Contemporary Nuclear Dynamics in Southern Asia: Many Challenges, Few Possibilities
Policy Briefs

Contemporary Nuclear Dynamics in Southern Asia: Many Challenges, Few Possibilities

Policy Brief No. 82

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In this Policy Brief, Dr Manpreet Sethi, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, assesses the increasingly dangerous security situation among Southern Asia’s three nuclear weapons powers: China, India, and Pakistan. She proposes several concrete policy steps that, if taken, will greatly reduce the risk of an inadvertent nuclear exchange.

Southern Asia, the region that houses three geographically contiguous and historically antagonistic nuclear armed states, is challenged by a complex nuclear chain dynamic. While the three nations have shown maturity in building nuclear capabilities and handling crises, the need for stabilizing nuclear relations at the bilateral level, and if possible, at the trilateral level, is both clear and complicated at the same time. Taking a rather legalistic position, China refuses to accept the legitimacy of the nuclear weapons of India and Pakistan. While this changes nothing on the ground, the rigid stance constrains possibilities of engagement.

None of the leaders of the three countries have identified nuclear risk reduction as an objective worthy of investing their political capital. Ideas on how to encourage strategic stability in the region need to be explored and kept ready for when the political climate is more accepting of them, or when the sense of danger is better understood. Regions do not exist in a vacuum. The breakdown of US-Russia nuclear arms control architecture and pessimism over US-China dialogue dampens the urgency of nuclear risk reduction efforts in other regions, including in Southern Asia. Therefore, the challenges in how to open a strategic dialogue to foster better understanding of threat perceptions, doctrines, and force postures amongst nuclear dyads are many. But a few possibilities will have to be found to set them down the path.

A joint publication by APLN and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).


About the Author

Dr Manpreet Sethi is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, where she leads the project on nuclear security. She is an expert on the entire range of nuclear issues with over 100 papers in academic journals of repute to her credit. Over the last 24 years she has been researching and writing on subjects related to nuclear energy, strategy, non-proliferation, disarmament, arms control and ballistic missile defence. She is currently on the Board of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network and Women in Nuclear – India.


Disclaimer: The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members. APLN’s website is a source of authoritative research and analysis and serves as a platform for debate and discussion among our senior network members, experts, and practitioners, as well as the next generation of policymakers, analysts, and advocates. Comments and responses can be emailed to

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