Michael KreponDGMO

When trying to learn about mechanisms to avoid unintended escalation, it’s usually a good idea to listen to people with operational experience. In South Asia, this means trying to meet with the Director-General Military Operations of the Pakistan and Indian Army. DGMOs have many important tasks and one peripheral assignment: they serve as the point persons for military confidence-building measures. DGMOs have their own hotline. They are supposed to talk routinely every week, as well as on an “as needed” basis.

The “as needed” part doesn’t work so well, as was clarified to me by a DGMO named Pervez Musharraf, who held this post from 1993-1995. Back then, the Line of Control dividing Kashmir was lit up by artillery, mortar and small arms fire. Posts along the LoC were occasionally overrun, captured, and reclaimed. In other words, there was presumably much for the DGMOs to talk about.

During a visit, I asked General Musharraf how things were going along the LoC, and he gave me a long litany of complaint. “So,” I asked, “did you pick up the phone?” “No,” he said. “It would give him [the Indian DGMO] more satisfaction than it would give me.” Complaints are registered by diplomats, not DGMOs.

The DGMO who didn’t receive Musharraf’s phone call was V.R. Raghavan. Meeting him was harder than getting to Musharraf because civilian gatekeepers in South Block are jealous of their prerogatives, which include keeping candid military officers away from inquiring minds. Raghavan, who served as DGMO from 1992-1994, cut this red tape and received me in his office, the spitting image of starched reserve and formality. This was the first, tentative co-mingling of our different worlds. No, not Close Encounters of the Third Kind, just the beginning of a lasting friendship and learning experience.

Stereotyping is a common substitute for personal encounters. In my experience, it’s hard to meet the stereotypical senior Pakistani and Indian military officer because they are such a diverse lot. Raghavan certainly is one of a kind, deeply immersed in military history, the complexity and chance of military operations, geo-politics and spiritual inquiry. How often do you get to meet a deep thinker whose resume includes service behind enemy lines during India’s 1962 war with China? Raghavan may also be the only person to have written a book on the world’s most famously militarized glacier [Siachen: Conflict Without End (1992)] after being posted there.

Upon retirement, Raghavan was a central figure in founding the Delhi Policy Group, which helped change the landscape of Indian NGOs working on security issues. From November-December 1996, the Stimson Center was fortunate to host him as a visiting fellow. In my view, he wrote one of the most important essays ever to appear in The Nonproliferation Review, “Limited War and Nuclear Escalation in South Asia,” (Fall-Winter 2001). Some shoebox-worthy quotes:

“The stability of deterrence between two countries runs the risk of being affected by the uncertainty produced by clashing views about who is ‘ahead.’ Nuclear reality between India and Pakistan is therefore of an uncertain quality. It is neither based on deterrence stability, nor a desire to seek it. Pakistan appears to seek continued deterrence instability as a means of pressure aimed at achieving its desired political outcomes… The reality of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan is one of considerable instability.”

“The reality of limited war is that the limits set on it make it difficult to gain a military victory, and war termination without a victory closely resembles a defeat.”

“As fortunes in war rise and fall, both objectives and the means to achieve them not only change but tend to reach a higher threshold. War by its nature favors escalation… Escalation is inherent in war both because the desire to win, and the need not to lose.”

“Escalation involves crossing saliences that define the current limits of a war. Since there is no mutually agreed set of limitations between India and Pakistan on a future war – as there were none in past wars – neither side has control over the other’s saliencies. As a consequence an escalatory spiral is ever ready to come into being.”


  1. Jens (History)

    “Pakistan appears to seek continued deterrence instability as a means of pressure aimed at achieving its desired political outcomes…”
    If decision-makers (who is that actually?)in Pakistan see a stable strategic/nuclear level (low probability of a nuclear war) as a bad thing, because it would reduce the value of their nuclear weapons, it seems that arms control can only play a minor (if at all) roll.
    What you wrote about communication between the two sides is very important – not only for deterrence but also for arms control. how can deterrence (as a “social institution” or regime) be established, if one party has no idea about the other’s thinking of the concept? How can a war be limited, if one has no idea about the other side’s thinking of keeping a war limited? Lawrence Freedman wrote once: “it takes two to keep a war limited.”

    best regards from the Baltic coast,

  2. yousaf (History)

    India has an articulated nuclear policy of massive punitive retaliation.

    And it may be that Pakistan also is trying to match this doctrine. Just a hypothesis.

    However, if this hypothesis is true, then in attempting match doctrines, a natural numerical mismatch in stockpile numbers occurs.

    This is because Pakistan is smaller, has fewer big cities and fewer military bases than India. So India can assure “massive punitive retaliation” against Pakistan with fewer nuclear weapons.

    Pakistan, in trying to match this “massive punitive retaliation” doctrine re. India, would then need to have substantially larger number of nuclear weapons.

    It takes more to massively punish a bigger stronger adversary than a smaller one.

    This asymmetry did not exist so much in the US-USSR case and has probably thus not been so well-examined.

    [Of course, the official line from Islamabad is that they are after credible minimum deterrence — but that threshold has evidently been crossed long ago.]

    • shaheen (History)

      Not so well-examined? Two generations of British, French and Chinese officials and analysts spent a lot of time on the problem. Your logic holds only if you assume that the threshold of unacceptability (viz. stakes) is intrinsically much higher in a bigger country than it is in smaller one. Or if you assume that the smaller one has to threaten counterforce to be credible. Ultimately, it’s a political judgement.

    • yousaf (History)

      Unfortunately, it is not (only) the threshold of unacceptability that is considered.



      “India’s official nuclear doctrine of January 2003 has rightly been critiqued for including the term ‘massive’ in its formulation: ‘Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.’ Nuclear retaliation does not need to be ‘massive’ to ensure ‘unacceptable damage.’ ”

      Pakistan may also now want a massive nuclear retaliation potential. Only Pakistan’s will need to be proportionately more massive than India’s, roughly in the degree that India is bigger and more populous than Pakistan.

      There may be many other possible reasons for Pakistan’s evident desire to increase its stockpile. I offer only one hypothesis above. Another may be to counter India’s planned missile defense system. And there are, of course, several other possible reasons. And it may be any combination of these.

      As for British French and Chinese analyses, these nations were not locked in the US-USSR style nuclear arms race with any adversary.

      See also John Bragg’s comment below.

  3. John Bragg (History)

    Pakistan is following (apparently) a different approach than China and France, and after 1960 or so, Britain did.

    China contented themselves with around 20 warheads on missiles that could reach the US, 20 on missiles that could reach European Russia.

    I paraphrase De Gaulle saying “We have the ability to kill 80 million Russians. We do not need to be able to kill 800 million Russians.”

    Britain was widely rumored to employ the “Moscow criteria”–forces sufficient to penetrate the ABM system around Moscow and ensure the destruction of the capital.

    Pakistan is acting like they’re in an arms race with India. That puts their 5:1 population ratio on the front burner.

    If Pakistan is looking at Robert McNamara’s old studies, setting 25% of the population as a threshold, India has a lot more population, so Pakistan needs a lot more warheads.

  4. krepon (History)

    Shaheen (Why not Ghauri?):

    Peter Lavoy and Vipin Narain have reached the conclusion that Pakistan’s military leadership seeks nuclear capabilities commensurate with escalation dominance, rather than minimal deterrence. If they are right, this has significant consequences for deterrence stability and stockpile inventories on the subcontinent.

    See: Peter’s “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture: Its Premises and Implementation,” in Sokolski, ed., Pakistan’s Nuclear Future, and Vipin’s “Posturing for Peace?” in International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 09/10). Vipin labels this Pakistan’s “asymmetric escalation” posture.

  5. John Bragg (History)


    Google News’ first good hit on the battlefield nuclear weapons Pakistan recently introduced. Key statistic–60km range rockets. That means that India can’t push very far into Pakistan at all without forcing a small nuclear strike.

    • B K Nautiyal (History)

      Would military strategists of Pakistan rather take the route of a conventional warfare in case of a push by India or would they risk inviting a full fledged nuclear retaliation from India by provoking one by a 60 Km range nuclear weapon? Big or small a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon and using it in a first strike is an invitation for a retaliatory strike.

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