The Question of Low Numbers in South Asia

While propounding nuclear optimism for short-term, Lawrence Freedman in his voluminous book Evolution of Nuclear Strategy concludes that “The Emperor Deterrence has no clothes, but he is still emperor.” In his long-term assessment, Freedman concludes: “an international order that rests upon a stability created by nuclear weapons will be the most terrible legacy with which each succeeding generation will endow the next. To believe that this can go on indefinitely without major disaster requires an optimism unjustified by any historical or political perspective.” Undoubtedly, this was a bold and exhaustive attempt to critically analyze the efficacy and expediency of nuclear deterrence in the context of US-USSR Cold War strategic rivalry.

In my opinion, Freedman’s short-term – long-term conclusions may be very much accurate and can be a useful model to examine nuclear South Asia. India-Pakistan nuclear trajectories are continued to go-upward without any rumples. It’s noteworthy that those who are calling the shots in strategic matters from both the countries staunchly believe that nuclear weapons promote peace and stability in the region – hence making NWs the lynchpin of overall security architecture. According to new data on international arms transfers recently published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s arms imports are now almost 3 times as high as those of the second and third largest arms importers—China and Pakistan. With regards to nuclear developments, India is on the path to construct breeder-technology based reactors which certainly will boost its fissile material stocks for bomb making.

India’s struggle to build up a BMD system is yet another extremely dangerous trend that has already provided enough ammunition to fuel up arms race in the region. According to a news report published by – India and Israel have concluded an agreement to assemble a ballistic missile defense system to protect against nuclear warheads fired from China or Pakistan. What message does India want to give by massively building up its military muscles?

In such a volatile strategic milieu, Pakistani nuclear decision-makers increasingly justify their rapid development of nuclear arsenal. They project and firmly believe that the newly built TNWs promote deterrence stability between India and Pakistan – though debatable. It is widely believed that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are growing fastest in the world. This is on the technological side, less said on nuclear policy side the better. The fundamental question arises: does the number-game really promote peace and can bring stability in the longer-run?

Yes, the emperor deterrence, even though lacking some essential ingredients, has promoted shaky peace and stability for the shorter-run. But, unfortunately South Asia in the longer-run may be the victim of the nuclear genie. The following few arguments may substantiate this assumption:

Firstly, the nuclear weapons in Indo-Pak inventories may not be very reliable instruments to avert wars between both the countries if other factors of their security behavior are not taken care of.

Secondly, an arms race in the context of the number-game is neither necessary nor winnable. Rather the large number may cause multiple problems – for instance, maintenance costs and safety and security issues etc.

Thirdly, both countries are densely populated, mostly living under poverty-lines. Many are deprived from basic human needs. So, the lava of population can over-flow any time, resulting in severe consequences in the region. Already both the countries have increased defense spending to an extent which the current economic growth cannot support. Lastly, the presence of non-state actors in the region may undermine deterrence stability through various ways that are thoroughly debated in the current nuclear literature.

In this strategic environment, the need of hour is this: the international community must create circumstances taking both countries on board that can pave the way towards low numbers. Mark Fitzpatrick’s book is an insightful and innovative read in this regard. Above all, both the countries must show political will and resolve to start arms control and disarmament initiatives. Sooner the better.


Posted in , Deterrence, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Muhammad Sadiq

Muhammad Sadiq is a lecturer at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quiad-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan since 2007 and a former visiting fellow (fall 2012) at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, MIIS California. He also served at Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as an “International Relations Analyst” for a short period of time in 2007. He has M.Sc and M.Phil degrees from DSS, QAU. Besides teaching, he is pursuing his PhD from the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. His area of research and teaching include Nuclear Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament, and Nuclear Strategy.

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3 thoughts on “The Question of Low Numbers in South Asia

  1. Pakistan nuclear Program is Indian Centrist. It is based on the defensive response and to maintain a “credible minimum deterrence”. Pakistan is the smaller country with a correspondingly smaller economy Deference budget and armed forces then India Pakistan Proposal for Nuclear Weapon free zone South Asia after the 1974 Nuclear test of India. Failure for Nuclear Umbrella So Pakistan have to relay on Nuclear weapons for it long term security concerns . Pakistan’s nuclear policy is driven entirely by security considerations Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are meant to deter security threats posed by India

  2. Sadiq, in the absence of any concrete efforts to denuclearize the World, it may not be possible to promote idealism, more so in Defense postures and doctrine. You have not professed any opinion on Pakistan’s Nuclear doctrine of FIRST USE, which is a threatening posture. When India naturally will move to counter this doctrine by boosting its defense capabilities and neutralize the threat through measures like developing a Ballistic Missile Shield, you find it a dangerous trend. You must be aware of theories of cause and effect or in simplistic terms stimuli and response. Expecting India or any other country to respond differently is failing the first test of psychology.
    Out of the box thinking was India’s real strength over thousands of years and remains so today. India will simply focus on faster Economic growth which is were salvation lies. Knowing Pakistan will damage itself grievously to compete even at the cost of destroying itself, full spectrum Defense capabilities will be ramped up to exploit this weakness, rather obsession. Pakistan can keep thinking of India as its opponent and run itself into the ground or decide to wind up its Jihad and Terrorism Industry and extend a hand of friendship. Pakistan, not India has made the wrong choices due to which the two countries are on different trajectories, maybe even direction. India and its people are very focused on where they want to go, no time to think or advise other countries on what they should or should not do, it being their business. I stand far better scope for success in my life if I focus on what I should do, rather than look over my shoulder at what my neighbor, relative, friend or enemy want to do. Edward De Bono’s “Lateral Thinking” is a good read.

  3. The expression and interpretation of Nuclear strategy is dynamic. Important thing is which color of shades your are wearing on. Security dilemma , asymmetries in arms import as mentioned in article. Moreover, contesting political parties manifestos are significant factors for analyzing South Asian nuclear deterrence. Hence, Pakistan was reluctant entrant to Nuclear Club so the point of Number Game in this regard is not convincing.

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