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Report: Crisis Prevention and Management in South Asia: Mutual Confidence, Risk, and Responsibility

This report was written by Dr Chiara Cervasio, Dr Nicholas J. Wheeler, and Mhairi McClafferty.

‘Crisis Prevention and Management in South Asia: Mutual Confidence, Risk, and Responsibility’ emerged from a series of dialogues with the Indian and Pakistani nuclear policy communities at the Track 2 / 1.5 level held by the BASIC-ICCS Programme on Nuclear Responsibilities in 2023-2024. 

The goal of these dialogues was to explore with Indian and Pakistani experts and policy influences three key questions: i) what existing India-Pakistan crisis management mechanisms have proved effective in de-escalating past crises and are there shared understandings about responsible crisis management; ii) how far does the South Asia crisis management model differ from the Cold War model; and iii) how have Indian and Pakistani crisis managers responded to the shared risks of nuclear war.

The key argument of the report is that, in the India-Pakistan nuclear dyad, there is mutual confidence that the other can be relied upon to show restraint in times of crisis and not push their adversary into a choice between a humiliating defeat and escalating the crisis to the nuclear level. What is more, as the 2019 Pulwama-Balakot crisis showed, Indian and Pakistani decision makers appear to have become sufficiently confident in the “other’s restraint” that they believe even limited conventional hostilities between them will not challenge this. The shared fear of nuclear war clearly plays a pivotal role here, but the report identifies four additional sources that uphold this mutual confidence. These are (i) intimate enmity; (ii) face-saving narratives; (iii) confidence-building measures (CBMs); and (iv) the outsourcing of escalation control to third parties. At the same time, the report shows how these four sources of restraint are fragile ones, and that in the context of future challenges to South Asian crisis stability, there is a risk that (over)confidence may slip into complacency. This underlines the urgent and timely need for India and Pakistan to develop a robust crisis prevention and management regime that can avoid the danger that in a future crisis both sides miscalculate the other’s red lines and inadvertently cross them. To this end, the report develops five key responsibility-based policy recommendations.

The report is part of the BASIC-ICCS project ‘Strengthening Crisis Prevention, Management and De-escalation through a Responsibility-Based Regime to Reduce Nuclear Risks in Southern Asia’, generously funded by the UK Government’s Counter Proliferation and Arms Control Centre (CPACC). This report does not reflect the views of the UK Government. 

Read the report below: 

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