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Deterrence Stability In South Asia – OpEd

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Herman Kahn is a renowned theorist of Deterrence. Other strategic scholars like Andre Beaufre, Phil Williams, Kenneth Waltz, Bernard Brodie, J.M.Collins, and Thomas Schelling also contributed towards deterrence. According to them peace and security can be promoted by adopting deterrence strategy and what is significant about the usage of nuclear weapons is not “overkill” but “mutual kill.” Deterrence has a crucial role in the maintenance of international order. Phil Williams defined it, as an attempt to frighten the adversary into inaction. The power of nuclear weapons is not to wage war but to create alternatives less catastrophic than the nuclear holocaust. Deterrence exists in mind and is a pre-war situation. The balance exists when the war would not occur and stability would be preserved.

In the South Asian context, there are longstanding territorial disputes, cultural and religious clashes between India and Pakistan. This relation suffers from deep mistrust and long hostility. After the 1965 war, there was some fragmented thought in Pakistan about developing a nuclear capability to redress the conventional imbalance, but no serious attention was given to “going nuclear.” It was the 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion” by India that motivated Pakistan to undertake the creation of a nuclear deterrence. The decision to develop a nuclear capability was to respond to a looming nuclear threat from India. The nuclear program was created through a philosophy of “beg, borrow, or steal” and propelled by the resolve to defend the nation of Pakistan from a serious external threat. While Pakistan’s nuclear program was progressing through the various phases of development, no thought was given to the operational management of this new capability, nor was a nuclear doctrine considered seriously.

In the 1980’s, the concept of deterrence was developed by South Asian strategic elites when they were facing the escalation in their relations under ‘Brasstacks Crises-1986/87’. This time the tools of deterrence were also used under the ambiguous nuclear policy of Pakistan to deter Indian aggression against them. Indian nuclear capability was known as they did their first nuclear device test in 1974 but Pakistan’s nuclear capability was still not known. Mr. Mushahid Hussain Syed through an interview of Dr. A. Q. Khan revealed ambiguity of nuclear presence, which twisted the situation in favor of Pakistan at that time.

To restore strategic balance in South Asia Pakistan was obliged to respond to Indian blasts. Pakistan nuclear tests were taken as self-defence. By establishing mutual deterrence, they have served the interests of peace and security in South Asia. The nuclear ambiguity was swept away by the nuclearization of India and Pakistan. Since May 1998 the South Asian strategic and security environment is completely visible in terms of nuclear threats from both sides. Subsequently serious attention was focused on the conflict-prone region. Definitely the proponents of nuclear deterrence are mindful of the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons, if it will use in Indo-Pak scenario. The leadership of both nuclear states realized the implications of going nuclear. The intellectual and scholarly exertion began with the objective of bringing stability in the perpetually unstable political-military environment of South Asia. Will nuclearization /deterrence in South Asia contributed to peace and stability?

The Lahore Summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in February 1999 raised new hopes of good relation but it turned to be short-lived affair due to Kargil crisis. In May 1999, almost a year after the nuclear tests and at the heels of the Lahore Summit, a serious outbreak of hostility occurred across the Line of Control (LOC) near Kargil, a village in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan to engage the perpetrators of the attack. Pakistan supported the U.S. fight against terrorism and the allied operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan, because of its geographic location, became central to operations in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the negative bilateral agenda between India and Pakistan overshadowed their alliance with the U.S. India blamed Pakistan for sponsoring a terrorist attack on its Parliament in December 2001/02, a charge Pakistan strongly denied.

The induction of nuclear weapons into the national defense structures of Pakistan and India in 1998 has brought an era of dynamics of nuclear politics. A full-scale war was only narrowly avoided in 1999, and 2001/02. To control the escalation in any war scenario, the future is always unpredictable when nuclear deterrence is serving as a final card of war strategy. Now the question arises whether the deterrence worked during the aforesaid crisis, stabilized the situation and prevents the use of nuclear weapons into the fields? Many scholars opined that the Kargil Crisis did not escalate into full-scale war because of the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrence. There is the possibility of a nuclear war between rivalries by miscalculation or by misperception. But the stability of deterrence controls the conflict escalated towards war.

On the other hand, the growing Indo-US ties and induction Indian missile defence is being viewed as alarming in Pakistan that could affect the Indo-Pakistan Strategic Stability. Islamabad is apprehensive about the label “strategic” being attached to Washington’s dialogue with New Delhi.

Pakistan has always remained a trusted “ally” of the USA and always hoped that the latter would help Pakistan in retaining strategic relevance vis-à-vis India in the region. Pakistan is apprehensive that the USA has undermined Pakistan security concerns by allowing India to be the policeman in South Asia. It is likely to generate fears in Pakistan about American abandonment. Pakistan’s ties with China and Russia have proved to be enduring and if Indo-US relations move forward, Pakistan and Beijing may move even closer.

The best way to ensure peace, security and stability is to resolve the causes of conflict between nuclear arms states. The factors which could possibly challenge the deterrence stability are in need to explore. Some measures if adhered to, then there would be more chances for deterrence stability to prevail. These are Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures, Strategic Restraint Regime and Arms Control Measures. Decision makers in Islamabad and New Delhi should work out on ‘restraint regime’ wherein nuclear weapons are used as tools of war prevention and war deterrence. Should both states add more meaningful Nuclear CBMs to strengthen the deterrence stability? Bilateral action by India and Pakistan must be adopted to improve the nuclear environment in South Asia.

*Adeela Ahmed, Defense Analyst, Mphil Defence and Strategic Studies, Master of Arts in International Relations

2 thoughts on “Deterrence Stability In South Asia – OpEd

  • Avatar
    October 1, 2018 at 5:26 am
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    Very academic article… It was an education to read this

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  • Avatar
    October 5, 2018 at 6:56 am
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    India is the initiator of arms race in the region and also the very state which keeps on its belligerent activities in order to gain attention and to disturb the worsening strategic equilibrium in between Pakistan and India. This is very true that Pakistan and India are both nuclear neighbors and this things keeps the international community awaken as when to get start the nuclear in between the two states? But this is also a fact that Pakistan’s possession of nuclear capability is very much due to the India’s unmatched conventional capability, its cold start doctrine and alike factors. Though there are a number of conflicts which are still unresolved in between the two states. Kashmir which is commonly known as the major nuclear flash point but still the facts regarding the possible catastrophic effects of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be ignored and Pakistan being a responsible nuclear state would rather prefer to negotiate and seek solutions via diplomatic means rather being aggressive at the very first point.

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