Stimson’s South Asia Programming To Reduce Nuclear Dangers

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The Stimson Center first ventured into South Asia in 1992, carrying a toolbox of confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures that helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot.  These measures — including “hotlines,” agreements to prevent accidents and incidents with great escalatory potential, and notifications of military exercises and missile flight tests – were precursors to more substantive compacts to normalize strained U.S.-Soviet relations.  Our game plan was to offer India and Pakistan a menu of choices that could be suitably adapted to fit regional circumstances.

 Very few U.S. non-governmental organizations were active on the subcontinent back then, and none were involved in programming that addressed the dangers inherent in covert Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs.  Early field trips were spent listening and learning.  Initially, Stimson faced considerable programming resistance.  The tools in the toolbox were widely viewed as a western imposition, and we were emphatically told that India and Pakistan would not engage in Cold War nuclear excess.  Besides, the problems along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir were not even remotely like those of tank armies across the Fulda Gap.  

Over time, positions softened.  One reason was that Stimson hosted over 70 visiting fellows from India and Pakistan, helping to develop expertise within a newly networked community of teachers, researchers, journalists, policy entrepreneurs at NGO start-ups, and military officers.

A second reason was that Stimson’s analytical products warning that classical, western concepts such as the stability/instability paradox – i.e., possessing nuclear weapon capabilities could actually embolden risk-taking behavior below the nuclear threshold – proved applicable to the subcontinent.  While New Delhi was risk-averse, Rawalpindi wasn’t.  With each crisis on the subcontinent, the need for CBMs and nuclear risk-reduction measures became more apparent.  Nuclear-tinged crises on the subcontinent prompted Stimson case studies of U.S. crisis management which have helped two administrations develop and update diplomatic playbooks. 

Every one of the measures that the governments of India and Pakistan have agreed to – e.g., the use of hotlines between leaders and senior military officers, prior notifications of certain military exercises and flights, as well as notifications of nuclear accidents – were midwifed by the Stimson Center in workshops, Track II meetings, and publications.  Many other measures have been identified, but not finalized.

With the support of the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the National Nuclear Security Administration, Stimson’s current programming has revived Track II meetings between rising Indian and Pakistani strategic analysts.  We have also developed new initiatives.  We have set up a website for “Generation Why” on the subcontinent – — where rising talent can find their voices.  We now host annual pairings of Indian and Pakistani bloggers as visiting fellows. Research Associate Julia Thompson oversees the website and handles the visiting fellowships for bloggers.  Looking ahead, we plan to broaden our engagement with students in the region by offering a Stimson Open Online Course on nuclear weapon-related issues for South Asia, providing a free educational opportunity to anyone with access to a computer.

Stimson has published dozens of monographs and reports as well as six books on South Asia’s strategic dilemmas.  The current focus of our in-house research and commissioned essays is deterrence stability and escalation control on the subcontinent.  We have recently hired a new Deputy Director, Joshua T. White, adding depth and breadth to all of our programming initiatives.   

We pride ourselves in our analytical products, out talent-scouting skills, our track record in empowering new talent in the field, our fieldwork and access, as well as our convening powers in Washington and in the region.  While Stimson’s work on South Asia has been successful by many yardsticks, the region has not become safer.  To the contrary, nuclear dangers are rising alongside new opportunities for improved India-Pakistan relations.  Stimson’s programming in this region is as important now as when we first wandered into the region.            


Photo: Navnetmitt via flickr

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