Courtesy Reuters

In his review of Ashley Tellis' book, India's Emerging Nuclear Posture ("Behind India's Bomb," September/October 2001), Sumit Ganguly claims that the international condemnation of India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests was misplaced and unfounded, and that if India pursues what Tellis describes as a nuclear "force-in-being" there will be no danger of nuclear instability or nuclear war in South Asia. Tellis himself presents most regional nuclear war scenarios as exaggerated, although he considers the possibility of nuclear use under specific circumstances, if deterrence fails and India responds "only in proportion to the Pakistani attack, using its superior nuclear reserves to enforce intrawar deterrence and speedy conflict termination on its own terms." Yet there is no guarantee that India could "enforce" conflict termination before a regional nuclear holocaust. Once nuclear war began, the security of South Asia's population would depend not only on the rationality of Indian decision-makers but also on the integrity of Pakistan's chain of command. A politically unstable Pakistan might be vulnerable to a nuclear coup d'etat. This has become a plausible scenario since Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, decided to support the United States in the war in Afghanistan. Ganguly endorses Tellis' depiction of the emergent Indian nuclear doctrine as emphasizing "the political as opposed to the military utility of nuclear weapons." Yet nuclear weapons are not purely political instruments; they are instruments of war and as such they have a military value, not just a "psycho-political" value. The political utility of India's nuclear deterrent derives from India's ability to convey

a credible threat of real nuclear use in a crisis. If nuclear weapons are politically useful, it is because they can and will be used. Tellis extensively discusses the possibility of a breakdown in deterrence in the Indo-Pakistani nuclear standoff. Although he argues that India's "emphasis on deterrence by punishment is likely to suffice as an effective antidote to adventurism," several reports of Pakistani nuclear threats during the 1999 Kargil war prompted the Indian leadership to place its incipient nuclear "force-in-being" on high alert. Tellis claims (and Ganguly agrees) that the United States can preserve

the nonproliferation regime "despite the nuclearization currently occurring in India." But the nonproliferation regime is not a U.S. regime. Despite the recent lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on India and Pakistan, U.N. Security Resolution 1172ffi98 condemning the May 1998 nuclear tests is still in effect; it was even reaffirmed by 187 parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (including the United States) at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Tellis' detailed analysis shows that India's "relatively small" nuclear force "probably will not exist in full form for at least another decade or two." Despite India's unilateralist nuclear posture, this opens up a window of opportunity for nuclear arms control in South Asia, which has become a necessity after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the increased danger of nuclear terrorism on the subcontinent.


Associate Professor of Political Science, Texas A & M University, Kingsville