In his contribution to a new edited volume produced by The Stimson Center, Senior Fellow Iskander Rehman explores various potential crisis scenarios in South Asia. His chapter titled, New Horizons, New Risks: A Scenario-based Approach to Thinking about the Future of Crisis Stability in South Asia, can be downloaded here.
A “tinderbox,” “flashpoint,” or “nuclear nightmare,” no region — barring, perhaps, the Korean Peninsula — has garnered quite as many grim headlines as South Asia.1 In 2000, President Bill Clinton famously described the Indian subcontinent as “the most dangerous place in the world today.”2 Over a decade later, New York Times reporter David Sanger recounted the Obama administration’s frequent anxiety over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.3 More recently, President Donald Trump described Pakistan as being a “very, very vital problem…because they have nuclear weapons and they have to get a hold of the situation.”4 Many of these concerns are tied to the “stability-instability paradox,” or “ugly stability” that has characterized Indo-Pakistani strategic interactions in the 21st century.5 To borrow a metaphor from the British strategist Sir James Cable, the nuclearization of the subcontinent may have forestalled the risks of large-scale conventional war, but it has also “provided a kind of greenhouse in which lesser conflicts…can flourish,” and in which spurts of subconventional violence continue to present severe escalatory risks.6 This judgement has been borne out over the past two decades as a number of nonstate cross-border incidents precipitated nuclear-tinged crises on the subcontinent.
Rather than a more common method of examining past crises on the subcontinent, this essay models and probes two potential future types of South Asian crises. The opening section of each scenario offers some of the motives and methods for crisis modeling by teasing out a plausible trigger event, establishing background conditions and trends, reviewing moves and countermoves within the scenario, and considering the crisis aftermath. The essay concludes by distilling some implications and lessons drawn from the crisis modeling.
See the full volume from The Stimson Center: Investigating Crises: South Asia’s Lessons, Evolving Dynamics, and Trajectories.