- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Nuclear Developments in India and Pakistan

Neil Joeck

Fifty years of rivalry between India and Pakistan were again punctuated by conflict in the contested state of Kashmir in May and June 1999. These battles serve as a grim reminder that the threat of war lurks just below the surface of Indo-Pakistani relations. This threat is all the more ominous when viewed against the backdrop of the nuclear tests New Delhi and Islamabad conducted just last year, in May 1998. The current confrontation suggests that an examination of why the nuclear tests were conducted and what role U.S. policy played could shed light on alternate paths to India's and Pakistan's mutual objective of not just creating stability, but of bringing peace to this conflict-prone relationship. This essay argues that the primary reason India chose to test in 1998 was because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brought a radically new vision to India's security policy-including both an aversion to Jawaharlal Nehru's cautious policies of the past and calculations about the long-term Chinese threat-when it assumed power in 1998. For its part, Pakistan felt compelled largely for domestic political reasons to answer with nuclear tests of its own. Even though India already appeared to be deterred by Pakistan's veiled nuclear capability, the political consequences of failing to counter India's tests would likely have driven Pakistan's Prime Minister from office. The United States responded by proposing a set of steps that it believed would at least complement India's and Pakistan's claims that nuclear deterrence would increase stability in South Asia. More ambitiously, these steps might in time provide a better basis for stability and peace in the subcontinent, and for the world at large.