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Deterrence Adrift Mapping Conflict and Escalation in South Asia

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Journal Article

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Naval War College Newport United States

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Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked from 2014 through late 2015, meriting an analysis of how an armed conflict might unfold between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. A common assumption in academic and policy circles is that any modern-day IndoPakistani conflict would remain limited and localized, as nuclear deterrence would dissuade either side from seeking a Carthaginian peace. Accordingly, Indias limited war doctrine, Cold Start, has attracted a great deal of interest and scrutiny among South Asia analysts. Cold Start envisions a shallow but high-intensity ground offensive into Pakistan with a handful of division- or brigade-sized strike formations, calibrated in such a way that avoids crossing Islamabads nuclear redlines. The doctrine is premised on the assumption that India will be able to assert escalation control and prevent the ensuing conflict from spiraling out of hand. However, the reality is the very opposite. If a limited ground incursion is authorized, military necessity and miscalculation could very well precipitate all-out conventional war, bringing South Asia to the brink of nuclear calamity. This article distinguishes itself from the prevailing Indo-Pakistani escalation literature by mapping the military operational imperatives that New Delhi and Islamabad might face in a Cold Start contingency and by exploring the escalatory implications of the defensive strategy outlined in Pakistans latest army doctrine, Comprehensive Response, published in December 2011.

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