Since the overt nuclearization of 1998, South Asia’s strategic stability has been affected by recurring India-Pakistan crises. In the decade that followed, even as the two countries were waking up to the realities of mutual vulnerability, these crises helped shape their respective nuclear doctrines and force postures. No doubt, the 1999 Kargil conflict left unmitigated scars on the strategic thinking of Indian military planners. This generated a debate in India over operationalizing the concept of ‘limited war under nuclear umbrella’ as a means of achieving Indian strategic goals in a nuclearized environment.
Nonetheless, among several similarities between the Cold War and South Asian deterrence models are the repetitive episodes of crises, with a growing arms race, giving birth to technological advancement and military modernization. This in turn has served as a driver for the evolution of emerging doctrines and force postures such as triads and TNWs. In view of these developments, regional stability appears to have been jeopardized with bleak prospects of detente between India and Pakistan in the near future and emerging arms race and first strike instabilities.
Technological innovation in the region is a direct outcome of doctrinal asymmetry between the two states vying in the pursuit of offensive postures and escalation dominance during a crisis. Pakistan’s [unpublished] nuclear doctrine has been deliberately kept vague though it does broadly indicate its nuclear redlines in terms of territorial, economic, military and domestic stability thresholds. Believing in the dictum, ‘ambiguity strengthens deterrence,’ maximizes Pakistan’s response options on one hand, while on the other leads to the potential for uncontrolled escalation during a crisis.
With the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistan has lowered the nuclear threshold, reiterating it as ‘full spectrum deterrence’ that includes counter-force and counter-value targets. The deployment of 60km Nasr against any ‘proactive operation’ suggests the possibility of its use against counter-force targets. Theoretically, it would be justified under the right of self-defense by a state vulnerable to external aggression – in case its nuclear threshold is triggered – but it (would) presumably invite Indian massive retaliation response (as per the Indian doctrine).
Therefore the quid pro quo in the technological advancement in order to offset the strategic advantage of one against the other would supplement the prerequisites of credible deterrence. But at the same time, it would drive the decision makers into a critical situation to call the shots under the auspices of their respective doctrinal commitments and the exigencies of the conflict. In such a situation, either the rationality or the credibility of the state to adhere to its doctrines and rhetorical positions is likely to be compromised.
The South Asian force posturing is in accordance with their doctrinal postulates, therefore, the inherent contradiction of the two doctrines leads to the inevitability of an arms race – the latter being fuelled by a massive conventional military buildup and deployment of a nuclear triad by India with Pakistan striving to maintain strategic stability though not seeking parity. Nevertheless, the worrisome aspect in the South Asian nuclear game of chicken is a steady erosion of stability at the cost of crises being potentially triggered by provocative doctrines, military modernization driven by the technological determinism, coupled with the elements of sub-conventional war and the lowering of nuclear thresholds.