Carnegie Stanton Fellow Iskander Rehman joined Neil Joeck of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for a panel exploring the precarious nuclear environment in Asia. Carnegie’s George Perkovich moderated. 

  • Short Fuse: Joeck and Perkovich emphasized that despite the appearance of improved relations, the possibility of war in South Asia remains very real. Joeck argued that though both sides would prefer to avoid war, several scenarios could drive them toward open hostilities without careful planning and third party intervention. 

  • New Technology, New Models: Joeck suggested that Pakistan’s development of theater nuclear weapons, or tactical nuclear weapons, has changed the strategic landscape for India. Rehman pointed out that both countries are moving toward naval deployment of nuclear technology and weaponry. In response, the panelists observed that new models of deterrence would be necessary to analyze the conflict between India and Pakistan, and that each country will need to update its nuclear doctrines to reflect these new realities. 

  • Chain Reaction: Several panelists pointed out that the major threat of escalation at the moment lies in the possibility of a conventional strike by India against Pakistan in retaliation for a sub-conventional attack originating within Pakistan, like the Mumbai attack in 2008. Such a move might be considered outright aggression by the Pakistanis, triggering a nuclear response. Joeck proposed that authorities in each country need to develop signaling mechanisms to demonstrate restraint should tensions flare.

  • Threat Triangles: Perkovich pointed out the potential for the arms race to intensify based on two overlapping triangles of competition in the region. In the first, Pakistan is seeking to compete with India, who in turn is seeking to compete with China. China, however, forms part of another triangle in competition with its rivals Russia and the United States. Perkovich warned that these formations might inadvertently incentivize the less powerful members to seek more nuclear assets than they otherwise would.