Motivations for South Asian Nuclearisation

Pakistan Motivations for South Asian Nuclearisation

Shafqat Javed

The twentieth century witnessed an exponential growth in war technology. The century witnessed the machine-gun, main battle tank and armoured fighting vehicles, the aircraft, and the nuclear weapon. These weapons added a cataclysmic dimension to that war when they were dropped on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons not only injured masses of people and destroyed buildings, but also eliminated all the living and the community of the living. The experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only confined to damage by war, but also represents genocide, the obliteration of the society, and devastation of the environment.

South Asia is a region of contrasts and conflicts. The region has the world’s largest concentration of people living below the poverty line. It also possesses some of the world’s largest and most heavily armed defence forces. The two pivotal states of the region, India and Pakistan, have a bitter history of mutual confrontations, conflicts and wars. When they achieved their self- proclaimed nuclear status in 1998, South Asia became the only region in the world to have two nuclear-weapon states involved in active hostilities.

In the South Asian context, non-proliferation is not merely nuclear question. The larger forces and interests at work both within the region and outside have to be understood. Regional security cannot be considered in isolation from global or extra- regional conditions. The efforts have to be on two parallel lines. At the global level, the states in the region have to participate in the process to bring about a truly legitimate and non- discriminatory non-proliferation regime. At the regional level, efforts to build bridges of understanding among the countries in the region through confidence-building measures needs to be sustained. Hence, in South Asia, proliferation can be best achieved through a proper mix of global and regional approaches. Particularly, because of the awesome destructive potential of nuclear weapons their actual use is unthinkable. Even in low- level nuclear combat with millions of fatalities there would be no winner, apart from the doubtful survivability of crude weapons. It is more so in the case of close South-Asian neighbours like India and Pakistan.

                                                                      Case of India and Pakistan

Motivations for South Asian Nuclearisationl

In case of both India and Pakistan national security concern has been the principal factor in the process of nuclearisation. Hostilities between the two countries have been there since partition in 1947. The key territorial issue of Kashmir has its root in the colonial history of the Subcontinent and involved India, Pakistan and China. India’s nuclear calculations are centred on China which has an expanding nuclear arsenal. While, in contrast, Islamabad’s nuclear programme is driven mainly by its threat perception and security concern with respect to India. Pakistan sees its potential nuclear forces as a deterrent to India’s conventional military advantages and strategic ambitions. However, India, whose military build-up was spurred by its humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, viewed its nuclear programme as the vital component of a strategic plan to deter against a more powerful China. The nuclear chain in the world has been rightly observed by John J. Schulz who says, “The rationale presented by leading government officials in New Delhi and Islamabad to justify the current state of their weapons programme is analogous to the Ocean food chain –big fish eats little fish which has just eaten the littlest fish. China created its nuclear deterrent with fears of Moscow and Washington in mind. China is feared by India and India is feared by Pakistan. All three countries justify their present nuclear policies as a solution to security problems–a fully declared arsenal in China, a nuclear weapons option in India and now in Pakistan ‘an ability to assemble as the equalising deterrent”.

Factor of nationalism


Next to security, nationalism is the propelling force of Indian and Pakistani nuclear programme. This is evident from the national consensus in each country on nuclear policy. Both countries enjoy overwhelming domestic support to their nuclear programme. Nationalism has played a key role in shaping Indian politics since Independence. Nehru championed self-reliance as part of India’s ‘‘neutralism” and New Delhi’s drive for indigenous science, technology and nuclear capability reflects that self- reliance. The Pakistani nuclear programme has also emerged as the leading symbol of Pakistani nationalism and pride. According to a retired Pakistani Army General, it enjoys bipartisan and popular support and is above political controversy. Pakistan’s national interest demands that her nuclear capability to be taken to its logical conclusion. As Islamabad emerged as a technological leader of the Muslim World, its nuclear programme is a visible symbol of Islamic technological sophistication and power. In addition the desire to seek international respect and prestige is also an important incentive for nuclearisation in India and Pakistan. As one of the world’s oldest and most populous civilisation, New Delhi saw the acquisition of a nuclear weapon capability as the key to winning greater power status.

Effects of US policy in South Asia

In South Asia, one of the cardinal principles of the US foreign policy during past few decades has been to deter the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan and it has made non-proliferation a central issue in bilateral relations with them. Since 1974, when India exploded its first nuclear device, successive US administrations have pushed for restraint by both countries, utilising a range of policy tools including diplomatic pressure, the withholding of cooperation, embargoes on the export of nuclear technology and the leverage of US assistance and arms sales. In fact, the US has sought to oppose proliferation in South Asia through all available means at its disposal. Its goal has been to inhibit the development or acquisition of such system as well as to prevent their use or threatened use. The US fear of a nuclear exchange in South Asia is, in fact, outcome of nuclear theology of the Western strategists which clearly state that nuclear weapons in the hands of non-nuclear and developing nations has greater possibility of their use.

Apart from these, several factors make the pressure of nuclear weapon capabilities on the sub-continent more posts dangerous than the Super Power nuclear rivalry that preceded it. Too many of the specific conditions in the region, including an asymmetrical balance of power, bitter personal remembrance, wars within living memory border and religious disputes and unstable and highly emotional domestic constituencies point to the need for nuclear capability.

Indian Ocean Region

A Great Game for Strategic and Nuclear Supremacy

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has become a strategic hotspot during the recent years. The naval presence of many states has seen aggravated rifts among Asian countries for influence in the IOR. The US has had an active military presence for the protection of its national interests which are threatened due to the rise of China. The IOR has also been the focal point of US interests as it is a conduit to the Middle East.

More than half the world’s armed conflicts are presently located in the IOR, and pose the greatest challenge to global and regional security. At the same time, the ocean is home to continually evolving strategic developments including the competing rises of China and India, potential nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the U. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamist terrorism, growing incidences of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa, and the management of diminishing fishery resources.

Almost all the world’s major powers have deployed substantial naval forces in the IOR. The principal challenges to stability here revolve around the increased militarization, disruption in trade, increased piracy activities, inadequate response measures, massive proliferation of WMDs, power projection, and, most importantly, the nuclearization in maritime domain and its effects on the environmental change and climate change. This will also have an impact on the freedom of navigation in the IOR, as this region is increasingly becoming nuclearized.

Accidental attacks or potential conflict involving nuclear submarines is an environmental challenge in addition to being a security challenge. A large population of littoral states depends for their sustenance and quality of life on the Indian Ocean. Different navies are conducting naval military exercises which may fuel tensions among the regional states. The security of the chokepoints, protection of the SLOCs, bitter India- Pakistan conflict, and India’s border disputes with surrounding states have impacted the stability of the region added to maritime security concerns.

The maritime arena will be the deciding factor in domination in IOR. Show of force by rising powers in the IOR is more common in the present day and context. Diego Garcia and the so-called String of Pearls can be taken as examples of issues that stir tensions and conflicts. Due to the presence of extremist groups in the IOR, maritime terrorist attacks are also a threat of great concern.


The “independent deployers” of the US, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Russia, amongst others, have coordinated their navy vessels with these larger coalition forces. Freedom of navigation is vital for the smooth flow of Indian Ocean maritime trade, but threats such as competition among great powers, traditional and non-traditional security challenges, environmental degradation, piracy and drug trafficking all require review and engagement by major Asian powers.

The regional nations must realize the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean, not for the purpose of building up their militaries and dominating the region but  for ensuring regional stability. Traditional and non-traditional security threats are having a dire impact on the overall environment of the region. The need of the hour is that the geopolitics of the nations must come to a halt in order to protect and promote the regional and global interests. Fostering of trade as well as the freedom of navigation must be ensured by all the states, and the security of the crucial choke points must be guaranteed.

Nuclearisation of India

How did India reach the point where four or five men could and did step across an important threshold and order the detonation of nuclear devices that were unashamedly designed as weapons and then publicly declare that India was a nuclear weapon state?

Reconstructing the events that led to the May tests is not merely an historical exercise. The decision to test these weapons was important. It tenuously set India on the path of nuclear weaponization (tenuously because there is no consensus in India as to what weaponization means). The Indian tests led directly to the subsequent Pakistani tests. The decision to test may also have dealt a death blow to the American-led process of containing proliferation by a strategy of treaty adherence.

The tests certainly made South Asia a more dangerous place, and possibly a less-stable one. It has been known for some time that even a small-scale nuclear incident would produce casualties of unprecedented magnitude given the region’s weak medical and emergency infrastructure and the close proximity of urban areas to likely targets. Even a single nuclear detonation over a major South Asian city would produce considerable devastation. A ‘small’ nuclear war would be an unprecedented catastrophe for the region, a major one would have global physical, environmental and biological repercussions.

Further, there will be future thresholds to cross and perhaps even a reconsideration of India’s nuclear policy. The decision to conduct these tests was initially greeted with widespread praise, but this has given way to an increasingly sober consideration of the new risks and costs that they engendered.

Extracted from Nuclear Weapons and Conflict in South Asia by Stephen P. Cohen (Senior Fellow Emeritus at Brookings Institution)

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