The Problem From Hell: South Asia's Arms Race
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The Problem From Hell: South Asia's Arms Race


South Asia is going through what can be called the first bounce of the nuclear ball, an arms buildup.  This is a time when Pakistan and India focus on acquiring fissile material and building weapons. This drives Pakistan’s plutonium mills and India’s commercial nuclear power deal with the United States.

The second bounce of the ball may be quite different than the first.  For example, it may see intense crises and shocks – aggravated by the enlarged nuclear forces.  So it would be a mistake to assume the current environment will be the environment of the future.  Like the first nuclear age, the Cold War, there are likely to be ebbs and flows in competition, with different problems and shocks developing over time, interspaced with periods of relative calm.

India has mainly responded to Pakistan’s nuclear buildup not with one of its own, at least not yet anyway, but with strategy innovation, improved intelligence, missiles, and a nuclear triad.  Strategy innovation is especially important because it is one of the great drivers of competition, and may transcend the political issues that are the original source of rivalry.

In the first nuclear age innovation – technological and strategic – was a major factor in the arms buildup.  The appearance of strategic innovation in South Asia is important, therefore, in a way that goes beyond the particulars of any one innovation.  An example of India’s strategy innovation involves new ways of using conventional forces in a nuclear environment.  India’s “Cold Start” strategy, for example, calls for prompt mobilization of fast-moving battle groups made up of armor, helicopters, and mechanized forces to thrust into Pakistan as punishment for a Pakistani attack or a terrorist outrage.

Cold Start’s subnuclear option recognizes the nuclear threshold explicitly.  The concept behind it is to fight below this threshold, if possible.  But Cold Start has a nuclear element, too.  Should Pakistan fire nuclear weapons at this Indian force, India can escalate with nuclear strikes of its own.

Cold Start provides fascinating insight into the dynamic interactions of the two military systems on the subcontinent.  It shows how both countries have shifted from conventional war-fighting to escalation strategies.  I do not believe this is a matter of a conscious choice by either country.  Rather, it is an emergent property of the interacting nuclear systems in South Asia.  They have little choice but to play the game this way, short of a sweeping arms control or disarmament initiatives.

Escalation as a strategy has come into being not because anyone wanted it too, but from the mutual interaction of both sides having nuclear weapons.  While escalation strategies have always existed in South Asia, they are now front and center.  This marks a fundamental change from the conventional attrition strategies of previous wars.

Cold Start shows something else, too.  The dynamics in the region go beyond nuclear weapons in the narrow sense.  There is no rigid arms race with each side matching the other in atomic bombs.  If this were the case it would actually be easier to control. But the arms race is more complicated because it involves parallel changes in other key subsystems, and these have their own momentum.

July 3, 2013 at 17:19

yes fighting to get kashmir so that u can make kashmir also a home of terriost group

July 3, 2013 at 17:15

pak is the home of taliban alkuada they are pakistani frnda and isi is helping the
so be sure about telling something about india

February 18, 2013 at 17:08

Interesting debate…Here's my take post discussions with few IB officials…
1. Will get support from US, as per tha Af-Pak policy to stabilise Afghanistan. The problem is Afghanistan has 4 tribal lords trying to take over power and not everyone are happy with Paks as they helped US root out their religious friends.
2. Pakistan has Baluchistan and Pashtun tribes working on separatist moves and it being a ISLAMIC republic is not making law and order any better by inserting Shariah in between. 
3. Economic and social conditions are bad, as the focus has largely been on defense and not many govt in power stabilized.

India :
1. Yes, we do have a lotta separatist movements internally, ULFA funded by China, Kashmir separatist funded by Pakis, Maoist funded well and as rightl said above has spread thru the country. The maoist is a bigger tension for India, but intelligence is strong on it and the establishment is working in the economic and soft power side to take it out, which is the only way out.
2. On public toilets, Yes with a per capita income of ~1600 dollars compared to heavy gaints of ~25000 t0 45000 per capita, India is weak financially to support such an dense country with a state (behaving as a nation every 200 kms). It has just been 65 years out on independence, a war or conflcit every 10 years in different parts of the country and TWENTY years since liberalization and today.. INDIA is growing with all these problems. 
3. The day the per capita meets not the developed country, atleaast 10000dollars per capita, things will change.


1. Their target is not India or Pakistan, Its clearly US and to be unipolar or atleast ASIA – POLAR in the near future. They are very smart, quick and intelligent. With all their detterrence, they are training guns on US. China will not benefit clashes with her niegbours at this point of time.
2. China has already started applying diplomatic sanctions on all her trade partners and is growing fast. 
3. India cannot depend solely on US as it has historically been against India and Russia has always come to India's rescue. So India is looking at tackling China's dominance and not Paks.. Paks has been sidelined for now and India confident of take over if needed. 

Why is the perception that when an attack happens at large scale, nuclear establishments will not the first points to be secured and why Anti nuke tech will not be used? 

February 15, 2013 at 04:01

Here's a 3-part Pakistani article describing what the country should do about India's Cold Start, written a year before this article by The Diplomat:
I –
II –
III ––measures-theory-of-Strategic-Equivalence-III

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief