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Second Strike (Arguments About Nuclear War in South Asia)

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Item Code: NAR674
Author: Rajesh Rajagopalan
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 9780670058402
Pages: 254
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 400 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

In May 1998 India tested a series of nuclear devices in Pokharan. Two weeks later Pakistan announced a matching series of its own tests. A year later, when the two countries had a bitter confrontation in Kargil, the worst fears of ‘proliferation pessimists’ appeared to be coming true. The alarm bells have never really stopped ringing since then.

In Second Strike: Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia, Rajesh Rajagopalan challenges much of the conventional wisdom on the perceived nuclear danger in the region and suggests that the nuclear situation in South Asia is far less dangerous, and much more stable, than it is generally given credit for.

Presenting a threefold case, the author focuses on the impact of nuclear doctrines on stability, a hitherto neglected aspect of the nuclear debate, and argues that Indian and Pakistani doctrines reduce the pressures on the two nuclear forces. Next, he presents the view that the doctrines of the two countries lessen the likelihood of accidents and other dangers such as terrorists stealing nuclear weapons. Finally, he examines another crises-the crucial role played by political leaders tighten control over nuclear weapons in critical situations.

Second Strike is the first full-length critical and scholarly work on an issue of overriding importance in the subcontinent. While it does not deny that absolute safety is never possible, it offers reason to hope that the worst-case scenarios that are so often projected are just that-scenarios.

About the Author

Dr Rajesh Rajagopalan is Associate Professor in International Politics at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has a Ph.D from the City University of New York. Before joining CIPOD, he was Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation New Delhi, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, and Senior Research Aide at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, New York.

He has also served as Deputy Secretary in the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India. He has taught at Hunter College, Brooklyn College, and Queens College of the City University of New York. His areas of research interest include international relations theory, military doctrines, and nuclear weapons and disarmament.


Most people believe that South Asia became nuclear in May 1998 when India and Pakistan conducted nuclear weapons tests. This is not true, for two reasons. First, China, which has a direct bearing on the security environment of South Asia, went nuclear in 1964. Second, both India and Pakistan have 'hinted' covert nuclear weapons capability to each other since late 1980s. Ever since, they have existed in a nuclear-shadowed security environment India conducted nuclear weapons tests in May 1998 (I was Chief of the Army Staff) due to a number of reasons. The principal reason was the pressure put on India to sign various discriminating nuclear-related treaties, namely the NPT, CTBT and the MTCR. Pakistani nuclear weapons programme had been Indo-centric from the very beginning. Pakistan had sought and acquired nuclear weapons capability to neutralize India's nuclear and conventional military superiority.

After the tests, both India and Pakistan faced considerable criticism, especially from the nuclear weapon states. They had violated the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime, established by those who wanted to perpetuate the asymmetry. They were labelled as nations who may cause a nuclear holocaust for the rest of the world.

For a change, India and Pakistan were on the same side of the fence, defending their decisions to go overtly nuclear. A few months later, imbued with greater sense of responsibility and search for peace and stability in the subcontinent, Prime Ministers of the two countries signed the Lahore Declaration. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Nuclear Confidence Building Measures signed by the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries along with the Lahore Declaration, was a significant document. This MoU aimed at cooperation for nuclear stability and safety between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan buried the Lahore Declaration on the Kargil heights.

With the current resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue, I fervently hope that this MoU will be resurrected.

A number of books have been written detailing inside knowledge of how India and Pakistan became overtly nuclear and speculating on the kind of nuclear strategy that has been adopted by these nations. Many authors abroad have also written and war-gamed a number of doomsday scenarios, which are way off the mark.

It needs to be stated, however, that the security environment in South Asia is not only complex but also somewhat inexplicable. In three-plus wars that India and Pakistan have fought with their regular armed forces, there have been no attempts to strike at targets that would cause heavy collateral damage, particularly to the civil population. But there have also been several state-sponsored terrorist attacks wherein terrorists have killed tens of innocent people, including women and children, using unthinkable and brutal methods.

Second Strike is an exploration of the arguments around nuclear deterrence and nuclear war in the South Asia setting. The book focuses primarily on the nuclear doctrines of India (documented) and Pakistan (inferred). Most debates on the nuclear dangers tend to ignore nuclear doctrines and strategies. This is the first book based on various nuclear deterrence theories, proliferation stability debate, and detailed analysis of the nuclear doctrines wherein the author, Dr Rajesh Rajagopalan, has concluded that South Asia is only just as dangerous as any other nuclearized place in the world. Without undermining the dangers of nuclear weapons, he has suggested that this danger need not be overblown. He argues that both India and Pakistan have adopted nuclear doctrines that are far less dangerous than is generally assumed.

Dr Rajgopalan has done extensive research in writing this book. He has analysed various nuclear deterrence theories and postures, the October 1962 US—Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1968-69 Sino-Soviet border situation, and lessons from all the Indo-Pak crises that have occurred since May 1998. After examining the command and control structures and security-related tendencies in India and Pakistan, he suggests that there are fewer reasons to be pessimistic. According to him, 'there is the need for greater optimism in considering the nuclear future of South Asia'.

He has also analysed and explored the dangers of unintended use of nuclear weapons through inadvertent escalation, unauthorized use, loss of possession and nuclear accidents. His suggestion: these dangers cannot and should not be dismissed.

Dr Rajesh Rajagopalan has impeccable credentials to write this very informative, authoritative and thought-provoking book. He has done M.Phil from the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Ph.D from the City University of New York. He carries vast experience of teaching and research in well-known institutions in India and abroad. He was my highly intellectual colleague in the Observer Research Foundation before he took up his current appointment as Associate Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Second Strike is an extremely useful contribution to understanding the nuclearized security environment in South Asia.


This is a book about the nuclear danger in South Asia. The conventional wisdom is that nuclearization of the subcontinent will heighten the risk of nuclear weapons use in the region. It also appears quite intuitive: the chances of nuclear weapons being used seem obviously greater when nuclear weapons exist than when they do not. Decades of American-led nuclear non-proliferation efforts strengthened this link between nuclear weapons spread and the nuclear danger. Though there have been significant intellectual challenges to such intuitive logic, these have remained exceptions.

Part of the reason for this was that until 1998, there was no way to test this proposition outside of purely theoretical academic debates. There was no open nuclear rivalry outside of the five Nuclear Weapon States. And they, for reasons unexplained, were presumed to be able to handle their disputes reasonably despite the fact that the leaders of these countries at various times included at least two alleged mass-murderers, Stalin and Mao, and several others whose rationality, common sense, and commitment to pacific settlement of disputes is somewhat suspect, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

But six years and two major and several minor crises after the South Asian nuclear tests, there is sufficient reason to suspect that many of the worst-case scenarios that were projected were just that—scenarios. India and Pakistan, like other nuclear powers before them, have shown a healthy respect for the weapons they wield, using them with prudence and caution. Like other nuclear powers before, when faced with a choice, they have preferred politically painful compromises rather than using these weapons to overcome military disadvantages. The pain of these compromises should not be belittled: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was overthrown and faced the possibility of being executed before being exiled for his decision to withdraw the Pakistan Army from Kargil rather than escalate that crisis.

But crises stability is only one leg of the argument set out here. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear dyad is much more stable than nuclear confrontations in the past because India and Pakistan have much more prudent and careful military doctrines that back up their nuclear arsenals. Here I disagree with many Indian analysts who worry about Pakistan's presumed 'first-use' nuclear doctrine. Pakistan's nuclear doctrine is more accurately termed as 'first-use-but-last-resort', more akin to the Israeli nuclear doctrine than to that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to which it is often compared. These issues have been little explored in previous works because doctrine, a key element in determining the level of the nuclear danger, has been ignored in much of the previous literature. One of the primary objectives of this book is to bring the focus of the debate back to nuclear doctrines and their importance in determining nuclear danger.

Finally, I do not want to suggest that there is no nuclear danger in South Asia. Complacency itself is a serious problem in South Asia and I do not want to add to that. Nuclear weapons, clearly, are an abomination. They need to be eliminated. But I am unwilling to accept that this can be done piecemeal. Nuclear arms control and regional nuclear disarmament will not lead to global and comprehensive nuclear disarmament. Indeed, such processes actually are an obstacle because they reduce the pressure for comprehensive nuclear disarmament. The nuclear danger exists because there are nuclear weapons. This danger is not going to disappear if India and Pakistan give up their nuclear weapons, a naïve assumption made by many well-meaning but misguided anti-nuclear activists and analysts. And as long as nuclear weapons exist, that is a sufficient reason why India—and Pakistan—should maintain nuclear arms. But this should not become an excuse for carelessness or apathy in handling these very dangerous weapons.

Oddly, despite the fierceness of the debate over the nuclear danger in South Asia, there is no book-length treatment of this subject. Much of the argument has been carried out in the form of policy-analytical essays or in newspaper opinion columns. The Washington-based Stimson Center has published a few collection of essays on the subject and a similar collection has been put together also by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. Some essays by anti-nuclear writer-activists have been expanded and published as books or as collected volumes, but they remain true to their original polemical intent.1 I do not consider them here mainly because these are presented as polemics rather than academic arguments. On the other hand, their polemics is based on and borrows from a well-developed set of more serious academic arguments in works critical of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, and I do consider these, I hope, seriously.

This book could not have been written but for the support of a number of individuals and institutions. I am deeply grateful to R.K. Mishra, Chairman of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi, who encouraged me to complete this manuscript and allowed me time away from other pressing duties at ORF to do so. I am also thankful to General V.P. Malik, former Chief of the Indian Army, and President of the ORF Institute of Security Studies, under whom I was privileged to work while at ORF. Despite his heavy schedule, he read this manuscript in its entirety and suggested many improvements, including the addition of a separate chapter on South Asian crises.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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