Donald Trump and Nuclear Cooperation: the Art of the Deal

csp_blog_16_14_fruhling_oneilThe election of Donald Trump raises questions about nuclear cooperation with allies in Europe and Asia. Reducing the role and prominence of U.S. nuclear weapons in its alliances, however, would remove a major avenue for U.S. influence.

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States heralds a time of volatility, if not crisis, in U.S. alliances worldwide. Trump’s characterisation of America’s NATO allies, Japan, and South Korea as free riders on the military capabilities of the United States points to a more transactional approach to international relationships than we have been used to in the recent past.

Burden-sharing has always been a sensitive issue for the United States and its allies. But what really caught the attention of observers during the election campaign was Trump’s solution to the alleged free riding of Japan and South Korea: If elected President, he would give the green light for Tokyo and Seoul to develop their own nuclear forces rather than them relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This comes after several years in which both allies have sought increasingly detailed and firm understandings with the United States about the functioning of the nuclear umbrella in Northeast Asia.

Reports that at this year’s U.S.-ROK ‘2+2’ meeting South Korean officials requested a semi-permanent presence of U.S. ‘strategic weapons’ on the Korean peninsula confirms a growing concern in Seoul that credible extended deterrence requires forward basing along the lines of NATO. The establishment in October 2016 of the US-ROK Deterrence Strategy Committee–which promotes greater interagency coordination between Seoul and Washington, DC–builds on initiatives taken shortly after the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review to institutionalise nuclear consultation in the U.S.-ROK and U.S.-Japan alliances.

The Obama administration was receptive to demands from Tokyo and Seoul for greater reassurance regarding the nuclear umbrella in spite of the President’s landmark 2009 pledge in Prague to reenergise US nuclear disarmament efforts. But Washington, DC was sure to set clear limits on this consultation: Despite strong preferences in Seoul and Tokyo for the NATO model of the nuclear umbrella, American officials made it clear that consultation arrangements would not replicate detailed NATO nuclear policy planning. Nor would they involve the forward basing of nuclear weapons in Japan or South Korea, at least not yet.

In NATO, notwithstanding the questioning by some ‘older’ European members of the continuing need for nuclear weapons, the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) of 2012 reaffirmed the Alliance’s commitment to the nuclear umbrella. As Russia’s threatening references to its nuclear capabilities have become more explicit, there are signs that NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group is returning to strategic discussion of a kind it has not had for many years. NATO nuclear exercises are a regular feature of the Alliance’s activities and discussion of nuclear issues has become less abstract and more operational in tone in recent years.

What if anything should the United States expect in return for this extended deterrence cooperation? Posing the question in that manner, as seems to be President Trump’s approach, assumes that extended nuclear deterrence is, or should be a direct and distinct bargain between the United States and its allies. But history shows that this would be very misleading. Nuclear weapons cooperation has been a crucial factor in reinforcing institutional commitment within alliances and achieving consensus on strategic priorities; it promotes alliance cohesion at times when that cohesion is potentially threatened by perceptions of differing strategic priorities among allies. Rather than a bargain in its own right, nuclear weapons cooperation creates the basis of trust and commitment upon which allies are then able to negotiate–and strike–the necessary deals on burden-sharing and alliance strategy.

All the iconic steps by which NATO developed into a genuinely ‘nuclear alliance’–including the reliance on nuclear weapons after the failure of the 1952 Lisbon Summit goals, the development of nuclear sharing in the late 1950s, the creation of the NPG in 1966, and the dual-track decision of 1979–were ultimately taken to promote broader alliance bargains about relative costs and benefits embedded in NATO strategy and posture.

In most of these cases, the need for a new bargain arose because of allies’ concerns about U.S. policies, rather than a changing threat from the adversary. The creation of the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK extended deterrence dialogue forums in 2010-11 also resulted from broader concerns that Washington, DC might be backtracking from the nuclear dimension of its alliance commitments in East Asia, with potentially adverse implications for broader U.S. security assurances.

In Cold War Europe, and more recently in East Asia, consultation on nuclear strategy and posture has been an important means for the United States to influence the choices of its non-nuclear allies. American interests in this regard are far broader than the objective of avoiding further proliferation among allies. In the past, Washington, DC has been able to gain increased emphasis on conventional forces in NATO defence planning when negotiating the new role of nuclear weapons under flexible response, and alleviated allied concerns about concessions to the Soviet Union by pushing for NATO nuclear force modernization.

As U.S. relative strategic weight continues to decline, and as Washington, DC confronts fiscal pressures to curtail defence spending while tensions mount in Europe and Asia, President-elect Trump is right to highlight the need for greater military burden-sharing with allies. Reducing the role and prominence of U.S. nuclear weapons in its alliances, however, would remove a major avenue for U.S. influence.

In the Trump era, the success of future alliance strategy will almost certainly have to rest on greater contributions by U.S. allies. But simply demanding–or expecting–greater contributions is not a strategy itself. Like many Presidents before him, Trump will find that the way Washington, DC approaches extended nuclear deterrence is the real ‘Art of the Deal’ in U.S. alliances.

Stephan Frühling is Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Education) in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. Andrew O’Neil is Professor of Political Science and Dean (Research) in the Griffith Business School at Griffith University. They are the authors of “Nuclear weapons, the United States and alliances in Europe and Asia: Toward an institutional perspective”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.


Why democracies may support other democracies – but not autocracies – against rebellions

csp_blog_16_13_goldman_adulofDemocratic peace theory has been extensively tested in cases of interstate war. It is important that we use these insights as well to better understand intervention in civil wars. Our research shows that it matters whether the regime fighting against rebels is a democracy or autocracy.

Democratic regimes are often seen as tolerant: they solve their domestic disputes by peaceful means, they keep civil liberties and political rights, such as freedom of speech or the equal right to participate in fair and open elections. Autocratic regimes, on the other hand, are far less tolerant, more suppressive, and generally more violent in their domestic politics. And if the international reflects the national, it only makes sense that we will see more violence coming from authoritarian, than democratic, countries. The ‘democratic peace theory’ turns this intuition into an academic pursuit, its most renown (dyadic) version: democracies do not fight each other. But even if true, and quite a few dispute it, why is it so? Explanations have roughly diverged into two branches: structural-electoral causes and normative, liberal, ones.

The structural rationale suggests, for example, that electoral considerations of the leaders make them more cautious about waging war because the domestic cost might be high: voters may well vote against them in the next elections. Therefore, when both leaders come from democratic political systems the probability of war is lower. The normative rationale suggests, on the other hand, that democratic leaders are socialized into a peaceful resolution of domestic conflicts, and externalize this liberal behavior to international politics. Therefore, when they face other democratic leader they trust each other to favor peace over violence.

Scholars have extensively tested both arguments. The large majority of the literature about the democratic peace theory have focused on militarized interstate disputes, say between France and Germany. Yet, the above claims have far more applications. For example, they can be applied to covert actions by democracies. One application, which we tested in this study, is that governments consider regime type when weighing intervention in civil wars.

4303718514_3cfaf0e7c3_bThe liberal hostility towards autocracies should drive democracies to avoid supporting embattled autocracies, perhaps even to support rebellions against them. Cases in point are the U.S. decisions to withdraw its support from the oppressive Iranian Shah and Nicaragua’s Somoza as well as the USA aiding rebels against the regime of Assad. On the other hand, democracies have occasionally also helped bring autocrats to power and keep them there. Cases in point are the France’s assistance to the Algerian regime, Israel’s backing of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (against Palestinian Liberation Organization rebels), U.S. support for various embattled dictators in developing countries (e.g. Indonesia’s Suharto throughout the anti-communist purge).

From a liberal normative perspective democratic government would be held as legitimate, being fairly elected by its constituency, while a violent organization which fight it would be seen as defying the liberal norms, its violent conduct deem illegitimate. Conversely, a non-democratic regime would not enjoy this liberal legitimacy—in the eye of democracies—and its rival might be seen as more legitimate despite its violent acts. Indeed, autocratic leaders are seen as being in a permanent state of aggression against their own people. Thus, the more an embattled regime is seen by the potential intervening democracy as adhering to appropriate norms, the more likely is intervention on its behalf, against the rebellious organization.

Compared to the normative account, the structural account seems less pertinent. If democratic leaders avoid sending troops to fight for a foreign government, they can minimize potential audience cost. Moreover, since supporting a foreign embattled regime is often veiled the democratic leader need not navigate the formal/official systems of checks and balances, or face as fierce an organized opposition or open public debate. Nonetheless, if the foreign intervention receives wide media cover, it may become a subject of public debate, an electoral factor particularly relevant for decision makers in democracies. Also, the more democratic the regime, the greater the likelihood that the opposition will be able to mobilize protest and exact a higher political price from the government for supporting a non-democratic government. Moreover, when a military intervention abroad is overt, it increases the number of institutions that must approve the decision.

We may thus hypothesize that democratic leaders considering support for non-democratic governments in their intrastate wars would take into account the negative institutional and public opinion implications, and be less inclined to lend a hand to such embattled non-democratic regimes. In the statistical analysis we conducted we found that autocracies almost never support democratic governments in intrastate wars. The results also support the prediction that democracies support embattled autocratic regimes much less than autocracies do (see figure). Put differently, the more democratic two states are, the higher the probability one would support the embattled other.

In conclusion, these findings allow us to better understand democratic foreign policy and expand democratic peace theory empirical validity to more indirect and sometimes subtler forms of conduct. Democracies behave differently towards governments that face intrastate war, partly based on their regime type, and they are inclined to support governments, which are more democratic.

Ogen S. Goldman is a Lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College. Uriel Abulof is a Senior Lecturer of Politics at Tel Aviv University and an LISD research fellow at Princeton University. They are the authors of “Democracy for the rescue—of dictators? The role of regime type in civil war interventions”, Contemporary Security Policy, 37, 341–368. It is available here.

Indian Minimum Deterrence for South Asia’s New Nuclear Environment

csp_blog_16_12_odonnellPakistan’s Nasr tactical nuclear missile platform is driving Indian debate on its current minimum deterrence doctrine. India’s minimum deterrence concept should indeed be reformulated for this new nuclear context. A new defense policy review should holistically integrate nuclear, conventional and subconventional approaches for reasons of effectiveness and continued public support.

India has traditionally followed a minimum deterrence doctrine. This concept is organized around the assumption that a small number of nuclear weapons creates sufficient risk in adversary threat assessments to have deterrent effect. This contrasts with the alternative maximalist concept: that nuclear deterrence is achieved only through guaranteeing numerical and destructive superiority against adversary nuclear capabilities, alongside development of a range of warfighting platforms. Nuclear weapons have been seen within India as having political rather than military purposes; and to be used only as a last resort.

India’s nuclear doctrine, articulated in 2003, features pledges of no-first-use and massive retaliation in case an adversary uses nuclear weapons. Its force posture has been described as “credible minimum deterrence,” meaning construction of a small retaliatory nuclear force that is nevertheless able to deter adversaries. In line with India’s minimum deterrence philosophy, Indian officials have previously ruled out developing tactical warfighting capabilities and seeking numerical parity with nuclear rivals.

Pakistan unveiled its “Nasr” (Hatf-9) 60km-range tactical nuclear missile platform in April 2011. The underpinning logic for the Nasr’s emergence intends to lower the bilateral nuclear threshold with India. This would allow it to deter a greater range of Indian conventional operations, and specifically deter conventional cross-border limited war planning central in recent Indian military thinking. This nuclear capability also threatens to undercut the credibility of India’s massive retaliation commitment, as Indian decision-makers are now formally committed to launch a devastating widespread nuclear attack even in response to a single localized Nasr strike. While the Nasr is still in initial stages of deployment, this platform and the strategic thinking behind it is propelling Indian debate regarding its effects on national security.

Indian civilian officials reportedly reviewed the implications of the Nasr for Indian national security in 2011, and concluded that it did not merit changes to India’s 2003 nuclear doctrine. However, such views are not universal. There is interest within Indian civilian official circles for a new focus on building up the destructive credibility of Indian nuclear forces.

While upholding the tenets of the 2003 doctrine, India’s military estimates substantial room on the conflict escalation ladder with Pakistan for rapid cross-border conventional strikes. These strikes would be designed to have strategic effect, yet not motivate Pakistani tactical nuclear escalation. India’s recent “Shatrujeet” exercise, concluded in April 2016, simulated fighting through adversary nuclear attack and was accompanied by official remarks that India would not be deterred by Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons. These plans, titled the “proactive war strategy,” would entail a more expansive military campaign than India has conducted since it and Pakistan became overt nuclear weapons states in 1998.

Such plans are also detailed by Pakistani officials as a core reason for developing the Nasr as a deterrent response. As such, they heighten Pakistan nuclear threat perceptions and arsenal developments that in turn undermine Indian confidence in the suitability of minimum deterrence. This places India in a Catch-22 situation with regard to assuring the credibility of minimum deterrence through its present conventional and nuclear approaches.

This focus also overlooks the reality that a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack remains the most likely trigger for an escalatory crisis eventually involving the Nasr. Outside of a response to such a terrorist attack, India has little incentive to conduct significant strikes against Pakistan. As the perpetrators are likely to be initially apprehended (if the attack is prevented) by Indian police and intelligence agencies, strengthening these subconventional capabilities must be a primary focus of India’s overall response to the Nasr.

In response to these challenges, India should retain and reiterate its minimum nuclear deterrence concept, including its no-first-use pledge and with a new focus on ensuring “assured” rather than “massive” retaliation. This above policy review, however, must also incorporate that of present conventional and subconventional defense approaches to ensure these align with and do not undermine minimum deterrence.

In conventional strategy against Pakistan, India should replace the proactive concept with one focused on defensive eviction of invading forces. There remain doctrinal and logistical doubts about the existence of a theoretical Indian proactive operation inside Pakistan territory that could have strategic effect yet not carry nuclear escalatory risk. This reform would help in reducing South Asian nuclear tensions, and accordingly Indian and regional demand for larger and more technically diverse nuclear arsenals.

New political and resourcing attentions must also be devoted to developing India’s intelligence and domestic police infrastructure. These capabilities constitute the most effective barrier against Pakistan-sponsored subconventional attacks that remain the most probable cause of a bilateral escalatory crisis leading toward Nasr use. This more holistic view of minimum deterrence will therefore most effectively bolster Indian security in the post-Nasr context. More broadly, these reforms will also support Indian foreign policy objectives of obtaining global recognition as a responsible nuclear power and of reducing regional security tensions that threaten its economic growth potential.

Frank O’Donnell is Lecturer in Strategic Studies at Plymouth University at the Britannia Royal Naval College. He is the author of “Reconsidering Minimum Deterrence in South Asia: Indian Responses to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.


Explaining US Foreign Policy Towards Russian Interventions


Variation in US responses towards Russian military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine can be understood through the lens of constructivism by highlighting the power and communality of norms.

By Florian Böller and Sebastian Werle. They are the authors of “Fencing the bear? Explaining US foreign policy towards Russian interventions”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. The full article is available here.

The occupation of the Crimean peninsula in February 2014 led to a major disruption of the relations between Russia and the West. The crisis also seemed to prove a pattern of Moscow’s renewed geopolitical aspirations that started already with the Georgia intervention in 2008. Scholars and pundits have tried to set Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Georgia in perspective to its international position (neorealism), have discussed domestic motives for Putin’s power politics (liberal theory), or heralded the dawn of an ethnocentric foreign policy doctrine (constructivism).[1]

However, there is a remarkable lack of attention to the fact that the West’s response to Russia’s manoeuvres is all but coherent. Most notably, the West’s lead nation, the US, has chosen very different policies to deal with Russian interventions. When Russia intervened in Georgia in 2008, Washington, DC responded with diplomatic means. In 2014, the US opted instead for sanctions and hard deterrence. In our article, we try to explain this varying US foreign policy response towards Russian interventions.

There is a remarkable lack of attention to the fact that the West’s response to Russia’s manoeuvres is all but coherent.

US foreign policy towards Russia can neither be fully explained by neorealism nor by liberal approaches, the two dominant IR paradigms. From a neorealist perspective, the variance in US behavior would be explainable, if the relative gains for Russia were more substantial in the case of Ukraine 2014 than in Georgia 2008. However, rather than enlarging its power grip over new territory, in both cases Russia merely secured its influence over regions that had already been within Moscow’s reach. Thus, while neorealism can adequately explain the weak US response in the case of Georgia, it runs into difficulties to account for the comparatively strong measures in the case of Ukraine.

Similarly, liberal theory cannot fully account for the variation in US foreign policy. Considering the financial costs of imposing sanctions against Russia, neither in 2008 nor in 2014 the magnitude of US-Russian economic relations was significant enough to produce policy externalities for important domestic groups. From a liberal perspective, it is also puzzling that the hawkish Bush administration responded with softer measures than the Obama administration, which is often described as reluctant, favoring a doctrine of foreign policy restraint.

In contrast to the neorealist and liberal perspectives, the qualitative comparison shows that US reactions to Russia’s assertiveness can be best understood through the lens of constructivism.

CSP_Blog_16_10_Boeller_photoIn the case of Georgia, President Bush primarily sought to construct the Georgian crisis as a threat to the value of democracy. Bush’s narrative portrayed the situation as a conflict between the democracy of Georgia and Russia’s autocratic and aggressive regime. President Obama on the other hand stressed general principles of international law throughout the conflict over Ukraine. The president condemned Russia’s occupation of Crimea as a ‘clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity’. In his remarks to justify the imposition of sanctions on 6 March 2014, Obama argued, that the countermeasures were intended ‘to oppose actions that violate international law’.

Comparing the normative power of both assessments, it is clear that the attempt to frame Russia’s action in the Ukraine as a violation of the principle of territorial integrity (and thus Article 2.4 of the UN Charter) trumps the norm of democratic government. While the expansion of democracy played a central role in the neoconservative agenda of the Bush administration, it cannot draw on a similar level of legitimacy in international law compared to the prohibition of the use of force. Even domestically, democracy promotion does not rank among the core international goals of the US according to public opinion polls.

Furthermore, in the case of the Ukrainian crisis, the US could count on international support both from its allies in Europe and international organizations. A similar consensus was not obtainable in the case of the Georgian crisis. Some European allies of the US, most notably Germany and Italy, hinted at Georgia’s own responsibility for the outbreak of the crisis, thus disputing the Bush administration’s assessment.

The expansion of democracy cannot draw on a similar level of legitimacy in international law compared to the prohibition of the use of force.

Overall, both the national and international power of the conflicts’ central norms (international law vs. democracy) as well as the communality of the normative assessments (near unanimous Western response vs. contestation over the conflict) help explaining the puzzle of why the US took harsher measures in response to the Ukraine crisis in comparison to the Georgia conflict.

What implications entails this conclusion for the debate on US foreign policy? It seems that rather than acting erratic and following an incoherent ‘double standard’ regarding the promotion of a value-based world order, US decision-makers take domestic and international norms into account, although the US still possesses sufficient material resources to react unilaterally to threats to its interests.

Recent foreign policy decisions under the Obama administration show a similar pattern. In cases such as the air campaigns against Libya in 2011 and “ISIS” since 2014, or regarding the non-proliferation policy towards Iran, the US also attempted to act in a multilateral setting, which generates considerable domestic and international legitimacy. It remains to be seen whether this foreign policy approach will suffice to contain Russia’s geopolitical aspirations. Yet, this multilateral and norm based strategy currently seems to be the only policy option, which summons enough societal acceptance.

Florian Böller is an Assistant Professor for International Relations at the Department of Political Science, University of Kaiserslautern, Germany. Sebastian Werle is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Kaiserslautern, Germany. They are the authors of “Fencing the bear? Explaining US foreign policy towards Russian interventions”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

[1] See for an overview of the debate: Elias Götz, “Putin, the State, and War: The Causes of Russia’s Near Abroad Assertion Revisited”, in: International Studies Review (2016), online first DOI:

The Failure of Institutional Binding in NATO-Russia Relations

krickovicNATO and Russia have failed to develop institutionalized relations that would bind each side to predictable patterns of behavior. As a result, Europe is now locked in a dangerous spiral of security competition. In order to avoid conflict in the future both sides need to find new ways to make institutional binding work.

The security situation in Europe has dramatically deteriorated since Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014. Russia and the West now find themselves locked in a dangerous spiral of security competition. In June 2016, NATO held its largest military maneuvers in Europe since the end of the Cold War, deploying over 30 thousand troops in a simulated defence against a Russian invasion. The looming “Russian threat” will be the main theme of the upcoming NATO summit in July.

The Alliance is expected to formally announce the rotational deployment of four multinational brigades to the Baltic republics and Poland – a move that the Russian side sees as a violation of earlier promises by NATO that the Alliance would not base its forces in these countries. Russia is responding by ramping up military exercises and deployments on NATO’s borders. Close encounters between NATO and Russian units are happening with increased frequency, presenting the danger of unplanned incidents that could spark a larger armed conflict between the two sides.

NATO and Russia have been unable to develop institutionalized relations that would integrate Russia into the larger European security architecture and prevent security competition from emerging. Liberal International Relations scholars argue that states can protect their security without threatening other states by forming binding institutional relationships. These relationships commit them to predictable patterns of behaviour, reducing the threat that they would normally pose to one another in an anarchical international environment. Institutional binding also helps solve the problem of relative gains, i.e. states’ concerns about how the gains from cooperation are distributed between them. Because they are secure about each other’s intentions, states locked into binding security arrangements are free to cooperate on security and other issues without having to worry about how the distribution of these gains affects the balance of power between them.

An examination of the two most contentious issues in their relationship – NATO enlargement and Missile Defence – demonstrates why binding failed to develop between Russia and NATO. Russia put forward proposals on both issues that would prevent NATO from taking actions that would threaten its security. Russia looked to develop an institutionalized voice within NATO that would force NATO to acknowledge its concerns about expansion. In order to guarantee that NATO’s missile defence system would not undermine its nuclear deterrent, Russia proposed the development of a joint NATO-Russia system and the adoption of a legally-binding international treaty that would forbid NATO countries form targeting Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

NATO refused to accept these proposals for fear that this would embolden Russian revisionism and compromise the integrity of the alliance. For its part, Russia was unwilling to accept restraints on its own behavior, such as greater transparency in its military and security affairs or ceding some control over security issues to joint Russia-NATO institutions, which would have addressed NATO’s concerns about Russia’s intentions.

Ultimately, neither side was able to make the concessions needed to make binding work because they feared that this would empower the other side and thereby threaten their security. NATO moved forward with enlargement and missile defence, despite Russia’s objections. Russia looked to counter these policies, by pursuing a more bellicose foreign policy towards Georgia and Ukraine and by developing aggressive countermeasures against missile defence. These moves have exacerbated tensions to the point where some observers believe that we are now in a new Cold War.

The problem is not that binding institutions have failed Russia and NATO, but rather that they have never had the chance to work. Russia and NATO find themselves facing a “Catch-22”: they need binding arrangements to overcome the relative gains problems that inhibit security cooperation, yet, their initial concerns about relative gains prevent them from establishing these arrangements in the first place. The real challenge is thus to find ways to assuage these initial concerns about relative gains so that functional binding arrangements can be established.

Up until now, the two sides have tried to establish binding arrangements through one-off solutions. While these solutions promise to put an immediate end to security competition, they also require both parties to submit to comprehensive constraints on their freedom of action – something that is unacceptable to them because of their concerns about relative gains.

Less formal and institutionalized binding arrangements may better serve the interest of peace and security in Europe. Both sides could commit themselves to the creation of a buffer zone of neutral states between Russia and NATO countries that would include Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Such an agreement could be structured so that it not only guarantees these states’ neutrality but also obligates Russia and the West to take joint responsibility for their economic development. In this way, these states could be a bridge, rather than an object of contention, between Russia and the West.

On missile defence, NATO could agree to share sensitive data with the Russian side about the technical parameters of the missile defence system and allow Russian monitors to have access to its missile defence sites. Both sides could also agree to limits on the number of missile interceptors that each can deploy. In this way, Russia would be assured that the system is not directed against it without compromising the system’s effectiveness against missile threats from third parties.

Such piecemeal arrangements will not put an immediate end to security competition. But they will help Russia and NATO to gradually build a higher level of trust, which will allow them to develop more comprehensive binding arrangements in the future. Previous efforts at institutional binding failed because both sides did not appreciate the continued significance of relative gains and overestimated the ability of formal institutions to overcome the initial impediments to binding. In order to make binding work in the future, NATO and Russian leaders must acknowledge these hard realities and find ways to craft binding arrangements that address them.

Andrej Krickovic is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, Higher School of Economics, Moscow. He is the author of “When Ties Do Not Bind: The Failure of Institutional Binding in NATO Russia Relations”, Contemporary Security Policy 37(2), pp. 175-199. It is available here.

Response to Yusuf and Kirk “Keeping an eye on South Asian skies”

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanEarlier this year, Moeed Yusuf and Jason A. Kirk published an article in Contemporary Security Policy on America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclearized India–Pakistan crises. The aim of this article is to theorize third-party involvement in a nuclearized regional rivalry. The role of the USA as a third-party arbiter between conflicting parties has been discussed before. This article is the first to apply pivotal deterrence theory to the nuclearized conflict, where the stakes are extremely high. Through the study of three major crises between India and Pakistan, Yusuf and Kirk show that America’s intervention generally enhanced stability.

The article by Yusuf and Kirk has triggered a response by Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, two prominent scholars who have previously published extensively on India–Pakistan relations including their nuclear rivalry. In the interest of open debate, and to further clarify the contribution of the original article, their response and the reply by Yusuf and Kirk is published below.

Response to Yusuf and Kirk “Keeping an eye on South Asian skies”

We write in response to “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises,” by Moeed Yusuf and Jason A. Kirk.[1] In doing so, we applaud the authors for attempting to improve with theoretical rigor our understanding of South Asia’s nuclear dynamics.

Our response concerns two issues. First, we would like to correct a serious mischaracterization of our book, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons.[2] On p. 3 of their article, Yusuf and Kirk write that: “Most prominently, nuclear optimists like Ganguly and Hagerty argue that bilateral deterrence explains war avoidance by India and Pakistan; they discount third-party involvement. . . . We are thus left with a Cold War-derived literature inclined toward analysing nuclear crisis dynamics through two-actor models, and with South Asia-specific studies that call attention to trilateral crisis dynamics but still leave as under-theorized, third-party efforts to prevent war.”

Contrary to this assertion, we neither “discount third-party involvement” nor “under-theorize” such involvement. One of the three theories we subject to empirical scrutiny is “unipolarity theory,” from which we generate the proposition that: “The Indian and Pakistani governments, despite compelling incentives to attack one another during the crises under examination, were dissuaded from doing so by timely and forceful US intervention.” (pp. 7-8) Although we argue that nuclear deterrence theory was more influential in keeping India and Pakistan out of war, we add that “US intervention in the form of crisis management sometimes played a secondary, but important, role – particularly in 1990, 1999, and 2001-2.” (p. 11) Moreover, each of our empirical chapters explicitly examines the US role, and our concluding chapter reiterates the significant, but secondary, influence of US efforts to prevent war. (p. 188) We close the book with a lengthy analysis of how those efforts might be improved. (pp. 201-09)

We agree with Yusuf and Kirk that mono-causality is misguided in the analysis of India-Pakistan crisis behavior; but we differ in our ordering of the causes of peace, attributing the primary role to nuclear deterrence. Their claim that we “discount” the role of US intervention has a straw-man feel to it. Bernard Brodie once wrote of the analysis of nuclear weapons dynamics: “In these matters, to be sure, we are dealing fundamentally with conflicting intuitions. There is no doubt that some people’s intuitions are better than others, but the superiority of the former, though sometimes definable and explicable, may be difficult to prove.”[3] The least we can do, even in disagreement, is to get each other’s arguments right.

Our second issue concerns Yusuf and Kirk’s questionable use of the concept of a revisionist state in international relations. The authors analyse South Asian crisis outcomes in the context of Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory.[4] According to the theory, part of one of the necessary conditions for pursuing a policy of pivotal deterrence is that: “The pivot must believe that both adversaries hold revisionist aims toward each other . . . .”[5] Yusuf and Kirk argue that this condition is met in the India-Pakistan case, explaining that “Pakistan’s is territorial revisionism over Kashmir, whereas India’s is a strategic revisionism that seeks to end Pakistan’s support of militant non-state actors as proxies against it.”[6]

We find this formulation to be problematic. For decades, the international relations (IR) theory literature has ascribed a particular meaning to the term “revisionist.” Simply stated, it refers to a state in the international system that seeks to alter the territorial status quo, or – more broadly – the existing order. (See, for example, the discussion in Jason W. Davidson, The Origins of Revisionist and Status-Quo States.[7]) By this longstanding, widely accepted standard, Pakistan has been a revisionist power practically since its inception, as it has sought, through a variety of means, to alter the territorial status quo in Kashmir. Indeed, even prominent Pakistanis, both civilian and military, have explicitly stated as much and have pursued policies, including the initiation of war on three occasions (1947-48, 1965, and 1999), to try and wrest all of Kashmir from Indian control.

By adding the adjective “strategic,” Yusuf and Kirk essentially redefine the long-accepted concept of the revisionist state, which has served IR theory well since its inception. Their use of the term “revisionism” to describe India’s attempts to ward off the attacks of “militant non-state actors as proxies” of Pakistan simply makes no sense. Any state, when faced with attacks on its soil, has the legitimate right of self-defense. In 1999, 2001-2002, and 2008, India has been in the position of defending the status quo against Pakistani, or Pakistan-sponsored, aggression. The policies pursued by India are best understood as part of a strategy of “deterrence by denial” — attempting to fend off its neighbor’s attacks by rendering their goals difficult to accomplish. This strategy cannot under any circumstances, let alone through a verbal sleight of hand buried in a footnote, be considered “revisionist.”

Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and the currently holds that university’s Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations. Devin Hagerty is a Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


Reply by Jason A. Kirk and Moeed Yusuf

Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty object to our characterization of their important 2005 book. In positioning it “most prominently” in a brief discussion of “nuclear optimist” perspectives, we summarize briskly—perhaps too briskly.

In saying that Ganguly and Hagerty “discount third-party involvement,” our intention was to say that they assign a (significantly) lower value to this explanation for escalation avoidance than to bilateral nuclear deterrence, not to say that they do not consider it or that they dismiss it. Regrettably, our use of the ambiguous and imprecise verb “discount” did not adequately capture their perspective, but this was not a bad-faith attempt to present them as “straw-man” foils.

We were aware of their proposition (hypothesis) that India and Pakistan “were dissuaded… by timely and forceful US intervention.”[8] Their findings are somewhat more complicated. They say “Washington was most influential during the Kargil war of 1999, when the Clinton administration resolutely eased Pakistani leaders into ceasing their ill-fated incursion into Indian Kashmir.”[9] In analyzing India’s reasons for not “widening and deepening the scope of the conflict,” they say that the proposition, “namely American intercession, can easily be dismissed.”[10] Regarding 2001-02, they say: “while American diplomacy may have played an ameliorative role in this crisis, it was hardly decisive in shaping its final outcome.”[11] Their conclusion is that bilateral nuclear deterrence best explains war avoidance.[12] The secondary US role was “that of a facilitator of peace, providing both sides with the political cover they needed to stand down while still saving face.”[13]

We do not single out Ganguly and Hagerty for leaving under-theorized US efforts to prevent war in nuclear South Asia. That is our appraisal of the literature overall, which we offer in a separate paragraph from our reference to their work. We note here their book’s path-breaking initiative to apply nascent unipolarity theory, which they call “the least-developed body of theory we use.”[14] In our article, we similarly cite Monteiro’s more recent assessment that “the value of unipolarity for the preponderant power is an important and under-theorized topic.”[15] We try to address an aspect of this theoretical underdevelopment.

Ganguly and Hagerty also object to our use of “revisionist aims” to characterize India’s crisis objectives. This language comes from Crawford’s general theory, but we qualify this precondition. We use a footnote—an integral textual element, not “buried” ground—to retain formality and brevity in the theory’s preconditions. India’s strategy is detailed in our case studies.

We would not presume to redefine revisionism. We understand it to mean an intention to alter the status quo, which may mean territorial control but may also mean “the existing order” more broadly. Support for the status quo is multidimensional,[16] as states may seek to uphold some aspects while opposing others. That the status quo also includes notions of morality, legitimacy and more has been in the conceptual toolkit of IR theory since E.H. Carr undertook the “the beginnings of a science,” over three-quarters of a century ago.[17]

In Crawford’s original theory, the relevant condition is that the third party “must believe that the adversaries are ‘reciprocal revisionists’—that each seeks gains at the other’s expense and will use force to achieve them if conditions permit.”[18] There is no stipulation that the status quo is defined by or limited to territorial control. In his analysis of US efforts at pivotal deterrence in early-1960s South Asia, he does note Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1963 statement that Indo-Pakistani “[c]onfederation remains our ultimate end.”[19] But by the 1990 Kashmir crisis, the US perception of India’s possible war aims reflected Pakistan’s “barely disguised role in stoking the Kashmir uprising” in India.[20]

We say “Pakistan’s is territorial revisionism over Kashmir,” and would add here that its Kashmir obsession is so central to its regional policy (and self-understanding) as to make it a revisionist state—Ganguly and Hagerty’s term. India is territorially a status quo power regarding Kashmir, but that does not mean it cannot have revisionist aims amid ongoing violence and recurrent crises. India seeks, as we say, to “end Pakistan’s support of militant non-state actors as proxies against it.” India cannot accept an “existing order” in which Pakistan repeatedly provokes it, despite what should, from India’s perspective, be a clear international consensus that India is the aggrieved party and Pakistan the aggressor. Ganguly and Hagerty may read “revisionist aims” as pejorative—which was not our intention—for they uphold India’s right to defend itself, and appropriately so.

Ganguly and Hagerty say that “the policies pursued by India are best understood as a strategy of ‘deterrence by denial,’” but in their book they also characterize the 2001-02 crisis as entailing a “coercive diplomacy” strategy by India—albeit a largely unsuccessful one. This strategy, they say, “seeks to induce an adversary to desist from ongoing hostile actions by threatening to resort to force…”[21]

Ultimately, the substantive question is: Does the US believe that India is willing to go to war against Pakistan to counter militancy across the Line of Control and terrorist attacks on Indian soil? We believe that this condition is met, and we apply pivotal deterrence theory to nuclear South Asia accordingly.

Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.



[1]  Moeed Yusuf & Jason A. Kirk (2016): “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India–Pakistan Crises,” Contemporary Security Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13523260.2016.1177954.

[2] Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry:  India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle, WA:  University of Washington Press, 2005).

[3] Bernard Brodie, “The Development of Nuclear Strategy,” International Security, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Spring 1978), p. 83.

[4] Timothy W. Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2003).

[5] Yusuf and Kirk, “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies,” p. 6.

[6] Yusuf and Kirk, “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies,” p. 23, note 30.

[7] Jason W. Davidson, The Origins of Revisionist and Status-Quo States (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

[8] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 7.

[9] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 11.

[10] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 160-1.

[11] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 182.

[12] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 188.

[13] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 192.

[14] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 7.

[15] Nuno P. Monteiro, Theory of Unipolar Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) (note 18), p. 73.

[16] See Glenn Palmer and T. Clifton Morgan, A Theory of Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), especially Chapter 2.

[17] Edward Hallett Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1939).

[18] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 26.

[19] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 250, note 21.

[20] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 171.

[21] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 169.

Conventional arms control is impotent as an instrument of peace

CSP_Blog_16_07_Fatton_PhotoArms control regimes fail when they are needed most. When international tensions run high, governments tend to listen to military advice. This undermines the prospect and stability of arms control.

In March 2015, amid tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russia pulled out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), an agreement aiming at preventing conflict in central Europe with NATO members. Moscow’s decision is another example of a country disengaging from conventional arms control when relations with other member states deteriorate. This raises an important question: can conventional arms control survive periods of tension and preserve peace?

The answer is no. When international tensions are high, conventional arms control regimes cannot be established and break down if already set up. Their prospect and stability depend on an atmosphere of détente between countries. Therefore, these regimes fail when most needed and are impotent as instruments of peace.

To understand this impotence, we need to study the role of military institutions. In hostile environments, governments tend to rely more heavily on the military for advice. The complexity of military affairs makes this unavoidable, so military influence on foreign policy increases. Government leaders consequently absorb the biases inherent to the military, which include worst-case analyses and an exclusive focus on military assets to guarantee national security. These biases are incompatible with the exercise of arms control.

To illustrate how domestic politics affects arms control, it is useful to study Japan’s participation in the naval arms control framework (the Washington System) during the interbellum and Russia’s relationship with the CFE after the Cold War. Both regimes, established respectively in 1922 and 1990, were set up amid improving relations between member states and decreasing military influence within Japan and the Soviet Union. The 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference was instrumental in the rapprochement between Tokyo and Washington. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 and the 1990 agreement on the reunification of Germany solved two disputes that had kept the Soviet Union and the West apart for decades.

On the other hand, the Washington System and the CFE broke down when government perception of the international environment deteriorated. The international tensions that emerged around the early 1930s Manchurian crisis and the 2004 NATO enlargement, and later the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, heightened military influence in the two countries. Japan withdrew from the arms control regime in 1936 and Russia in 2015 (Table 1).

Table 1. Findings of case studies on the Washington System and the CFE.

This does not mean that conventional arms control regimes, once established, cannot have positive effects. Arms control may help reduce further the level of insecurity among member states by improving perceptions of others’ intentions and the predictability of behaviour. This in turn weakens the influence of the military inside countries. When arms control mitigates the perceived insecurity, armed forces lose importance in the eyes of government leaders.

While the Japanese and Russian cases both illustrate the impotence of arms control in times of tension, there are also some differences. The decline of military influence following the establishment of the conventional arms control regime was deeper in Japan. This allowed Tokyo to disregard the position of the navy on arms control during the Geneva and London conferences of 1927 and 1930. Inversely, the Russian military successfully pushed for the partial revision of the CFE in 1999. This is because the perception the leadership had of the international environment was more debated in Russia. Contrary to the Japanese government during the 1920s, the Kremlin’s assertion that the West held benign intentions was strongly contested by some domestic actors during the 1990s. The military was not politically isolated and consequently maintained a certain influence.

This highlights, once more, the centrality of domestic politics in arms control dynamics. The perception of the international environment may be a major political issue, manipulated by domestic actors seeking to advance their interests. These actors’ opposition to government perception helps the military maintain influence on foreign policy.

Finally, it is necessary to say something about nuclear arms control regimes. While they seem more resistant to international tensions than conventional arrangements, decision-makers should nonetheless keep the above in mind regarding nuclear agreements, especially the 2015 Iran deal. The military possesses high influence in Iran and some prominent domestic actors continue to claim that the West holds hostile intentions. Therefore, it should not be assumed that this regime is shielded from military assaults. Western countries, the United States in particular, must give heed to the image they portray to the Iranians. Otherwise, the military institution could be put in a position to threaten the stability of the agreement.

Lionel P. Fatton is Research Associate at CERI-Sciences Po and Doctoral Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. He is the author of “The impotence of conventional arms control: why do international regimes fail when they are most needed?”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Armies should be self-aware when using historical lessons

CSP_Blog_16_08_Eric Sangar (Small)Military strategy is often informed by lessons from the past. Which lessons armies pick up and use, however, depends on organizational filters. Due to organizational layering, armies may collect contradictory lessons leading to incoherent policy.

The study of success and failure in past wars has been closely intertwined with the emergence of strategic thought. Prominent strategic thinkers, such as Machiavelli, Clausewitz, or Liddle Hart, have relied on history of past campaigns to analyze and improve warfare in the present. And during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been lengthy debates on which lessons from the past have been neglected, and which have been applied wrongly.

However, so far there have been no systematic attempts to theorize how armies learn from their historical experience. In my article “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience”, I propose a pioneering theoretical argument to explain why the British Army discussed historical lessons for the Afghanistan mission (ISAF) in a contradictory way.

Why contradictory? Using research papers written by staff officers as well as doctrinal pamphlets, I observe two strands of historical experience that dominated the internal debate on lessons for the Afghanistan mission: the Anglo-Afghan Wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the colonial counterinsurgency campaigns conducted after 1945, including Malaya. However, this debate is characterized by a significant difficulty: due to fundamental differences in their nature, the two strands of lessons cannot be integrated into operational strategy without losing coherence.

The lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars are about the assumption that the Afghan society is so different that any military approach needs to be tailored to the local Afghan context. For instance, the Land Warfare Centre’s pamphlet presenting lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars states:

The Afghans are a proud and independent people who resent foreign interference and especially foreign militaries that they construe as occupation forces. They have always resisted external forces and attempts to change traditional ways; […] there is room for reintegration and possibly reconciliation but only when the use of force against insurgents has applied enough pressure on the insurgent/tribesman that his options are limited enough to make him want to move from one side to the other.

By contrast, the suggested lessons from the post-1945 campaigns assume that there is a set of universally applicable principles that, if implemented coherently, are a central condition of success. In the words of an officer,

not only are the principles contained in British COIN doctrine relevant to modern COIN operations they are also applicable to a wide range of conflict situations, from peacekeeping to general war.

This contradiction – between the adaptation to the perceived specificity of the Afghan context and the adherence to a universal set of principles – has also had implications for coherent operational decision-making. For the initial deployment of British forces to Helmand province in the Summer of 2006, the British Army had prepared an integrated civil-military plan influenced by many of the principles that were formalized in the aftermath of the Malaya campaign. However, operational commanders decided to deviate from this plan only few weeks after their arrival. This can be explained by a perception of a historically violent Afghan society, where the Taliban insurgency could only be stopped through the determinate use of force.

Why do these apparently rather incompatible sets of lessons coexist in British military thought and practice? It is important to understand the stages of internal evolution of military organizations, which determine what kind of lessons are selected and transmitted at specific points of time. I introduce the concept of ‘layered organizational culture’. This expression relates to the idea that existing sets of ideas and organizational routines will determine how a military organization processes new experiences.

As organizational culture changes, so will the ways in which experience is handled. However, earlier layers of organizational culture continue to interact with more recent ones. This can lead to the sub-optimal co-existence of inherently incompatible lessons. When contemporary military organizations study experience from different stages of their historical experience, it often results in recommendations that are perceived to be legitimate although they are taken from greatly diverging contexts of organizational needs and perceptions.

The history of the British Army’s efforts to learn from its colonial experience illustrates this argument well: during the Victorian era, although the bulk of the British Army was deployed in permanent garrisons all over the Empire, a systematic evaluation and transmission of lessons gleaned from colonial operations did not happen. Experience was compartmentalized within locally deployed regiments, and there were no attempts to build a universally applicable doctrine. Internal debates across the army dealt almost exclusively with strategy and tactics for interstate warfare on the European continent.

The perhaps only ‘universal’ lesson transmitted from colonial operations was that every context was unique, and that local commanders had to show initiative in order to tailor strategy to local requirements. As a result, the defeat during the First Anglo-Afghan War was attributed to the specificity of the local context, that is the xenophobic and warlike nature of Afghan society, and adaptation to this ‘alien’ context was the main lesson transmitted within organizational memory.

Organizational culture regarding the use of colonial experience changed after 1945. This was a result of changes in the Army’s force posture. The strategic reserve forces that were rapidly shipped from one colonial uprising to the next did not have the time to develop that sense of local awareness that was perceived to be necessary for success. Instead, from the Malaya campaign onwards, doctrinal thinkers started to look for principles that could be easily taught and applied across diverging contexts. But this new layer of organizational culture interacted with the one rooted in the Victorian Army. As a result, ground commanders continued to enjoy a tremendous amount of autonomy with regards to the interpretation and implementation of the ‘classical’ principles of British counterinsurgency doctrine.

What lessons can be gleaned from the use of lessons by the British Army in the context of the ISAF mission? It would be neither realistic nor helpful to abandon the study of historical experience altogether. But doctrinal thinkers should be more aware that experiences transmitted from the past are ‘filtered’ through the lens of specific configurations of organizational culture that were dominant at the time when an experience was made. This would require working more closely with military historians and sociologists, who can help to answer why specific observations and recommendations have been recorded from past campaigns. History may indeed become a toolbox – but one that can stimulate increased organizational self-awareness and help to avoid the pitfalls of learning from the past.

Eric Sangar is a FNRS Research Fellow at the Tocqueville Chair in Security Policy of the University of Namur, Belgium. He is the author of “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience: The British Army’s Debate on Useful Lessons for the War in Afghanistan”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here. He is currently analyzing the influence of collective memory on uses of history in the realms of media discourses on armed conflict, foreign-policy making, and military strategy.

Preventing Nuclear Disaster in South Asia: The role of the United States

CSP_Blog_16_03_YusufKirkThe current trends in the South Asian nuclear rivalry are likely to make the U.S. crisis management role more challenging in any future crisis iterations, with no guarantee of success, but it is crucial that the U.S. remain engaged and try to prevent escalation.

When terrorists from Pakistan killed seven soldiers at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January, the world held its breath, hoping that the incident would not trigger yet another India-Pakistan crisis. The fear wasn’t far-fetched. Since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, these bitter South Asian rivals have experienced one limited war and at least two major near-war crises. Fortunately, none of these crises escalated, in large part because of proactive U.S. crisis diplomacy that helped calm tensions.

There is no other scenario that gives greater urgency to conflict prevention than the possibility of nuclear war. Unsettlingly, U.S. policymakers remain quite uncertain about how future India-Pakistan crises may play out, and what America’s role in them might be. Standard theories of crisis diplomacy do not provide much insight. This isn’t surprising, since third-party involvement in nuclearized crises between non-superpowers is a post-Cold War phenomenon—seen only in the India-Pakistan rivalry so far—and crisis dynamics in such a scenario remain rather vaguely understood. Though recent literature on nuclear South Asia acknowledges the U.S. role in crisis management, most analyses focus on Indian and Pakistani strategies and behaviors, reflecting bilateral deterrence models derived from the Cold War superpowers.

A few analysts—including Bhumitra Chakma—have detailed America’s diplomatic interventions in recent India-Pakistan crises to claim that it prevented escalation (Chakma calls it “deterrence diplomacy”). Yet while the three-way crisis dynamic has been observed, it has not been systematically analyzed according to available theoretical frameworks. We need to understand not just what the U.S. did in these crises, but why and how a trilateral dynamic might be at work, and what this implies for future crises.

Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory—hitherto applied only to conventional, non-nuclearized contexts—offers a framework for analyzing efforts by third parties to avert war between rivals. The theory explains how a powerful third party (or “pivot”) can prevent war by making the rivals uncertain about how it would respond to a war between them. Moreover, the theory explains, non-superpower rivals will naturally seek to avoid alienating the more powerful pivot state and thus isolating themselves in a crisis, and this enables the pivot to employ diplomatic tools that deescalate the crisis and prevent war.

The U.S. has involved itself as a crisis manager in nuclear South Asia without hesitation. While the modalities of its pivotal deterrence have shifted within and across the crises—generally coming down harder on Pakistan, but also serving clear notice to India that military action risked international isolation and possibly uncontrollable escalation—its interventions have consistently sought to deescalate crises as swiftly as possible.

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanIn the 1999 limited war at Kargil, where a mix of Pakistani regular forces and jihadi proxies had captured parts of disputed Kashmir under Indian control, the U.S. directly threatened Pakistan with isolation unless it withdrew unilaterally. In the 10-month military standoff in 2001-02, and during the crisis that followed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the U.S. forced Pakistan to acknowledge the flow of terrorists from its soil into India and to take action against some of these actors. It used Pakistani acquiesce, momentary as it was, to placate India. In 2001-02, it also reproved a recalcitrant India that refused to demobilize its forces by issuing travel advisories that advised U.S. citizens to avoid India, risking investor panic.

In all of these crises, neither India nor Pakistan was apt to escalate to general war without assured U.S. support (or, at least, acquiescence). Both sides sought to avoid isolation, and modified their statements and behaviors when confronted with the prospect—in ways that cannot be attributed to bilateral nuclear deterrence alone.

Even if bilateral nuclear deterrence exerts an underlying influence on Indian and Pakistani crisis behaviors—as it surely must—then trilateral pivotal deterrence should be understood as shaping their specific behaviors in these crises, and ultimately delivering the crisis outcomes: war limitation in 1999 and war avoidance in 2001-02 and 2008. The reasons why must be better understood by policymakers seeking to answer the million-dollar question: should, and can, the U.S. continue to play the pivot in future India-Pakistan crises?

Admittedly, repeated U.S. involvement could create a moral hazard problem that incentivizes India and Pakistan to turn incidents into crises—with the express goal of eliciting favorable diplomatic intervention. On balance, though, we believe that American disengagement would be a worse response to future crises, given the stakes involved and the uncertainty of how India and Pakistan would act in the absence of Washington’s now-anticipated pivotal deterrence. But the future success of a pivotal deterrence policy won’t be automatic. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains difficult, and Pakistan may no longer see the U.S. as an even-handed broker. For its part, India too is dissatisfied with the U.S. inability to compel Pakistan to put a permanent end to anti-India terrorism, despite promises, and has signaled an ability to take swift, limited military action to punish Pakistan before the U.S. can step into a future crisis.

Given these and other worrisome developments since the last major crisis in 2008, the future of America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclear South Asia may depend less on “isolation avoidance” and more on the other peace-causing mechanism that Crawford proposed, “the uncertainty effect.” That is, the U.S. should find ways, through pivotal deterrence, to reinforce bilateral deterrence: even more assertively leading India and Pakistan to fear escalation’s consequences, and not only the diplomatic fallout.

Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Something Must Be Done, But What? On Humanitarian Interventions

CSP_Blog_16_04_AbeWhen confronted by shocking images of gross human rights violations, massacres and massive flows of refugees, many people may shout: ‘something must be done!’ Unfortunately, such tragic images are, on a daily basis, coming out of Syria and northern Iraq where the Islamic State reigns, and many other places all over the world. Moreover, thanks to the development of inexpensive communicative devices, such tragic images are spread worldwide at a historically unprecedented speed.

However, cries for ‘something must be done’ will soon be followed by the question: ‘but what?’. One key consideration is the legitimisation of intervention by the international community. Foreign intervention breaches of the principles of sovereign integrity and non-use of force, both of which are stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. Whilst action can be legitimised by UN Security Council authorisation, often agreement in New York is difficult to achieve.

By questions of legitimacy do not end with UN authorisation. Foreign military intervention may bring about casualties among local civilians and soldiers of intervening states, even it was mandated to bring a conflict to a close. So we may experience a situation in which proponents of intervention use lethal force and, at the same time, voices calling for troops to be withdrawn from battle will become louder.

This question has been repeatedly posed since the end of the Cold War. One of the first instances was the war in Bosnia (broadly speaking, the former Yugoslavia). In this case, international action was strongly urged as it was stated: “Shame in Our Time, in Bosnia” (The New York Times, 21 May 1992). As the intervention continued, nevertheless, other voices were increasingly raised, warning about the dangers of becoming deeply involved. After all, Western governments were subjected to public criticism for failing to stop the war and, at the same time, for dragging their public into a foreign war.

Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind described this difficulty by stating that:

‘something must be done’ may not be sustained if involvement in a bitter conflict in a country in which no vital national interests are at stake results in casualties. The clamour for action can turn, almost overnight, into an equally vigorous clamour to ‘bring our boys home’.

Why do such ‘dilemmas’ appear, even when action is required genuinely for humanitarian reasons? Supposedly, this is because we are living in a world where information and normative concerns are globalised, but the political system remains unchanged. The traditional international system has been established with the rule of non-intervention and the principle of non-use of armed forces to make inter-state relations more stable. Meanwhile, information recognises no territorial borders and in domestic politics its unrestricted flow has created an agenda too inhumane to ignore. This gap between a geographically-constrained world and a globally spreading world generates dilemmas for state decision makers.

In my article I analyse this dilemma in the case of Bosnian intervention and I discuss the consequences it had for NATO. These questions remain, however, critically important today. The intervention of the international community in Libya in 2011, for example, was very much inspired by the idea that ‘something must be done’ to protect civilians against the Gaddafi regime. On the other hand, the international community has been reluctant to further provide support to Libya after the NATO missions were done.

Yuki Abe is an Associate Professor at Kumamoto University, Japan. He is the author of “Norm dilemmas and international organizational development: humanitarian intervention in the crisis of Bosnia and the reorganization of North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.62-88. It is available here.