The India-Pakistan crisis deserves our ‘urgent attention’
This week’s Economist, with “Modi’s dangerous moment” on the cover, reminds readers that at the time of the last big India-Pakistan clash, in 1999, “both possessed nuclear weapons but had only limited means to deliver them.” India today has 140 warheads, and Pakistan has perhaps ten more than that. Pakistan also has tactical nuclear weapons with a range of about 50 miles.
There’s a logic that argues that all those nuclear weapons are a stabilizing factor. Under such a nuclear overhang, the argument goes that both sides limit just how far they will go in a conventional war (and would never return to the sort of conflict of 1971) because the danger of a devastating nuclear exchange deters them from doing so. This argument continues that two nuclear-armed states have never gone to war with each other.
It would be folly to bet on that logic holding, particularly in a situation where the domestic politics of both countries could create the conditions for conflict.
While the onus clearly falls on Pakistan to rout out the terrorist networks within its own territory, India’s sheer economic and military power bestows on it the responsibility to act as a stabilizing force in the region. India’s population is six times as big as Pakistan’s, and its economic power is eight times that of its Western neighbor.
Sometimes it takes a scare of the sort this past week has brought to prompt reasonable actors to take long-required steps toward reducing regional tensions. With its recently deepened relations with Pakistan, China could also play a useful role, starting by lifting its veto at the UN Security Council so that the Pakistan-based JeM can be designated as a terrorist organization.
A peaceful and economically interconnected South Asia would benefit not only Pakistan and India, but also the greater neighborhood, particularly Afghanistan.
Beyond defusing the current threat of war, it would be wise for international actors to leverage it to a more lasting solution. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter
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