Thursday, September 01, 2016

Could the submarine related leaks end up stabilizing regional nuclear deterrence regimes?

As most of you are aware, India's submarine secrets have been under attack for a while now. There was disastrous leak inside Eastern Naval Command in 2011, when it was discovered that a sizable amount of information about sensitive submarine warfare facilities at INS Varsha, INS Virabahu and INS Kattaboman had been hacked [1].  Now ofcourse the Scorpene leak saga is being talked about everywhere although the actual leakage apparently happened in 2011 also. I would not be too surprised if there are more leaks we in the general public do not know about right now.

Perhaps this sort of things should have been completely expected. When India declared to the world that the INS Arihant was ready for sea trials, it completely altered a balance of power in the region and possibly rattled the existing world order on a global scale. Sri. Manmohan Singh was very careful, he repeatedly told anyone who was willing to listen that the Arihant was not going to be armed any time soon. It was extremely reassuring to hear that from him.

China and Pakistan were quite upset with these developments. If their newspaper articles were anything to go by, the Pakistanis were really really scared. In India people tend to find Pakistan's behavior irrational but there is a simple way to understand Pakistan's reaction to the Arihant as I attempt to show below.

Let us forget about India and Pakistan - and instead focus on just you and me. If you and I are nuclear adversaries, nuclear deterrence works between us - if and only if - we can read each other's intentions. If I cannot read your intentions (or you can't read mine), then all assumptions about each other's rationality become untenable and the entire deterrence regime fails by default.

If you now possess a nuclear armed submarine, and I cannot track it. At that point I cannot read your intentions and all my assumptions about being able to evaluate your rationality become questionable. In this climate of uncertainty I have to constantly ask myself one simple question - is a sudden attack imminent?. Even if the answer is - NO. I am quite stressed out by the onerous task of asking that question repeatedly and constantly having to reassure myself. This continuous stress makes the entire deterrence regime very unstable. 

Now if I were to obtain some information about your submarine that allows me to track it. I could at least determine if your submarine was within striking distance of me. I could position a trip wire line which if crossed I could confront you about. There would be many options for me to leverage my knowledge of the ability to track your submarine and improve the quality of my deterrence.

So in that limited sense - the leakage of submarine secrets could end up improving the stability of the nuclear deterrence regime. While the leakage would not necessarily ever make me completely certain that a sudden attack was impossible, but it would make me more confident about my ability to predict it.

This kind of thing is a part of the paradoxical nature of national security issues in the nuclear arena. What seems highly destabilizing also has a very stabilizing component to it and it is never clear which tendency overpowers the other.

India for its part is obviously working hard on building a safe zone in the Bay of Bengal and the IOR where the Arihant can be put through its paces. China and Pakistan will for their part attempt to breach this "safe zone" and learn as much as they can about the Arihant and attempt to determine the most likely positions from which an Arihant might launch its weapons.

Another interesting facet of this issue is human nature. Going back to the example of you and me, If you were to simply hand over information to me about your submarines, I would be very suspicious. I would probably dismiss the entire information you give me as a provocation designed to lull me into a false sense of security. But if I were to obtain that same information through strenuous exertion, then I would be more likely to accept it as being accurate (because after all I have expended the lives of so many agents to get this information). As they say in Hindi "Mehnat ka phal hamesha meetha hota hain" (the fruits of labor are always sweet).

Obviously India stands to gain by keeping its submarine capabilities secret, but there is such a thing as legitimate intelligence targeting and if Pakistan or China should get hold of some information as a result of serious and strenuous labor on part of their agencies, it might not be a complete loss from India's perspective.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Ralphy said...

off topic, but for your perusal and edification.

Numbers hide the dangers of black violence at Chicago colleges


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