Perkovich on “The Non-Unitary Model and Deterrence Stability in South Asia”

November 13, 2012

Stimson is releasing today an essay by George Perkovich on "The Non-Unitary Model and Deterrence Stability in South Asia." Perkovich is the Vice President for Studies and Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Perkovich argues that classical deterrence models derived from the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union are too simplistic to apply to South Asia. Pakistan may not be a unitary rational actor in the traditional sense, because violent, extremist groups on its territory that engage in sub-conventional warfare can provoke crises and armed conflict on the subcontinent.  These groups may or may not be an extension of Pakistan's military and intelligence services, which may themselves be riven with factions.  Consequently, deterrence stability in South Asia presents unique analytical, political, and diplomatic challenges.

The author assesses the threat of India-Pakistan war as more likely than the threat of nuclear terrorism. Perkovich argues that the United States can most effectively pursue its broader nuclear interests and goals through a framework of deterrence stability.  The pursuit of deterrence stability would make India and Pakistan "more inclined to engage in dialogue and Confidence-Building Measures... than they are when the agenda seems to reflect other U.S. priorities, such as countering nuclear terrorism or strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime." Moreover, "highlighting the need to prevent Indo-Pakistan conflict and stabilize deterrence between the two countries acknowledges that Pakistan, like India, possesses a nuclear deterrent, and that the United States is not seeking to eliminate it, but rather to encourage the two states to manage it stably."

Perkovich argues that disunity in the chain of command, whether perceived or actual, "produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence.... Pakistan illustrates the unity problem and its implications for rationality more acutely than any other nuclear-armed state."  Consequently, "The risks that subconventional uses of force could escalate to conventional and perhaps nuclear war creates a clear interest for Pakistanis, Indians, and the international community to treat the uncertain quality of Pakistani state sovereignty as a fundamental strategic problem."

Thus far, the people of South Asia have been spared the potential consequences of deterrence instability because Indian leaders have not retaliated violently to terrorist attacks on iconic targets.  India's neo-Gandhian forbearance runs counter to prescripts of deterrence and cannot be expected to persist as new leaders emerge in New Delhi.

Stimson's analytical and prescriptive assessments on the nuclear competition in South Asia are funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Download the essay here.