Rethinking the Nuclear-Military Dynamics in the South Asian Region

The military relationship between India and Pakistan is more pinched and helpless than its nuclear one. Most of the hesitations regarding the vulnerabilities of the relations between the two countries are actually rooted in the former however, mistakenly connected to the latter. This article argues that the development of nuclear technology has made South Asia a comparatively peaceful region which would not have been the case if the amelioration of their relations was left entirely at the behest of their militaries. In India, for the year 2018-19, the budget allocated to the Indian Defense Ministry was ₹404365 crores, while on the other hand, the Department of Atomic Energy was given ₹13971.41 crore. Certainly, the two budgets are not comparable. However, this feature can be attributed across all the nuclear powers in the world, currently 12.

What sense does it make to compare the two? There has been very less consensus on establishing the dynamics between the nuclear and military doctrines. For example, idealists would like to argue that military and nuclear play very different roles in the international realm where the latter is a political tool and the former, a conventional warring tool. However, there are the realists who see nuclear weapons as a pacifier of the military weapons. Thus, there is one school that prefers a strict schism while others see them as inter-playing. Such a complex relation between the two inter-linked historical adversaries makes the problem complicated.

The South Asian nuclear order dominated by India and Pakistan has attracted global attention. As Rajagopalan and Atul Mishra have argued, the 20th century has seen quite some stability from the military side and this is to be attributed to the impressive doctrine of deterrence. Deterrence is a constructed notion where the possession of extreme danger forbids a country from engaging at all. Retired Lt. Gen. Prakash Menon in his recent book ‘The Strategy Trap’ talks about how the utility or the force of mere possession of nuclear weapons can instill discipline. Many also argued that political leaders, rational as we assume, tend to become more responsible, alert, accountable and conscious about their actions.

When in 1998, Pakistan attacked India, what we now call the Kargil war had begun and the entire world feared that this military confrontation would have nuclear consequences. This absolutely disintegrates the idealist claims that these two arenas are separate. A very pessimistic group of scholars views that any military confrontation between two historical adversaries, clubbed with nuclear powers cannot stay purely military for too long.

If the fear associated with nuclear weapons is so intense, how can one argue that it has brought greater stability in the recent years? One thing that should be clearly ascertained is that nuclear weapons are very important for Pakistan’s self-confidence. India and Pakistan do not have a comparable military, a fact true across all the three wings, the army, navy and air force. Thus, the only security that Pakistan will find is in its nuclear arsenals where it wishes to give a tough competition or answer back to its neighbor. By this, it does intend to keep its nuclear and military competition with India separate. Thus, the 1998 situation would not have escalated into nuclear one had Pakistan only attacked to gratify its newfound equality with India. However, due to a series of miscalculations, it backfired.

The nuclear is a much more stable arena than military. The concept of deterrence is completely absent in the military doctrine throughout the world. One major assumption about deterrence is that nuclear weapons are not an alternative to military. The military is an old institution and its role is to engage in relatively smaller skirmishes along the borders. Even the military treats surgical strikes as routine and normal. Nuclear possession makes sure that military war of a large scale does not take place. Thus, the objective of positive deterrence is not just preventing a nuclear war, but also an escalated military confrontation. Thus, it is certainly true that nuclear weapons play a stabilizing role.

Even if nuclear weapons stabilize, the over-all relations will not improve. This is because there are plenty of other factors contributing to instability and keeping the militaries constantly at loggerheads. If the militarily strained relationship needs to be improved, the historical animosity needs to be extinguished. Suppose these are solved, the countries shall relax their militaries. Their budgets can be curtailed and used for domestic development instead. A relaxed military shall bring peace in international relations.

The military is entertained only because there is a need for it. Scholars like Jean Bodin define the sovereignty of the state on the entire premise of its ability to legitimately wage war. In any case, if the prospects of conventional war are curbed, the state by the virtue of this innate nature may adhere to proxy war and state sponsored covert forms of spreading international terrorism, as argued by Mr. Prakash Menon.

Finally, instead of focusing on restraining oneself nuclear or militarily to bring peace, the countries should be ending the historical rivalry. The over-engagement of the two militaries and the development of the nuclear weapon is not a problem, but a symptom. Confidence building can be an effective tool to bridge the trust deficit between the two countries. However, no confidence shall be built unless the territorial disputes, located at the root, are not solved. We need a major change in our course of discourse and action. Nothing can substitute the huge historical baggage that the two neighbors carry.

Picture Credits : thecsspoint

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