India Vs Pakistan: The Power of Deterrence

Power of Deterrence


  • GS Mains Paper-2

Why in news?

  • Earlier this month, India marked the 20th anniversary of the nuclear tests at Pokhran.

What is the context?

  • The Pokhran nuclear tests signaled the de facto status of India as the sixth nuclear power nation of the world.
  • On May 28, 1998, just a fortnight after India’s tests, Pakistan responded with a similar nuclear test, marking its emergence as a rival nuclear power to India.

How the balance of strategic nuclear power has evolved over the past two decades?

  • First, it is clear that Pakistan’s assertion of nuclear parity and India’s ‘no first use policy’ for its nuclear weapons provided Islamabad with the power of deterrence.
  • ‘Deterrence’ in this context implies one side discouraging the other from undertaking an action by instilling a fear of disproportionate consequences.
  • In the nuclear context, deterrence is a powerful force because of the overwhelmingly destructive nature of these weapons.
  • Pakistan’s nuclear test in response to India was a case of the country deterring India from undertaking any major action, conventional or nuclear, against it, even if the situation demanded it.
  • Being a responsible state which values the life of its citizens, India couldn’t afford to risk a nuclear strike by Pakistan in the face of Indian escalation, especially as India likely believed Pakistan’s intention of using its nuclear arsenals, including “theatre nukes”.
  • In this context, nuclear weapons programmes reduce the power gap between two unequal conventional weapon states.
  • Under multiple game-theoretic scenarios, the deterrence effect of nuclear weapons makes nuclear war less likely.
  • Issue of responsible use-Some argue that a less responsible nuclear state is likely to intimidate a more responsible one by threatening to use nuclear weapons against the latter without fearing its own annihilation, in the event of a massive retaliation.
  • Issue of cost which, in the case of emerging countries such as India and Pakistan, is considerable.


The past few decades of a nuclear South Asia have not only been a story of nuclear deterrence, but also of proliferation and an arms race that has consumed on a vast scale scarce resources that could arguably have been deployed for non-military, welfare purposes

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