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The Threat of Inadvertent Nuclear War in South Asia

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Master's thesis

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This thesis assesses the potential for a specific type of accidental nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. Known as inadvertent war, such a conflict would be the result of a mistaken attempt at preemption, the launching of a nuclear attack by one nation in the mistaken belief that the other was doing likewise or was about to do so. While nuclear weapons can ordinarily be expected to exert a sobering influence on decision-makers, an escalating spiral of military activity during a crisis may generate different situational imperatives. Inadvertent war becomes possible when decision- makers perceive that conflict is inevitable and that there is a significant advantage in striking first. Evidence suggests that there is good reason for concern about the threat of inadvertent nuclear war in South Asia. The nuclear force structures adopted by India and Pakistan can be expected to exert a particularly strong influence on the potential for both of the necessary conditions for inadvertent war. The current arsenals of these countries, small and heavily dependant upon aircraft for weapons delivery, may invite preemption in the event that nuclear war appears imminent. If India and Pakistan increase their nuclear delivery capabilities by deploying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the potential for inadvertent war will be even greater. In the context of a military confrontation in South Asia, ballistic missiles are likely to contribute both to perceptions of first-strike advantage and to reinforcing military alerts that can lead to the belief that nuclear war is inevitable.

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  • Nuclear Warfare

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