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Cold Wars Have Common Themes

Rajesh Rajagopalan

By Rajesh M. Basrur
Routledge, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 171, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

It has become popular to bemoan the lack of ‘Indian’ theoretical approaches to the study of international politics. Underlying such anguish are two beliefs: the first is that theories and approaches developed elsewhere (specifically the US, for international studies is still an American-dominated discipline) is not suitable for India and the second is the belief that an ‘Indian’ approach would not only be different from such alien, borrowed approaches, but somehow superior. This is not simply an Indian obsession: over the last decade, there have been a number of attempts to demonstrate that Asian interstate politics will not mimic western practices, though there has been precious little empirical support for claims of such Asian (or Indian) exceptionalism.   By suggesting that all Cold Wars show familiar and discernible patterns, and including those that involve Asian as well as non-Asian powers, Rajesh Basrur’s slim volume takes aim squarely at the exceptionalist argument. Basrur shows how existing approaches can be fruitfully exploited to not only understand the India-Pak condition but also how such an analysis might, in turn, give us interesting new insights into general conditions of inter-state politics. South Asia has lessons to learn from the cold war experiences of others; and the South Asian cold war between India and Pakistan has lessons for other cold warring duos.   Comparing the India-Pakistan cold war with four others—US-Soviet, US-China, China-Soviet Union and US-North Korea—Basrur argues that all cold wars have some common themes. He defines cold wars as ‘intense confrontations between two nuclear-armed states, yet one in which both sides sought to avoid actual combat’ (p. 1). Cold wars are a peculiar feature of the nuclear age, which imposes restrictions on the willingness of states to carry their arguments to their traditional conclusion—war. In other words, cold wars are unlikely in a non-nuclear environment because they would turn into hot wars soon enough. In a nuclear confrontation, cold wars remain cold because the option of a hot war is absent. Nevertheless, he argues, old habits die hard, and states continue to plot, scheme, worry and strategize as if they were still in a pre-nuclear era: they worry about the nuclear balance, and about the constancy of allies even though neither will matter. This forms a pattern because these rivals are constantly seeking a way out of the nuclear maze but Basrur argues that there is none, though this process itself results ...

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