[Special Newsletter] Southern Asia's Nuclear Landscape
Weekly Newsletters

[Special Newsletter] Southern Asia's Nuclear Landscape



28 February 2023

We are delighted to bring to you this special newsletter featuring a series of publications from our project Managing the China, India, and Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma.

Against the backdrop of multiplying and intensifying nuclear threats in the Asia-Pacific, the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network launched a two-year project in 2020, in partnership with the Toda Peace Institute, and funded by the MacArthur Foundation, to examine the bilateral, trilateral, and key plurilateral drivers of the India-Pakistan and China-India conflicts. The project sought to: identify cross-conflict linkages; explore the trilateral elements of the complex nuclear dynamics; identify practical risk reduction, crisis stability, and confidence-building measures; and propose mechanisms and opportunities for tension reduction and conflict resolution to normalise interstate relations and promote people-to-people ties.

As part of this effort, we hosted two high-level workshops with senior experts, former officials, and military figures from China, India, and Pakistan, as well as senior figures from outside Southern Asia. We published a series of research papers and project summary reports which are featured in this special newsletter. The nine research papers and a tenth summary report were co-published in December 2022 in a special edition of the Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament. The final report summarises the discussions and recommendations from our high-level policy dialogue held in November 2022, in Kathmandu, Nepal.

These publications feature scholarly and in-depth analyses of the nuclear dynamics in Southern Asia from the foremost experts on the region from China, India, Pakistan, and beyond, and extensive policy recommendations for managing and reducing risks and building greater trust and confidence in the region.

We’re looking forward to continuing this and other important work on Southern Asia in 2023 and beyond.

[Dialogue Report]
Managing Strategic Risks in Asia and the Pacific

We’re pleased to present our final report in the China-India-Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma project. The report features the discussion and outcomes from our policy dialogue.

The Asia-Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) in partnership with the Toda Peace Institute, hosted a high-level policy dialogue from 23 to 25 November 2022 in Kathmandu, Nepal, to discuss strategic risks in the Asia-Pacific, and specifically conflict dynamics and escalation risks in Southern Asia.

The purpose of the workshop was to examine the key drivers of conflicts among the countries, explore the China-India-Pakistan trilateral strategic and nuclear relationship, identify practical nuclear risk reduction, crisis stability, and confidence-building measures, and propose mechanisms and opportunities for tension reduction and conflict resolution to normalize interstate relations and promote people-people ties.

Read the Summary Report

Introduction: China–India-Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma and the Imperative of Risk Reduction Measures

Emeritus Professor Ramesh Thakur, APLN Executive Director Shatabhisha Shetty, and Professor Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu of New York University summarize the nine selected papers commissioned for this project and published now in the Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament.

Geopolitical tensions in Southern Asia are characterized by shared borders, major territorial disputes, a history of wars, political volatility, and instability. To mitigate the growing risks in Southern Asia and the impact across the Asia-Pacific, the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and the Toda Peace Institute have collaborated on a research project to map the contours of the China–India–Pakistan nuclear trilemma.

Read the Summary Report

Understanding the Nuclear Landscape in Southern Asia

Manpreet Sethi, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi, offers recommendations for policymakers in southern Asia to better manage the risks and challenges inherent in nuclear deterrence. She argues that consequent nuclear dynamics in the region have fair potential for crisis and arms race instability. As a way to address the regional nuclear challenges, Sethi explores the character of Pakistan–India and China–India nuclear dyads along three specific axes.

Read the Special Report

Strategic Risk Management in Southern Asia

Feroz Hassan Khan, a former Brigadier in the Pakistan Army, warns that strategic stability at the China-India-Pakistan trijunction remains tenuous. He identifies three major strategic risks: faulty assessments of intentions and capabilities that could lead to dangerous actions and responses, nuclear conventional entanglement of delivery systems increasing the chances of accidental wars, and the fusion of precision missile systems with emergent technologies providing multiple pathways to greater risks during an evolving crisis.

Read the Special Report

Plus Ça Change? Prospects of a Nuclear Deterrence Multipolarity in Southern Asia

Toby Dalton, senior fellow of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment, argues that contrary to what some scholars assess to be a nuclear chain or a deterrence trilemma in Southern Asia, the region has only one clear nuclear deterrence dyad: India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan have explored the contours of nuclear deterrence in several past military crises, he says, while nuclear weapons have been notably absent from Sino-Indian border tensions.

Read the Special Report

External and Domestic Drivers of Nuclear Trilemma in
Southern Asia

Jingdong Yuan, Associate Professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, University of Sydney, identifies and examines the internal dynamics of the China–India and India–Pakistan conflicts. He explores how domestic drivers such as nationalism, public opinions, and civil–military relations either mitigate or exacerbate nuclear risks in a region marked by perennial disputes, emerging rivalry, and long-standing extra-regional interferences. 

Read the Special Report

Geopolitical “Entanglements” and the
China-India-Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma

Lou Chunhao,  Research Professor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, analyses geopolitical trends in Southern Asia and their implications for the China-India-Pakistan triangular nuclear relationship. He writes that the geopolitical situation in South Asia is witnessing entangled trends reflected as chronic India-Pakistan confrontation, the frigid China-India relationship, and the increasing US-China competition. Chunhao recommends that all concerned parties strive to overcome the security dilemma and maintain peace and stability in this region by strengthening confidence-building measures, conducting strategic dialogues, and improving crisis management mechanisms.

Read the Special Report

The Nexus between Domestic Politics and Bilateral Relations: Exploring India-Pakistan, Pakistan-China, and China-India Dynamics

Sadia Tasleem, Lecturer for Defense and Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, explores notions of national identity and interest formation in the nexus between domestic politics and bilateral relations between the three countries. She argues that China’s bilateral relations with India and Pakistan, in so far as domestic political imperatives are concerned, are mainly driven by the decision-making elite and centered around internal stability and economic growth. 

Read the Special Report

Ensuring Nuclear Stability in the New Nuclear Age

Rakesh Sood, a former Indian ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, argues that new advanced technologies require a new look at maintaining nuclear deterrence and strategic security stability. He says that in the China-India-Pakistan trilemma policy proposals must be cognizant of new technological and political realities to break out of the cycle of mistrust and reduce risks of both misperceptions and miscalculation that could lead to inadvertent escalation.

Read the Special Report

The China–India–Pakistan Nuclear Triangle:
Consequential Choices for Asian Security

Salman Bashir, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, examines the wider regional and global geopolitical entanglements of China, India, and Pakistan and the prospects for promoting regional stability and avoiding nuclear conflict. He argues that the Indo–US defence partnership has led to a worsening of India–China relations, disturbing the tenuous strategic balance between Pakistan and India. Bashir adds that a maritime dimension introduces further complexity, thus it’s necessary for leaders to responsibly manage regional competition. 

Read the Special Report

The China–India–Pakistan Nuclear Trilemma and Accidental War

Prakash Menon, Director of the Strategic Studies Programme at the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, proposes a Global No First Use Treaty governing nations’ nuclear weapons arsenals in South Asia and beyond. Using the Clausewitz escalation model, he argues that the greatest danger of nuclear war in the India–Pakistan and China–India dyads is in the inability to control the escalation of conflicts that may have small beginnings but could potentially spin out of control.

Read the Special Report



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