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Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia – Book Review

Brokering Peace
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Huma Rehman |

South Asia’s security environment has always been risky due to the volatile bilateral dynamics of India-Pakistan. The additional factor of nuclearization of both countries made it even more complex in world and regional politics. ‘Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia,’ is a new and qualitative addition in the literature of South Asia’s security studies, written by Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President of the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace and published by Stanford University Press –California, U.S. in May 2018.

Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments is a timely contribution to the security discourse on the evolving strategic landscape of South Asia. The striking factor of this book is that it maintains a remarkable balance between crises and weak links of peace between nuclear-capable states. Additionally, the introduction of the role and necessity of the third party gives more substance to its methodology towards crisis and peace. The assessments tilt toward nuclear pessimists who believe that nuclear weapons states, other than western leaders, pose a danger of breaking the nuclear taboo.

Author sets a tone of generalizing the application of brokered bargaining to other regional nuclear crisis-prone regions, with perpetual concerns and realistic possibilities of nuclear issue driven crisis, such as the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.

The book is neatly divided into three parts which provide a clear path of understanding for the reader; the entailing factors, the positioning of stakeholders and the mediator. The first part introduces the conceptual and theoretical contours of nuclear crises and the behaviour of states in such situations. It also connects the dots of brokered bargaining, propositions that fortify theory and practice, and elucidates on the framework applied to the world’s declared dangerous case studies in the post-cold war scenario.

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The book offers an analytical perspective on patterns of South Asian crisis management when regional nuclear adversaries, India and Pakistan, engage in a complex deterrence relationship along with the involvement of the United States. The concept revolves around brokered bargaining in the trilateral framework by refereeing; using the third party’s coercive leverage to signal to conflicting parties as a ‘straddle strategy’ during crises. Dr. Moeed Yusuf presents various aspects of crisis behaviour including the credibility of commitment and centrality of brinkmanship as an agent of change.

He refers to bilateral engagement relationship of crisis and peace process with terms ‘dual and pivotal deterrence’ along with the collective actor model to de-escalate the situations. Therefore, brokered bargaining is explained as being as much a model of process as it is that of the result. The other prominent point author highlighted in this seminal research is a theory of strategic signalling of how actions, reactions, and the role states play in a complex matrix in a crises and bargaining situation.

Additionally, the introduction of the role and necessity of the third party gives more substance to its methodology towards crisis and peace. The assessments tilt toward nuclear pessimists who believe that nuclear weapons states, other than western leaders, pose a danger of breaking the nuclear taboo.

It draws connections of critical elements of risk of misperceptions due to the inherent challenges in modes of communication for simultaneous signalling to multiple audiences. The book applies a comprehensive approach of brokering and fragile bargaining to the three major crises between India and Pakistan. The Kargil conflict in 1999 was a flashpoint for the world after the Cold War scenario, as it was right after overt nuclearization of South Asia. It tested the multiple strategic imperatives at bilateral, third parties role and international reactions.

Similarly, the 2001- 2002 military stand-off was another quagmire for stability in South Asia’s security dynamics. Nonetheless, from bargaining to re-engagement, the Mumbai crisis in 2008 synthesized as a trigger of further issues of mistrust between India-Pakistan bilateral relations at all levels. The United States as an influential intervener and vital role player in each episode is analyzed by the author with minute details of third-party’s interactions, concerns about escalation and using tactics of support and punishment with the neighboring nuclear rivals to de-escalate crises.

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Both India and Pakistan willingly engaged the United States and wavered between chances of the risk of war and conceding to US pressures and offers to acquire support for their crisis management goals. The process presented by the author underlined the highs and lows in crises behavior by identifying factors, choices, and priorities adopted by the three actors. Dr. Yusuf’s extensive work is a remarkable contribution to South Asian security studies at multiple levels of analysis in strategic, political, and diplomatic areas.

The book provides a competent guideline for addressing nuclear crises between adversarial neighboring states. One, it makes a lucid attempt to develop and propose a framework for theory and patterns of practice during nuclear crisis involving third-party mediation. Two, the application of a systemic method to the three major crisis case studies of India-Pakistan, give various analytical parameters to scholars and practitioners of security studies, giving a model of assessment to put in perspective the crisis situation, by segregating variables and agents of change in tense bilateral affairs.

Moeed Yusuf’s deliberations on the subject are a great addition in this time of rapidly evolving international and political order. It provides a lens to appraise the U.S. role and involvement in future crises in South Asia.

The assessment of third party interference and its implications on the actors and situation is another innovative feature this book has added to the literature of conflict transformation and management. Third, it gives an overview of the learning curves of nuclear South Asia over a decade. The research work of this book is based on qualitative and quantitative measures which are clearly visible in factual and perceptual analysis drawn by the author.

The language of the book is simple and it is easy to absorb the important nuclear crisis events of South Asia, that fit into the contours of the trilateral framework. The author argues for “brokered bargaining” by discussing a narrative of two-actor bias in Cold War models, convergence effect of the twin conditions of regional nuclear crisis and unipolarity on the crisis stances of the unipole. It has also contributed to the realization of expectations of third-party involvement driven largely by the Cold War experience of alliance politics.

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Dr. Yusuf’s effort merits great appreciation for his conscious attempt to broaden the spectrum of understanding about nuclear crisis circumstances, where global power behavior is driven by its strategic interests. The book queries the drivers of the American role in regional crises between India and Pakistan and the resulting crisis choices made by Washington in order to address the erupted situations.

The book summarizes the role of the United States as a third party with some verifiable propositions derived from the chosen three case studies, in which Moeed Yusuf states that ‘the unipole, the United States will tend to see a direct interest in preventing escalation of regional crises to the nuclear level.’ Secondly, ‘United States is likely to maintain a low-risk threshold in choosing to intervene in regional crises. It can be expected to enter the fray, even unsolicited, as soon it recognizes the presence of a crisis with escalatory potential.’

Both India and Pakistan willingly engaged the United States and wavered between chances of the risk of war and conceding to US pressures and offers to acquire support for their crisis management goals.

Thirdly, in bigger picture larger foreign policy interest and equities of the United States vis-à-vis the regional rivals that do not complement the goal of swift-crisis de-escalation will likely be overridden by the immediate need during the crisis period.’ There is a reliance on the power of mediation to ensure de-escalation of crisis when it happens instead of opting for coercive strategies beforehand.

The book prudently covered all possible factors involved in crisis and management of crisis such as domestic, political, economic, and security factors. During the explanation of the state’s behaviour, India’s compellence dilemma, moral hazard problem, multiple audience problems, and suboptimal communication protocols are discussed as instability inducing aspects of brokering peace. Moeed Yusuf’s deliberations on the subject are a great addition in this time of rapidly evolving international and political order. It provides a lens to appraise the U.S. role and involvement in future crises in South Asia.

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The only point about which author seems not vocal is the growing U.S.-India cooperation. In any future crises in South Asia, as India-U.S. relationship deepens, will Pakistan see the U.S. as a reliable crisis manager? Moreover, will the United States be willing to play the role it played in 2001-02 and Mumbai 2008 crisis?

The book is overall a valued contribution to the existing discourse of South Asian security dynamics beyond the classical deterrence model. Author sets a tone of generalizing the application of brokered bargaining to other regional nuclear crisis-prone regions, with perpetual concerns and realistic possibilities of nuclear issue driven crisis, such as the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.

Huma Rehman is Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad and is former fellow of Middlebury Institute of International Studies, MIIS, California, U.S. 


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1 COMMENT

  1. Howcome a state with having number of nuclear weapons and thats too the very initiator of arms buildup in the world an brokered a peace treaty or can at as an agent between India and Pakistan. Pakistan and India the two nuclear powers hold differences on regional and strategic levels and that can only be addressed with their consents. The very Indo-US nuclear and military cooperation is a way much destabilizing factors in the region and in between India and Pakistan. US discriminatory attitude towards South Asian politics is actually making the region more prone to regional instability and crises.

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