Two years ago, on March 9, 2022, India misfired a Brahmos supersonic cruise missile that maneuvered and crashed near a town in Pakistan, Mian Chanu. Brahmos is India’s advanced weapon system with strategic implications. The misfiring of this missile did not only violate the airspace but also the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Despite the existence of a Direct Line of Communication/Hotline mechanism between India and Pakistan, India did not bother to inform immediately on the Brahmos misfiring incident to clarify if the misfiring was accidental or incidental. It is yet to be known to the world community as India closes the file unilaterally.

It is important to note that the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is the world’s fastest cruise missile.  It is believed that Brahmos is both a conventional and nuclear-capable cruise missile.

India has already acquired Brahmos missile capability in collaboration with Russia and since 2001, it has been carrying out several tests. We now know that the supersonic Brahmos have developed several variants that can be launched from the land, air, and sea with varying ranges and payloads.

As technology advances, India is currently planning to develop Brahmos II, perceived to be a hypersonic missile with an increased range of 1500km without any technical restriction, since both Russia and India are part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTRC), established in 1987 by the G-7 countries aiming at curbing the payloads and ranges to others not party to the MTCR.

While calling this an “accident”, India unilaterally probed the incident and declared on August 23, 2022, that “it sacked three air force officers for deviating from standard operating procedures that had led to the accidental firing of a missile into Pakistan on March 9.” Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) initially asked India for a joint probe on this reckless incident, but it produced no result. MOFA categorically termed India’s so-called unilateral probe on this serious incident as “unsatisfactory, deficient, and inadequate”.

MOFA went further by emphasizing that, “India has not only failed to respond to Pakistan’s demand for a joint inquiry but has also evaded the questions raised by Pakistan regarding the command-and-control system in place in India, the safety and security protocols and the reason for India’s delayed admission of the Missile launch.”

By critically analyzing India’s misfiring of an advanced missile system particularly when it has already tested this missile so many times from the land, sea, and air, a serious security analyst would raise many questions: why the missile only maneuver to crash in Pakistan? Does India have rogue elements working in its defense system threatening international security? Are there unknown flaws in the existing India’s command and control and safety and security mechanisms for its strategic and non-strategic forces? Will this episode occur in the future as well? The international community needs to pay attention to the seriousness of this issue.

Being a responsible nuclear weapon state, Pakistan’s security leadership had shown maximum restraint while closely monitoring the crash incident. One wonders about the level of restraint and scenario if Brahmos was loaded with conventional and nuclear warheads. It is argued that demonstrating restraint is part of strategy, but not a sign of weakness. One may ask if restraint must have its restraint.

The temptation for crossing too many thresholds may increase the chances of escalation to a dangerous level in South Asia especially when the rivals are nuclear weapon states.

India appears to be testing Pakistan’s strategic patience through its temptation for preemptive strikes, escalation dominance, and power projection in the South Asian region. India was tempted in the Balakot incident in 2019. This happened on 9 March two years ago by misfiring the Brahmos missile. It might get tempted in the future as well.

Conceptually, India may develop such temptation for preemptive strikes and escalation dominance out of its hubris through its increasing economic progress and strategic partnership with the leading powers more importantly with the US for containing China since China is perceived to be a security threat to the US in the broader Asia-Pacific region. India exploits the essence of geopolitical, geoeconomic, and geo-strategic imperatives out of the leading powers vis-à-vis China to the best of its advantage.

India’s temptation for dangerous confidence to preempt Pakistan may also come from India’s acquisition of emerging technologies such as speed, remote sensing, stealth, and lethality in addition to its development of nuclear-powered submarines, tactical nuclear weapons, ballistic missile defense systems, sophisticated air defense system in the form of S-400, Multiple-Independently-Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), aircraft carriers, supersonic missiles, acquisition of technologies for hypersonic missiles, anti-satellite weapons, plans for testing the H-bomb and even acquiring the strategic bombers.

All these acquisitions create strategic imbalances, crisis instability, arms race, and security dilemmas to undermine the broader strategic stability in South Asia. The acquisition of such forces, including emerging technologies, tends to make India more offensive, undermining nuclear deterrence in South Asia. With this flawed and dangerous confidence, South Asia is becoming riskier than ever before.

Two arguments exist for India’s misfiring of the Brahmos missile two years ago. One, if the misfiring of the missile was intentional to figure out Pakistan’s resolve, then India attempts to find loopholes in Pakistan’s deterrent force capability. Such loopholes could further be exploited for preemptive strikes. Two, if the firing of Brahmos was accidental as India proclaims this to be, then there is a serious question mark on India’s command and control and safety and security mechanism about its strategic and non-strategic forces that can be preemptively launched with no warning.

On the first argument, India may not simply undermine Pakistan’s deterrent forces which may broadly be concealed, dispersed, hardened, and sheltered. Countries that develop nuclear forces must also know how to protect them from potential adversary preemptive strikes. It will be a risk in competition, a flawed strategy, and a dangerous confidence if one nuclear weapon state strategizes to preempt another nuclear rival despite the existence of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Because of the logic of MAD, both the Soviet Union and the US did not go for preemptive strikes against each other despite possessing the first strike capabilities.

Besides, Pakistan practices a full-spectrum deterrence under the ambit of credible minimum deterrence. Full spectrum deterrence needs not to be connoted with increasing numbers of nuclear forces as many perceive in the West, but rather this has much to do with the “spectrum” -that is, to be consistent in plugging the loopholes in deterrence capabilities so that the adversary may not exploit for preemptive strikes.

On the second argument regarding the so-called accidental launch of the Brahmos missile, the international community needs to pay serious attention to the safety and security mechanism of India’s strategic forces. This becomes a threat to international peace and security if one seriously assesses India’s command and control including the safety and security mechanism of its deterrent forces.

India needs to follow up on the nuclear confidence-building measures already in place in South Asia.

There is a need for strategic dialogue in South Asia on these imperatives. Suppose India issues advance notices for its missile tests. In that case, it will help reduce the chances of miscalculation, accidents, and the risk of escalation in South Asia even if the missile is accidentally fired. Misfiring a missile of strategic significance without immediately notifying Pakistan creates mistrust, miscalculation, and accidental war between the South Asian rivals.

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