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Uncontested dominance – by Cyril Almeida

What makes the army so contemptuous of civilians is the fact that you can only conquer what you understand: while the army thoroughly understands the ways of the politicians, the opposite is anything but true.

What does the military-bureaucratic dominance here have to do with faraway Geneva? No, the answer has nothing to do with Zardari, foreign accounts and corruption.

The answer instead revolves around a highly technical, yawn-inducing-for-the-average-person series of negotiations in that Swiss city. Bear with me for a few minutes as I explain, and I promise to keep the pointy-headedness to a minimum.

Geneva is host to the Conference on Disarmament, a body set-up in 1979 to, as the name suggests, nudge the world’s nations towards disarming. As you can probably guess, nuclear weapons feature on the CD’s agenda.

If you’ve never heard of the CD, don’t worry. It meets thrice a year, but was pretty much in purgatory until Obama decided to rescue it by reversing several Bush-era policies. One of those reversals concerns something called the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty: the Obama administration has expressed an interest in helping finally make it a reality.

What the heck is fissile material and why do states want to cut it off? Good questions. The thoroughly imprecise answer is that fissile materials are the raw materials for nuclear bombs, essentially plutonium and highly enriched uranium. The more there is of that stuff, the more nuclear bombs can be made, hence the desire of the disarmament body in Geneva to negotiate an end to its production.

Enter Pakistan’s dominant military-bureaucratic axis. A cut-off treaty won’t do, it argues, because it doesn’t take into account stocks already accumulated. But other countries scoff at the idea of including existing fissile material stocks in the treaty.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, Pakistan is demanding an FMT (which would take into account the total fissile material a country has) while other countries are pressing for an FMCT (which would simply call for an end to the production of fissile material).

The security establishment’s thinking on this issue is relatively straightforward to explain: India has been producing fissile material since 1974 and a cut-off treaty would ‘freeze’ for all time the disparity between the two countries’ stocks of fissile material — an unacceptable outcome. (Predictably, we don’t like to discuss the size of Pakistan’s fissile material stocks, but it seems a safe bet that India has more.)

But here’s where the thicket begins: does having less fissile material necessarily put Pakistan at a disadvantage? The military-bureaucratic axis doesn’t quite say that — after all that would imply that Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent is presently inadequate — but it does argue that in future Pakistan may be at a disadvantage.

To marshal support for this line of argument, the military-bureaucratic axis points to several things. If stocks were frozen today, India would be able to produce several times the number of weapons that Pakistan could. India’s foray into missile defence means that Pakistan would potentially need more nuclear-tipped missiles to overwhelm Indian defences. India’s push towards a nuclear triad with a sea-based launch option means that Pakistan could need more bombs to survive an Indian onslaught.

In short, credible minimum deterrence — the foundation of the Pakistan Army’s nuclear doctrine — can only remain ‘credible’ if the ‘minimum’ is defined flexibly. Signing a cut-off treaty that does not factor in stockpiles, however, would set the ‘minimum’ in stone, potentially leaving Pakistan vulnerable to India’s nuclear threat in the future.

But would it? There is something dangerously Cold War-ish in this line of reasoning. It seems to consider nuclear weapons as an instrument of warfare rather than an instrument of deterrence.

Think about it this way. How realistic is it that India would actually launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan, were there the slightest chance that Pakistan could fire even one in return? And despite some purported advancements in missile defence shields, a 100-per-cent-guaranteed shield is still the stuff of imagination. Again, would India risk firing nuclear missiles at Pakistan if it thought we could sneak one through its defences?

On the other hand, the numbers-game approach that the military-bureaucratic establishment is using could stretch credible minimum deterrence to the point of meaninglessness. Today, India can produce 400 bombs, so we need X. But 10 years from now if India can produce 800 bombs, would we need 2X? And in 25 years if India can produce 1,600, would we need many hundreds of our own?

Take it to the point of absurdity and you’re in Cold War territory, where tens of thousands of missiles were produced by the Americans and the Soviets that can destroy the world several times over.

It is of course possible that the military-bureaucratic establishment is taking the ‘correct’ line on the FMCT, but the point of this extended detour into the realm of nuclear issues is different. The point is this: the civilians will never even begin to wrest power from the military-bureaucratic establishment unless they start to understand real military issues.

The only idea the civilian politicians seem to have when it comes to reversing the imbalance of power between themselves and the Pakistan Army is to control appointments to the top slots. Hence all the chatter about whether ISI chief Pasha will get an extension and whether Kayani will be reappointed or kicked upstairs to the CJCSC slot later this year.

But that’s a tried and failed formula (see Sharif’s appointment of Musharraf and ZAB’s of Zia) because it completely overlooks the institutional factors that drive what the army does, how it thinks and what it perceives. It’s a bit like grasping the head of a snake to avoid being bitten, only to find you’re holding a scorpion with a sting in its tail.

What makes the army so contemptuous of civilians is the fact that you can only conquer what you understand: while the army thoroughly understands the ways of the politicians, the opposite is anything but true.

The FMCT is of course a relatively minor issue in civil-military relations, but if the civilians were to learn the ABC of the FMCT, it could strike a small blow against the arrogant army view that the ‘bloody civilians’ are incompetent or stupid or, worse yet, both.

Were the civilians to begin to grasp the nuts and bolts of national security strategy and engage the army in an informed and spirited debate would of course be even better.

More direct and concrete possibilities also exist. Enhance the civilian capacities of the Defence Ministry, so that the executive can incrementally increase its control of the army. Fire up the parliamentary committee system to increase civilian oversight of army-related matters. Use the Defence Committee of the Cabinet as a forum for real policy debates rather than as the occasional rubber stamp. Better yet, remodel the DCC along the lines of, say, the Cabinet Committee on Defence and National Security (CCDNS) mooted by Sartaj Aziz in his recent book. The list goes on.

The point, though, is the same: for the civil-military imbalance to change and the army’s institutional orientation to shift, it’s the civilians who need to change their approach first.

But as long as more politicians know when Pasha’s and Kayani’s terms expire rather than, say, what the FMCT stands for, the civilians are getting no closer to contesting the military-bureaucratic dominance.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Source: Dawn