Strategic Stability: The See Saw Margery Daw of Nuclear Politics


VAdm (retd.) Vijay Shankar 

Keywords: Nuclear Doctrinal Co-relation, Deterrence Stability, Strategic Equilibrium, Conventionalizing the Deterrent, “How much is enough?”

This paper draws from a presentation made by the author to members of the Ottawa Dialogue, a Track II initiative, on 12 December 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand.

All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. Author’s email:

Read full article here: Shankar, Strategic Stabilty



Ours is an enigmatic, deficient, at times unfair, and for the most, an incompetent world. Its dynamics often engender paranoia and deep distrust between states particularly when amorphous national interests and intentions come into question. Unfortunately the alternative to this system is anarchy.

Marshall Ferdinand Foch, one of the lesser of the meat grinding generals of the First World War when faced with the bewildering nature of the larger strategic situation is said to have countered with a fundamental question, “De quoi s’agit-il”?[i] “What is it all about?” Indeed this poser, if understood and answered in the context of nuclear stability, would bring us to the complexities that face nations with the coming of a weapon that can obliterate the very purpose of warfare. Rarely in history have we seen the advent of a weapon that could in one flash achieve the grisly Clauswitzian goal of absolute war.

Against the reality of conventional war with its limited goals and moderated ends and the unlikelihood of it being outlawed in the foreseeable future, the separation of the conventional from the nuclear is a logical severance. Nuclear weapons are to deter and not for use. Given the politics of the South Asian region, the historical animosities and the emasculated nature of civilian leadership in Pakistan, the dangers of adding nuclear violence to military perfidy, as recent proliferatory history has shown, is more than just a reality. The collusive nature of the Sino-Pak nuclear weapons programme and the duality that it presents queers the field to an extent when nuclear doctrinal co-relation is suggested. Stability in this context would suggest stability of the deterrent relationship with avoidance of conflict provocation being the leitmotif.

The essence of stability is therefore to agree on certain foundational rules of conduct based on an understanding of realities. In defining these rules the intrusion of technology is unfortunately double edged for while it provides for modernization it invites covertness, which promotes, what I have termed as, a speculative bulge in the arsenal. The recent plutonium rush and the burgeoning of nuclear arsenals in the sub-continent is a manifestation of this bulge. Secondly, that the army in Pakistan is the true power centre, is that nation’s most open secret and therefore for India to engage an enfeebled and impotent civilian leadership is self defeating. Unless the army is brought into the dialogue, either directly or indirectly through an interlocutor, deliberations on deterrent stability will be destined for failure.

[i]Marshall Ferdinand Foch as quoted in the book ‘The Guns of August’ by Tuchman, Barbara published in 1962.

Read full article here: Shankar, Strategic Stabilty

1 thought on “Strategic Stability: The See Saw Margery Daw of Nuclear Politics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s