Irrationality in the Nuclear Policy Thinking and Discourse: Implications for Indo-Pakistan Relations

Ever since nukes appeared on the international scene, scholars started publishing books, articles, and monographs to express their prescription regarding nuclear deterrence theory. The Absolute Weapons in 1946 by Bernard Brodie was the first scholarly work in this regard. Subsequently, realists and neo-realists dominated the discourse on deterrence that nukes promote stability and peace between the belligerent states. For instance, the belief in the deterrence theory is vehemently supported by Kenneth Waltz and his iron rule that ‘Deterrence does not depend on rationality. It depends on fear. To create fear, nuclear weapons are the possible means’.

In contrast, pessimists argued that nuclear deterrence would bring instability in case nukes got proliferated more in future. Scott Sagan explains that Pakistan treats nukes as an object rather than as an element of national security. There is a debate between deterrence optimists and proliferation pessimists whether nukes can promote stability or are a source of danger.

For avoiding wars between the rival states, creating fear with the help of nukes among the Indian-Pakistani military and policymakers seems difficult. In the context of Indo-Pak, there is no fear of nukes for regional stability and peace that deterrent theorists talk about. Waltz’s theory disregards rational decision making for deterrence. In Pakistan, the military has operational control of missile development and deployment than the air force. Recently, Indian Army Chief, Bipin Rawat called nukes of Pakistan as bluff and explicitly stated that India would not dither to cross the border to carry out an operation against Pakistan under the nuclear shadow if asked by the government.

There are noteworthy shreds of evidence of a sign of irrationality among the policymakers and military officials of both states which cannot be undermined. Both countries have exchanged nuclear threats several times against each other with the deployment of nukes on their borders to annihilate each other. Waltz argues that “one man alone does not make war,” while Musharraf triggered the Kargil war. Interestingly, it is reported that India and Pakistan have exchanged nuclear threats (thirteen times) during the Kargil war. The Indian Chief of Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan’s statement on January 11, 2002, to nuke Pakistan was a surprising statement that created an uproar in India’s Prime Minister’s Office. Similarly, General Mirza Aslam Beg was even keen to use nukes against India in the 1990s.

Pakistan Air Force loaded nukes on its F-16 aircraft during the 1990 Kashmir crisis without informing Prime Minister Bhutto. During the Kargil War the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was briefed by Bill Clinton about the deployment of nukes by Pakistan military of which Sharif was unaware. Similarly, one Indian army officer wished to detonate an atomic bomb in Siachen to drown Pakistan for settlement of Kashmir issue once for all. Timothy Hoyt argues that during the Kargil war, India positioned the four short-range Prithvi and one medium-range Agni missiles on high trigger alert, along with some unarmed Mirage 2000 aircraft for nuclear strikes.

The Indian decision-makers and military officials think irrationally which is why the military tactics like Cold Start Doctrine and Surgical Strikes under the nuclear shadow have been disclosed and implemented to fight a limited war with Pakistan. Also, the missile defence system is a sign of irrationality; it might prompt nuclear war due to an advantage of it.

Sagan argues that Waltz deterrence theory is just an assumption, not an empirically tested insight. I also assume that those states which possess nuclear warheads and share common borders like India and Pakistan might kiss a mushroom cloud in future because the flight time for missiles is a matter of few minutes. India and Pakistan might face a dangerous nuclear future. Sagan argues there are ‘imperfect humans inside imperfect organizations’ in India-Pakistan nuclear relationship and someday nuclear deterrence will fail in the region.

Both have followed the blurry doctrine over first-use/no-first-use of nuclear weapons and are indulged in risk-laden policies under the stability-instability paradox. These are the signs of instability. Interestingly, India’s no-first-use policy is not clear, India’s Nuclear Draft Doctrine (revision 2003) talks about a nuclear response to any biological and chemical attack on India.
The rational decision making is an essential element for deterrence which many deterrence theorists ignore. Waltz’s theory primarily rests on fear. We do not observe any concern in the nuclear decision makers of India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan officially claimed minimum nukes for deterrence. However, both are busy with upgrading and advancing nuclear arsenal. Waltz specially mentions Pakistan that nukes are an alternative for it to avoid an arms race with India. However, both states are busy in the conventional and nuclear arms race.

Deterrence theorists themselves are not sure about the good future with nukes and deterrence theory is not guaranteeing peace under the nuclear umbrella. One cannot ignore the reality that some Indian and Pakistani military officials have openly discussed to use nukes to win wars. Nukes have entirely failed to bring stability in South Asia. To sum up, nuclear deterrence is merely a psychological condition, a myth.

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