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India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia

India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia by Šumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur. Columbia University Press, 2010, 152 pp.

Part of a 10-volume series entitled Contemporary Asia in the World published by Columbia University Press, India, Pakistan, and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia provides a comprehensive look at the nuclear programs of India and Pakistan and examines whether these programs stabilize or destabilize the region. The book’s most interesting feature is that the authors actively debate this particular effect of nuclear weapons, especially with regard to the relationship between India and Pakistan. Both Ganguly and Kapur have published other works on these two countries and have knowledge of and experience in writing about the politics of South Asia. Although most other such studies present only one perspective of nuclear stability, these authors take opposite sides of the argument and debate each other throughout the work, thus giving the reader a complete picture and understanding of the possible outcomes of a nuclear South Asia. Whereas Ganguly takes the position that nuclear weapons have had a stabilizing effect on the relationship between India and Pakistan, Kapur maintains that they have destabilized the South Asia security environment writ large and will continue to do so. Both attempt to lay out their positions succinctly and logically. They supply a historical framework for the countries’ relationship before nuclear weapons entered the picture, showing how the two nations evolved following British colonialism. Ganguly and Kapur then introduce their competing frameworks, each of which addresses how nuclear weapons have altered India’s and Pakistan’s dealings with each other. The time periods analyzed by the authors include 1980 to 2002, 2002 to 2007, and 2008 to the present.

On the one hand, Ganguly optimistically asserts that nuclear weapons have produced a stabilizing effect, especially in the sense that each nation’s nuclear deterrence has limited military responses during conflicts. Kapur, on the other hand, argues for strategic pessimism, pointing out that aggressive behavior by a new nuclear power leads to regional destabilization. For him, nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan have had this effect in South Asia because of their potential to escalate any conflict between the two countries.

A short case study on the Kashmir conflict of 1990 helps illustrate each man’s position. Ganguly argues that during this incident, even though India and Pakistan increased their military presence around Kashmir, the situation did not escalate because each understood the other’s nuclear capabilities and did not wish to risk possible nuclear war. Kapur declares that Pakistan’s incursion into Kashmir occurred because nuclear weapons gave it the confidence to challenge the status quo in Kashmir more aggressively, thereby destabilizing the region. Such instability was inevitable because Pakistan believed that its nuclear deterrence would keep India from elevating the Kashmir incursions to an all-out military conflict, allowing Pakistan to assume a more aggressive military posture vis-à-vis India. This case study is just one of the many examples offered by the authors to illustrate their position on how nuclear weapons have affected the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Anyone interested in the politics and nuclear stability of India and Pakistan will find this short work easy to understand and read. Its inclusion of a brief historical background helps the authors clarify their arguments and supplies a context for understanding the complex relationship between the two nations. Because India, Pakistan, and the Bomb has far-reaching applications, any military member deploying to US Central Command would benefit from the larger lessons that accrue from an understanding of the India/Pakistan relationship—such as the implications of an Iranian nuclear program. As someone who followed Ganguly’s line of thinking prior to reading this book, I must say that it led me to reconsider my beliefs about the effect of nuclear weapons on South Asia.

Maj Joseph M. Ladymon, USAF

Nellis AFB, Nevada

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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