Second Strike: Arguments About Nuclear War in South Asia; Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons

In This Review

Second Strike: Arguments About Nuclear War in South Asia

By Rajesh Rajagopalan
Penguin Books India, 2005
237 pp. $0.00

Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons

By Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty
University of Washington Press, 2005
234 pp. $55.00

Ever since Kenneth Waltz began arguing that not all nuclear proliferation is a bad thing, and that a nuclear balance could stabilize conflicts in the developing world just as it stabilized relations during the Cold War, South Asia has been seen as the key test of this thesis. India and Pakistan have been enemies since their 1947 partition, always at war or close to it. In the 1970s, both countries began building a nuclear capability, which was confirmed in 1998 by a competitive sequence of test explosions conducted by both sides. The absence of war since, despite some tense moments, gives some support to Waltz's thesis, and both of these books provide more theoretical and empirical backing, the Ganguly and Hagerty volume with Waltz's explicit endorsement.

Rajagopalan subscribes to McGeorge Bundy's concept of "existential deterrence," which stresses how cautious policymakers become when facing the prospect of nuclear escalation. This dynamic can work almost independently of particular force structures and nuclear doctrines, so long, Rajagopalan insists, as there is not vulnerability to a first strike. On this basis, he draws some comfort from the explicit Indian nuclear doctrine and the more implicit Pakistani one, and even more from the evident caution exhibited during recent crises -- which in non-nuclear conditions might have led to a major war.

These crises are the starting point for Ganguly and Hagerty, whose book is much more original and substantial. They are also followers of Bundy's theory of existential deterrence, but the value of their book lies in its systematic analysis of the six crises that have occurred since Indian-Pakistani relations acquired a nuclear dimension. (Only one of these, over Kargil in 1998-99, came to blows.) Of the factors that might explain the two countries' restraint, they give some credit to U.S. pressure and the conventional balance, but even more to nuclear deterrence. Of course, the conclusion that nuclear deterrence normally works, even in extremely challenging circumstances, does not preclude a catastrophic exception. The authors recognize this risk and so conclude with some suggestions about how both sides, with U.S. help, can introduce additional bulwarks against instability into their relationship.

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