Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

No Indo-Pak nuclear war after all!

By George Thomas - posted Saturday, 15 June 2002

There is going to be no nuclear war between India and Pakistan after all! At the Asia conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan in early June, the leaders and spokesmen of both India and Pakistan declared that nuclear war was unthinkable. The Indian Defense Ministry stated "India does not believe in the use of nuclear weapons. Neither does it visualize that it will be used by any other country." Speaking on Russia's state-run RTR television, Pakistani president Musharraf said: "Let me assure the whole world that our nuclear assets are in extremely safe hands and there is no vulnerability of these at all."

Was there really any doubt that Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and Pakistani President Musharraf would never escalate the Indo-Pakistani crisis into a nuclear war? Such doomsday forecasts by the US government were always based on a shallow understanding of the nature of the Indo-Pakistani and Hindu-Muslim relationships. On the other hand, warnings by the US that India and Pakistan were on the brink of nuclear war, and the drastic step of pulling all Americans out of the region, was compounding the dangers of nuclear war. Notice that no such panic prevailed in India and Pakistan.

Dire predictions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Indeed, the frequency of such American government and media claims was beginning to sound like wishful thinking. Too much Western professional credibility was put on the line if this doomsday prediction did not occur. Thus, if nuclear war did take place, the American government and media will say: "We told you so." If it did not, they would take credit for having averted it. But adolescent and immature nations cannot be trusted with such destructive weapons. In the new Anglo-American dominant world, this reflects a return to Britain's "White Man's Burden" and America's "Manifest Destiny"


While the Indian government and its supporters disagreed with such dire predictions, Pakistan and its allied Kashmiri separatists supported this thesis of imminent nuclear war. Raising the spectre of nuclear war by Kashmiri separatists is intended to bring about U.S. intervention while the world’s attention remains focused on South Asia. Meanwhile, there continues to be no basis for a settlement on Kashmir. Pakistan will not give up its goal to make Indian-held Kashmir part of Pakistan. India insists on the territorial status quo.

American claims that a nuclear South Asia is the "most dangerous place on earth" is based on a scenario of escalation from insurgency and cross-border terrorism to conventional war and to catastrophic nuclear war. Indian frustration with fighting an indefinite war against insurgents and terrorists operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan, may tempt New Delhi to escalate the situation by conducting a conventional war against Pakistan to destroy the bases of the mujahideen across the border.

Following the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001 by the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, calls intensified among Indian politicians and the attentive public to attack the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. If the United States could use massive conventional force to eliminate terrorist bases in faraway Afghanistan from whence terrorist operations were planned and conducted in the U.S., then why cannot India launch attacks on terrorist bases in Pakistan and further afield across the Hindu Kush.

India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has not alleviated its difficulties in dealing with insurgency and cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Nuclear weapons did not prevent a limited conventional border war in Kashmir, as illustrated by the Indo-Pakistani war along the ceasefire line in the Kargil sector in mid 1999. India has no relative advantage in fighting a conventional war that is confined to Kashmir. In the 1999 Kargil war, Indian forces suffered immense losses before they eventually pushed back Pakistani forces that had seized the sector within the Indian line of control.

However, because of the threat of Pakistani nuclear retaliation, India could not consider an all-out conventional war in 1999 that would have compelled Pakistan to defend the entire country against India’s superior conventional forces, as it did in 1965 and 1971 when Pakistan attempted to seize Kashmir by force.

There are several reasons why Western predictions were always without much basis. Brown leaders and decision-makers are not less rational and responsible with their nuclear arsenals than their White counterparts were during the Cold War. Recall that when China tested its first atomic bomb in 1964 there were fears that leaders of the Yellow race would be more willing to risk nuclear war because even if China lost half its population, a viable country of 500 million people would survive still. China was then the most dangerous country in the world.


Arguments that Indians and Pakistanis do not understand the nature of nuclear weapons were equally false. The strategic communities in both countries understand the logic of nuclear weapons very well. As regards the argument that the minds of peoples in both countries are deadened to the consequences of nuclear war, the same claim could have been made of the US and the USSR during the Cold War. In 1986, the two superpowers possessed some 70,000 nuclear warheads (including tactical nuclear weapons). That was the equivalent of 1.5 million Hiroshima bombs, all of which were ready to be launched in a massive strike and counterstrike. If this wasn’t sheer madness, what was?

There are several factors that mitigate an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war. The decision-makers in India and Pakistan have generally remained quite rational and responsible during crises. Past Indo-Pakistani wars have been essentially "gentlemanly" wars. Cities and other civilian targets were never attacked; prisoners-of-war were treated humanely and returned after the cessation of hostilities.

Second, the geographical proximity of the two countries and the inter-related nature of societies on either side in themselves constitute a deterrent. An attack by India on Pakistan may cause radioactive fallout in India, and vice versa. Even if Pakistan were to attack distant targets in India with intermediate-range ballistic missiles, it would inflict death and destruction on millions of Indian Muslims for whose protection Pakistan was created in 1947.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004

Other articles by this Author

All articles by George Thomas
Related Links
George C Thomas's home page
Marquette University
Photo of George Thomas
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy