Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

Chapter 15

India versus Pakistan

From Partition to the Present

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury*

Mutual trust is in short supply between South Asia’s two

major rivals, India and Pakistan. The nuclear powers are bitterly

divided on a host of issues, none more (seemingly) intractable

than the future of Kashmir. Yet their nuclear arsenals

have probably helped steer both countries away from all-out

conventional war and even led to a thaw in bilateral relations.

The key to better relations in the future will be how effectively

India and Pakistan can cooperate to deter nonstate actors from

carrying out major terrorist attacks.

The Indo-Pakistani rivalry dominates the strategic landscape

of South Asia, where India serves as the major hegemon and

Pakistan its principal challenger. In over 60 years of independence,

the two countries have fought three (and one-half) wars

with each other, mostly over the disputed territory of Kashmir,

whose future status remains unresolved. Both countries possess

nuclear weapons to deter each other, while expanding their

conventional armed forces. Advanced military technology, including

modern combat aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles,

are deployed alongside rising defence budgets.

Yet the prospect of another major state-versus-state war,

akin to what took place between India and Pakistan nearly 40

years ago in December 1971, is unlikely. This is due to the

probability of an all-arms conventional war escalating to nuclear

use, which would result in mutual destruction. Far more

likely is an increase in terror attacks by nonstate actors, which

could generate greater Indo-Pakistani tensions with the risk of

inadvertent military escalation by both countries. Such a stateversus-nonstate

encounter would take place amidst their ongoing

bilateral disputes and the potential for the threat of use

of force by the two nuclear weapon states.

*Published earlier in RUSI 154, no. 4 (August 2009): 60–65.


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