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India and Pakistan – growing risk of nuclear war there should not be ignored

Another nuclear crisis in the making? Great power competition and the risk of war in South Asia, BAS, Moeed Yusuf 5 June 18, In May 1998, India and, later, Pakistan conducted multiple nuclear tests to become the first pair to go nuclear in the post-Cold War era. Two decades on, these South Asian rivals remain locked in a deeply antagonistic relationship that constantly threatens to boil over.

The US-North Korea showdown, the upcoming summit, and the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal have consumed the global nuclear debate over the past year. During this time, India and Pakistan have slipped into an active low-level confrontation largely unnoticed.Violence on the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of the disputed territory of Kashmir has been at its highest level since the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2003. In 2017, the bloodiest year since, there were nearly 3,000 ceasefire violations. Persistent tit-for-tat military shelling across the LoC has caused significant casualties and damage. Civilians have been targeted and killed at an unprecedented rate, as well.

Previous wars and major crises between the two sides were triggered by miscalculated military maneuvers in Kashmir or, in more recent years, by terrorist attacks. Neither can be ruled out in the current context; either could unleash a deadly escalatory spiral.

The risks involved in such a scenario would quickly remind the world why US President Bill Clinton dubbed the LoC as “the most dangerous place” on Earth at the turn of the century. India and Pakistan lack robust bilateral escalation control mechanisms. In the past, they have depended heavily on the United States and other strong third-party states with influence in the region to mediate crisis outcomes. These third parties have responded eagerly and acted with remarkable coordination in pursuit of de-escalation.

The next crisis may demand the same—but the global powers may be found wanting. The antecedent conditions that previously drove their positive engagement have already eroded. Never since South Asia’s nuclearization has global politics been so uncertain, great power relations so fraught, and competing global priorities so distracting. This reality combined with the continued absence of alternative tested crisis management experiences in South Asia may force a break from the successful crisis management patterns of the past.

A look at the past. South Asia’s nuclearization in 1998 not only ushered in a new era of regional nuclear competition but it also forced a rethink of the established norms of nuclear crisis management. The Cold War was dominated by the two superpowers. No stronger third parties able to readily influence their crisis behavior existed. Virtually all examination of nuclear contests therefore assumed bilateral contexts. While the United States and Soviet Union regularly intervened in regional crises in support of their allies, they used these moments primarily to compete and advance their global interests vis-à-vis the other.

The advent of regional nuclear dyads fundamentally altered the incentives for the United States and other strong powers to compete through regional proxies. The worry of second-age nuclear powers like India and Pakistan stumbling into nuclear war on their own proved overbearing. Crisis moments were now marked by the urge to ensure the absence of catastrophic escalation—above all prior policy preferences, no matter how important or urgent.

India and Pakistan are no strangers to crises. Since 1998, they have experienced at least three major and several modest bouts of high tension.  ……

A future different from the past? The importance of third party crisis management in South Asia has only grown over time. India and Pakistan have been unable to agree on dependable risk reduction and escalation control mechanisms with a direct bearing on crisis moments. Simulation exercises continue to point to their likely inability to terminate escalated crises. In fact, as reluctant as India and Pakistan are to admit this, they have learned from previous crisis iterations and internalized third-party roles as part of their crisis planning. Worryingly, some of their doctrines and crisis strategies assume the option of third-party bailouts.

These South Asian rivals have not ruled out conflict under the nuclear umbrella. India now boasts an operational limited war doctrine, Cold Start, that envisions swift military action against Pakistan—before international actors can pressure India to forego aggression

……….. The aura of unpredictability that presently surrounds US foreign policy has brought America’s willingness to act as that leader into question. Simultaneously, the precipitous decline in US relations with surging competitors like China and Russia and increasing difficulties in transatlantic relations has tempered global confidence in the ability of the great powers to operate collectively as agents of peace. ……..https://thebulletin.org/another-nuclear-crisis-making-great-power-competition-and-risk-war-south-asia11876

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June 6, 2018 - Posted by | India, Pakistan, politics international, weapons and war

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