Maintaining Deterrence: The Hard Way



As colonialism fell from the throne, it broke into many pieces forming nations that were too eager to show the world all their potential, their natural resources and of course their geo-strategic importance. This paved the way for a more dangerous game of self-control and internal grievances. Much to the dismay of independent thinking and liberalist ideals, states that gained independence from decolonization were already displaying fissures and fractures within their own local structures. The battle for survival as independent states ensued and shaped dimensions of modern strategy, as a few of those states had acquired a more devastating set of arsenal – the nuclear weapons.
Cold War redefined the structure of warfare from physical encounters to reduced skirmishes. It was the first time the World had remained constantly under a shadow of total annihilation, without even knowing that such a threat was actually looming. The Soviets and the Americans had created an intricate labyrinth of carrots and sticks for proxy nations and periphery states for maintaining bipolarity, as well as keeping a steady pace to outmaneuver their adversaries, to ensure a unipolar existence. It was all too real back then but under control, except for what they were devising for newer nations that gained independence in the future.
The struggle between the United States and the USSR (later Russia) had a few factors into play that kept brinkmanship nothing more than a diplomatic rhetoric, on the floor of International organizations and it was this set of factors which made sure that rash actions were never escalated. Where many strategists held geographical distance between the two states, a plausible stabilizer, some argued that distance was never really that important when seen through the kaleidoscope of ICBM and SLBM technology. The latter set of strategists argued that the element of control was initiated through the fact that destructive capacity of both nations was enough to discourage any adventurism. As time passed and the Cold War began to crumble, rolling the dice in favour of the US, a new group of strategists held plausible both above quoted assumptions and introduced a third plausible scenario that this race was more about economics and not military might to begin with, hence, the demise of the USSR.
The proverb that “things aren’t always what they seem”, interjected rather boldly and the world quickly realized that it was in fact Russia that was able to liberate itself from so much geographical mass of burden and liability was quickly disbursed in favor of a more independent, a more potent Russia, although dormant and in hibernation. Sense of victory quickly faded away for the US once China assumed responsibility as a global economic pole and then, quite gradually if not suddenly, terrorism became a new global slogan. As a superpower should, janitorial responsibilities were assumed by the US and now instead of having a ball, they had to hold the broom. The superpower syndrome quickly took a feverish turn when the US was now accompanied by a resurgent Russia, its hammer and sickle pointed towards Central Asia and Europe. Fever turned worse with China gradually assuming control over global industrial arrangements. The problem with this superpower was, it never got a chance to be a colonizer, extremely single-track and too tired.
But I know I am reinventing the wheel of history, so I will stop here and get to the point. Pakistan and India are two nations that were too eager to be independent but somehow they were not prepared for it. It was like looking forward to a journey, anticipating a destination of which everything was a blur. Quickly they were shot into a plethora of issues and challenges, mainly administrative, as their population was not designed for the type of governance that was planned to be installed. Following capitalist, developed nations was easy if the domestic population had not been so generously immense; it magnified internal weaknesses tenfold. From food shortage to famine, mismanagement to no management at all, misfeasance to malfeasance and from internal disputes to population density itself, these two countries had absolutely no progressive legislation or consistent policies. With religious extremism on either side, fuelled by poverty and a sharp decline of social morality, these two countries became a safe haven for everything that could go wrong. Now, with this background, add nuclear weapons to the mix and traditional strategies that were generally designed for Cold-War nations and then make a comparison. The answer is simple; recent border clashes under the shadow of miniaturized nuclear arsenals, skyrocketed defense procurements, a struggle for international recognition and absolutely no flexibility in bilateral matters.
Deterrence in the Cold War was based on a simple phenomenon, that both nations understood each other excellently well. They both knew economic thresholds of their adversaries as well as the potential for accumulation of weapons, coupled with internal management and the most important factor, that ‘deterrence’ is a mutual arrangement in which one state is forced to take the other in order to ensure a stable environment. Agreeing to the fact that there was a threat of total annihilation, both states knew what actual confrontation would mean, even during international conflicts and proxy engagements. However, this strategy was working for those two states that had a lot of economic support and who also had the potential to handle their affairs free from internal stalemates and who could actually lock antlers and hold on, as long as their respective opponent declared submission. For India and Pakistan, things are a bit different. Leaving missile defences aside and interception of skirmish prone forces out of the equation, any consistent confrontation could ensue very dangerous repercussions for not just one but the other as well.
Indian defense expenditures are colossal, no doubt about it and their expenditures are justified; no one could say that they are not allowed to buy or sell things but everything comes at a cost and sometimes the cost is beyond nickels and cents. With their population happily striding past the billion and a half mark, military expenditures are something that should not be their first priority. The best alternative to quantity is quality, meaning thereby that it’s better to have advanced weapons instead of a lot of used equipment. With a vast population and a huge weapons cache, the public would make sure that a government in the future would have to ask the government for a demonstration. Keeping this in mind and past instances into equation, results could be terrifying. Suggestion is to keep the word ‘minimum’ in minimum credible deterrence to a level where the adversary can also reach, otherwise there would be a justification to respond to any violent provocation offered from across the border. Ascertainment of first blood is irrelevant when it comes to an uncontrollable chain reaction of aggression and internally weak and economically deprived, densely populated nations would risk the entire global security framework.
Turning to other side of the Wagha border, is a country that has absolutely no control when it comes to domestic affairs. Previously engaged in internal military adventures and an army that is not adequately supplied with quality weapons, fatigued infrastructure and internal political fissures, Pakistan is a state that has so much up on its plate that needs finishing up. With civil military relations gradually repairing to achieve coherence, there is still a lot to be done in terms of political homogeneity. Pakistan has aimed to miniaturize its nuclear weapons, which in turn is both a stabilizer and a destabilizer. Existence of a first use policy with miniaturized nuclear weapons, this could be a problem when it comes to a stable existence of aggressive adventurism. The economic indicators for Pakistan are in a deplorable state, if not exactly devastating, with their conventional military assets belonging to the ‘refurbished/recycled’ kind, deterrence itself could be a burden.
With the more recent border clashes, this would not exactly be an anticipated outcome of Cold-War US and USSR, as many strategists propose. Stability is what the key factor is for deterrence but it cannot be achieved unless both parties are able to afford and upgrade their deterrent potential on a more or less, equal basis. Both India and Pakistan have neither the economic backbone nor the geographical encumbrances nor do they have upgraded technology to maintain deterrence, and the cherry on top is the population explosion that makes matters worse when domestic administration is kept into context.
Many may disagree with this analogy and many may see it as a biased or even blasphemous endeavor but some realities are what they are. Neither Pakistan nor India would like to be the USSR from the 90s and it is absolutely clear that both of them would be unable to assume janitorial responsibilities of the US or even assist the industrial world like China. It is clear that Kashmir may not be able to serve what Crimea is currently offering to Russia or what Ukraine and Poland have been offering to the US and European states in NATO. What is plain and simple is the fact that Pakistan and India would eventually have to sit at the table and talk it all out because there are no winners in a nuclear war and the slightest incident may spark it, a threat that exists but not seen looming presently.

is a Masters in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defense University. He can be reached on

Discussion3 Comments

  1. What this guy is trying to tell?

    India should talk to Pakistan – that is it.

    India already conveyed very clearly that they will talk ONLY when terrorism/infiltration/LOC violation from Pakistan stops.

    The ball is in Pakistan’s court.

    All other is nothing but crap.

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