Apparently, nuclear decision-makers in India and Pakistan are still impressed by Kenneth Waltz’s ‘more may be better’ discourse – even though US-USSR/Russia strategic arms reductions have proved ‘more may not be better’. Advocates of nuclear deterrence in both the countries are well-received at every level and are viewed beacons of patriotism. Nuclear optimists generally derive their arguments from the traditional political realism and balance of power theories. Interestingly, they are very vocal to propound their point of view and have a very little space in giving any respect to nuclear pessimism.
It’s important to mention few leading arguments which are widely held by Pakistani and Indian nuclear optimists: Firstly, they maintain that fear of nuclear annihilation has locked up the chances of any war between historical foes. Secondly, nuclear weapons promote regional peace and stability. Thirdly, these weapons provide a cost-effective option to security managers.
Sadly, the role of great powers, especially the US and USSR/Russia, has not been appreciable as they added fuel to the fire by securing strategic markets to cater to the vested interests of their military industrial complexes (MICs). Both, the US and USSR/Russia have been the biggest conventional arms exporters to India and Pakistan. The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and USSR/Russia’s conventional arms sales to India, in overwhelming proportions, have emboldened and strengthened nuclear optimists in Pakistan. Likewise, US weapons business and so-called strategic alliance with Pakistan have added much weight to Indian nuclear hawks’ premise for nuclear deterrence.
To my assessment, the rapidly changing nature of the US-Russia bilateral relationship and strategic role in different crises/issues/conflicts will have far-reaching repercussions on the South Asian nuclear template. The recent resurgence of Russia over the past few years is believed to be an indicator of another Cold War. Once again, many strategic pundits are recalling the long and dangerous Cold War era in which intentional peace and stability was under massive threat from great power ambitions. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and an unfolding strategic rivalry with the US will be used very conveniently by South Asian nuclear exponents to further buttress their hard positions.
On the other side, nuclear pessimists from both countries hold diametrically opposed views to nuclear optimists. They argue that the concept of nuclear deterrence is inherently flawed and based on incorrect psychological premises. According to them, nuclear weapons do not provide guarantees for lasting peace. Rather, they could cause catastrophe in the region. Moreover, they raise concerns with regards to accidental and unauthorized use of nukes coupled with command and control issues. They portray doomsday scenarios of non-state actors getting a hold on nukes, irrational state behaviors, institutional interests and miscalculations.
Keeping in view the Indian and Pakistani security imperatives, their peculiar strategic cultures, the role of China and domestic socioeconomic compulsions: is there a middle path in between nuclear optimists and nuclear pessimists? I think the answer is yes, South Asia needs ‘nuclear moderates’ who can influence nuclear policy-makers by convincingly presenting their case. Firstly, they can argue that India and Pakistan are two faces of the same coin – and have many commonalities. Both can advance the uplift of common people by stabilizing their bilateral relations. And the best way is to get out of this mad nuclear arms race and come up with some cooperative framework. Subsequently, concluding further nuclear risk reduction measures – ultimately leading towards arms control and disarmament initiatives. Many lessons could be drawn from US-USSR/Russia arms control and disarmament agreements. This is the only way to bring South Asia to a par with the most developed regions of the world. It will serve the interests of both the countries – very much a realist political approach.