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Credible Minimum Or Minimum Credible Juggling With Semantics

P.R. Chari

Edited by Naeem Salik
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2009, pp. xiii + 324, Rs.495.00

By Manpreet Sethi
Knowledge World, New Delhi, 2009, pp. xxxiii + 395, Rs.880.00


We have two books here that address the generic nu-clear situation in South Asia, which has gained salience after India and Pakistan conducted their reciprocal nuclear tests in May 1998. By then the Cold War had wound down. But, the United States and Russia (successor state to the erstwhile Soviet Union) still retain huge nuclear arsenals. Nuclear deterrence still underpins peace and stability between them, although there is little danger of their adversarial relationship deteriorating to the point of conflict. This cannot be said of the adversarial India-Pakistan nuclear relationship that developed after 1998; it has witnessed serious tensions like the border confrontation crisis in 2001–02 and the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999. Earlier, artillery duels across the Line of Control occurred almost daily, until a ceasefire was negotiated in end 2003. A peace process was also initiated leading to the negotiation of several confidence building measures; this process now lies in tatters after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 were traced back to Pakistan. The potential for India-Pakistan crises to escalate armed conflict across the nuclear threshold remains conceivable, and presents a constant danger for the international nuclear regime. The structural bulwark against this likelihood translating into reality is the state of nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan, which has prevented political and military crises from escalating, and terminating them before the nuclear precipice was approached. It should be mentioned here that ‘deterrence’ is an ancient concept; it has undergirded strategy and defence since times immemorial. Its dictionary meaning implies discouragement from doing something or preventing the occurrence of something by instilling fear of its consequences. Nations, therefore, expend large resources on maintaining armed forces, modernizing their equipment, holding military exercises to display their proficiency, and indulging in similar symbolic acts to caution their enemies. Deterrence addresses the enemy’s intentions by holding out the threat of inflicting pain and condign punishment to warn him off from contemplating aggressive actions. All this was true when conventional weapons populated the battlefield. A sea change occurred after atomic weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, ushering the nuclear age. The logic of conventional and nuclear deterrence is completely different, since nuclear weapons can inflict horrendous levels of death and destruction instantaneously, against which there is no practicable defence. This has divorced war from political process. Nuclear weapons cannot obviously serve any rational political objective apart from deterring their use by the adversary. But, nuclear ...

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