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What is the role of nuclear and non-nuclear-based deterrence as a means of prevention in the current and future threat environment?

Deterrence: Its Past and Future: Panel Two

May 20, 2011

European Leadership Network, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Hoover Institution

Igor Ivanov, Han Sung-Joo, Jim Goodby, Ulrich Weisser, General (Ret.) Jehangier Karamat


Lancaster House, Stable Yard, St. James, London

Speaker – Igor Ivanov, former Foreign Minister of Russian Federation

“What are the Existing and Emerging Threat to International Security Viewed from the Perspective of Various Countries / Regions?”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am indeed pleased and honored to take part in the discussion on the past and the future of deterrence with so distinguished experts and prominent politicians around. For me the future of deterrence is much more important than its past. I might sound somewhat reductionist, but the fundamental question that I see here is more than obvious: does deterrence have any future at all? If it does, then how should we revise it in order to make it more relevant to emerging security challenges? If it does not, how can we dismantle it in a way, which is not threatening to individual nation states and to the humankind at large?

As we all know, deterrence, like any other strategy, is not the end goal of nation states. It is nothing more but a means to achieve more security, to protect you from threats and challenges coming from abroad. Therefore I consider that it’s very appropriate to concentrate the discussion on threats and threat perceptions: this is indeed an indispensable entry point to the analysis of the future of deterrence.

Despite the deep ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War both sides perceived each other as rational actors. The history tells us that – all the inflammatory rhetoric notwithstanding – Moscow and Washington acted in a generally responsible way, with a clear understanding that there were certain lines that they should not cross.

How has the picture changed after the end of the Cold War? Looking at the international system from Moscow, I should confess that the threat perceptions in my country have shifted in a very profound way. Of course, you can still find Russian politicians and academics who continue to believe in the antagonistic conflict between Russia and the West. However, the political mainstream in Russia does not subscribe to this view; the dominant perception is that the United States and the West, in general, does not present a direct strategic threat to Russia. It does not mean that Moscow and Washington do not compete with each other or agree on every question in global politics, but the totality of the conflict is gone. And without this totality one can rightfully question the credibility of traditional deterrence.

But it is much more important that Russia today - like any other nation in the world - faces entirely new security threats and challenges. During the Russia-NATO Summit in Lisbon last December we completed the Joint Review of 21st Century Common Security Challenges. I want to point out the word: “common”. This confirms once again that the threats no longer come from within the “nuclear club”: I mean five nuclear powers; instead the threats are generated by rogue states, terrorists, different radical groups and movements. Since neither of them can be considered rational actors that are likely to act responsibly, classical deterrence is not an ideal means to cope with this new situation.

This new reality calls for new approaches to deterrence. Let me get back to the initial question: does traditional deterrence have a future? In other words, is it subject to reforms or not? In my view, the answer to this question is negative. For twenty years academics and politicians tried to find a new approach to deterrence ranging from “stable deterrence” to “minimal deterrence” to “multilateral deterrence”. However, this quest for a renewed deterrence has not resulted in any profound change of our nuclear postures or in the proliferation problem. This inertia can hardly be explained as a mere lack of imagination or political will to embrace change. The logical conclusion is that we need to replace deterrence with an entirely new approach to global and regional security that would be more adequate to new threats and challenges that we all encounter.

If the most probable threats come from outside of the “nuclear club”, the relations within the club should not longer be based on the principles of traditional deterrence. If we fear each other no more, we can consider our nuclear arsenals to be our common assets with the main mission – to deter third parties, outsiders capable of destabilizing the global or regional nuclear stability. Such a change in our approaches (even without immediate changes in the structure of our respective nuclear forces) would mean a revolutionary shift in the global nuclear balance. In fact, we would start moving away from the mutual assured destruction to a new system of relations – the system of mutual assured stability. As in case with the traditional deterrence this new strategy might have an extended option – i.e. it could provide security guarantees not only to members of the nuclear club, but to other countries as well.

This transition is likely to be a bumpy road. I find it hard to believe that we can sign a new multilateral agreement between main nuclear powers that would shift our respective strategic postures to that of mutual assured security. It is much easier to imagine a net of much more modest arrangements – bilateral and multilateral – that will gradually bring us to a new level of cooperation. Exchange of sensitive information, more openness in strategic planning, mil-to-mil contacts, joint exercises, consultations on future defense programs - all these steps might look trivial and unimaginative, but without them we will never reach the level of trust that would allow us to set more ambitious goals. New incremental security regimes should pave the way for a breakthrough to a new global security architecture.



 Speaker – Han Sung-Joo, President Korea University
Nuclear Drawdown, Deterrence, and Non-Proliferation

In their Wall Street Journal column of March 7, 2011, the four wise-statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn asserted that in the post-Cold War era many leaders and publics cannot conceive of deterrence without a strategy that is linked to the possession of nuclear weapons (or mutual assured destruction) by superpowers. However, as they accurately point out, with the spread of nuclear weapons, technology and nuclear materials, and the emergence of a new spectrum of security threats, reliance on this type of nuclear-weapons-linked deterrence strategy is becoming increasingly risky and may in fact lead to lethal consequences.

Question 1: How to make deterrence compatible with nuclear drawdown and non-proliferation efforts?

To deal with the changing security environment and dangers of the post-Cold War era the four wise men call for movement towards the reduction of nuclear weapons and deterrence with assured security (rather than mutual destruction). The question, then, is how to make deterrence compatible with nuclear drawdown and non-proliferation efforts.

A major difficulty in achieving this objective is the fact that nuclear policy objectives of the United States and its allies often appear as incompatible, even contradictory with one another. A case in point is the April 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. It tries to capture three seemingly incompatible goals in one basket—reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons, deterrence, and non-proliferation. In Asia, the contradictions seem to be particularly conspicuous. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review emphatically reaffirms the Cold War era U.S. policy of extending deterrence to its selected allies in Europe and Asia by emphasizing the objective of “strengthening regional deterrence and reassurance of U.S. allies and partners.” However, it also emphasizes the goal of “reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons” and “maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels.” This statement in the NPR had the effect of causing concern among the alliance leaders in Japan and Korea about possible weakening of extended deterrence policies.

Question 2. What are the contradictions and problems in the Asian context?

In the Northeast Asian region, America’s commitment to extended nuclear deterrence has given reassurance to its allies, Japan and South Korea, about protection and retaliation in case of attack. It has also had the desired effect of dissuading them from building nuclear weapons themselves and has probably prevented smaller scale conflicts from escalating into larger ones. However, extended deterrence has been either unsuccessful or counter-productive in two critical areas: preventing small-scale conventional provocations and proliferation by adversaries, in this case North Korea.

Extended deterrence has given North Korea not only the incentive to acquire and deploy nuclear weapons, but also the rationale to do so as well. While deterrence per se does not promise to punish the adversary for acquiring nuclear weapons until they are used in a hostile manner, neither does it deny the adversary the ability to acquire them. In fact, deterrence policies and strategies could increase the adversary’s threat perception and sense of insecurity, making him believe that he needs a nuclear deterrent of his own. Furthermore, in light of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the military intervention of NATO in Libya in the spring of 2011, countries such as North Korea could see their nuclear capability as a deterrent against an attempt to overthrow the regime through an invasion.

Question 3. How do we break the cycle of deterrence—that one’s deterrence is strengthened when the other’s deterrence is weakened?

The irony of deterrence is that one’s deterrence is strengthened when the other’s deterrence is weakened or nullified. North Korea might believe that, with nuclear weapons, it could cross the “red line,” (whether it means testing the nuclear bomb, building a highly enriched uranium program, or declaring itself a nuclear weapons state) without fear of military punishment. It appears that North Korea is also trying to use its nuclear weapons as a means of compelling other countries to give it rewards and benefits, such as making the U.S. give diplomatic recognition to North Korea or compelling South Korea to provide more economic assistance. This means that North Korea’s deterrence can be countervailed, thereby denying its freedom for provocations and proliferation, only through stronger deterrence on the other side.

Question 4. Is “tailored, multilayered deterrence” the answer?

Hence, deterrence, including extended deterrence, is a key element of security, whether it involves the nuclear component or not. The dilemma we face is how to make deterrence compatible with nuclear drawdown and non-proliferation efforts especially when we must deal with threats emanating from irrational and unpredictable states such as North Korea. The threat of nuclear proliferation, even though a major one, is only one of the various threats that need to be deterred. And in meeting these threats both the nuclear and non-nuclear components of deterrence should be considered.

Therefore, when formulating policies we should consider what is known as “tailored deterrence” which involves a “future force that will provide a fully balanced, tailored capability to deter both state and non-state threats.” In addition to a nuclear deterrent, the force will include a wider range of conventional strike capabilities, including prompt global strike, and require use of non-kinetic capabilities, as well as diplomacy, coordination among agencies, and information exchange strategies.

Question 5. What should be the mix between nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence?

In the March 7th Wall Street Journal column cited, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn also stressed that as a first step toward deterrence in the Post-Cold War era, nations should recognize that there is a new spectrum of security threats. It is for this reason that “tailored deterrence” which involves non-nuclear as well as nuclear components must assume importance and relevance. It will require both the offensive (retaliatory) and defensive (as in missile defense) capabilities. The response measures would be commensurate with the threats, thus making deterrence more credible and effective.

In the new age when there is a broader spectrum of security threats and when nuclear drawdown is being sought, it is important to also seek ways of non-kinetic and soft power capabilities to deal with threats. This means diplomatic efforts to address confrontations and conflicts, build confidence and understanding, and create give-and-take and win-win agreements. Such efforts can start with close coordination among those willing to cooperate in drawing a strategy of dealing with, coping with, and reducing the threats, through both military and non-military means. (May 2011)



Speaker – Jim Goodby, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution

  1. General Propositions
    1. Deterrence is not synonymous with nuclear weapons but has become nearly so in the minds of the public. This equivalence must be challenged for it prevents rational analysis and decisions.
    2. Scholars have identified two types of deterrence: Deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment. Deterrence by denial means that the defense is so powerful that it can prevent an adversary from achieving his goals. Deterrence by punishment involves a mutual understanding, i.e. common knowledge, that the results of an effort to overturn a given status quo will be much worse than leaving things as they are. Without this common knowledge, deterrence is likely to fail. “Mind games,” are a necessary part of this type of deterrence, How to achieve common knowledge? Dialogue resulting in tacit or explicit rules of the road; “regime,” as such arrangements are called by political scientists.
    3. The problem of pretending: nuclear weapons are not war fighting tools but nations have to pretend they are to exercise a deterrent effect. This inevitably leads to an arms race.
  2. A U.S. View
    1. The role of deterrence today must reflect the threat environment. Its characteristics are:
      • Greater complexity
      • More potential for anonymous trouble-making
      • Power is more diffused (therefore norms and interests also are more diffused and less universal)
      • More asymmetries (red lines are hard to establish; punishment is hard to define) All this means “common knowledge” is hard to acquire.
    2. Judging by its official statements, the U.S. administration has absorbed these facts intellectually, but finds it hard to act in accord with the new situation. The National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), perhaps reflecting their different origins, treat deterrence somewhat differently. The National Security Strategy tends to stress deterrence by denial: “We will place renewed emphasis on deterrence and prevention by mobilizing diplomatic action, and use development and security sector assistance to build the capacity of at-risk nations and reduce the appeal of violent extremism.” This sounds very much like the “Nixon Doctrine,” declared at Guam on July 25, 1969.

The NSS reflects the complex world of “many little serpents,” to use James Woolsey’s metaphor.
Nuclear doctrine seems to lag behind this vision .The “fundamental” purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to the Nuclear Posture Review, is to deter nuclear attacks. But a “narrow range of contingencies” exists, where U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW attack.

Conclusion: The responses to most of the challenges we face are not to be found in deterrence thinking. There is a mismatch, especially between “deterrence by punishment” strategies and the character of the emerging era. A role for all forms of deterrence still exists but it covers a smaller part of the overall span of U.S. foreign policy /national security objectives. The credibility and utility of the nuclear component of deterrence has been significantly reduced. “Narrow range of contingencies” is a good term for this development.


Speaker – Ulrich Weisser, retired Vice-Admiral, Germany

Postwar German Security was highly dependent on functioning and credible deterrence based on the conventional and nuclear capabilities of the Alliance. But even the experienced German strategic community did not want to realize that the country was facing a deadly dilemma – even after the elimination of Intermediate and Short Range Nuclear Missiles.

In case of an aggression by the Warsaw Pact the security of Central Europe could

  • either have been defended by a protracted conventional war which would have destroyed what should have been defended
  • or by an early nuclear first use of nuclear weapons –based only on the questionable hope that the opponent would not answer in kind.

The situation has fundamentally changed by overcoming the division of Europe, by integrating our neighboring countries into the EU and NATO and by trying to develop a strategic partnership with Russia.

As an interesting side effect of this development many of the individuals who worked on deterrence issues in the seventies and eighties and used to be real experts at this discipline are not available anymore. And we have not succeeded to find their replacements. Current and future strategic developments, however, need more than ever before sober strategic analysis and imaginative concepts in order to stabilize regional and global security.

With regard to regional security in Europe today we are confronted with two major challenges which have not been sufficiently addressed by NATO`s new strategic concept.
Firstly: The public expects a clear vision about the future role and mission of NATO in a rapidly changing world .In this context we have to develop a strategic partnership between NATO and Russia that deserves that name.

Secondly: Our people have a right to be provided with a clarification about the future role of the nuclear weapons assigned to NATO. With regard to the important question how the Alliance can contribute to the overarching goal of further nuclear disarmament and the needs for a future oriented nuclear deterrence the new strategic concept does not offer sufficient useful orientation. NATO`s nuclear posture that is still based on first use options is nothing else than a relic of the cold war.

Both challenges are intertwined – and that does not make it easier to address them.
NATO´s remaining sub-strategic weapons are not only militarily useless but also have limited significance as symbols for transatlantic risk-sharing.

It has become obvious that NATO is lacking a fundamental consensus with regard to the future role of nuclear weapons in and for Europe because there is no consensus how the Alliance should treat Russia. One of the key bones of contention is that, for historical reasons, some new members of NATO tend to define their security as being directed against Russia. For our East European neighbors the US nuclear umbrella does obviously play a much more important role than for other allies. But we cannot leave the question open whether Russia will act as a partner or even as an ally of the West in repelling the new challenges or is Russia an existential threat to NATO itself? A new and constructive answer from both sides to this fundamental question is key to our common future. It is a necessity for NATO and Russia to figure out now how Russia can find its way into the Euro-Atlantic community.

The definition of Russia`s future role in Europe is being complicated by the fact that NATO´s present kind of attitude is missing the fact that our common security in general and a credible concept of nuclear deterrence in particular needs a revolutionary new future oriented definition.
The best way to overcome outdated structures of confrontational thinking may be to pursue as many concrete proposals as possible for an ever intensifying cooperation between East and West – be it in the field of arms control or common air defence.
The chances for a joint missile defence system have never been better than today. After the commitment of NATO in its Lisbon declaration concerning a common missile system it becomes very obvious that for Moscow the progress on this project is the real litmus test for the seriousness of the western attitude towards Russia.

In the field of arms control both sides should embark on a forceful initiative dealing with the withdrawal of short range nuclear weapons and also with the urgent replacement of the suspended conventional arms control regime in Europe. A very precondition for wide ranging agreement on a possible deal concerning short range nuclear weapons in Europe has to be found as soon as possible. The Alliance would be well advised to declare that

  1. there is an urgent need for reducing the roles and risks of nuclear weapons in security policies globally, and that NATO is prepared to make a significant contribution to that process, including by stating its willingness to support a further reduction and consolidation of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and that
  2. the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter any nuclear attack.

It is against this background that we should pursue a double track policy: Redefining nuclear deterrence and the needed capabilities on the one hand, and developing a concept for nuclear arms control which reflects current political objectives and strategic realities on the other hand.
Since Sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe have lost their purpose and their function for nuclear deterrence and since the aircraft designed to deliver them have a limited operational range these weapons should become subject to serious arms control initiatives. Such initiatives have to take into account that the US has only about two hundred operational nuclear warheads in Europe, compared with view to much larger numbers of Russian operational warheads for delivery by a variety of land-, air-, and sea based means. In the past, Russia and the United States have been reluctant to include tactical weapons in bilateral nuclear arms reduction talks. Verification of strategic weapons is exercised through monitoring delivery vehicles. Tactical nuclear weapons use dual-purpose vehicles which makes verification much more complicated or impossible.

Most easily verifiable would be the total elimination of tactical nuclear weapons by both sides. Due to concerns regarding potential threats on its southern flank, Russia may not be prepared for such a far-reaching step. A reasonable alternative would be to move all tactical nuclear warheads from their forward bases deep inside national territory for centralized storage and make them subject to mandatory on site inspections. Withdrawing all tactical nuclear weapons rather than only some of them would make verification much easier. Moving these weapons to centralized storage sites will also ensure better physical protection from seizure by terrorists.
This kind of approach – the combination of common projects and the change of strategy - may also be the way to overcome long lasting prejudices about NATO. We know that in Russia the domestic attitude concerning NATO will not change unless the Russian leadership can present convincing arguments for an entirely new approach to common security in the Euro-Atlantic region that also serves vital Russian interests.

We cannot and should not limit our thinking on the role of nuclear weapons in the context of deterrence and arms control with view to the relations between NATO and Russia.

We are confronted with a situation that is determined by uncertainties, by demographic challenges, illegal migration, climate change, threats to bio security, decreasing energy reserves, epidemics and pandemics, by transnational crime, terrorism and drug trafficking ,by asymmetric threats, by nuclear proliferation and other strategic risks of globalization like the vulnerability of the global communication structures, the questionable handling of potentially dangerous technologies, the insufficient safety of nuclear weapons , the easy access to all kinds of weapons, a lack of democratic control as well as the combination of these developments. This spectrum of uncertainties does indeed characterize the challenge to security, economies and stability. The United Nations have to enforce peace all over the globe. Exploding crisis and imploding states have to be brought under control. Often state structures are falling apart. Failed States like Somalia and Jemen are likely to become safe havens for terrorists. One can summarize the new situation as follows: Uncertainty is the only certainty – and we cannot escape from it.

With regard to Iranian nuclear program our worries are focused on the fact that arming Iranian missiles with nuclear war heads would mean an existential threat for Israel but soon also for Europe. The overall strategic situation in the wider Middle East would change dramatically. The international community is therefore decided to deny Iran the access to nuclear weapons. A diplomatic solution for this problem is being preferred.

But one has to understand the Iranian motives for the nuclear ambitions. Iran wants security in a more and more destabilized region and in the long run Iran wants to be the dominating regional power. It may be that Iran wants to be able to build the bomb without actually doing it. Iran would then become sort of a “nuclear power in being”. Other countries like Brazil do have this kind of status.

The US is well advised not to count too much on a military option. This option will not lead to a solution. One must not be a strategic genius in order to foresee Iran`s reactions on airstrikes: attacks on US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and the complete cut of oil flow from the Arabian Gulf – not to speak about terrorist attacks and immediate solidarity of neighboring Arabic countries.

A solution of the Iranian problem has to give something to everybody: no Iranian nuclear options, but also security for Iran in a potentially threatening neighborhood. With other words: Security against Iran demands security for Iran.

We may be well advised to foresee that Iran will become a nuclear power. In that case extended US - nuclear deterrence based on nuclear strategic weapons and a functioning anti ballistic missile shield will be the two core elements of our security. France deserves credit for an early adaptation of her nuclear strategy extending French nuclear deterrence explicitly to terrorist attacks.

In the context of a possibly arising existential threat to Iran`s neighboring countries like Turkey we have to answer the fundamental question: Is nuclear deterrence still a valid concept? The answer depends on a new definition of the strategic purpose of nuclear weapons - an answer that is also needed for the development of our relations with Russia. NATO should declare: The “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons ought to be to deter any nuclear attack on the Alliance. The strategic partnership between NATO and Russia could be further underlined by a common statement that neither NATO nor Russia will use their weapons against each other. NATO´s statement in the Lisbon Declaration that NATO will remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist does not fulfill the need for a new definition of nuclear deterrence.

Obviously the new challenges require a different response than in the past. The situation proves the thesis that the stabilization of conflict regions cannot and should not be limited to military interventions. The new forms of terror and conflict do express an attack on the world order and require a broad and imaginative strategy that brings all dimensions to bear – the political, the diplomatic, the cultural and economic dimension and military interventions as last resort.

With regard to nuclear risks we could be reassured in the past that the Soviet Union as well as the United States would handle even critical situation with utmost responsibility and discipline.
But now there are emerging a whole set of other deterrent equations between India and Pakistan, between Iran and Israel, between Iran and possibly neighboring countries, between China and unknown opponents. The nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran are dubious and difficult to decipher in their strategic rationale. These relationships between each other and the new developments do not have the constraints to which we got used to in the past. Now we are moving into a more complicated situation. Deterrence today has become tougher and more complex.

With regards to China it may be possible to enter into a dialogue that could convey the lessons which we have learnt in our relations with Russia. It may well be possible to convince Bejing that transparency of the Chinese strategy and clarity of political and strategic intentions would be the most reassuring elements of security cooperation. China must have an interest not to become subject of a misleading risk assessment. Henry Kissinger has rightly stated:”In a world with an unfortunately increasing number of nuclear-armed actors, there is precariously little room for error in that assessment.”


Speaker – General (Ret.) Jehangier Karamat, former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pakistan

In South Asia the general belief is that nuclear deterrence provides powerful protection against attacks with nuclear weapons and conventional forces and also gives enormous diplomatic clout. This translates into the point of view that nuclear war risk imposes caution and actually promotes stability implying that nuclear weapons ultimately have a stabilizing deterrence influence. There is, of course, the opposite view that the risks and dangers of escalation act against stability and security.

There is also the reality that most operational issues in South Asia are shrouded in ambiguity and that there is deliberate confusion between declaratory and actual operational policies that get implemented.

Possibly the best way to examine deterrence in the South Asian environment is to briefly review the five major contemporary crises situations because these had nuclear as well as non-nuclear dimensions.

In 1987 there was a crisis triggered by an Indian exercise named Brass Tacks. Pakistan interpreted this as a cover for a deliberate attack. Pakistan probably did not have a weaponized nuclear capability at that time; the situation was defused by counter deployments by Pakistan and the loss of surprise on the Indian side. Diplomacy also played a role. Pakistan did accelerate its nuclear weapons program as part of the lessons learnt from this crisis.

In 1989 Pakistan conducted its own version of Brass Tacks code named Exercise Zarb e Momin and it is believed by some that it led to a crisis in 1990. There are those –mostly in the west—who believe that India and Pakistan came close to a nuclear exchange. This is not the perception in South Asia—certainly not in Pakistan. The reason could be that by 1990 both countries had nuclear weapons that could be delivered by aircraft. There were also some irresponsible statements by politicians on both sides. The fact is that neither side ever contemplated the use of nuclear weapons. Diplomacy and US help helped to defuse the situation. In the west the perception persists that India and Pakistan were close to deterrence failure and a nuclear exchange.

In 1999 Pakistani troops backed irregular forces across the Line of Control in Kashmir. Both countries had conducted nuclear tests in 1998 and this was the first crisis after that. Rhetoric on both sides was unrestrained and nuclear use was threatened. This was a limited war between two nuclear weapon states and from that point of view a deterrence failure--- as escalation fears did not prevent risk taking. The conflict was kept restricted in scale and space and no action or reciprocal action

sought to escalate the situation. From this point of view deterrence worked. India was probably restrained because Kargil became a disaster for Pakistan and confirmed the status quo of the Line of Control. US played a major role in getting Pakistan to pull back behind the Line of Control. A point made in subsequent US writings is that both sides believed that the other was preparing nuclear weapons for use.

In October 2001 there was an attack on the Provincial Assembly in Indian controlled Kashmir. In December 2001 the Indian Parliament was attacked. In January 2002 India deployed almost half a million men. Pakistan reciprocated and a major crisis began that continued up to the end of 2002. India wanted the struggle in Kashmir to be linked to the war on terror and to coerce Pakistan to desist from its support of the freedom struggle in Kashmir. It was coercive diplomacy. Pakistan had to demonstrate a credible response and it wanted to highlight the dangers of a limited war between nuclear weapon states. Somewhere along the line some thresholds that if crossed could lead to a nuclear response got stated in relation to Pakistan’s first use policy. Pakistan indicated that it would not utilize the threat of nuclear use or escalation unless its existence was threatened. India’s vast mobilization did not give it any credible options. Once again the US intervened to get Pakistan to make concessions on support for Kasmiri freedom fighters. Deterrence did work in preventing escalation and gave diplomacy and external intervention to play a significant role.

The last crisis which in a way is still ongoing was a direct result of the terrorist attack in Mumbai which India links to a banned militant organization in Pakistan. India opted for a legal and investigative track that is ongoing. Pakistan is cooperating. There were calls in India for punitive strikes in Pakistan. India has threatened such retaliation and has also looked at other credible options like the Cold Start Doctrine that has already prompted an operational response in Pakistan.

As we can see the nuclear dimension has been getting more importance in each successive crisis. Diplomacy tends to get sidelined in the early crucial stages of a crisis and works only when the dangers of escalation have been highlighted---something that may not always work, External player intervention—in these crises the US---has been a significant factor indicating that both sides want to step back from the brink with some face saving.

These crises tend to demonstrate that India and Pakistan are unlikely to opt for dangerous and unpredictable escalation and that there is a growing awareness of the need for comprehensive dialogue, diplomacy and confidence building measures. There is however the possibility of a catastrophic event overturning these positive developments in bilateral relations especially when the Kashmir issue remains unresolved. It is important that deterrence should impose military restraint and not encourage a testing of resolves. There is a realization that sub conventional violence that could trigger a crisis is no longer an option.

It is hard to imagine a situation in which India would opt for a deliberate premeditated war against Pakistan in the current environment. A cold start type retaliatory strike could have unintended consequences though the recent US cross border raid into Pakistan to get OBL does set a dangerous precedent especially if such an event is within the South Asian context. The need to deter events and situations that could lead to such actions is being emphasized and this has implications for future threats.