The China-India-Pakistan Nuclear Triangle: A Post-India-US Nuclear Deal Scenario

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Saira Bano
PhD Candidate, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (CMSS), University of Calgary

2016

The China-India-Pakistan nuclear triangle has the potential for crisis escalation due to the asymmetrical relationships among its members. The comparison of this nuclear triangle with two earlier triangles, the US-Europe (France/Britain)-USSR and the US-China-USSR, reveals that weak members of the triangle are likely to initiate a crisis, which can potentially force the involvement of the other two members of the triangle. In the first two nuclear triangles, the United States gave security assurances to Western Europe and China. In the China-India-Pakistan triangle, China’s position is ambiguous and it has avoided giving explicit security guarantees to Pakistan in the case of an Indian military attack. This can cause misperceptions on the part of both Pakistan and India. Pakistan might expect that China would help and India might expect that Beijing would not intervene. Multifaceted cooperation, competition, and conflict have engulfed this triangle since the India-US nuclear deal was concluded. This deal has significantly increased India’s potential nuclear weapons capability and thus has exacerbated the security dilemma of Pakistan and China. This has important implications for strategic stability in the region. This paper analyses the strategic implications of this deal for the nuclear triangle and argues that the deal has aggravated the perceived insecurity of Pakistan, which has increased Islamabad’s reliance on nuclear weapons. This could lead to a breakdown in the strategic stability of the triangle. Therefore, it is in the interest of the international community to engage nuclear Pakistan constructively.

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