Dec 06, 2019 | Dr. Rajkumar Singh
The US in particular and international community in general has a have major stakes in preventing nuclear conflagration in South Asia
Under normal circumstances, history suggests that achieving stability between nuclear antagonists requires years of confidence-building and willingnesson bothsides to make the concessions necessary for relations to mature into detente. In the region South Asia, politicalattitudes toward conflict resolution, domestic and regional compulsions, and conditions generating nuclear tensions continue to foster instability.
Earlier, the demise of the Cold War made the strategic balance between the world’s two nuclear superpowers irrelevant. But similar concerns about stability then became applicable to other regions, especially South Asia.
In the regionthe challenges will be far greater because the environment and conditions are notthe same. On the one hand, there are the geo- physical and strategic asymmetries between India and Pakistan that present challenges different from thosefaced during the Cold War.
On the other hand, in both countries several aspects of the environment are identical and inimical to nuclear stability, including harsh climatic conditions, poor communications infrastructure, frequent power breakdowns, and a disturbed domestic climate with communal/ethnic violence.
Wider scope of nuclear power
Though there have been significant confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan, including an agreement on reducing nuclear risk as well as re-establishment of transport links, they have not yet brought about any significant progress on basic-security disputes, such as Kashmir and terrorist violence.
Similarly, Sino-Indian negotiations on resolving the border question, while reiterating the need fora long-term solution, have not madeany headway. In general, concerns of negative shifts in thefuture balance of power persuade the protagonists to adopt a more cautious policy.
Thus, the drivingforces for nuclear modernisation remain in place. At the same time, the threat of horizontal proliferation has not abated due to various interest groupsin the region.
In the prevailing situation, any cooperation agreements or treaties that are signed without the bedrock foundation of mutual understanding will certainly not prove viable. This propositionhas already proven true in SouthAsia where numerous attempts at establishing communications and “hot lines” between India and Pakistan have fallen into disuse when the crises came.
A key to the region’s future lies in creatinga foundationand framework for peace and security, which could function as a support base, especially during crises. Immediately after the 1998 nuclear tests, India and Pakistan conceded that since overt nuclearisation had occurred, the use of force and war were no longer feasible instruments of national policy. There remains an urgent need for a durable peace and security framework.
At this juncture, the region South Asia can take lessons from the experiences of Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, earlier the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) agreement was reached and inthe Middle East the Arms Controland Regional Security (ACRS) structure was followed. With these experiences along with its own recent experience the region should produce the contours of a structure for a future regional peace process.
The first lesson derived from the above is that a peace process will collapse if progress toward the resolution of the underlying conflict is stalled.
Second, a healthy conflict resolution process would lay the basis for military restraint and confidence- building measures, which in turn reduces the role played by military forces.
Third, a process of conflict resolution between two countries is better than one involving multiple actors.
Lastly, the facilitation provides room forless frictionand dilutes biases and agendas. The United States in particular and the international community in general have majorstakes in preventing a nuclear conflagration in South Asia. Outside actors can play a major role in assuring stability in the region.
The United States is now in a unique position to have leverage on both countries. The US can seek assurance independently from each country that it will desist from dangerous military practices that could trigger a crisis and ensure that command systems are effectively working in peace- time under recessed and non-mated conditions.
Techniques of crisis management
Crisis management can also be a useful strategy to avoid conflict in the absence of a dialogue and process to resolve issues. Indo-Pakistani crises must be avoided or, if this is not possible, contained. Aside from taking diplomatic measures, the United States can help provide crisis stability by strengthening technical stability measures in both countries.
The US can help leadership in both countries by throwing light on the “blind spots” that currently exist. It might consider establishing a cooperative arrangement with India and Pakistanand assist them by providing timely information that could alleviate their concerns, especially in crisis situation.
The US isalso capable to involve Russia and China so as to placateany concerns of India and Pakistan regarding objectivity. However, the possibility of US intervention might be a dangerous paradigm in the region-reliance on US intervention to ensure stability.
Worse, there is a potential danger that US policy-makers may begin to believe that South Asian crises can always be managed with US diplomatic assistance, and therefore, they may leave the two protagonists in their current status quo, to sort it out between themselves, until the next crisis.
Therefore, in the long run, India and Pakistan must themselves accord a high priority to achieving a bilateral agreement on aerospace developments for surveillance and satellite monitoring.Such a confidence-building measure will be critical to the nuclear future of both Indiaand Pakistan.
Current situation in South Asia
Nuclear stabilisationwould likely rest on a unique mixture of transparency and survivabilityfor nuclear capabilities as well as creative monitoring arrangements that provide reassurance without increased vulnerability. It would be a mistaketo assume that the current environment will bethe environment of the future.
Like the first nuclear age, the Cold War, thereare likely to be ebbs andflows in competition, with different problems and shocks developing over time, interspaced with periods of relative calm.
India has mainly responded to Pakistan’s nuclear build-up not with one of its own, but with strategy innovation, improved intelligence, missile, and a nuclear triad. The appearance of strategic innovation in South Asia is important, therefore, in a way thatgoes beyondthe particulars of any one innovation.
‘Cold Start’ policy of India provides fascinating insight into the dynamic interactions that shows howboth countries have shifted from conventional war-fighting to escalation strategies. This is not a matter of a conscious choice by eithercountry;rather itis an emergent property of the interacting nuclear systems in South Asia. While escalation strategies have always existed in South Asia, they are now front and centre. This marksa fundamental change from the conventional attrition strategies of previous wars.
Thus, in the current situation, enhancing Indian and Pakistani capabilities toensure stability and peace and providing incentives to reduce the risk of a nuclear war is a goal that necessitates reconsideration of previous accepted principles and practices. The fact that there is still much to be uncovered adds to our curiosity.
Author is head of P.GDepartment of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.GCentre, Saharsa, Bihar, India