South Asia: Beyond crisis management

By Mario E. Carranza, October 12, 2016

Rather than "too much Uncle Sam"—that's how a subheading in Rabia Akhtar's first essay expressed the author's view—the problem in South Asia is "too little Uncle Sam."

Akhtar is concerned about India and Pakistan's inability to "grow up" and end their dependence on US management of nuclear crises. I share her concern, but unless Washington forces New Delhi and Islamabad to stop their nuclear arms race and take arms control seriously, the two South Asian nations will continue playing with nuclear fire. Pure bilateralism, without any US pressure, is a dead-end street—witness the two countries' inability to prevent the current crisis over the Uri attack.

What India and Pakistan require is more US involvement (along with a multilateral effort to reduce nuclear dangers, both globally and in South Asia). Washington's ultimate goal in the region must be denuclearization. Nuclear arms control would be a first step in that direction.

Akhtar claims that US influence over the South Asian rivals "is less pronounced… than my roundtable colleagues seem to believe." But Pakistan still depends on US economic and military aid. And the United States could use its leverage over India—made possible by the US-India nuclear deal—to encourage India to disavow its army's Cold Start Doctrine. Meanwhile, Washington could exert strong pressure on the Pakistani military to enforce the illegal status of all anti-Indian jihadi terrorist groups based on Pakistani territory. India might then reduce its military pressure on Pakistan, allowing the Pakistanis to feel more secure. Islamabad then might agree—under US pressure—not to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. The Indians might then make a similar pledge. This would amount to a "graduated and reciprocated initiative in tension reduction" of the sort identified by British economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding. The result would be significant reduction in the risk of a South Asian nuclear exchange.

India and Pakistan are not condemned to live in a situation resembling a permanent Cuban Missile Crisis. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it comes in part from the international social and normative environments that affect India and Pakistan's nuclear choices. International normative pressure under US leadership is the key to solving the subcontinent's nuclear problem. Yes, the South Asian rivals will sooner or later have to "grow up," but what "growing up" really means is accepting normative constraints over nuclear behavior.

No evidence? Akhtar, disputing my Round One statement that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are apparently ready for use at any time, wrote in Round Two that there was "no evidence" that my statement was true. But most analysts agree that since 2001–2002, Pakistan and India have both developed their nuclear doctrines in the direction of having ready-to-use nuclear weapons. As early as 2001, the US Defense Department believed that Pakistan could "probably assemble some weapons fairly quickly." General Khalid Kidwai, the former head of Pakistan's Strategic Plans Division, reportedly confirmed this assessment during two interviews with an Italian experts' group, the Landau Network-Centro Volta, in 2002 and 2008. In the second interview, Kidwai reportedly stated that Pakistan's nuclear weapons "will be ready when required, at the shortest notice… distance is not the issue, the issue is timing. Separation is more linked to time rather than to space." According to Sébastien Miraglia of the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, Pakistan's command and control system is assertive—that is, placed under tight centralized control by the National Command Authority—only during peacetime, and includes very few protections against unauthorized nuclear use during military crises with India. MIT's Vipin Narang, meanwhile, has reported that Pakistan's Nasr nuclear missile will be eventually deployed in a near-ready "canisterized" state, and that the Pakistani army's positive control procedures to rapidly deploy nuclear weapons "may include predelegating some authority to end users in its chain of command to move and release nuclear weapons under the plausible scenario that communication was to break down in the midst of a crisis."

More broadly, Akhtar claims that I examine the Indo-Pakistani nuclear competition through a "Cold War prism." But in my recent book India-Pakistan Nuclear Diplomacy, I argue in support of the thesis advanced by Stanford's S. Paul Kapur that nuclear South Asia is not like Cold War Europe. To be sure, India and Pakistan can learn from the US-Soviet experience of achieving nuclear arms control agreements, but the Cold War is not the only available model for nuclear arms control in South Asia. Indeed, I argue in my book that India and Pakistan could learn from the Argentine-Brazilian experience of nuclear trust-building.


Topics: Nuclear Weapons