Significance of nuclear information sharing in South Asia

By Asma Khalid

Regional competitive environment of South Asia has fueled the strategic tension and security anxieties between India and Pakistan. Both countries share a history of hostile relations which have been strained by a number of historical and political issues. Due to prioritization of security concerns of regional states, South Asia is undergoing a nuclear and conventional arms modernization.  However, the inception of nuclear weapons in South Asia has not only maintained the deterrence stability in region but at the same time instigated the nuclear and missile arms race in the region. Thus under such circumstances, in the aftermath of Indian and Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan proposed the establishment of Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) to India for durable peace in South Asia. But unfortunately India’s Prime Minister “Atal Bihari Vajpyee” rejected Pakistan’s proposal of Strategic Restraint Regime. Later on ‎21, December1988, bilateral agreement was signed between India and Pakistan,known as“Agreement between India and Pakistan on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities.” Under this agreement the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the government of the Republic of India, have agreed on nuclear related information sharing to maintain durable peace and the development of friendly and harmonious bilateral relations.

Significance of Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) in South Asia

In February 2016, in response to India’s growing conventional and strategic weapons’ development in the region, Pakistan’s officials re-emphasized on the desire to establish the Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) in South Asia”. Now the question arises as to why is SRR so important for the region??

Strategic restraint Regime is significant due to its three inter-connecting elements: First, nuclear restraint to maintain deterrence stability; second, conventional arms balance; third, for conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Primary objective of Strategic Restraint Regime is to prevent nuclear arms race in the region as India-Pakistan relations have been dominated by action-reaction syndrome. Strategic Restraint regime would be helpful in maintaining strategic and deterrence stability and accelerating the peace process in the region. The regime can be employed to build trust between India and Pakistan, and resultantly avert the chances of conflict escalation. It may include any sign of peace initiative to a treaty. By effective implementation of strategic Restraints both states will be able to take their decisions more confidently in a less hostile and more stable environment.

It is unfortunate that despite the efforts by Pakistan’, India has emerged as the largest arms importer of the world in 2018. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report of 2018, with 14% global arms imports India is world’s largest arms importer. Hence it is evident that the objective of SRR has not yet been achieved due to two factors: first; India’s intention to emerge as regional power, second; due to the role of external powers like United States and Russia. India’s co-operation in conventional and nuclear fields with United States and Russia especially Indo-US civil nuclear deal and 2008 waiver for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), membership of Wassaner Arrangement (WA) and Australia Group (AG)  has undermined the objectives of SRR as well as disturbed the balance of power (BOP) in the region.

Significance of Non-attack Agreement between India-Pakistan

Under the agreement of “Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities,” India and Pakistan have been annually sharing information about the locations of their nuclear installations and facilities for thirty years. Under this agreement, both states are bound violate the agreement of information shared. This agreement is significant as information sharing may have had a stabilizing effect during the tense bilateral relations.

The Agreement does not cover nuclear delivery assets such as missiles, planes submarines, and vehicles etc. which would be subject to counter force threat by either side. It would be wise for each side to continue to keep deterrent nuclear assets outside the zones covered by the coordinates of its nuclear installations and facilities.

However this is still debatable as in the event of major war or clash, no agreement including the non-attack agreement would be held sacrosanct. Thought due to deterrence equilibrium, it is consider that neither side would go for “first to strike” at the others nuclear facilities; and that if deterrence fail then it would lead to Mutual Assured Distraction (MAD).

Nuclear Information Sharing: Challenges, Analysis, Conclusion

India is reluctant to Pakistan’s proposal of Strategic Restraint Regime. At the same time when it comes to nuclear information sharing, India has maintained its non-cooperative behavior. Yet, Pakistan has shared information related to its nuclear security practices in order to allay international concerns. However, agreement of exchange of list of nuclear installation can be considered as significant step.

Both South Asian countries have overarching and continuing stakes in not targeting each other’s’ nuclear installations or facilities. Additionally, both countries would want to avoid the universal international opprobrium that would result in any such action. The coordinates of nuclear installations and facilities is exchanged on the first day of the New Year since the agreement was signed. It is a welcome trend that the agreement continues to be followed despite ups and downs in bilateral relations and periods of tension. One hopes further nuclear CBMs are negotiated and put in place.

To conclude, in order to address the regional security issues and negative impacts of arms race, Pakistan has been demanding nuclear and conventional restraints. In this regard India’s acceptance of Pakistan’s proposals, Nuclear Confidence Building Measures (NCBMs), economic progress and continued effective diplomacy can open the ways to a nuclear information sharing and strategic restraint arrangements between India and Pakistan to maintain deterrence stability in the region.

Asma Khalid is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a think-tank based in Islamabad, Pakistan

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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