The India-Pakistan Nuclear Relationship: Theories of Deterrence and International Relations
Ali Ahmed ·       

E Sridharan is the Academic Director at the Institute for Advanced Study of India of the University of Pennsylvania (UPIASI) at New Delhi. He has edited this book as part of a larger project on 'International Relations Theory and South Asia' that has attempted to engage scholars from South Asia in the discipline of international relations to interrogate their understanding of theory in relation to the region. This book is a compilation of updated papers presented by the participants at two of a series of conferences on the problems of conflict and cooperation in the region. The book is commendable on two counts. It treats South Asia as a single strategic space and depicts the perspectives of the three nuclear powers in the region - India, Pakistan, China. Secondly, the work is consciously both theoretical and empirical, providing enough thought to engage readers, both academics and practitioners.

The volume attempts to answer the questions: Does deterrence theory explain Indian and Pakistani nuclear behavior? Post 1998, is deterrence working and likely to be stable in the dynamic context of creeping weaponization, and future crisis? How adequate are deterrence and neorealist theory, developed in the context of the US-Soviet Cold War, and what are the theoretical departures necessary in the South Asian context? At the outset, it can be said that the contributors succeed in bringing to bear theory on the practice of deterrence in South Asia. The scholars represented, from India and Pakistan, are a veritable who's who of the emerging generation of South Asian strategists. Sridharan's edited work has essays by, among others, IDSA veterans Rajagopalan and Swaran Singh.

There is considerably writing on India's nuclear quest. At the forefront earlier was the status of the 'nuclear option'. After Pokhran II, the focus shifted to the type of nuclear deterrence available to India like 'force-in-being'. The Draft Nuclear Doctrine was discussed threadbare and also by the anti-nuclear polemicists. Limited War thinking was developed. The earlier doctrine was one of non-weaponized deterrence or existential deterrence and this did not change overnight with weaponization, The Draft doctrine was only declared in Aug 1999 much after the nuclear tests. Limited War thinking can be traced to the Kargil conflict and was made explicit by George Fernandes during an address in the IDSA in early 2000. Thinking about limited war was promoted by the Pakistani military action in Kargil and sponsored terrorism, which breached the Indian tolerance threshold after the attack on Parliament. Tests heralded weaponization, but Kargil and the Parliament attack came later, showing that nuclearization had not dampened Pakistani adventurism, but may have encouraged it. Lastly, this situation led to enunciation of India's Cold Start doctrine. The book under review has gone a step further by discussing nuclearization through the problems posed by the deterrence theory, and is therefore a recommended read.

Sridharan opines that deterrence leading to peace stands the best chance under a particular combination of regimes; namely, with India being under a secular-liberal party while Pakistan has a version of moderate Islam. He is of the view that India's nuclear policy is directed against a long term threat from China; against the discriminatory policies of declared nuclear powers; and long term security in an uncertain world order. He recommends resolving conflicts with Pakistan as they only box India into South Asia, and reduce its leverage in international forums. He expects that a fundamental resolution of disputes and moves towards greater South Asian integration would improve India's status in the world arena. At the risk of being foolhardy, he even hazards conceptualizing an eventual joint South Asian deterrent!

WPS Sidhu, a faculty member at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, who is well known for his earlier writings on the nuclear question, brings out the shortcomings of realist theory in the South Asian setting. Realism cannot explain why, after having tested in 1974, India did not choose to go nuclear or why the slow paced weaponization continues, despite China's head start. He also brings out the shortcomings of deterrence theory as not being able to adequately explain why Indian armed forces launched conventional action in Operation Vijay and Operation Parakram that could have escalated. Deterrence theory is also limited to the triadic context of India-Pakistan-China, and is wanting in dealing with non-state armed groups and the self-deterrence within decision makers confronted with hard strategic choices. His major insight lies in using organizational theory and strategic culture to explain the India-Pakistan contest.

A leading academic, Varun Sahni, of the JNU, has critiqued the 'stability-instability paradox.' The paradox suggests that stability induced by nuclear weapons through mutual deterrence at the strategic level opens up the possibility of force being used at conventional levels. He suggests that the crisis of 2002 has revealed that the gap between Pakistan's asymmetric warfare and a possible nuclear exchange is small. This is due to India's possible response by launching sub-conventional cross-LOC operations with retractable Special Forces that could have an escalatory potential. This conclusion is questionable, since he mistakes sub-conventional response with 'limited war under nuclear conditions.' The latter is equivalent to conventional war, and any conventional war in the nuclear era can only be a Limited War. Sahni mistakes India's transborder response such as hot pursuit and raids with 'limited war under nuclear conditions'. The Army, on the other hand, would club these conflicts as sub-conventional operations, and term them as Limited War. However, his conclusion that India and Pakistan are on a nuclear learning curve and must engage in a deterrence partnership to prevent conflict and manage crisis is fair. For this he recommends nuclear risk reduction measures and direct communications between nuclear command authorities.

Pakistan's nuclear posture is well argued by Rasul Bakhsh Rais. He identifies three areas of focus for the Pakistani deterrent: it must be a minimum credible deterrent; Pakistan must engage in a security dialogue with India; and lastly peace should be high on the bilateral agenda due to the nuclear shadow. The other Pakistani contribution is by Rifaat Hussain. He expands on the strategic restraints regime proposed by Islamabad to include: nuclear restraint; prevention of a missile race; establishment of risk reduction centers; moratorium on testing; non-induction of ABM and naval leg of the triad; and, interestingly, conventional stabilization through mutual and balanced reduction of forces and armaments.

Karnad, in his piece, typically tilts combatively at deterrence theory of the Cold War vintage. He finds it irrelevant for unequal powers like India and Pakistan. His view that concentrations of Indian Muslims in metropolitan centers like Delhi and Mumbai would influence Pakistani targeting philosophy can be contested. He exaggerates the linkage that familial ties between Muslims on both sides of the border has on India's strategic posture and war aims. These have been restrained and limited for reasons other than the contrived reasoning put forward by Karnad. He also errs in believing that India's operationalizing its nuclear doctrine in 2003 countenances reflexive 'massive retaliation'. Instead, massive retaliation is only threatened against a 'first strike', suggesting that India has adopted a 'flexible response' doctrine - although this has not been articulated either in the doctrine or in any related commentary.

As a final word, the book is an excellent single volume introduction to the concept of deterrence and to the nuclear issue in South Asia- making it equivalent to getting 'two birds with one stone'!