India, Pakistan and the Nuclear Race: No Clear Winners

17 Apr, 2013    ·   3882

D. Suba Chandran joins the IPCS debate with Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar and PR Chari on Michael Krepon's commentary

The IPCS debate by PR Chari and Adm Vijay Shankar, in response to Michael Krepon’s commentary, analyses the various facets of the nuclear race in South Asia. Krepon’s primary focus revolves around two issues - highlighting the nuclear race between India and Pakistan, and how to reduce the nuclear dangers.

Three questions need to be raised: first, is the nuclear race involving India and Pakistan only about the competition and strategic equation between these two countries alone? Second, what is the nature of this race? Is there a finish line, or is it an open ended race? Third, if it is indeed an open-ended race, can there be a real winner, irrespective of who is leading the race?

Is there a Panda in the race between the Tortoise and Hare?
While Krepon makes the argument of nuclear race in the subcontinent essentially as that of India and Pakistan, both PR Chari and Adm Vijay Shankar refer to China as well.

True, India may be the tortoise as Krepon argues, but is it racing, how much ever slow its pace is, against the Pakistani Hare or the Chinese Panda? For an Indian analyst, whom the strategic community of the rest of the world ignores or does not understand (perhaps intentionally), the race is not with Pakistan. Rather, it is with China; perhaps there is a strong belief within India, that if the primary objective of its nuclear trajectory is aimed at China, it need not worry about the trajectory of Pakistan. But this is where India is making a cardinal mistake, which is explained subsequently.

Is the Panda “boosting” and “doping” the Hare against the Tortoise?
What is absent in Krepon’s original argument, is the role being played by the Panda to upset the race, or perhaps “fix” the same between the Tortoise and the Hare, by siding with the latter.

China’s clandestine involvement plays an important role in boosting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and its missile system. In turn, this has its own implications in India’s strategic calculations. Any advice or expectation from the West will remain ineffective, as Krepon himself suggests towards the end of his argument, unless India will “take dramatic steps to improve relations” with Pakistan. However, irrespective of improving relations with Pakistan - dramatically or otherwise, India will pursue a nuclear trajectory that will unfortunately pull Pakistan into the race.

Is there a Finish Line? Or is the nuclear race open-ended?
Where Krepon errs substantially in his argument is his belief that “The tortoise will win this race, and could quicken its pace.” As if there is a finish line, which is well defined and relatively better documented, towards which the Hare and Tortoise are running towards.

While the Tortoise is running to catch the Panda, the Hare is aiming to outdo the Tortoise. Unfortunately for the Tortoise and the Hare, the Panda is attempting to fly and catch the American Eagle! Despite its growth in hard power and soft power, neither is the cuddly Panda likely to catch the high flying Eagle, nor is the slow moving Tortoise likely to catch the mighty Panda. Unfortunately, the Hare is likely to run all around; at times with a “booster” from the Panda, and at times escaping (perhaps intentionally) from the Eagle eye. In short, this is a nuclear jungle, and will remain so.

What is even more important in this race and the “finish line” is what Adm Vijay Shankar has argued in terms of the pressure from the scientific bureaucracy in India’s nuclear build-up. As he rightly identifies in his argument, the nuclear trajectory of India is “Driven by a single-point politico-scientific coterie stirred by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) combine”. This argument underlines an important factor in defining India’s objectives in the nuclear race in South Asia involving Pakistan and China. If this is the case, does the Hare’s running faster or slower really matter?

Are there clear winners in the race?
While China may want to reduce the nuclear distance between itself and the US, India may want to emulate the same vis-à-vis China, and Pakistan may want to reach parity vis-à-vis India. Even if India is able to take the lead in the future, in its own elephantine and tortoiseque style, will it help win the race?

Defining “winning” a nuclear race will answer the above question. Does winning mean taking a lead in the race? Or, does it mean creating nuclear stability in the region? This will remain India’s greatest conundrum; even if it takes the lead in terms of numbers, that superiority will never create an environment of nuclear stability vis-à-vis Pakistan.

As India increases the distance between itself and Pakistan in the long run (which will happen inevitably), the latter will engage in dangerous strategic calculations and doctrines with its limited numbers to upset the Indian lead. In that case, India may lead the race, but never be able to win it.

“Tail”piece: Are there other animals in the race?
While Krepon primarily focuses on the Tortoise and Hare, PR Chari and Adm Vijay Shankar bring in the Panda; perhaps this commentary introduces the Eagle as well.

But are there only five animals in this race? What about the Iranian Cat and the Saudi Arabian Horse? As Iran develops its nuclear programme, will Pakistan’s arsenal and fissile materials remain focussed only on India as Adm Vijay Shankar argues? Or, will it include Iran, with an umbrella to Saudi Arabia as well?

To follow the rest of the debate, click:
• PR Chari, IPCS Commentary #3879
• Professor R. Rajaraman, IPCS Audio Commentary
• Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar, IPCS Commentary #3881
• D. Suba Chandran, IPCS Commentary #3882
• Rabia Akhtar, IPCS Commentary #3892
• Michael Krepon, IPCS Commentary #3896
• Original Commentary by Michael Krepon, International Herald Tribune, 4 April 2013