Deterrence theory suggests that a stable deterrence moderates the security dilemma between rival nuclear states. Nearly four decades ago, Kenneth Waltz, a leading nuclear optimist, advocated that the spread of nuclear weapons would guarantee peace and resolve complex security problems between countries. However, twenty years into their respective nuclear programs, India and Pakistan continue to perceive threats from each other—mistrust that has resulted in an intense nuclear arms build-up. With India’s ambition to become a global power and Pakistan’s continuing quest for security, nuclear deterrence remains unstable, and peace fragile, in South Asia. In order to promote peace in the foreseeable future, the two states require less rivalry and more understanding.
Rivalry is enduring due to divergent strategic directions, evolving competitive technologies, a growing power imbalance, the Kashmir conflict, and the transnational activities of non-state actors in the region. Recent events such as the terrorist attack on an Indian military base in Uri, claims of Indian surgical strikes on Pakistan, and Kulbhushan Yadav’s arrest in Baluchistan demonstrate the intolerant patterns of interaction between the two countries that threaten conflict escalation to the nuclear level. To generate harmony, India and Pakistan must allow themselves the ability to make strategic compromises and the flexibility to resume dialogue.
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