In the last couple of days there has been an interesting discussion here on another thread on the subject of nuclear proliferation and the dangers of 'accidental' nuclear war. Mention was made of the situation respecting Pakistan and India, and Neil Richardson invited me to comment.
There is no doubt that the nuclear situation in South Asia is quite unstable and dangerous. Both India and Pakistan have sizable nuclear arsenals, which are being continuously augmented. The two countries have an ongoing history of animosity and have fought four wars in the last six decades. A recent factor greatly increasing the danger is the appearance of jihadi and other terrorists who are believed by India to be under Pakistani control, even the indigenous ones.
In both countries the arcane doctrines of nuclear command and control, developed in the West (especially in the US), are studied and implemented by industrious staff officers, who have been advised by Western experts. Their commanders are suitably briefed though, like nuclear commanders everywhere, they probably view the elaborate theoretical constructs underlying these procedures with a somewhat cynical eye. As David Habakkuk pointed out in the earlier discussion, US military commanders shaped the nuclear decision process for their civilian masters so as to achieve what they believed was the more realistic solution. In Pakistan and India civilian control is largely nominal; the fingers on the nuclear triggers are those of their generals.
What makes this cause for some concern is that Indian and Pakistani generals are by no means immune to the occupational disease of generals everywhere − intellectual poverty. Pakistani generals have consistently displayed a hair-raising propensity to launch military operations based on an entirely wishful expectation of the other side's reaction, and thus of how events would progress.
In 1965 Field Marshal(!) Ayub Khan launched an attack across the cease-fire line against Indian troops in Kashmir (which threatened to cut the L of C of Indian forces occupying the state) quite convinced that India would not respond across the international frontier. When a few days later the Indian army launched an attack on Lahore, he was totally shocked. The 1965 war was the beginning of the end of his rule.
In 1971 Gen Yahya Khan was frustrated by the inability of his troops in East Pakistan to overcome the Bengali resistance movement, which was receiving massive assistance from India. He decided to end this Indian support by launching a very limited operation against India from West Pakistan − a few air attacks on Indian air bases and ground attacks against a couple of small Indian enclaves. He expected the UN to rush in and enforce a ceasefire between the two countries in both operational theatres. Nothing of the sort happened; instead Indian forces rapidly took over East Pakistan and began advancing into West Pakistan. He had to sue for a ceasefire after the surrender of his army in East Pakistan.
In 1999 Gen Musharraf decided to retest Ayub Khan's theory in Kargil. He infiltrated a force of soldiers and militia, dressed in civilian clothes, across the Line of Control in a remote sector of Kashmir where they would be able to dominate and threaten the L of C of a sizeable Indian formation. He thought the fiction that these were Kashmiri 'freedom fighters' would be believed, and that the Indians, instead of reacting, would come meekly to the negotiating table. When the Indians in fact reacted massively against the incursion and his childish cover story was blown, Pakistan had to be rescued by the US.
Indian generals do not appear to be much different. In 2001, after a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament house, they developed the Cold Start operational concept. Its stated purpose was to enable a quick military response to such incidents with the aim of seizing "some" Pakistani territory and inflicting "some" damage on the Pakistani military, but not enough to invite a nuclear response. Its underlying purpose was to enable the military to act quickly before the politicians got cold feet or succumbed to outside pressure. Pakistani generals promptly announced that they would use all means, including nuclear weapons if necessary, to respond to any such "invasion". Both sides seem to believe in the fallacy of limited nuclear war. Both sides have an exaggerated notion of their ability to control events after they have launched them. Of course, these threats and counter-threats are music to the ears of sundry jihadi and militant outfits.So, while the world's attention is focussed on the tumult emanating from the Korean peninsula, it is worth remembering that there are other bombs assiduously ticking away.