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NightWatch 20141118

NightWatch

For the night of 18 November 2014

Pakistan-India: Pakistan recently conducted a round of ballistic missile tests. On 26 September, it test fired a salvo of Nasr/Hatf ix tactical nuclear ballistic missiles from a single launcher. On 13 November, it tested a Hatf VI which is a 1,500 km range nuclear and conventionally armed ballistic missile. On 16 November, it test fired a Hatf IV, which has a range of 900 kms and carries nuclear and conventional warheads.

India tested its Prithvi II missile on 15 November. This has a range of 1,260 kms. On 9 November the Indian Army tested the Agni II ballistic missile which has a range of 2,000 kms.

Comment: The missile launches are apparently routine systems or production tests. Cumulatively, the missile activity acts as a form of communication in a language of mutual self-destruction. India has a no first use doctrine. It can afford to have that doctrine because its conventional forces can defeat the Pakistan Army in every war scenario along the border without using nuclear fires. Indian conventional forces are more numerous, better trained and more modern than those of Pakistan.

Pakistan is open about its first use doctrine. It must have such a doctrine because it has no strategic depth and because it knows that Indian conventional forces will destroy Pakistani conventional forces in a short, violent conventional fight. Thus, Pakistan has developed nuclear-capable missile systems to cover every part of all the battlefields with Indian forces and every time horizon.

For example, the Nasr/Hatf IX tactical ballistic missile only has a nuclear warhead. It also was developed to deter and disrupt the Indian "cold start" no warning war plan. India has developed the capability to launch a major conventional war with less than a week of preparations. A nuclear-armed tactical missile system - the Hatf IX -- is Pakistan's response.

Nuclear missiles are Pakistan's only hope for survival in a war with India or in a triangular conflict among India, China and Pakistan.

A former Indian Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik said, "Tactical or strategic the Nasr is a nuclear weapon. So obviously our response will be absolutely violent. This is as per our existing policy."

The key point is that there is no option for a conventional war between India and Pakistan. Warning of war in South Asia is warning of nuclear war. The missile tests are reminders of that new condition. There is no room for error in US intelligence.

Syria: Yesterday a Turkish newspaper reported the Free Syrian Army (FSA) abandoned the Syria town of Aleppo and its leaders fled to Turkey. The news report said that 14,000 fighters left sometime in the last two weeks.

Iraqi government forces and more extreme Islamic fighting groups have filled the vacuum. Some US-supplied equipment was left behind.

Comment: FSA almost certainly did not have 14,000 fighters in Aleppo. Thus, the significance of the report is difficult to judge. Aleppo essentially has been destroyed by two years of fighting. Islamist fighters are most likely to try to fill any vacuum FSA left, but the Syrian government appears determined to take control of the city. A government takeover would be an important, symbolic victory.

Russia-Ukraine: Russia has called for "a 100% guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman told the BBC.

Dmitri Peskov said that NATO's gradual approach towards Russia's borders had made Moscow "nervous".

Comment: The Russian statement is not new, but it is refreshing for its candor and clarity. NATO could no more defend Ukraine than it can defend the Baltic members of NATO, short of a general war in Europe.

End of NightWatch for 18 November.

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