The Perils of Proliferation in South Asia

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BOOK REVIEW: The Perils of Proliferation in South Asia Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences Of the Kargil Conflict Edited by Peter R. Lavoy Cambridge University Press, 2009, 426 pp.

Nuclear Proliferation In South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb Edited by Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur Routledge, 2009, 251 pp.

Inside Nuclear South Asia Edited by Scott D. Sagan Stanford University Press, 2009, 281 pp.

There have been four nucleartinged crises in South Asia since 1990, and new crises could be generated by religious extremists carrying out mass-casualty attacks. Several new books on regional stability and crisis management on the subcontinent are therefore timely and well worth reading. Of particular interest are three collections of essays edited by Peter Lavoy, Scott Sagan, and Sumit Ganguly and Paul Kapur.

One point of departure for this literature is a theorem developed in the West during the Cold War known as the stability-instability paradox. Robert Jervis defined the paradox in The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy: "to the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence."1 This working definition assumed that stability could be achieved with large, offsetting nuclear arsenals, a goal that eluded Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons strategists who kept jockeying for advantage as well as the avoidance of disadvantage, even after acquiring society-killing stockpiles. Jervis' larger point, however, was well taken and is quite applicable to South Asia: the advent of the bomb can be perceived as an insurance policy against the most dangerous types of escalation, thereby abetting mischief making below the nuclear threshold.

One of the many reasons to welcome Lavoy's long-awaited edited volume Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, is Jervis' revisiting of the stability-instability paradox through the lens of Kargil, the high-altitude, limited war between India and Pakistan that occurred at the instigation of a small group of high-level Pakistani military officers in 1999, the year after both countries carried out nuclear tests. Jervis' new formulation is that "[strategic stability permits if not creates instability by making lower levels of violence relatively safe because escalation up the nuclear ladder is too dangerous."2

Achieving strategic stability, however, may be even more difficult for India and Pakistan than for the Soviet Union and the United States. After experiencing harrowing crises over Berlin and Cuba, Moscow and Washington tacitly agreed not to play with fire in each other's backyard. Their strategic competition then played out in more out-of-the-way locales, where missteps were severely punished by proxy forces. The locus of Indian and Pakistani competition, on the other hand, is the contested back yard of Kashmir, where Western deterrence theory has now been introduced to the agendas of jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-eToiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad.

India's and Pakistan's quest for strategic stability should, in theory, be facilitated by their endorsement of "minimal" nuclear deterrence. Yet, as former Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh likes to say, "minimal" is not a "fixity." Deterrence requirements for India must be calculated with China as well as Pakistan in mind, and no two legs of this triangular stool are equal. Moreover, both the Indian and Pakistani governments have publicly embraced doctrines of massive retaliation. India has adopted a no-first-use doctrine; Pakistan has not, due to its conventional military imbalance with India, which has led Pakistan's security apparatus to rely on unconventional means to keep New Delhi off-balance and to tie down large numbers of Indian troops in Kashmir. The Pakistani army is now carrying out a punishing and partial offensive against those who once were its allies, which is why more mass-casualty attacks in urban centers are a sure bet. …