Addressing Nuclear Challenges, Misperceptions and Geopolitics in South Asia

Author: Chaudhry, Aizaz Ahmad1

Published in National Security Journal, 27 February 2022

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20220227.09  

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India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours, have vital stakes in maintaining strategic stability in South Asia. However, some disturbing shifts are now being observed in India’s approach towards the imperatives of strategic stability. Its aggressive pursuit of military modernisation and acquisition of emerging technologies, coupled with reported doctrinal shifts, such as pre-emptive counterforce strategy, pose a serious challenge to nuclear deterrence. The Indian leadership seems to have been emboldened by the US tilt towards India, manifested by the growing US-India strategic partnership. These developments have heightened Pakistan’s sense of insecurity. This essay seeks to assess the short-, medium- and long-term challenges to strategic stability in South Asia. It suggests a three-tiered framework of confidence-building measures at the bilateral level between India and Pakistan, the trilateral level among China, India and Pakistan, and the multilateral level whereby the major powers could facilitate conventional and nuclear confidence-building measures in the region.

Keywords: South Asia, Strategic Stability, Nuclear Deterrence, Confidence-building


Ever since the nuclearisation of South Asia in 1974, when India conducted its first nuclear weapons test, the cause of peace has been best served only when strategic stability has been maintained in the region.1 While there is no agreed definition of strategic stability, it commonly refers to either the absence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first under crisis stability or incentives to build up a nuclear force under arms race stability. This definition can further be expanded to refer to the absence of armed conflict between nuclear-armed states and even more broadly to a regional security environment in which states have peaceful relations. Irrespective of its formulation, there have been developments that complicate strategic stability in South Asia.

Pakistan has sought to maintain strategic stability, even as India has sought to tilt this balance in its favour. India’s offensive nuclear force posture coupled with doctrinal shifts and aggressive conventional undertakings have accentuated conventional asymmetries, challenging nuclear deterrence and strategic stability in South Asia.2 These activities have been enabled by the active support of the United States and other partners in the West, which have opened the technological spigots and relaxed their strategic export controls to build India as a counterweight to China. This US investment in India is exacerbating Pakistan’s security dilemma and increasing strategic instability.3 This essay will explore these various factors to address near-, mid- and long-term challenges, misperceptions and geopolitical factors to identify recommendations for fostering strategic stability in South Asia.

1 Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry served as a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan for 37 years, rising to the rank of the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan from December 2013 to March 2017. He has served as Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and the Netherlands, Foreign Office Spokesman and deputy permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.