Emerging Technologies & Risk Reduction Measures in South Asia

Author Name: Sitara Noor       27 Dec 2021     Emerging Technologies

The growing use of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, autonomous vehicles, cyber weapons, space, and remote sensing technologies in defence capabilities have completely changed the dynamics of warfare. It has introduced additional challenges to strategic stability and has added another layer of risks to an already volatile situation, especially in the South Asian context. Employment of these technologies in any future conflict will reduce reaction times, thereby adding to chances of miscalculation. The latter invariably increases the risk of inadvertent escalation, which in turn would put additional strain on crisis stability.

These new emerging dynamics are even more problematic between India and Pakistan because such negative trends are shaping up in the absence of situational awareness and any risk reduction measures between Islamabad and New Delhi to ward off the risks of inadvertent escalation. Therefore, the evolving state of affairs in South Asia offers a very bleak picture with only negative trends on the horizon. India’s recent decision to induct the newly acquired S-400 missile defence system along Pakistan’s border is indicative of growing warfighting preparation and the addition of a false sense of security that may give impetus to India’s fascination with pre-emptive counterforce attacks. These trends have, once again, brought into focus the need for risk reduction measures and creative means to bridge the communication gap to avoid any miscalculation between the two nuclear adversaries.

Historically, India and Pakistan have had some meaningful outcomes as a result of different dialogue processes at the official level as well as back-channel diplomacy that often led to some concrete Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs). For example, the 2003 ceasefire agreement was a result of a substantive official dialogue process between India and Pakistan and involved significant back-channel diplomacy as well. The reinstatement of the ceasefire agreement in early 2021 was also the result of a rigorous back-channel process. Likewise, the 2005 Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was launched after numerous official exchanges and Pakistan’s insistence on visa-free entry was agreed only after a persistent back-channel process. In the past few years, despite the complete breakdown of official dialogue, numerous back-channel meetings have reportedly taken place between representatives of the two countries.

Since August 5, 2019, Pakistan had put the condition of creating a conducive environment for dialogue and has specifically demanded India to reverse its decision to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution that granted Jammu and Kashmir a special status. To make some progress on addressing emerging risks, there has to be a conducive environment. While India may not reverse the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, it may reinstate the statehood which may open up space for much-needed official dialogue to reduce the growing risks of confrontation between India and Pakistan.

The current political environment in India may not allow an all-encompassing dialogue akin to the Composite Dialogue Process of 2004-08, but there must be a concerted effort to address the issues of inadvertent escalation which may destabilize the entire region. In that regard, Pakistan must reiterate its long-standing and all-encompassing proposal of establishing a strategic restraint regime with its three elements - deterrence stability, arms race stability and conflict resolution. Deterrence stability and arms race stability are very relevant to the emerging scenarios and they should also take into consideration the emerging challenges of disruptive technologies and must address them as part of risk reduction measures.

While important issues tend to take precedence, it is imperative to separate the urgent from the important and first try to pick some lower hanging fruits such as moving forward on Sir Creek and Siachen issues. There was some development on these issues in the past when they were addressed as separate issues, but for the past many years, especially post-Mumbai crisis 2008, all issues have been lumped together, thereby hindering any development on some doable options.

Likewise, the growing role of emerging technologies in defence capabilities requires urgent attention. Both India and Pakistan may address the risks of emerging technologies by reinforcing and expanding the scope of existing nuclear and military CBMs. Following are some specific recommendations in that regard:

  • First and foremost, it is important to not only strengthen and expand the scope of existing communication channels between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs), but also insulate them from becoming the first victim of war. In case of a crisis, these secure and reliable communication channels will serve as a strong defence against any potential inadvertent escalation.
  • Another important area could be adding the cyber security element in the 1988 India-Pakistan Non-Attack Agreement regarding nuclear installations. Under this long-standing agreement, both India and Pakistan regularly exchange lists of their nuclear facilities at the beginning of each year. Article 1 of the Non-Attack Agreement prohibits an attack or damage to each other’s nuclear facilities. However, the Agreement does not categorically identify a cyber-attack. Therefore, it can be expanded to address emerging cyber risks and may also include additional critical infrastructures such as nuclear command and control systems.
  • Another area of concern is the potential advent of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) in South Asian theatres of war. Pakistan is one of the very few countries that are strong supporters of a complete ban on LAWS because this would be immensely destabilizing. While there are ongoing efforts to establish a new international treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force and prohibit weapons systems that lack such human control, India and Pakistan may announce a bilateral moratorium on developing such weapons. This may address one of the most destabilizing elements of inadvertent escalation in future crises.

With the advent of disruptive technologies, theatres of war have largely shifted to cyberspace that has increased the mobility and ease of operations. This transformation requires corresponding means to ensure situational awareness and fail-safe escalation control mechanisms. While the current political environment is not conducive for a transformation, continuous efforts must be made to create awareness about the risks and create space for some necessary engagement.

The author is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be contacted at cass.thinkers@gmail.com. Twitter @NoorSitara

Image Source: Carter, Ash. 2018. “Shaping Disruptive Technological Change for Public Good” The Belfer Centre, August. (https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/shaping-disruptive-technological-change-public-good)

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