In the summer of 2012, a “Foreign Affairs” article by Kenneth Waltz showcased the extremely flawed argument that concluded allowing Iran to achieve its nuclear ambitions and the ensuing arms race would help stabilize the Middle East. Drawing on the easing of tensions between India and Pakistan once they achieved nuclear power status, as well as China’s less aggressive nature at the time, among other examples, the writer characterized nuclear weapons as weapons of peace. Unfortunately, nuclear India and Pakistan may be in the very act of proving this nuclear deterrent theory wrong.
If it was just a question of India and Pakistan at odds, the threat of nuclear war could be elevated above all other national interests, which was the case for the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In doing so, the nuclear arsenals of both nations could have even served as a deterrent against open conflict in general. That said, the rapid escalation of the Ukraine Crisis that divided the West and Russian reveals the nuclear deterrent has lost its ability to avert escalating hostilities between nuclear nations.
Only due to the world’s economic ties with Russia was the West able to push back against Russian aggression without resorting to a massive violent confrontation. Unfortunately, the use of the economic deterrent is no longer available with the implementation of sanctions against Russia while the nuclear deterrent may well prove just effective enough for Putin to abuse in order to assert greater control over Ukraine.
In the case of Pakistan and India where war between nuclear powers is already a reality, the threat is in what situation might convince military leaders the use of nuclear weapons would be necessary. While the extreme case of an Indian or Pakistani invasion/victory could scare Pakistan or India into using their nuclear weapons is most obvious and not likely, even with threats of nuclear attacks in the news, security forces might decide a strategic use of their nuclear arsenals could crush the capacity of the enemy’s military to respond to such an attack.
Furthermore, an escalation of current hostilities or a protracted conflict between India and Pakistan would also threaten regional stability. Not only would such a conflict divert resources from far more pressing endeavors needed to address the needs of the growing populations of these already overcrowded nations, war creates room for terrorists to operate with impunity.
Meanwhile, it is important to recognize a country like China may have a perceived benefit from India and Pakistan weakening each other due to the fact China is a competitor of both countries. An Indian-Pakistani war would also offer China economic benefits in terms of weapons sales, but the destructive nature of war, as well as its strain on two already dysfunctional governments, would only result in added pressure on Chinese resources and infrastructure when displaced Indian and Pakistani refugees start seeking shelter inside their more stable neighbors.
Furthermore, the most pressing threat could actually come from North Korea. With several unknowns hinting at potential internal threats, issues like the democratization of the region as exemplified by the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, and the North’s long time dependence on an increasingly aggressive China, an Indian-Pakistani war could be perceived as a threat or an opportunity for the North. North Korea is a small, insecure nation among giants with a deluded sense of importance and nuclear weapons, thus its leadership could see an advantage in pitting India, Pakistan, and China against each other. Mixing terrorism and nuclear weapons could be seen as a means of achieving North Korean “supremacy.”
With that in mind, the leaders of India, Pakistan, and China are relatively new while they have all shown a willingness to build relationships with each other. In fact, China and India were recently able to avert an escalating conflict between each other, thus the current fighting between India and Pakistan could very well dissipate within days to weeks as has happened in the past. It is, however, the future that is certain to be plagued by greater strife that may well devolve into a catastrophic regional conflict, unless proactive steps are taken now to avoid such a fate.
As such, all three nations, along with their smaller neighbors, must develop a means of combating rising tensions and reconciling issues between each other. In the meantime, Asian nuclear powers should engage in an open forum on the threat of nuclear war in order to elevate the issue as a regional concern, thereby turning the threat of nuclear war into an actual nuclear deterrent.
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