Since the events of September 11, 2001, many in India have argued that if the United States can justify its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of combating terrorism, destroying weapons of mass destruction, and changing regimes, then India is justified in attacking Pakistan. Indian external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha is reported to have said, “India has a much better case to go for preemptive action” against Pakistan than the United States had in Iraq. The massacre of more than twenty Hindu men, women, and children in Nadimarg, Kashmir, in late March 2003, renewed calls for sterner action against Pakistan. And yet, Indian anger notwithstanding, military action against Pakistan would be both ineffective and dangerous.
Ever since the Kargil War of 1999, influential Indian strategists have argued that India should be prepared to fight “limited war under nuclear conditions,” that is, military operations of a limited conventional nature. This is the only way, they believe, to respond to Pakistan’s strategy of sub-conventional warfare-terrorism, and, as in 1999, incursions across the line of control in Kashmir. Pakistan can only be dissuaded from continuing its sub-conventional warfare, in this view, by the threat of military punishment. This new Indian thinking challenges the Pakistani conviction that its nuclear weapons protect it from Indian retaliation.
There are probably two reasons for the new Indian thinking on limited war. The first is the belief that India, with its bigger nuclear forces, has “escalation dominance” and can up the ante at every level of violence. To the extent that India has the whip hand, Pakistan’s threat to use nuclear weapons against a punitive Indian strike would be neutralized. Islamabad would be dissuaded from resorting to nuclear weapons by the fear of massive retaliation.
The second reason is a calculation that the nuclear powers, especially the United States, would not allow either country, but Pakistan above all, to use nuclear weapons. Indian thinking on the subject is not available in cold print but quite likely rests on the following kinds of arguments. First, the nuclear powers are determined to preserve the nuclear taboo and in particular to stop anyone outside the nuclear five (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) from using nuclear weapons. Second, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could draw in other nuclear-weapon states. Imagine that Pakistan appeals to China for help after using nuclear weapons against an Indian conventional attack. Faced with the prospect of Chinese involvement, India turns to Russia. The United States urges both China and Russia to stay out of the fight but finds that Beijing and Moscow are unable to stand on the sidelines. Surely Washington must do everything it can to avoid such a situation, including stopping Pakistan from starting a nuclear crisis in the first place. Thi...
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