Modi Brags About Deflating Pakistan Nuclear Threat

A very strange campaign trail gambit from India's prime minister.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have been present since their mutual independence in 1947, often escalating to shooting wars or other violent conflicts. Since the two states gained nuclear weapons, scholars have debated whether this fact would deter conflict or lead to massive destruction.

This theory was once again tested with tit-for-tat military strikes last month. Prime Minister Modi has weighed in.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday that India had called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff in recent cross-border air strikes that almost triggered a new war between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made national security the focus of their campaign for a national election now being held.

The prime minister told an election rally that an air strike inside Pakistan in February had shown that warnings hostilities could escalate into nuclear conflict were false.

“Pakistan has threatened us with nuclear, nuclear, nuclear,” Modi told an election rally in Jammu and Kashmir near the border with Pakistan.
“Did we deflate their nuclear threat or not?” he asked the crowd that chanted “Modi, Modi, Modi” in response.

India says its fighter jets bombed a suspected militant installation in Pakistan on February 26 to avenge the killing of 40 paramilitaries by a suicide bomber in Indian Kashmir 12 days earlier.

Pakistan responded by sending its warplanes toward Indian airspace, leading to a dogfight and the downing of an Indian jet.

Military experts have long warned that a conventional armed conflict between the two countries could result in nuclear war and that this was holding them back from a serious showdown.

Pakistan has never made a public nuclear threat. But its Prime Minister Imran Khan did call on both sides to pull back from the brink in February because of the “weapons we have”.

Modi renewed his warning to Pakistan that “his new India” is capable of “eliminating terrorists in their homes”.

AFP/YahooNews, “Modi says India undermined Pakistan nuclear threat”

Given the history, one certainly understands the fears the Indian public would have of Pakistan-based terrorists feeling empowered by the nuclear umbrella. Modi’s wishing to ensure them that he is going to respond to attacks is understandable.

At the same time, it’s just nonsense to argue that, because this particular skirmish didn’t escalate to nuclear war, that Pakistan’s deterrent has somehow been overcome. Further, that would be a bad thing for all concerned, since it would lessen Pakistan’s sense of security and likely lead to more frequent and intense violence.

In this particular case, because the initial incident was relatively small, it would have taken some foolish statecraft, indeed, for the conflict to have escalated to a point where nuclear exchange was seriously on the table. Presumably, Pakistan understood that a proportionate response from India was politically necessary and India understood that Pakistan had to also make a show of force to save face.

I have no idea what back-channel discussions, if any, took place between the antagonists. One certainly hopes, however, that they have routine discussions and that the degree of escalation likely to take place—and where it would stop—was understood from the outset.

FILED UNDER: Asia, National Security, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Not the IT Dept. says:

    This is Modi’s “Mission Accomplished” moment. Was he wearing a flight suit?