Book Review by Ammarah Rabbani Rao,

“Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia”.

By Rajesh Rajagopalan,

(He is an associate professor in international politics at the centre for international politics, organization and disarmament (CIPOD), school of international studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has Ph.D. from the City University of New York).

Published in 2005.

Basically, this Book is about the nuclear danger in south Asia. The conventional wisdom is that nuclearization of the subcontinent will increase the risk of nuclear weapons use in the region.  But initially and primarily he examines India’s documented nuclear doctrine and Pakistan’s inferred nuclear doctrine. He argues that both India and Pakistan have adopted nuclear doctrines that are far less dangerous than is generally being assumed by the international community. Gradually, both countries have come to agree on a set of conventional confidence building measures on the nuclear issue in view of the composite dialogue on Kashmir and other disputes to strengthen the ensuing peace process.

Then he has analysed the various nuclear deterrence theories, postures, and doctrines, to examine the probability of the nuclear danger in South Asia. Regarding the stability of nuclear deterrence and the consequences of proliferation, he states (on page 54-57) that Pakistan’s nuclear behaviour is on discernible lines, i.e. Islamabad’s nuclear war rhetoric has typically been higher during non crisis periods. In this sense Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine has a defensive posture and is aimed at deterrence. However, the author does not speculate about the unofficial position of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine. As far as the Indian nuclear doctrine is concerned, the author admits it is not just regional centric.

To discuss in detail the writer’s own argument that “second strike is taken up first as an exploration of the arguments about nuclear deterrence and war in south Asian settings.

This Book consists of nine chapters; in the first chapter he discusses the possibilities of nuclear danger in South Asia. In the second chapter; primarily focuses on nuclear doctrines that remained rhetoric in Indo-Pak military strategies, to increase or decrease the nuclear danger in south Asia. Further, in chapter three and four he individually examines in respect of Pakistan and India. However, in chapter five and six he discusses the confrontation between the U.S and USSR on the missile crisis, the Sino – Soviet border conflict, the Kargil crisis and the operation Parakarm. He emphasizes to take those incidents as an example to reduce the nuclear danger. He is inclined to give logical reasoning about nuclear catastrophe. The Seventh and eighth chapters discusses the dangers of unintended use of nuclear weapons through inadvertent escalation, unauthorized use, loss of possession and nuclear accidents.

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He concludes that:

“These dangers cannot and should not be dismissed all over the world; other nuclear states have more catastrophic exceptions rather than south Asia”.

Rajagopalan subscribes to Mcgeorge Bundy’s concept of “existential deterrence”, which stresses how cautious policy makers become when facing the prospect of nuclear escalation. As far as the concept of existential deterrence is concerned, it can work almost independently of particular force structures and nuclear doctrines, Nevertheless, Rajagopalan insists that there is no vulnerability to a first strike. On this basis, he draws some comfort from the explicit Indian nuclear doctrine and the more implicit Pakistani one, and points to the caution exhibited during the recent crises, which in non nuclear conditions might have led to a major war. In order to describe Cuban crisis as an example he demonstrates the importance of central political control over nuclear weapons. However, democratic political environment may lead crisis towards rationale solution. Nevertheless, he discovers the October 1962 US—soviet Cuban missile crisis, the 1968—69 Sino soviet border situation, as a lessons from all the indo—Pakistan crisis that have occurred since May 1998. Although, author describes the Operation Parakarm and Kargil crisis were not really nuclear predicaments in the way the Cuban missile crisis was, but similarity does exist in some features. And strong political system is the only way to get rid of such crisis.  (On page 143) He states that “Pakistani army has constant intervention in politics, so that, India may not have confidence in the ability of Pakistan’s political leadership to exercise a restraining influence over nuclear decision making”.

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In chapter seven, after examining the command and control structures and security— related tendencies in India–Pakistan, he suggests that there are fewer reasons to be pessimistic.  He gives the idea to apply the concept of Recessed deterrence, which keeps the delivery warheads far away from and explosive material. According to him, ‘there is the need for greater optimism in considering the nuclear future of south Asia’. (On page 147) he suggests that, “a simple method of preventing nuclear explosions and ensuring the safety of nuclear weapons without any of the complicated safety mechanisms is to keep the weapons components separated”. He claimed that India is thought to have such type of posture and Pakistan might also adopt it, he asks a question that how could you set up a safety mechanism when the weapon itself does not exist as a weapon but as separated components??

In chapter eight, the author admits that the possibility of nuclear accidents cannot be ruled out in absolute terms but in the case of South Asia the weapons are in A disassembled form and the forces are in a de-alerted state. Even their deployment patterns are less prone to accidents. On the other hand, (on page 169)  the author claims that India and Pakistan’S nuclear doctrines are relatively less prone to nuclear accidents as compared to the superpower nuclear arsenals during the cold war.

At the end of the study, he says something very interesting that, the nuclear danger will persist as long as nuclear weapons exist, it cannot excise from specific spaces nor dealt with selectively; the danger should not be ignored, nor it be overblown.


Means nuclear weapons would also be dangerous whether held by US, Russia, Israel or by Pakistan & India, but the Indo-Pak doctrines are fundamentally different from many other nuclear states. He believes that, the nuclear threshold and the nuclear taboo is not about to be violated in south Asia.

Critical evaluation, question in analysis and conclusion.

The author builds a critical evaluation of the nuclear doctrines and rejects that the South Asia is just as precarious as any other nuclearized place in the world. He argues that, if only doctrines ensures and defined the states behaviour then; why nuclear states have dynamic attitude regarding their nuclear weapons? does we require more nuclear arsenals to maintain the deterrence?? …

As the author considers the Pakistan-India dyad as a much more stable system, but who and how would decide that the doctrines give assurance or stipulation of state’s further actions or reactions?  He also compares the Indo-Pak nuclear dyad with U.S—Soviet nuclear dyad and argues that, Pakistan India nuclear dyad is far more stable than the massive nuclear arsenals that were the foundation of the US—Soviet nuclear dyad. However, in chapter 9, (on page 175) the author says that, “Pakistan continues to stress the Kashmir issue as the root of the nuclear stability problem in south Asia”. But does that mean the Pakistan posture on Kashmir is nuclear centric? Author becomes ambiguous to describe Pakistan’s nuclear posture as Kashmir centric. There is lack of empirical evidences to prove this argument.

In conclusion authors justifies  India’s policy of nuclearization while urging that India should pay attention to safety issues, and take into account the options like an independent nuclear safety agency. However, Rajagopalan suggests, a fair civil—military relations. Eventually, democratic system is a recommended option whichcould lead towards peaceful outcomes, so that, a nuclear armed state ruled by a military dictator never becomes reliable even for negotiations.