into a bomb. The degree of credulity involved is remarkable. A cynic would suggest that it is really a reflection of the politicization of U.S. intelligence. India often is favored as a great democracy, whereas Pakistan often has been shunned as an unpleasant military dictatorship, albeit a useful ally. Pakistanis may very reasonably resent the comparison, which is by no means always true. Americans should wonder to what extent the current administration and its predecessors have avoided unpleasant realities. The problem is not new; in the 1970s the Central Intelligence Agency was accused to bending Soviet reality to make it easier to pass arms control treaties, while in the 1980s it was accused of papering over the disastrous Soviet economy to fit hawkish preconceptions in Washington.

This is not an abstract issue. The U.S. Navy, indeed the whole U.S. military establishment, is heading rapidly toward a world of precision-strike munitions. The new weapons will be expensive, but that will be acceptable because of their accuracy. This is worthwhile only if the location of the target is known—if the intelligence is very precise—in which case small numbers of accurate weapons will carry the day. The whole idea is attractive because it justifies deep cuts in the military.

There are several rubs, of which intelligence is the most obvious. If we did not know that the Indians were developing a bomb, that means that we could not penetrate the most important secret of the Indian government. India is hardly a closed society. The Soviets, for example, always deliberately de-rated what they sold, knowing that copies of all documentation would soon be in Western hands. In a major war, how well will we be able to identify the crucial nodes in Third World countries, the pressure points vulnerable to attack by our new precision weapons?

Remember, we are not going to add precision strike to our existing arsenal. We are buying it as a way out of an economic problem because we are under-funding our military forces. Precision strike pays only if one missile can replace many missiles and iron bombs. There is a historical precedent: nuclear weapons in the 1950s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that the country could not sustain the existing level of military expenditure. The Cold War was likely to last a very long time, and to fight it the United States needed a strong sustainable economy. Eisenhower considered war unlikely (given nuclear deterrence), so he was willing to take a chance. He cut conventional forces drastically, leaving his military to rely on the much cheaper nuclear weapons. John F. Kennedy won the 1960 election partly on the charge that such reliance was suicidal; non-nuclear forces (which were far more expensive) were a necessary hedge, in the event that war began despite deterrence.

Eisenhower would have said that Kennedy was a poor poker player, and perhaps that all his investment in a large conventional army bought the United States was the wherewithal to fight in Vietnam. The more important point, however, is that Eisenhower was willing to play poker in the first place mainly because there was a nuclear stand-off. War itself was very unlikely, at least on a major level, so he could concentrate on cutting the wasteful cost of preparing for it.

And now? We do not have any credible nuclear deterrent against Third World crises, unless the Third World uses nuclear or chemical weapons against us. As the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 showed, real war is much more likely than it was in Eisenhower's day. Yet we are trying to evade its costs by buying something as unrealistic as the tactical nukes that Ike relied on. The Indian test demonstrates that our intelligence capability is far less impressive than we may have imagined. It hardly matters whether our new weapons are so accurate; we may not know where to fire them. Errors in targeting nuclear weapons were often of relatively little moment, since the weapons were so destructive over such large areas. Even small errors, however, negate the small warhead of a precision weapon. Perhaps it is time to admit that we have not advanced as far as we think.

That would be to admit that much of current thinking is seriously flawed; that, for example, Joint Vision 2010 has a hollow ring. But think of what Joint Vision 2010 assumes. Not only will we be able to locate targets precisely, but we also will be able to locate and destroy the enemy's center of gravity, achieving decisive results with very small weapons precisely delivered. Locating the enemy's center of gravity must require a deep understanding of the enemy in both physical and, often, political terms. The surprise of the Indian tests was largely a surprise about Indian politics. The U.S. government did not understand how serious the new Indian regime was about Indian national interests. Many foreigners would argue that the United States often is blinded by arrogance, that it sees itself as the guardian of world interests with which all other governments should identify. Reality is somewhat different.

The problem goes much deeper. The tests are an indication that the current Indian government, led by the Hindu fundamentalist BJP party, should be taken at its word. It plans to build India into a major power, and it sees no reason to accept U.S. or other international pressure opposing it. The Russians, India's principal arms suppliers, said almost immediately after the Indian tests that they absolutely rejected economic sanctions of any type. It seems certain that the Russians will veto any arms embargo introduced in the United Nations. In the past, India has proclaimed policies which its cash-starved armed forces could not possibly have enforced. Now the cash spigot is likely to be turned on: the BJP clearly considers national power and independence more important than prosperity. In particular, for a long time the Indians have espoused a kind of Indian Ocean Monroe Doctrine, in which foreign navies are to be barred from the Indian Ocean (including the Arabian Sea and, presumably, the Persian Gulf). That might well mean that the Indians plan to block U.S. naval activity in the Gulf. Clearly they cannot yet do so, but, given sufficient cash, they may be able to buy a great deal of modern hardware in Russia. The Russians already are unhappy with U.S. attempts to curb arms sales, which are their most likely near-term sources of badly needed hard currency.

As nuclear weapons spread, the United States must face the possibility that their owners will try to deter our own military action by nuclear threats. India, for example, has demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile. It has a program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile and also is working on a submarine-launched weapon. The U.S. government has sought to limit the spread of long-range nuclear-capable missiles—an effort unlikely to succeed since the Missile Technology Control Regime allows missiles that can carry nuclear warheads from seaborne platforms to the United States.

It is probably worthwhile to recognize that, with the demise of Cold War systems such as the sound surveillance system (SOSUS), the United States lacks the means to detect or track foreign submarines or surface units approaching its coast. The Clinton administration has shown no interest in ballistic missile defense. Probably its feelings are a holdover from the Cold War, when such defense was considered destabilizing. That is no longer the case, and the Indian tests dramatize the change. (Incidentally, recent suggestions that the surviving Russian nuclear force may be dangerously unstable would seem to make such defense more urgent.)

The Indians, moreover, can argue that the United States is acting hypocritically. We have announced our intention to base future Asian strategy on a partnership with China, India's enemy, despite having imposed partial sanctions because of Chinese missile deals with Pakistan (also India's enemy). Many in the United States suspect that China has managed to evade any sort of serious sanctions because too many U.S. companies, which have been too involved in U.S. politics, see China as the market of the future. That is quite aside from current charges of direct Chinese involvement in the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign. It is already clear that much of the economic damage to be expected as a result of U.S. sanctions will fall on U.S. companies that are exploiting a burgeoning Indian economy. India is very nearly as populous as China; it represents important future opportunities.

Will President Clinton keep the United States out of that market, in pursuit of the abstract goal of non-proliferation?

World Naval Developments: Thunder Rolls out of India and Pakistan

By Norman Friedman

The series of nuclear tests conducted by India in May—followed closely by Pakistan in response—has enormous implications for U.S. military and foreign policy and for the future role of the U.S. Navy. The U.S. government early considered the tests as assaults on its favored policy of nonproliferation and pressured Pakistan not to follow suit. The U.S. government apparently was surprised by the tests, and that surprise was taken as a major failure of U.S. intelligence. President Bill Clinton ordered economic sanctions against India, and threatened similar action if Pakistan tested a bomb—to no avail. It was generally agreed that the sanctions would be lifted if India agreed to stop testing, perhaps signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Interestingly, what about the possibility that some of the Pakistani tests actually used uranium—and were in fact Chinese tests to circumvent the test ban? After all, the Pakistanis received a Chinese nuclear bomb design sometime in the 1980s, and they probably have manufactured several weapons.

Seismographs apparently detected only one of the first three tests, which, according to the Indians. was of megaton size. There is ambiguous evidence of another test, which may have reached 25 kilotons on the seismic evidence (the Indians claimed it was twice as powerful). There is no evidence of a third shot. The Indians may have timed two of their shots to fire simultaneously, so that they were indistinguishable. Possibly the geology of their test site makes detection difficult at best. The apparent detection failure suggests that the Indians may well have conducted earlier, unannounced, tests without having been detected at all. Perhaps, indeed, others have done the same. An earlier test series might have been needed in order to learn enough to build the relatively sophisticated bombs the Indians have now tried out.

The U.S. government apparently detected Indian preparations for a 1995 test and successfully dissuaded them from carrying it out. Now there are reports that the 1995 U.S. protest alerted the Indian government to just how the United States had detected preparations, and thus made it possible to conceal this year's endeavors. The evidence in question is apparently a combination of satellite photographs (which show the shafts for the bombs and the heavy cabling running into them) and communications intelligence (which indicated a rise in traffic in a nearly uninhabited area). Some years ago similar photographic evidence of an imminent South African test was used to dissuade the South Africans, in an apparent triumph of U.S. diplomacy. What was not known at the time was that the South Africans chose instead to explode their bomb in the atmosphere, suspended from a balloon over the Indian Ocean.

The entire issue of bomb intelligence is tricky. The United Nations, for example, polices the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It cannot discriminate against countries that do not yet have the bomb, so their scientists are included in the groups that monitor compliance with the treaty. By so doing, they learn just what it is that is needed to make a bomb-and how to conceal the evidence of doing so. The chief of the Iraqi bomb program, after all, is a former U.N. inspector.

The U.S. intelligence failure cannot be understated. Every time U.S. forces have been surprised by some conventional military development, the excuse has been that effort has been concentrated on the one vital issue, weapons of mass destruction. Now it is clear that U.S. intelligence either missed or grossly underemphasized a major nuclear weapons program. It did so at the same time the United States imposed an arms embargo on Pakistan for daring to develop a bomb—without testing it—because beginning in 1990 the U.S. government was no longer willing to certify that Pakistan did not have a bomb program. That was, incidentally, 16 years after India tested a nuclear "device," and then announced that it would not develop it into a bomb. The degree of credulity involved is remarkable. A cynic would suggest that it is really a reflection of the politicization of U.S. intelligence. India often is favored as a great democracy, whereas Pakistan often has been shunned as an unpleasant military dictatorship, albeit a useful ally. Pakistanis may very reasonably resent the comparison, which is by no means always true. Americans should wonder to what extent the current administration and its predecessors have avoided unpleasant realities. The problem is not new; in the 1970s the Central Intelligence Agency was accused to bending Soviet reality to make it easier to pass arms control treaties, while in the 1980s it was accused of papering over the disastrous Soviet economy to fit hawkish preconceptions in Washington.

This is not an abstract issue. The U.S. Navy, indeed the whole U.S. military establishment, is heading rapidly toward a world of precision-strike munitions. The new weapons will be expensive, but that will be acceptable because of their accuracy. This is worthwhile only if the location of the target is known—if the intelligence is very precise—in which case small numbers of accurate weapons will carry the day. The whole idea is attractive because it justifies deep cuts in the military.

There are several rubs, of which intelligence is the most obvious. If we did not know that the Indians were developing a bomb, that means that we could not penetrate the most important secret of the Indian government. India is hardly a closed society. The Soviets, for example, always deliberately de-rated what they sold, knowing that copies of all documentation would soon be in Western hands. In a major war, how well will we be able to identify the crucial nodes in Third World countries, the pressure points vulnerable to attack by our new precision weapons?

Remember, we are not going to add precision strike to our existing arsenal. We are buying it as a way out of an economic problem because we are under-funding our military forces. Precision strike pays only if one missile can replace many missiles and iron bombs. There is a historical precedent: nuclear weapons in the 1950s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that the country could not sustain the existing level of military expenditure. The Cold War was likely to last a very long time, and to fight it the United States needed a strong sustainable economy. Eisenhower considered war unlikely (given nuclear deterrence), so he was willing to take a chance. He cut conventional forces drastically, leaving his military to rely on the much cheaper nuclear weapons. John F. Kennedy won the 1960 election partly on the charge that such reliance was suicidal; non-nuclear forces (which were far more expensive) were a necessary hedge, in the event that war began despite deterrence.

Eisenhower would have said that Kennedy was a poor poker player, and perhaps that all his investment in a large conventional army bought the United States was the wherewithal to fight in Vietnam. The more important point, however, is that Eisenhower was willing to play poker in the first place mainly because there was a nuclear stand-off. War itself was very unlikely, at least on a major level, so he could concentrate on cutting the wasteful cost of preparing for it.

And now? We do not have any credible nuclear deterrent against Third World crises, unless the Third World uses nuclear or chemical weapons against us. As the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 showed, real war is much more likely than it was in Eisenhower's day. Yet we are trying to evade its costs by buying something as unrealistic as the tactical nukes that Ike relied on. The Indian test demonstrates that our intelligence capability is far less impressive than we may have imagined. It hardly matters whether our new weapons are so accurate; we may not know where to fire them. Errors in targeting nuclear weapons were often of relatively little moment, since the weapons were so destructive over such large areas. Even small errors, however, negate the small warhead of a precision weapon. Perhaps it is time to admit that we have not advanced as far as we think.

That would be to admit that much of current thinking is seriously flawed; that, for example, Joint Vision 2010 has a hollow ring. But think of what Joint Vision 2010 assumes. Not only will we be able to locate targets precisely, but we also will be able to locate and destroy the enemy's center of gravity, achieving decisive results with very small weapons precisely delivered. Locating the enemy's center of gravity must require a deep understanding of the enemy in both physical and, often, political terms. The surprise of the Indian tests was largely a surprise about Indian politics. The U.S. government did not understand how serious the new Indian regime was about Indian national interests. Many foreigners would argue that the United States often is blinded by arrogance, that it sees itself as the guardian of world interests with which all other governments should identify. Reality is somewhat different.

The problem goes much deeper. The tests are an indication that the current Indian government, led by the Hindu fundamentalist BJP party, should be taken at its word. It plans to build India into a major power, and it sees no reason to accept U.S. or other international pressure opposing it. The Russians, India's principal arms suppliers, said almost immediately after the Indian tests that they absolutely rejected economic sanctions of any type. It seems certain that the Russians will veto any arms embargo introduced in the United Nations. In the past, India has proclaimed policies which its cash-starved armed forces could not possibly have enforced. Now the cash spigot is likely to be turned on: the BJP clearly considers national power and independence more important than prosperity. In particular, for a long time the Indians have espoused a kind of Indian Ocean Monroe Doctrine, in which foreign navies are to be barred from the Indian Ocean (including the Arabian Sea and, presumably, the Persian Gulf). That might well mean that the Indians plan to block U.S. naval activity in the Gulf. Clearly they cannot yet do so, but, given sufficient cash, they may be able to buy a great deal of modern hardware in Russia. The Russians already are unhappy with U.S. attempts to curb arms sales, which are their most likely near-term sources of badly needed hard currency.

As nuclear weapons spread, the United States must face the possibility that their owners will try to deter our own military action by nuclear threats. India, for example, has demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile. It has a program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile and also is working on a submarine-launched weapon. The U.S. government has sought to limit the spread of long-range nuclear-capable missiles—an effort unlikely to succeed since the Missile Technology Control Regime allows missiles that can carry nuclear warheads from seaborne platforms to the United States.

It is probably worthwhile to recognize that, with the demise of Cold War systems such as the sound surveillance system (SOSUS), the United States lacks the means to detect or track foreign submarines or surface units approaching its coast. The Clinton administration has shown no interest in ballistic missile defense. Probably its feelings are a holdover from the Cold War, when such defense was considered destabilizing. That is no longer the case, and the Indian tests dramatize the change. (Incidentally, recent suggestions that the surviving Russian nuclear force may be dangerously unstable would seem to make such defense more urgent.)

The Indians, moreover, can argue that the United States is acting hypocritically. We have announced our intention to base future Asian strategy on a partnership with China, India's enemy, despite having imposed partial sanctions because of Chinese missile deals with Pakistan (also India's enemy). Many in the United States suspect that China has managed to evade any sort of serious sanctions because too many U.S. companies, which have been too involved in U.S. politics, see China as the market of the future. That is quite aside from current charges of direct Chinese involvement in the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign. It is already clear that much of the economic damage to be expected as a result of U.S. sanctions will fall on U.S. companies that are exploiting a burgeoning Indian economy. India is very nearly as populous as China; it represents important future opportunities.

Will President Clinton keep the United States out of that market, in pursuit of the abstract goal of non-proliferation?

 

Norman Friedman is a consultant on global naval strategy, naval trends, and naval warfare. An internationally known military technology analyst and naval historian, he worked for a decade as an advisor to Secretaries of the Navy, and for another 10 years with a leading U.S. think tank. Dr. Friedman travels the world speaking to military and defense industry leaders, and appears frequently appears on television as a guest commentator. He has authored more than 30 books, and has since the 1980s contributed regular columns analyzing world naval developments for Proceedings magazine. His PhD in Physics was earned at Columbia University.

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