The Center for International Strategic Studies hosted Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President Asia programs at US Institute of Peace (USIP), for a round-table discussion on Tuesday, February 6th 2018. Dr. Yusuf discussed his forthcoming book, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia, which will be published by the prestigious Stanford University Press in May this year. He said that book aimed to expound upon the implications of third party intervention in the dynamics of regional nuclear crises as presently there exists no literature that looks at third party behavior in nuclear crisis management.
The author presented his model of crisis management called brokered bargaining. Dr. Yusuf pointed out that the contemporary concepts pertaining to deterrence are based on what was learnt during the Cold War competition. The nuclear relationship then was between two actors, each of which played both the role of the competitor as well as peace broker; de-escalation of the crises that emerged during the Cold War was not contingent upon involvement from a third party.
In South Asia, however, the situation is rather different than that of the Cold War. US involvement in past and future nuclear crises between Pakistan and India has been and will always be inevitable, regardless of whether one of the two rivals called upon the US to play a role. This is because the Cold War experience is ingrained in the US perception of nuclear crises.
Dr. Yusuf proposed that India and Pakistan will be compelled to engage with the US and even other strong powers like China and try and achieve their crisis objectives through them rather than contemplating direct conflict in a nuclear environment. These third party states however will be most interested in ensuring crisis de-escalation given their concerns about nuclear war between India and Pakistan ahead of their alliances in the region. It is therefore not necessary that the US will back India and China will support Pakistan in a crisis situation.
Dr. Yusuf proposed that in regional crises two parallel sets of interactions take place; the interaction between and among regional rivals (RRs) and the third party, and the third party’s moves directed towards the RRs, which involved finding space to mediate and ensure swift de-escalation of the crisis. A mix of incentives and punitive actions may be used by the third party to de-escalate crises. Dr. Yusuf held that the third party is an eager entrant into nuclear crises and is, during a crisis situation, concerned solely with de-escalation.
Dr. Yusuf applied this framework in the case of South Asia, and on all the past crises between India and Pakistan, citing instances of Kargil, 2001-2002, and Mumbai, and explained how all the actors conformed to the above model. In all the major crises, both India and Pakistan made moves that exhibited their autonomy as well as sensitivity to US demands in varying degrees, making some concessions, and at the same time conceding to some demands made by the third-party (the US, in this case).
In 2001, for example, Pakistani conducted missile tests despite the pressure not to do so. Eventually, though, Pakistan decided to declare resolve to crack down on militants, while India conceded to not proceed with its conventional offensive as a result of pressure from US.
The brokered bargaining theory postulates that the third party actor may make promises of adopting certain policies that are acceptable to the regional rivals during crisis to encourage steps on the part of the regional rivals to de-escalate, but may not pursue them subsequently once the crisis is over. But a repetition of the same pattern would mean that ensuring successful de-escalation becomes more difficult with each upcoming crisis, as the regional rivals would be less amenable to complying with the third party’s demands, citing the third party’s reneging on its earlier promises. This is possibly a case in point in Pakistan and US’ relationship, with Pakistan being disillusioned after every instance of the US mediating between India and Pakistan crises.
In his concluding remarks, Executive Director CISS Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi made the following points. First, deterrence in South Asia has worked for near 20 years of overt nuclear capability achieved by India and Pakistan. There is perhaps an innate rationality, not always apparent, in the behavior of the two countries. Second, the theory needed to define what constitutes a nuclear crisis, as the features of a conventional military crisis, as against a nuclear crisis are better defined. Third, so far the US role as a third party was rational, but with the Trump Presidency, it may not be the case in the future.
The round-table was well-attended, including retired diplomats, academic scholars and other experts.