Toby Dalton on “Beyond Incrementalism: Rethinking Approaches to CBMs and Stability in South Asia”

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The Stimson Center is releasing today an essay by Toby Dalton entitled “Beyond Incrementalism: Rethinking Approaches to CBMs and Stability in South Asia.” Dalton is the Deputy Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Dalton explores the dilemma of how to pursue peace and stability in South Asia: while incremental steps, intended to foster confidence in small bites, have neither produced stability nor been a “catalyst for change,” there appears no viable alternative approach. The essay makes the case for an alternative approach, based on a mix of incremental steps and symbolic leaps, which could produce a trajectory characterized by sustained stability, rather than the current cycle of crisis, momentary progress, then stasis.

Efforts by Pakistan and India to establish and sustain incremental processes of building stability seem to follow a predictable and cyclical pattern, where treaties and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are rooted in crisis resolution; however, once the fanfare fades and international concerns are mollified, implementation lags.  After some period, a new crisis arrives.  Though some incremental steps have been implemented faithfully, this approach has yet to deliver peace to South Asia.

The crowning achievement of bilateral diplomacy to institutionalize incremental CBMs arguably was the 1999 Lahore Summit and the Composite Dialogue process that resulted; it is common to hear calls for a “Lahore II” to extend this process.  Dalton argues, however, that a framework based solely on small advances misses what made that summit unique: a process that surrounded such increments with major symbolic and risky steps taken by the leaders of both countries.  “Though the specific measures agreed at Lahore were incremental, the Summit and the structure it created were actually rather radical departures from past practice, and in many ways defied international expectations at the time.”  

He calls for an approach that stresses both formal and informal incremental progress while laying the groundwork for big, risky leaps forward.  The objective of this new approach is a fundamental change in the baseline of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.  Another crisis could erupt at any time – this approach stands a better chance than new incremental steps alone of breaking the cycle that has prevented progress. One lesson to be distilled from past efforts in South Asia is the ability of sustained, high-level, political involvement reinforced by symbolic acts to facilitate faster incremental progress.  Without such high-level involvement, there seems little prospect that additional small steps by Pakistan and India will yield the desired peace and stability.

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.


To Download the Full Essay, Click Here.


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