Asia — Limited War and Escalation in South Asia

The phrase “offen­sive defence” sums up the approach India adopt­ed in past wars with Pak­istan. This approach involved a strong defen­sive line in areas of impor­tance, with ade­quate forces to break up ene­my forces that might man­age to pen­e­trate the defens­es. These formed the dis­sua­sive ele­ments of the force struc­ture. They com­prised infantry divi­sions for con­trol of ter­ri­to­ry, mech­a­nised infantry for shift­ing posi­tion­al oper­a­tions like counter-pen­e­tra­tion and some tank ele­ments for counter-attack oper­a­tions. In addi­tion, sub­stan­tial forces have been cre­at­ed that are equipped to con­duct offen­sive oper­a­tions in ene­my ter­ri­to­ry. These con­sist of armoured forces and sup­port­ing infantry, with strong artillery sup­port. The Indi­an Air Force favours the Sec­ond World War approach of win­ning the air war before com­ing in to ful­ly sup­port the ground war. As the offi­cial Indi­an Air Force doc­trine states, “in the doc­trine of the Air Force, the fight for con­trol of air or air supe­ri­or­i­ty gets first pri­or­i­ty in every case.” Accord­ing to some Indi­an defence ana­lysts, this doc­trine reflects “con­cep­tu­al con­fu­sion between ‘favourable air sit­u­a­tion’ and ‘air supe­ri­or­i­ty.’” The sequen­tial devel­op­ment in Indi­an Air Force doc­trine of air oper­a­tions through the lad­der of coun­terair oper­a­tions, inter­dic­tion oper­a­tions and final­ly in sup­port of ground oper­a­tions has led to inad­e­quate syn­er­gy in the con­duct of war. It has also meant the Indi­an Air Force con­duct­ing oper­a­tions deep inside Pak­istan, while land forces objec­tives were more lim­it­ed.

The basis of Indi­an Army’s plan­ning is to “await in a defen­sive pos­ture the start of a war by Pak­istan. After Pak­istan … had launched its offen­sive, a mul­ti­pronged Indi­an offen­sive would be launched.”

Pak­istan has fought pre­vi­ous wars with India by tak­ing to the offen­sive first. These offen­sives were led by its air force strik­ing at Indi­an air­fields. Its over­all plan always includ­ed a sub­stan­tial mil­i­tary offen­sive in Jam­mu and Kash­mir. This offen­sive includ­ed both con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary offen­sives and large-scale infil­tra­tion by irreg­u­lar forces into and behind Indi­an posi­tions. Pak­istan also launched air­borne forces behind Indi­an lines in an attempt to dis­rupt com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­mand facil­i­ties. Seiz­ing ter­ri­to­ry was and remains the cri­te­ria for suc­cess. In the sce­nario of a future Indi­an-Pak­istani war, a vic­to­ry for Pak­istan would mean the seizure of land and it would be log­i­cal for the Pak­istan Air Force to wrap its oper­a­tions around the land plan. In all its wars with India, there was a major oper­a­tional empha­sis by Pak­istan on sev­er­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions links between Jam­mu and Kash­mir to rest of India. The Indi­an response, not unex­pect­ed­ly, was both vio­lent and exten­sive.


The empha­sis on a ground offen­sive defines the oper­a­tional doc­trine of both India and Pak­istan. In the past, Pak­istan used its air pow­er to sup­port the ground offen­sive while the Indi­an Air Force used its supe­ri­or­i­ty to crip­ple Pak­istani mil­i­tary facil­i­ties, includ­ing air bases deep inside Pak­istan. The defin­ing empha­sis on offense by both sides is the cen­tral pat­tern of their pre­vi­ous wars. This pat­tern is unlike­ly to change in a future war. Indi­an plans are firm­ly based on tak­ing a future war into all Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry, even if the con­flict com­mences in Jam­mu and Kash­mir. This almost exis­ten­tial response reflects both the mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal prin­ci­ples of Indi­an plan­ning. Since 1965, when Indi­an forces crossed the inter­na­tion­al bor­der to take the war into Pakistan’s Pun­jab province, an attack on Jam­mu and Kash­mir has invoked the doc­trine of an Indi­an mil­i­tary response against Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry out­side Jam­mu and Kash­mir. Pakistan’s nuclear doc­trine of first use in the event of Indi­an con­ven­tion­al attack explic­it­ly antic­i­pates this even­tu­al­i­ty. If vital Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry were tak­en by an Indi­an offen­sive, Pak­istan could retal­i­ate by ini­ti­at­ing first use of nuclear weapons. Indi­an restraint in not cross­ing the Line of Con­trol dur­ing the Kargil con­flict reflects Indi­an aware­ness of this nuclear real­i­ty. As a result, con­sid­er­ing the need to avert a nuclear first strike from Pak­istan, future Indi­an oper­a­tional doc­trine can be expect­ed to aim at seiz­ing vital Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry in the ear­li­est phase of a future war, before a Pak­istani deci­sion to esca­late could be made. This strat­e­gy could, how­ev­er, inad­ver­tent­ly encour­age a more rapid — and pos­si­bly less con­sid­ered — nuclear response from Pak­istan. Indi­an attempts to avoid a nuclear attack from Pak­istan, by attain­ing mil­i­tary objec­tives with a pow­er­ful and rapid offen­sive, could in fact has­ten a Pak­istani nuclear response.

Wars are not gen­er­al­ly start­ed casu­al­ly or by a cav­a­lier atti­tude about the pos­si­ble con­se­quences. This obser­va­tion applies equal­ly to India and Pak­istan. The pos­si­bil­i­ty of a war has been dis­missed by Indi­an and Pak­istani polit­i­cal lead­ers, as dis­cussed above. It has also been dis­count­ed by some out­side observers. In a 1997 study of sta­bil­i­ty in South Asia, RAND ana­lyst Ash­ley Tel­lis char­ac­terised the sit­u­a­tion as one of “ugly sta­bil­i­ty.” The RAND study based its con­clu­sion on the inabil­i­ty of the two coun­tries to obtain a deci­sive out­come through a con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary con­flict. Nev­er­the­less, the study cau­tioned that “ugly sta­bil­i­ty” could col­lapse if Pak­istan were affect­ed by an inter­nal pow­er strug­gle and if the Indi­an quest for great pow­er sta­tus were to make good progress. This sit­u­a­tion could “unnerve Pak­istan and cause it to ini­ti­ate mil­i­tary action — as it did in 1965 — to secure out-stand­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims before it is too late.” The study also not­ed what it termed the “implau­si­ble” pos­si­bil­i­ty of India embark­ing on a war to “solve the Pak­istan prob­lem.”

The Indi­an and Pak­istani nuclear tests were con­duct­ed in 1998 and the Kargil con­flict com­menced just months after­wards. Pak­istan appar­ent­ly intend­ed to bring about a sit­u­a­tion which would force the Indi­ans to nego­ti­ate from an unfavourable mil­i­tary posi­tion. Pakistan’s argu­ment that its oper­a­tions in Kargil were a response to Indi­an actions in the Siachen glac­i­er area was no more than an after-thought, voiced only after Pak­istan was forced to give up on Kargil. The Kargil con­flict led to the assump­tion of pow­er by the mil­i­tary in Pak­istan, led by offi­cers who had planned and con­duct­ed the Kargil oper­a­tion. Vio­lence lev­els went up in Jam­mu and Kash­mir in 1999 and Indi­an polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers declared a readi­ness to fight a lim­it­ed war over Kash­mir. It would not be entire­ly incor­rect there­fore to infer, that the “ugly sta­bil­i­ty” of 1997 has been replaced by an “ugly insta­bil­i­ty” that rests much more open­ly on nuclear weapons.

Deci­sion-mak­ing dynam­ics

In an unsta­ble con­flict sit­u­a­tion, deci­sion-mak­ing process­es assume a spe­cial impor­tance. The process­es and assump­tions that influ­ence deci­sion-mak­ing can be crit­i­cal ele­ments in con­flict man­age­ment and esca­la­tion con­trol. Deci­sion process­es in India and Pak­istan oper­ate on dif­fer­ent premis­es. In India, deci­sion-mak­ing has under­gone a shift from a col­le­gial and con­sen­sus-based process to deci­sions arrived at by a small group of indi­vid­u­als based in the prime minister’s office. The deci­sions to con­duct the nuclear test of 1974, autho­rise nuclear weapons relat­ed research dur­ing the 1980s and embark on an inte­grat­ed mis­sile pro­gramme were all made with­out forg­ing a nation­al con­sen­sus. For­mer Indi­an Exter­nal Affairs Min­is­ter Jaswant Singh had described the nation­al secu­ri­ty deci­sion-mak­ing appa­ra­tus as a tran­si­tion­al sys­tem and had said he would pre­fer an insti­tu­tion­alised deci­sion mak­ing arrange­ment. While polit­i­cal con­trol over mil­i­tary mat­ters in India remains a reas­sur­ing fact, the grow­ing ten­den­cy towards major deci­sions being tak­en by the more risky indi­vid­ual, rather than the more con­sid­ered col­lec­tive process, is cause for con­cern.

Deci­sion-mak­ing in Pak­istan has tra­di­tion­al­ly been influ­enced by the bur­den of deal­ing with a stronger and larg­er adver­sary. The “pathol­o­gy of deci­sion-mak­ing” in Pak­istan has been large­ly influ­enced by the mil­i­tary. When the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is in pow­er it has tend­ed to ignore or brush aside advice based on polit­i­cal and inter­na­tion­al real­i­ties. Past expe­ri­ence has shown that when the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship in Pak­istan is in full polit­i­cal con­trol of the coun­try it has pre­ferred to choose the mil­i­tary offen­sive even in a sit­u­a­tion of a mil­i­tary asym­me­try. Mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments are more like­ly to favour war irre­spec­tive of the pre­vail­ing strate­gic sit­u­a­tion. In the mil­i­tary-dom­i­nat­ed gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan, the absence of strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion from oth­er key gov­ern­ment depart­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly the for­eign and domes­tic min­istries, gives the cen­tral deci­sion mak­ers the illu­sion that they are oper­at­ing with­out polit­i­cal lim­its. In addi­tion, deci­sion-mak­ing in Pak­istan has not been free from “cul­tur­al dis­count­ing.” The phe­nom­e­non of cul­tur­al dis­count­ing describes the belief that the adver­sary is cul­tur­al­ly infe­ri­or and there­fore can be defeat­ed despite his real quan­ti­ta­tive advan­tage. That Pakistan’s mil­i­tary has tak­en deci­sions based on such assump­tions has been con­vinc­ing­ly demon­strat­ed. One exam­ple of a sim­i­lar analy­sis from Pak­istan demon­strates this point. In his arti­cle “Four Wars and One Assump­tion,” for­mer Pak­istani cab­i­net min­is­ter, biog­ra­ph­er and colum­nist Altaf Gauhar, wrote that Pakistan’s four wars with India, includ­ing the one in Kargil, were “con­ceived and launched on one assump­tion: that the Indi­ans are too cow­ard­ly and ill-organ­ised to offer any effec­tive mil­i­tary response.” How India would wage a lim­it­ed war against Pak­istan is not explained in either offi­cial state­ments or in the analy­sis put out by the qua­si-gov­ern­men­tal think tanks like IDSA. As one com­men­ta­tor put it, Indi­an restraint in the Kargil con­flict was at least in part dic­tat­ed by the read­ing that Pak­istan would not now take a humil­i­at­ing defeat of the kind it expe­ri­enced in 1971, with­out resort­ing to des­per­ate mea­sures includ­ing the pos­si­ble use of … nuclear weapons capa­bil­i­ty. The real­i­ty of a post-nuclear India … has come to roost.

On the oth­er hand, Indi­an restraint has been test­ed to the extreme. The talk of a lim­it­ed war by Indi­an lead­ers is there­fore not to be light­ly dis­missed. India would like to lim­it a future war with Pak­istan to the lev­el of con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary forces. It must there­fore secure its polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary objec­tives in a rapid­ly con­duct­ed oper­a­tion, with­out giv­ing Pak­istan the oppor­tu­ni­ty for nuclear retal­i­a­tion. This approach would require a proac­tive mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to seize care­ful­ly con­sid­ered ter­ri­to­r­i­al objec­tives. The tra­di­tion­al approach of bring­ing the adversary’s forces to bat­tle and destroy­ing them in a long series of bat­tles would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for India under cur­rent cir­cum­stances. The ter­ri­to­ry seized must be of crit­i­cal impor­tance to Pak­istan. The mil­i­tary offen­sive to obtain that out­come would have to be extreme­ly pow­er­ful. These two Indi­an require­ments are like­ly to com­bine to pro­voke a vio­lent response from the Pak­istani high com­mand. If the Indi­an offen­sive gains ground in crit­i­cal areas, Pak­istan would be forced to exer­cise the nuclear option or the threat of its use.

Deci­sion process­es in India and Pak­istan oper­ate on dif­fer­ent premis­es. In India, deci­sion-mak­ing has under­gone a shift from a col­le­gial and con­sen­sus-based process to deci­sions arrived at by a small group of indi­vid­u­als based in the prime minister’s office

The Indi­an-Pak­istani wars of 1965 and 1971 offer exam­ples that con­firm the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the nuclear option com­ing into play soon­er rather than lat­er in a lim­it­ed war. In 1965, the Indi­ans launched an offen­sive into Pakistan’s Pun­jab province. The Indi­an forces reached with­in miles of the major metrop­o­lis of Lahore only hours after the com­mence­ment of the offen­sive. If that were to occur now, Pakistan’s mil­i­tary high com­mand would be faced with a very seri­ous dilem­ma. In mil­i­tary terms, the more time the Indi­an forces had to con­sol­i­date, the greater would be the dif­fi­cul­ty of dis­lodg­ing them. An offen­sive by Pak­istan else­where into Indi­an ter­ri­to­ry would weak­en the defence around Lahore. The Pun­jabi heart­land of Pak­istan hav­ing been breached and the Indi­an offen­sive threat­en­ing to make deep­er inroads, recourse to a nuclear strike would become a neces­si­ty. In polit­i­cal terms, the lead­er­ship would be under immense pres­sure to retal­i­ate quick­ly. Inter­na­tion­al pres­sures to bro­ker a cease­fire would mount by the hour. A nuclear strike would seem to offer many advan­tages to a belea­guered Pak­istani lead­er­ship. As this sce­nario shows, an esca­la­tion from a con­ven­tion­al to a nuclear war, with­in one or two days of the out­break of war, is not implau­si­ble.

In the 1971 Indi­an-Pak­istani War, an Indi­an heli­borne and ground forces offen­sive suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing a small but mean­ing­ful thrust into Pakistan’s desert sec­tor towards Rahim­yar Khan. If a larg­er armoured and mech­a­nised forces thrust had been made in this weak­ly defend­ed “waist” of Pak­istan, there was a risk of the coun­try being strate­gi­cal­ly split. Pak­istan could cer­tain­ly have used nuclear weapons in this sit­u­a­tion, had they then been avail­able. It can be argued, of course, that the overt pres­ence of nuclear weapons now pre­cludes such offen­sives being launched. On the oth­er hand, from the Indi­an per­spec­tive, the post-Kargil need to engage in lim­it­ed war could moti­vate even stronger and more deci­sive thrusts to fore­stall Pak­istani attempts to manip­u­late the nuclear thresh­old. It is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine which dynam­ic — the attrac­tion of a con­ven­tion­al offen­sive, or the fear of a poten­tial nuclear riposte — might actu­al­ly pre­vail in such cir­cum­stances. The high prob­a­bil­i­ty of a rapid esca­la­tion from con­ven­tion­al to nuclear engage­ment can­not, how­ev­er, be ignored. A tran­si­tion from the ongo­ing low inten­si­ty war between India and Pak­istan, to a lim­it­ed war and then quick­ly to a nuclear exchange is a pos­si­bil­i­ty. This sce­nario has been antic­i­pat­ed by a recent Pak­istani analy­sis. The pres­ence of extrem­ist mil­i­tant organ­i­sa­tions in Pak­istan could cre­ate added pres­sures on the Pak­istani mil­i­tary high com­mand. The pres­ence of armed mil­i­tant groups in Pak­istan and their influ­ence in the mil­i­tary is a fac­tor that can con­tribute to esca­la­tion. As one Pak­istani ana­lyst said: the prin­ci­pal dan­ger lies in esca­la­tion of low inten­si­ty war into a nuclear con­flict. This is a seri­ous pos­si­bil­i­ty. On the Pak­istan side this threat has a deep­er con­nec­tion with mil­i­tants, who are a small­er group but enjoy greater sup­port in the country’s armed forces.

Nuclear doc­trines

As not­ed ear­li­er, India and Pak­istan have both list­ed a num­ber of mea­sures they intend tak­ing to ensure nuclear sta­bil­i­ty. They have each declared a mora­to­ri­um on fur­ther test­ing; assert­ed that they intend to have no more than a min­i­mum nuclear deter­rent; com­mit­ted them­selves to not deploy­ing nuclear weapons; pledged not to export nuclear tech­nol­o­gy; and said they will join nego­ti­a­tions at the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment on stop­ping fur­ther pro­duc­tion of fis­sile mate­r­i­al. Pak­istan has made it abun­dant­ly clear that it will use nuclear weapons, if its sur­vival is threat­ened by Indi­an mil­i­tary action. While Pak­istan has not brought out an offi­cial doc­u­ment defin­ing a nuclear doc­trine, the essen­tial ele­ments of a doc­trine can be sur­mised from var­i­ous Pak­istani writ­ings on the sub­ject. India has stat­ed that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but will respond with mas­sive nuclear retal­i­a­tion if nuclear weapons are used against it. Its draft doc­trine states, “any nuclear attack on India or its forces shall result in puni­tive retal­i­a­tion with nuclear weapons, to inflict dam­age unac­cept­able to the aggres­sor.”

In doc­tri­nal terms, the crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence between the two coun­tries rests on the ques­tion of first and sec­ond nuclear strikes. India will do every­thing to main­tain a sec­ond strike capa­bil­i­ty. If Pak­istan must use nuclear weapons first to halt an Indi­an offen­sive on its ter­ri­to­ry and hope to avoid an Indi­an nuclear strike, it will be faced with extreme­ly dif­fi­cult choic­es. It will either have to be ready to bear the impos­si­bly high costs of a mas­sive Indi­an nuclear response, or lim­it its own nuclear strike to Indi­an forces on Pak­istani ter­ri­to­ry. The col­lat­er­al costs of the sec­ond option would also be heavy and would still not entire­ly guar­an­tee Indi­an restraint.

India’s chal­lenge in engag­ing Pak­istan in a lim­it­ed war would be to ensure that Pak­istan does not face cir­cum­stances in which a nuclear strike becomes nec­es­sary. The cir­cum­stances under which Pak­istan would use nuclear weapons would there­fore be depen­dent on the mil­i­tary and ter­ri­to­r­i­al loss­es it can sus­tain. The loss­es Pak­istan can sus­tain would be of two kinds: actu­al loss­es as a con­se­quence of com­bat and poten­tial loss­es as a con­se­quence of Indi­an nuclear retal­i­a­tion which would fol­low a Pak­istani nuclear strike on India. It is dif­fi­cult to believe that if India were to receive a nuclear strike from Pak­istan that it would refrain from retal­i­a­tion in def­er­ence to inter­na­tion­al pres­sure or promis­es of repa­ra­tions. Pakistan’s deci­sion on a nuclear strike would be heav­i­ly influ­enced by its mil­i­tary hier­ar­chy and the deci­sion-mak­ing dynam­ics dis­cussed above. The dan­gers of esca­la­tion and the ini­ti­a­tion of a spi­ral of neg­a­tive action and reac­tion thus become appar­ent.

Pak­istan has not yet announced a nuclear doc­trine. How­ev­er, on the sub­ject of fight­ing a war when the adver­saries have nuclear capa­bil­i­ty, there is a body of pub­lished Pak­istani opin­ion writ­ten by senior mil­i­tary and civil­ian offi­cials. Per­haps the most cred­i­ble assess­ment has come in an arti­cle by three expe­ri­enced Pak­istani pol­i­cy­mak­ers. In an arti­cle pub­lished in The News on Octo­ber 5, 1999 — a few days before the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment assumed pow­er — they defined the red line that would trig­ger a Pak­istani nuclear strike against India. One of the authors, Abdul Sat­tar, became the For­eign Min­is­ter in the mil­i­tary-led gov­ern­ment. The arti­cle list­ed three occa­sions before 1998 when nuclear deter­rence, as applied by Pak­istan, pro­duced a restrain­ing effect on India. The impli­ca­tion of this state­ment is that a nuclear threat was issued by Pak­istan, through explic­it or implic­it means. The authors argued that a min­i­mum deter­rent would be ade­quate for Pak­istan and said it need not enter an arms race with India. The authors dis­missed India’s no-first-use dec­la­ra­tion as, a cost-free exer­cise in sanc­ti­mo­nious pro­pa­gan­da. Renun­ci­a­tion only of first use of nuclear weapons seems like a sub­terfuge to cam­ou­flage the inten­tion to resort to the first use of con­ven­tion­al weapons. They went on to define the con­di­tion in which Pak­istan would use nuclear weapons as a sit­u­a­tion when, “the ene­my launch­es a gen­er­al war and under­takes a pierc­ing attack threat­en­ing to occu­py large ter­ri­to­ry or com­mu­ni­ca­tion junc­tions.” Under these con­di­tions, they con­clud­ed, “weapons of last resort would have to be involved.”

These views indi­cate the Pak­istani ten­den­cy to extend the nuclear deter­rent to dif­fer­ent lev­els of mil­i­tary con­flict. As was demon­strat­ed in Kargil, the threat of a nuclear strike would be held out at the very begin­ning of small scale con­flict. The threat would be pro­ject­ed as part of a plan, which would attempt to gain polit­i­cal advan­tage through mil­i­tary action in Jam­mu and Kash­mir. The threat of use of nuclear weapons would be exploit­ed to con­tain a larg­er mil­i­tary response from India. This strat­e­gy would be in keep­ing with plans for the Pak­istani nuclear deter­rent to be used in influ­enc­ing the out­come of armed polit­i­cal con­flict. Once war is joined and major oper­a­tions are begun, con­di­tions for a nuclear first strike by Pak­istan are clear­ly spelled out by a senior mil­i­tary ana­lyst.

In a dete­ri­o­rat­ing mil­i­tary sit­u­a­tion when an Indi­an con­ven­tion­al attack is like­ly to break through our defences or has already breached the main defence line caus­ing a major set-back to the defences which can­not be restored by con­ven­tion­al means at our dis­pos­al, the gov­ern­ment would be left with no option except to use nuclear weapons to sta­bilise the sit­u­a­tion. India’s supe­ri­or­i­ty in con­ven­tion­al arms and man­pow­er would have to be off­set by nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s pre­ferred option to esca­late quick­ly to the nuclear lev­el is indi­cat­ed by anoth­er Pak­istani ana­lyst. “It [Pak­istan] should go for a one-rung esca­la­tion lad­der knit­ted-in tight­ly with a high­ly cohe­sive state-of-the-art tac­ti­cal con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary. This means that it must acquire sophis­ti­cat­ed con­ven­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy at the tac­ti­cal, the­atre lev­el while main­tain­ing a pos­ture of one-rung esca­la­tion in case of all-out strate­gic war. This becomes nec­es­sary because Pak­istan lacks spa­tial depth and should not need­less­ly waste its resources in a sta­t­ic con­ven­tion­al war.”

Deter­rence sta­bil­i­ty

The Indi­an offi­cial posi­tion, indi­cat­ing a readi­ness to fight a lim­it­ed war, is an attempt to impose a high­er mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal price on Pak­istan with­out giv­ing it cause for com­menc­ing a nuclear exchange. There is, how­ev­er, no cer­tain­ty that Pakistan’s response to this strat­e­gy can be kept lim­it­ed. The notion of nuclear deter­rence is being stretched by both sides to include non-nuclear con­flicts. An esca­la­to­ry process is inher­ent in the link­age being estab­lished between nuclear deter­rence and the per­ceived need to change ter­ri­to­r­i­al sta­tus quo through mil­i­tary action. This sit­u­a­tion effec­tive­ly cre­ates deter­rence insta­bil­i­ty between the two coun­tries.

If Pak­istan act­ed with dis­re­gard for major strate­gic con­se­quences in Kargil, India showed restraint by lim­it­ing the con­flict to Kargil. When India demon­strat­ed resolve to widen the con­flict by mov­ing for­ward its offen­sive forces, Pak­istan was able to pull back from Kargil, albeit under pow­er­ful pres­sure from the Unit­ed States. Both India and Pak­istan are devel­op­ing weapons sys­tems and com­mand and con­trol struc­tures to cre­ate a sur­viv­able sec­ond strike capa­bil­i­ty. Pak­istan is in no doubt that a nuclear first strike would bring about a mas­sive retal­i­a­tion from India. Indi­an plan­ners can­not be in doubt that a sec­ond strike, notwith­stand­ing its size, is still like­ly to leave Pak­istan with some resid­ual nuclear capa­bil­i­ties. Indi­an plan­ning must also take into account the pos­si­ble response from oth­er pow­ers, which would be deter­mined to bring the apoc­a­lyp­tic exchange to an end, by force if nec­es­sary. Not enough thought seems to have been giv­en to these pos­si­bil­i­ties in India and Pak­istan. As for avoid­ing an acci­den­tal nuclear war, the two coun­tries have made ten­ta­tive efforts at unof­fi­cial lev­els, but have yet to find com­mon ground. The bal­ance, there­fore, remains adverse­ly weighed against deter­rence sta­bil­i­ty.

The doc­tri­nal con­tra­dic­tions analysed above in the declared and unde­clared nuclear poli­cies of India and Pak­istan have intro­duced seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties in estab­lish­ing nuclear sta­bil­i­ty on the sub­con­ti­nent. In the absence of an offi­cial dia­logue between the two coun­tries, the emer­gence of a deter­rence sta­bil­i­ty mod­el remains prob­lem­at­ic. Deter­rence per­cep­tions between two new nuclear states also need time to evolve. Past expe­ri­ence and mod­els of the Cold War also do not always apply in their entire­ty to South Asia. India and Pak­istan have thus become a, “test bed for nuclear deter­rence the­o­ry.” Attempts by these two coun­tries to extend the inter­pre­ta­tion of nuclear deter­rence and apply it to a wider spec­trum of con­flicts, does not augur well for deter­rence sta­bil­i­ty between them. The risk of nuclear esca­la­tion is there­fore fur­ther enhanced by the doc­tri­nal dif­fer­ences between the two coun­tries.

Osgood point­ed out that while rapid esca­la­tion to win the war would prob­a­bly risk wider con­flict, grad­ual esca­la­tion would involve the Unit­ed States in a pro­tract­ed and cost­ly war. He offered no solu­tions, but effec­tive­ly point­ed out the fal­la­cy of get­ting into the Viet­nam War with­out a clear pur­pose. Per­haps the most impor­tant analy­sis of Viet­nam came from Har­ry G Sum­mers. His main argu­ment con­cern­ing lim­it­ed war was that in Korea, while the Unit­ed States lim­it­ed its objec­tives, it did not lim­it its means to attain those objec­tives. It used every resource avail­able oth­er than nuclear weapons. On the oth­er hand, in Viet­nam, the Unit­ed States reversed the equa­tion and con­se­quent­ly paid the price of a long war and even­tu­al defeat

About the Author
Lt Gen V R Ragha­van PVSM, UYSM, AVSM (retd)
The writer was India’s Direc­tor Gen­er­al of Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions from 1992 to 1994. He is cur­rent­ly a Direc­tor at the Del­hi Pol­i­cy Group. He has been a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Cen­ter for Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty and Coop­er­a­tion, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, USA.

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