Policy Recommendations: Moving Beyond Deterrence in South Asia

From: Arooj Naveed, University of Punjab, Pakistan

To: President Barack Obama, Oval Office, White House, United States of America

Executive Summary

The upcoming Nuclear Security Summit is an opportunity to convince India and Pakistan to move beyond the concept of deterrence. If both countries continue to embrace this doctrine, their nuclear competition will be open-ended. In order to get both countries to accept a post-deterrence order, the United States should develop a strategy to deal with nuclear waste in South Asia, create multilateral centers to tackle nuclear security and safety concerns, and invest in South Asian expertise among U.S. government officials and civil society.

Develop a Strategy to Deal with Nuclear Waste in South Asia

Every problem has a solution, as long as one uses technology in the right manner and without politicization. A useful case which can provide learning in this regard is that of Germany, where the Morsleben facility has stored nuclear waste for over four decades. However, an example of a case to avoid is that of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storehouse, which was abandoned, despite billions of dollars poured into it.

Create Multilateral Centers for Nuclear Security

Centers for dealing with nuclear power accidents are desperately needed in South Asia, to avoid the possibility of incidents that have happened elsewhere, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Develop American Expertise on South Asian Affairs

Analyst Vernile Liebl [1] argues that there is an unimpressive understanding of India and Pakistan’s nuclear doctrines and strategies at the national level within the United States. The author, when involved in a wargame in 2001 about a possible nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, found that the United States’s know-how with reference to the workings of South Asia is insufficient. One of the first questions by former US government officials was about evacuating non-combatants from the American embassy, not realizing that it would already have been destroyed in such an event. Filling these gaps in knowledge can assist the United States in formulating a better nuclear security policy with reference to India and Pakistan.


Guranteeing elimination of nuclear weapons may not be promising, as long as the theory of deterrence is not understood in the context of its practice between India and Pakistan. Nevertheless, working on the above mentioned points can establish some progress towards disarmament. The upcoming Nulcear Security Summit is the right platform for the United States to initiate dialogue with India and Pakistan on these issues. By pursuing the above-mentioned policies, Washington can help India and Pakistan break out of their deterrence stalemate.

[1] Liebl, Vernie. “India and Pakistan: Competing Nuclear Strategies and Doctrines.” Comparative Strategy 28, no. 2 (2009): 154-63.


Image: Koshy Koshy, Flickr

Posted in , India, Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Security, Pakistan, US

Arooj Naveed

Arooj Naveed

Arooj Naveed is a M.Phil scholar in International Relations from the University of Punjab. She is a freelancer at The Nation. Arooj recently authored a chapter "Pakistan’s External Security Challenges" in the book Revisiting Pakistan’s National Security Dilemma, edited by Dr. Iram Khalid. She has also co-authored an article with Dr. Khalid in The Journal of South Asia entitled "Conflict in Waziristan." Her areas of interest include foreign policy, diplomacy, conflict management and conflict resolution.

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2 thoughts on “Policy Recommendations: Moving Beyond Deterrence in South Asia

  1. Arooj
    The regional strategic competition has more than one generator. Even if, for example, Pakistan and India were best buddies, India would still feel compelled to build nuclear weapons to deter China.
    But Pakistan and India are obviously not best buddies, so their enmity is another contributor to the region’s nuclear arms competition.
    Pakistan’s compulsion to compete is rooted in the supposition that India’s conventional forces will be used against it unless it competes. Not to compete invites this outcome.
    Let’s leave aside for the moment that this scenario always begins with an attack on Indian soil by extremists based in Pakistan. Stop the attacks — or cooperate with India in shutting them down — and there is no worst case scenario.
    Now let’s take this thought experiment one step further. Attacks on Indian soil continue (most recently, Pathankot) and there is no military response. There was no military response after the Parliament attack in 2001. Or after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. There has been no warfare since 1999. Some will argue that the absence of war is precisely because Pakistan has competed with India. But there is absolutely no way to test this assertion — and good reason to question it. Does a country avoid war because of the possibility of one mushroom cloud? Ten? One hundred? No one really knows.
    Let’s continue this thought experiment. Let’s suppose that an Indian government declares that it has better things to do than to fight Pakistan — even when sorely provoked — like growing its economy and defense capabilities against China. (I know this isn’t going to happen, but let’s play along with this thought experiment.)
    Would this end Pakistan’s compulsion to compete with Indian nuclear capabilities — capabilities that will continue to grow vis a vis China? Or would Pakistan continue to measure its nuclear needs against India?
    If you cannot imagine the guardians of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal saying ‘enough is enough,’ then there are other drivers for nuclear modernization and stockpile growth besides the threat posed by India.
    And Pakistan might well have company in this regard.

  2. Sir ,
    The concept of nuclear deterrence was founded during the Cold War, and used as a threat of “massive retaliation.” It has continued to incorporate concepts of mutually assured destruction, counterforce, countervailing, and flexible response. When you talk about a generator in South Asia and deterrence, in the case of India and Pakistan, a third state is involved—the United States. According to Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, the India-United States nuclear deal increased New Delhi’s capabilities of fissile production and disturbed South Asia ‘strategic stability . Syed Shaid Hussain Bukhari, a lecturer in the department of Political Science, Islamic University Bahawalpur, explains this phenomenon by stating that the 21st century development of a strategic partnership between the United States and India facilitated the “nuclearization of South Asia”, and upset the balance of power between India and Pakistan. This deal of high-tech defense equipment was seen as favoring India and weakening Pakistan, forcing Islamabad to look into “advanced weapon technology”in fear of Indian superiority in capabilities of conventional warfare. This compelled Pakistan to make a parallel agreement with China , as of Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. This has further enhanced the element of distrust between the two countries. According to American lawyer and President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff, persistent dependence on nuclear weapons remains essential to the posture of security for any two proclaimed nuclear weapon states. However, this posture breeds instability. By attempting to attain ultimate security by armament, non-proliferation has been made unsuccessful. In in spite of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, deterrence continues to place life at high risk, and it does not provide security against unplanned or unauthorized launches, miscalculations by a computer, an illogical rogue act, terrorist attacks, or any other random scenarios. Regarding these concerns, an “Oops List of nuclear accidents ”accidents” has been compiled by Chuck Hansen,the editor of Swords of Armageddon.
    Hope that answers the questions put forward regarding deterrence and connects to policy recommendations.
    Thank you

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