The Stimson Center’s South Asia Program maintains a reputation as the “go-to” source when it comes to finding informed analysis of nuclear weapons developments and associated risks in South Asia. Stimson’s recently released online course, Nuclear South Asia: A Guide to India, Pakistan, and the Bomb, is yet another valuable addition to the freely available online sources on South Asian nuclear dynamics. It provides a unique opportunity to students, researchers, academics, and policymakers to acquire knowledge and gain a comprehensive understanding of nuclear dangers in South Asia from a diverse group of experts on the subject matter.
The course covers all traditional aspects of the contemporary debate on nuclear weapons developments in South Asia. The topics range from emerging policies and capabilities on deterrence stability to the analysis of the various crises, conflict-management efforts, and other endeavors to build confidence between South Asian nuclear rivals. An important feature of the course is that each topic starts from baseline information and leads to a complex analysis of the issue and directs the scholars to further investigation of a topic. A user-friendly format of the videos is easy to access with stress-free navigation tools. The course has an added value for the young students and aspiring scholars as it not only provides an opportunity to test their knowledge by taking quizzes at the end of each topic, it also gets them an accredited certificate by the Stimson Center. I personally benefited from the course and it serves as an important source of information for my work on South Asian nuclear issues.
The course is designed in such a way that it covers maximum topics without being too lengthy and maintains objectivity by providing opinions on most topics from a range of experts from India, Pakistan, and the United States. There are, however, a few lessons that are either heavily American-dominated or have less or no Pakistani representation. For instance, Lesson 5.7 on “Crisis Management during 1999 Kargil Conflict” does not have any South Asian voice. Similarly, the lessons on “Deterrence Credibility in South Asia” and “Deterrence Stability in South Asia” have no Pakistani representation.
While it covers a wide range of topics from theory to practice, it would be great to expand the topics and add more content in future lessons. An important area to be considered for future lessons is nuclear security. Nuclear security issues have gained worldwide currency, especially after the Nuclear Security Summit process championed by the Obama Administration. There can be a discussion on the nuclear security norms and practices in India and Pakistan and finding potential avenues of cooperation between two countries in this important area. Other important areas that may be considered in future could be the role of disruptive technologies; cyber warfare; risks of nuclear terrorism; and the role of strategic culture in South Asia.
The South Asian nuclear dynamics are subject to fast-paced changes and any given information faces the challenge of becoming outdated in a shorter period and hence needs to be updated. While it is difficult to seek a fresh opinion from the same experts as the new developments arise, it would be great to have one periodically updated chapter in the end of the online course addressing all new regional developments.
While the course contents are an extremely useful source of information, there could be some improvement to the quizzes. With the present format, the quizzes appear to be a test of memory rather than an assessment of acquired knowledge. Considering the diversity of opinion among the lecturers, perhaps there cannot be any right or wrong answers for all the questions. Therefore, the quizzes should only focus on the substantive part and not on the opinion of the speakers.
Editor’s note: “Nuclear South Asia: A Guide to India, Pakistan, and the Bomb” is a free, open online course produced by the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center. The course, part of the Stimson Center’s Nuclear Learning initiative, provides the emerging generation of strategic analysts in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere a platform to study nuclear competition and dangers on the Subcontinent. It includes video interviews with more than 80 leading practitioners and scholars from India, Pakistan, and the United States, including former senior diplomats and military officers. In this series, SAV contributors Muhammad Daim Fazil, Prateek Joshi, Sitara Noor, and Monish Tourangbam reviewed the course and assessed its educational utility. Read the entire series here. To enroll in the course, visit nuclearlearning.org, and for further engagement, follow the Nuclear Learning Facebook and Twitter pages and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
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