The online course, Nuclear South Asia: A Guide to India, Pakistan, and the Bomb, offered by the Stimson Center is significant in terms of the range of voices that it manages to bring together from India, Pakistan, and the United States. The views reflected throughout the course build a holistic platform for beginners in the field to get a sense of the issues involved, and prepares them for any specialized foray into understanding “nuclear South Asia.” The advent of nuclear weapons has fundamentally impacted state behavior in the international system. The ways in which states think about war under the nuclear umbrella and its implications has led to new concepts of war and peace in international relations. No other weapon and its associated technologies have attracted so much scholarly attention based on sheer destructive power. Moreover, the dual-use nature of nuclear technology and its relevance for energy security has complicated these debates.
The possession of nuclear weapons and the commercialization of nuclear energy production cannot be disassociated from a country’s sovereignty, and the participants in the course grapple with this issue through a range of perceptions on what it takes to be a responsible nuclear power. For instance, the debate surrounding India and Pakistan’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a reflection of the complex minefield that both countries and the international community have to traverse. The varying opinions on the issue of NSG membership for the two South Asian nations is often based on adversarial strategic equations between India, China, and Pakistan. In other words, as is often the case, geopolitics, rather than technical considerations, seem to dominate competing narratives.
South Asia is home to two nuclear weapon powers that have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This causes some to perceive a higher level of nuclear danger in the region. However, both India and Pakistan hold the view that their respective nuclear stewardship is in safe hands and hence the fears of a destabilizing nuclear environment in the region are exaggerated. The course reflects the complexity of an environment where divergent views exist on whose actions are more destructive to a stable deterrence relationship. The offense-defense dilemma, which combines both conventional and nuclear capabilities, is highlighted through debates surrounding Pakistan’s battlefield-use nuclear weapons and India’s “Cold Start” doctrine. This action-reaction syndrome complicates the conflict-escalation ladder in the region, as experts’ views in the course seem to suggest. The introduction of new measures that test the opponent’s nuclear thresholds could create a destabilizing level of uncertainty. India and Pakistan’s geographic proximity introduces a whole new dynamic, especially regarding developments in delivery vehicles and counterforce capabilities. This was one of the most interesting lessons in the course.
The experiences and institutional memories of the Cold War nuclear superpowers and their deterrence relationship holds important lessons for newer nuclear powers like India and Pakistan. However, to effectively communicate and apply these lessons to India and Pakistan requires much more concurrence and whole lot more nuclear learning across the spectrum. It is pertinent that this online course emphasize the need for Subcontinental experts to think through the similarities and differences between the nuclear experience in India and Pakistan and that of other nuclear powers. Finding explanatory models and concepts of India-Pakistan nuclear dynamics requires building the next generation of keen minds to take up these issues. The Stimson course, in that sense, is a unique initiative towards building that critical mass of expertise in the field.
Although the lessons in the course do emphasize to the role of China in India-Pakistan nuclear dynamics, taking what is usually termed as a “Southern Asia” approach might add more depth to the course. The deterrence relationship between India and Pakistan cannot be fully explained devoid of the Chinese role. In that sense, in the future the course could consider triangular nuclear dynamics to analyze the emerging nuclear scenario in Southern Asia to complete the picture.
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.