India-Pakistan Nuclear Deterrence

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India-Pakistan Nuclear Deterrence

From the many global tensions, arguably the most perilous is that between India and Pakistan. And recent events in Kashmir have made the situation even more dangerous. The reason is straightforward: India and Pakistan are in a long-running and incendiary dispute, they are both nuclear powers, and crossing a confrontational threshold could ignite a nuclear war between them. Indeed, arms control investigators have long identified the subcontinent as one of the world’s likeliest nuclear flash-points.

India and Pakistan share a long and complicated history, and they have been in conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir since 1947. The Himalayan region is one of the most militarized regions on Earth – former US president Bill Clinton has called Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world”.


An informal deterrence relationship had existed between India and Pakistan well before nuclear weapons were tested. However, a more formal and structured deterrence framework began to take shape after the nuclear tests, Kargil Conflict and the experience of escalation in 2001-02. The assumptions that influenced Indian strategy are:

 That overt nuclear capability had increased Pakistan’s freedom of action to pursue a more aggressive sub-conventional military strategy against India.

Therefore, despite the presence of nuclear weapons, India considered it essential to re-assert the relevance of conventional war as an instrument of policy.

And that, India’s conventional military capability was sluggish and not adequately geared to fight a swift but limited conventional war against Pakistan.

These considerations led India to develop the Cold Start or Proactive Strategy. This strategic innovation from Pakistan’s standpoint created instability in the domain of conventional deterrence. To redress this situation, Pakistan has proceeded to revise its war fighting concept besides showing inclination towards developing tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs).

Pakistan being a smaller country seeks to alter the status quo in Kashmir, while India seeks to perpetuate it. This creates a complex strategic proposition, wherein Pakistan, through a mix of politico-military initiatives, seeks to persuade or compel India to concede on Kashmir, while at the same time deter India’s possible military reactions. Over time, both countries have become engaged in a wide spectrum military competition that extends from the sub-conventional to conventional and nuclear levels. Due to the nuclear overhang, both sides have had to assimilate deterrence as the predominant factor in their military strategies.

Pakistan’s strategic objectives are:

o Persuade or compel India to alter the status quo in Kashmir.

o Deter India’s conventional military threat.

o Deter India from attempting or supporting initiatives to de-nuclearize Pakistan.

o Deter India from wrongfully exploiting the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty.

 India’s strategic objectives are:

o Deter Pakistan from using sub conventional/limited military initiatives as means to change the status quo in Kashmir, or to damage India.

 o In the event of conventional war, deter Pakistan from threatening or initiating nuclear use.

o Persuade or compel Pakistan to dismantle militant outfits existing in or operating from Pakistan.

o Persuade or compel Pakistan to accept the status quo in Kashmir.


It is obvious that there is growing discrepancy in comprehension of strategic issues in India and Pakistan. Pakistan is one of the potential adversaries of India, which could have plans to use conventional and nuclear forces not only against Pakistan. Missile programs of India and Pakistan demonstrate different trends. India tries to expand the missile range and it works on warheads. Also it develops the naval strategic forces, working on SSNBs and sea-based missiles. Pakistan is not interesting in expanding the missile range. But it needs cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons. Very important difference between India and Pakistan is the status of infrastructure of production of nuclear weapons. India has the infrastructure which allows to develop foreign technologies and create original ones. Pakistan doesn’t have such an infrastructure. In 10-20 years it will have to build the infrastructure or to depend on the third countries (mainly China and North Korea). In this regard it is important to review again and again the concept of the minimal nuclear deterrence in India and Pakistan.

Because India adheres to the non-first-use obligation, it might plan to use nuclear weapons as a second-strike counter-value capability. It seems that it tries to build the strategic forces, capable to target the main political, military and industrial centers of potential adversaries (China and Pakistan). In the same time, it works on conventional counter-force capabilities. Pakistan plans to use the nuclear weapons not only against political, military and industrial centers, but also against conventional forces on the territory of India or Pakistan in the case of invasion. There is a danger of asymmetric response of Pakistan to growing missile and missile defense capabilities of India, including sabotage and terrorism. Experts in Pakistan understand its highly destabilizing effect, but this option might be on the table in Rawalpindi.


• To prevent the worst possible scenario India, Pakistan and third countries should give the greatest attention to conflict prevention between India and Pakistan and, especially, to possibility of use of the nuclear weapon.

• Both states could provide partial transparency of nuclear forces (structure and placement).

• India and Pakistan could continue dialogue on confidence-building measures not only in the field of nuclear forces, but also conventional forces.

• Inclusion in national nuclear doctrines of a principle of non-first-use in both countries could promote stability strengthening. 3 Program on Strategic Stability Evaluation.

• Decrease in risks of the nuclear conflict would be promoted by achievement of mutual obligations not to deploy the nuclear weapons in disputable territories or near the Indian-Pakistan border.

• The same purposes can be reached by mutual deleting nuclear missile of medium range (i.e. to legalize existing practice) and about notices of change of such status during training, tests or for the operative reasons.

• It is necessary to promote development of the general approaches in the field of security, including political and economic problems (contacts between military, participation in the general initiatives, for example in SCO, etc.).

 • The third countries can play stabilizing role by the progress in the field of disarmament, and by the policy in the South Asia, including military and technical cooperation with India and Pakistan.

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