Brig. (ret) Feroz H. Khan Naval Postgraduate School
Ms. Diana Wueger Naval Postgraduate School
With support from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Center on Contemporary Conflict (CCC) at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) organized the inaugural U.S.-Pakistan Naval Track II Strategic Dialogue on October 17-18, 2016. This twoday dialogue began the engagement of retired senior naval officers from the United States and Pakistan in a candid bilateral strategic dialogue on both long-standing and emerging security challenges in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), especially the changing maritime dynamics in the North Arabian Sea.
This dialogue fostered a deeper understanding of Pakistani and American thinking on naval and maritime issues, particularly the implications of the introduction of sea-based nuclear weapons for strategic stability in the region and beyond. During this workshop, senior retired military officers from both countries discussed three broad clusters of issues: Peacetime/Status Quo Issues; Conventional Conflict Issues; and Nuclear Issues.
The security environment between India and Pakistan is characterized by uncertainty, with peace and stability frequently tested by crisis. Growth in both sides’ nuclear options and widening gaps in conventional force capabilities, coupled with historical bilateral distrust, do not reinforce confidence in regional stability. The threat from violent extremists coupled with the development of security doctrines that envisage waging limited conventional war under the nuclear overhang make the regional environment prone to sudden crises that can escalate uncontrollably. This construct is especially complicated by the fielding of a suite of new nuclear-capable delivery systems and related technologies, such as shortrange tactical nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, ballistic missile defenses (BMD), and maritime nuclear forces.
While there have been numerous exchanges between the U.S. and Pakistan focused primarily on land-based security challenges, the naval and maritime realms have been neglected. In recent years, however, regional maritime developments as well as tabletop exercises (TTXes) organized by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval War College at the behest of the National Nuclear Security Administration have demonstrated that this lacuna in understanding would likely have serious implications should a crisis erupt in South Asia. In these exercises, India has declared a Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ) off the Makran Coast; in response, Pakistan has retaliated by declaring a MEZ off the western coast of India. While these have been simulations, there is a real-life precedent of naval blockade in the 1971 war. The dimensions of a conventional war at sea between India and Pakistan are poorly understood in the West and the implications