Stepping Back from the Brink: Avoiding a Nuclear March of Folly in South Asia

By Zachary Davis

Historian Barbara Tuchman described the trail of misperceptions and bad decisions that led to mankind's worst self-imposed disasters as a "March of Folly." Now is the time for India and Pakistan to take steps to ensure that another war or crisis between them does not result in a nuclear exchange that destroys both societies.

The prospects for rolling back India's or Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs during the Obama administration are zero. Nevertheless, the administration can help reduce the risk of nuclear war in South Asia. There is a growing recognition by New Delhi and Islamabad that a crisis, triggered by events such as the November terrorist attack in Mumbai, could escalate out of control and result in an unintended nuclear exchange. The Kargil crisis in 1999 and the 2002 cross-border attack on the Indian parliament brought the two nuclear rivals to the brink of war. Having survived two Cuban missile crises of their own, it is time India and Pakistan take steps to manage the risks inherent in their tense nuclear relationship.

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Anonymous said...

Having said all in this article it is of paramost importance to know previous records of each country specailly how they control their nuclear arsenal and how much international community cares about such.
Having years of Military control is an obvious reason to raise doubts and raise concerns.

P.R.Chari said...

Actually, we are falling behind the curve. Both India and Pakistan have learnt much from the Kargil and border confrontation episodes. Note their caution in responding to the Mumbai incident in deeds; forget the rhetoric, which is unavoidable to address domestic constituencies.
Dangerous doctrines are not permiting the armed forces to drive India into a conventional conflict. Such decisions are firmly in the hands of the civilian leadership, which is cautious and circumspect in such matters.Still, much can be done. Institutionalizing an arrangement by which warheads and delivery systems are kept separate needs to be verified for being credible. How is this to be done?
CTBT? I think the Obama adam. needs to set the example here by ratifying the same, which would lead to great pressure on the holdouts to follow suit.
FMCT? Where is the Treaty??
The long term solution to the India-Pakistan standoff is a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. A hard nut to crack. Until then what is feasible and should be done is increase and improve people-to-people relations, trade, tourism and so on. Low political cost, but will create the atmospherics to normalize bilateral relations, which is the real solution to nuclear fears an dangers in South Asia.
As of now, the terrorism threat from Pakistan-Afghanistan is what we should be really worried about.

Jehangir Karamat said...

There are responsible leaddership in both In dia and Pakistan. Their sixty year old relationship has been a consistent learning curve as is evident from their real responses to crisis events like the Mumbai terror attacks.These responses are still ongoing and eventually will defeat the aim of the terrorists--disrupt India-Pakistan relations. The US-India Nuclear Agreement has had a negative effect on the non-proliferation regime. The US has to drive trends that start reinforcing it--so far this has not happened. If India and Pakistan resume dialogue then bilateral solutions are possible on a range of issues--both have the expertise to do this.

Dilawar Khan said...

I agree with the author that chances of rolling back of nuclear weapons in near fututre by Pakistan and India are beyond zero and the current relations of these two countries can lead to a nuclear war any time. I also respect his proposals on reducing the risk of nuclear weapons presented in the article. However, being realistic and having a fair idea about the history of Indo-Pak relations, I am not sure the measures article suggests are actually going to pay any major role in reducing the risk of nuclear war in Southasia.
To my sense, the threat of use of nuclear weapons in South Asia is not due to lack of control measures both countries have on their nuclear arsenals or absence of number of protocols they have mutually signed on nuclear use, rather it is based upon the historic trust-deficit between Pakistan and India. Whatever the agreement they may mutually agree upon, becomes null and void after any one event. The recent Mumbai attacks or attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 are the cases in point, where all efforts on composite dialogue and thaw in relations became redundant/non-existant overnight.
If new US administration is serious to take some actions for reducing the risk of nuclear war in South asia, they have to think beyond signing protocols on nuclear weapons in isolation, or making India and pakistan to agree on certain nuclear restraints. Instead of forcing these small treaties, US and the World should focus on addressing the core issues between Pakistan and India, thereby develpoing trust and improving bilateral relations between the governments and people of both countries. In that case, there will be no fear of nuclear use even without Pakistan and India being signatory of any treaty on nuclear weapons and restraints will come automatically. We have the example where neighbours' nuclear weapons are no threat to each other despite absence of any nuclear restraint treaties. For instance, the nuclear weapons of China and Pakistan are not considered any threat to each other, same may be true for China and Russia or to some extent UK and France.What I am trying to say is that it is not essentially the passive measures like codifying the delpoyment of certain number of weapons on borders or signing on papers alone, rather it is the trust based relationship, which will reduce th risk of nuclear weapons. Moreover, without bridging the trust deficit between Pakistan and India, no nuclear treaty will have trust worthy effects.Even, the information shared about nuclear weapons may not be true/complete.
As far as the core issues are concerned, the resolution of Kashmir problem and the role of intelligence agencies(RAW and ISI) in each other's countries as well as in the GWOT need to be revisited dispassionately and both countries should be made to reach on accepatble agreements on these counts. For that to happen, the US has to think beyond own interests alone and work on achieving global peace. Moreover, the US policies should not be driven by perceptions created by media and lobbyists, rather, a true ground work should be done to find out the realities. In that case, the US may find out that Pakistan can be an asset, not liability in the GWOT and the world peace. I honestly think, this approach ll help resolve problems not only for Indo-Pak, but also for the US in that region.

Anonymous said...

The reports at the following links point clearly towards the American hand in the Pak nukes :

Can anyone explain why the whistle blowers, Richard Barlow and the Turkish translator, were gagged by the US authorities, ?