Nuclear Dangers in South Asia

On May 11 and 13, 1998, India tested five nuclear weapons in the Rajasthan desert. By the end of the month, Pakistan had followed suit, claiming to have detonated six nuclear devices at an underground facility in the Chagai Hills. With these tests, the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi loudly announced to the world community, and especially to each other, that they both held the capability to retaliate with nuclear weapons in response to any attack.

What will be the strategic effects of these nuclear weapons developments? There are many scholars and defense analysts who argue that the spread of nuclear weapons to South Asia will significantly reduce, or even eliminate, the risk of future wars between India and Pakistan. These "proliferation optimists" argue that statesmen and soldiers in Islamabad and New Delhi know that a nuclear exchange in South Asia will create devastating damage and therefore will be deterred from starting any military conflict in which there is a serious possibility of escalation to the use of nuclear weapons. Other scholars and defense analysts, however, argue that nuclear weapons proliferation in India and Pakistan will increase the likelihood of crises, accidents, terrorism and nuclear war. These "proliferation pessimists" do not base their arguments on claims that Indian or Pakistani statesmen are irrational. Instead, these scholars start their analysis by noting that nuclear weapons are controlled by military organizations and civilian bureaucracies, not by states or by statesmen. Organization theory, not just deterrence theory, should therefore be used to understand the problem and predict the future of security in the region.