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Peaks And Troughs Of A Relationship

Rajesh M. Basrur

By Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. x 223, Rs. 495.00


Since Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have without exception induced restraint among those who possess them. Morally, they have been viewed with repugnance as indiscriminate destroyers of the innocent, while in practical terms, they have made war between their possessors unwinnable in any meaningful sense. Nuclear rivals are caught in the grey area between their being “unusable” weapons—to use them would risk unimaginable disaster—and the urge to use their potential for limited political ends, such as coercive diplomacy. Consequently, nuclear-armed states in a hostile relationship tend simultaneously to cooperate in avoiding war and to bring about crises as they seek advantage through the manipulation of their capabilities.   Notwithstanding the common refrain among western strategists that the new (Third World) nuclear powers are less stable than the Cold Warriors of yore, the pattern of behaviour displayed by the United States and the Soviet Union and between India and Pakistan is similar. Both are marked by recurrent crises and a process of adjustment that eventually brings on a steady if uneven process of stabilization. The peaks and troughs of the India-Pakistan relationship thus invoke in us a sense of déjà vu regardless of the specifics of each relationship. From the perspective of the realist school of international relations specialists, which holds that national power is the driving force of world politics, while crises do occur, nuclear deterrence works. US-based scholars Ganguly and Hagerty explicitly declare their adherence to realism and argue that “despite the crisis-strewn path they have traversed, New Delhi and Islamabad have managed to confound western non-proliferation analysts, the vast majority of whom predicted that the spread of nuclear weapons to conflict-prone regions would have disastrous outcomes” (p. 192). Their central point is that nuclear deterrence alone explains why India and Pakistan have not gone to war despite repeated crises over the past two decades.   Fearful Symmetry is the first comprehensive and detailed analysis of the numerous crises that have accompanied the nuclearization of India and Pakistan since the 1980s. It devotes a chapter each to Pakistan’s preventive war fears of 1984; the Brasstacks crisis of 1986-87 (so called after the large-scale Indian military exercise conducted at the time); the high tension that occurred over Kashmir in 1990; the Pakistani anxiety about a preemptive attack in the wake of the nuclear tests conducted by both countries in 1998; the Kargil imbroglio of 1999; and the 2001-02 crisis, which sprang from the terrorist attack ...

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