A New Look at Crisis Management in South Asia

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Editor’s note: The Stimson Center has a longstanding interest in the dynamics of U.S. crisis management between India and Pakistan. We have published case studies of the 2001-2 “Twin Peaks”  and the 2008 Mumbai crises, as well as a new book co-edited by Sameer Lalwani and Hannah Haegeland, Investigating Crises. Most recently, Travis Wheeler has written that the changing U.S. postures toward India and Pakistan need not adversely affect Washington’s role as the region’s primary crisis manager. Moeed Yusuf has now added to the literature on crisis management with an important new book, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018). Moeed is the associate vice president of the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has written the following for ACW:

Much has been said about America’s waning appetite to act as a global leader and its implications for peace and conflict around the world. Nowhere are the stakes higher than in nuclearized environments.

The global nuclear debate in recent months has focused on North Korea and Iran. Little has been said about South Asia, another nuclear theater, that has been heating up for some time. This also happens to be a region where U.S. mediation has previously been central to lowering the risk of war. But what of the future?

Two decades ago this May, India and Pakistan became the first countries to test nuclear weapons after the Cold War. Since, they have been regularly involved in crises, including a limited war merely a year after their nuclear tests. These crises played out differently than Cold War models of brinkmanship would have predicted. Third party states, principally the U.S., had a crucial role in mediating between the two rivals and pulling them apart.

In my new book, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments, I examine these third-party roles in regional nuclear contexts. I end up urging a fundamental rethink of how we approach nuclear crisis behavior. Unlike the superpower rivalry during the Cold War, regional nuclear rivals operate in a world with greater powers who are interested in preventing nuclear war and able to influence crisis behavior of middle-tiered states. This makes these crises three-actor games, not bilateral engagements à la Cold War.

Crisis moments between India and Pakistan have been more about these two antagonists trying to lure third-party support to gain concessions from the rival than about the two contemplating having a go at each other.

Four factors were crucial in ensuring a positive third-party role in crises…


Continue reading on Arms Control Wonk.

Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center.

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