The China–India–Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma and Accidental War
Special Reports

The China–India–Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma and Accidental War

The “China-India-Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma” project seeks to map the contours of China, India, and Pakistan’s nuclear relationship, identifying the key drivers of conflict, and exploring practical measures for nuclear risk reduction, crisis stability, and confidence building amongst the three countries. The project is a collaboration between the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network and the Toda Peace Institute.

Prakash Menon’s special report, posted here, was first published in the Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament. Below is his report abstract:

The perspective of the paper is the geopolitical contestation between China–India–Pakistan, which frames the contours of the nuclear trilemma that is nested in the broader global nuclear weapons framework. Territorial disputes harbor the potential for conflict under the nuclear overhang between China–India and India–Pakistan. The two dyads are structurally separate but are also connected. Beliefs systems that shape nuclear doctrine have commonality in the China–India dyad. But such is not the case in the India-Pakistan dyad. There is, however, political recognition of the dangers that inhabit the unexplored space of conventional war under the nuclear overhang. The greater danger of nuclear war in both dyads is concealed in the inability to control escalation of conflicts that may have small beginnings but can potentially spin out of control. The paper uses Clausewitz escalation model to highlight this crucial issue. The policy prescriptions are therefore
directed on never testing the boundaries of the nuclear threshold and relate to reduction of alert levels. A Global No First Use Treaty is proposed and one that is possible only if the dangers of nuclear war are publicized at the global level thus forcing the hand of political leaders. This is an imperative step to free the leadership from the shackles of varied impractical nuclear strategies that are unable to answer the question – what happens after the first nuclear weapon is fired.


About the Author

Prakash Menon is presently the Director Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution, Bangalore, Professor Emeritus, Trans Disciplinary University, Bangalore and  Adjunct Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore.

He served in the Indian Army for nearly forty years. Though he retired in Oct 2011, he continued in government as a Military Adviser and Secretary to Government of India in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) at New Delhi from May 2011 to 2017

He is the author of ‘Strategy Trap – India and Pakistan under the Nuclear Shadow’ and co-author of ‘Non-Alignment 2.0’ and ‘India’s Path to Power: Strategy in a World Adrift’. He writes a weekly column for ThePrint.

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. The 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

Image: IStock-vicnt/ Sun-young HWANG