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International Politics

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 70–86 | Cite as

The nationalist interpretation of nuclear deterrence: evidence from the Kargil War

  • Akisato SuzukiEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Why did Pakistan initiate the Kargil War with India, so soon after the two states reached overt nuclear status? Existing theories attribute war between nuclear states either to the strategic opportunities of limited conflict or to a closing opportunity of preventive war to destroy the nuclear capabilities of nuclearizing states. However, strategic opportunities explain the possibility of, but not the motivation for, war; after all, the nuclearization of India began long before the war. To develop a better explanation, I propose an original theory of how the theoretical mechanisms of nuclear deterrence can be altered by nationalist conflict. The Indo-Pakistani nationalist conflict not only motivated Pakistan to initiate the war because of its perception of a threat, but also caused both states to overestimate their own deterrence credibility and underestimate the other’s capability and resolve to conduct war. These nationalist motivations and estimations enabled the war between the two nuclear states. The article suggests that nuclear weapons may have different effects on different types of conflict.

Keywords

Nuclear weapons Deterrence Nationalism Kargil India Pakistan 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This article originates from my doctoral thesis. I would like to thank the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University for its institutional support, which included a doctoral scholarship. I would also like to thank the Max Weber Programme at the European University Institute and the Canon Foundation in Europe, for my Max Weber Fellowship, during which the final version of the article was completed. I am grateful to Ken McDonagh, Alex Baturo, John Doyle, Robert Elgie, Michael Horowitz, Cornelia Baciu, and Alyson Price for their helpful comments.

Author contribution

Akisato Suzuki is a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute. He is also affiliated as a Research Fellow with the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City University. He obtained his PhD from Dublin City University in 2015. His publications have appeared in the Journal of Development Studies, Research and Politics, Cooperation and Conflict, European Political Science, and Federal Governance.

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political and Social SciencesEuropean University InstituteSan Domenico di FiesoleItaly
  2. 2.Institute for International Conflict Resolution and ReconstructionDublin City UniversityDublin 9Ireland

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