WASHINGTON: South Asian experts reject the nuclear pessimism in Western capitals about their region, noting that the West’s nuclear “sky is falling” in South Asia argument does not hold when seen in proper context.

This is the conclusion of a report by a prestigious Washington think-tank, the Atlantic Council, which also rules out the possibility of a nuc­lear war between India and Pakistan.

The council based these findings on a series of seminars it held recently in New Delhi, Islamabad and Beijing, noting that South Asian experts who participated in these meetings were more optimistic than the “nuclear sky is falling” arguments often aired in the mass media, and policy conferences in general.

The experts argued that China, India and Pakistan, despite being enmeshed in a complex rivalry, “are stakeholders in the existing international order, and are committed to an open economic order and multilateral institutionalism”.

The experts also noted that all three countries were embedded in a global order that’s vastly different from either the pre-World War I era or the “first nuclear age” that was manifested during the Cold War.

“The nuclear ‘sky is falling’ argument is simply not supported by the evidence, at least when evidence is embedded in its proper context,” the experts maintain.

The report, however, warned that the greatest threat to stability in the region “comes not from the development of large, sophisticated and diversified nuclear arsenals, but from the continued stability of the institutions guarding them”.

The experts highlighted the consequences of “aggressive nationalism” in China and India, and the potential for the “the first three decades of the post-Cold War era” to become merely “a temporary hiatus in their onward nuclear journey”, which could lead to “truly horrendous” consequences that would prove true the “worst-case assumptions of the nuclear pessimists”.

The report noted that until recently, the threat of a nuclear war was thought most likely in South Asia, where India and Pakistan are involved in a festering low-intensity conflict fostered by deep conflicts about identity and territory.

The report underlined two specific dangers: Pakistan deploying tactical nuclear weapons in a conventional war with India, and India’s investments in ballistic missile defences (BMD) and multiple re-entry vehicle (MRV) technology, which gives New Delhi a first-strike option against Pakistan.

The report noted that China, India and Pakistan also share a common institutional legacy of civi­lian dominated nuclear decision-making structures, in which the military is only one partner, and a relatively junior one, among a host of others.

“All three factors — the structural, the normative, and the institutional — dampen both countries’ drives toward trigger-ready, destabilising, operational nuclear postures that lean toward splendid first-strike options,” it added.

The report noted that “Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear weapons, although it does not appear to have operationalised tactical nuclear warfare”.

On a positive note, the report added, neither India nor Pakistan was conducting nuclear tests to deve­lop or improve designs for nuclear warheads. The same holds for China.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2017

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