WHEN Pakistan first proposed the ' Strategic Restraint Regime' to India following the nuclear blasts by both nations, it was an incipient effort to stabilise deterrence between the two. It was aimed at eliminating the possibility of an offensive option by one against the other. If accrued successfully it would have meant a virtual no-war pact. A 'perfect' deterrence must eliminate war. In the event, the option was not taken by India, which had other considerations.
Clearly this was not the first time that the two neighbours were toying with the idea of a no-war pact. The effort had started early in 1949 after the two had gone into their first war over Kashmir, at the conclusion of which a no-war declaration was first mentioned by India. Interestingly, the proposal was alive and kicking with both sides sharing demarches and responses on the issue till as late as 1985 when a Rajiv Gandhi-Ziaul Haq summit in New Delhi tried to give it one more push.
Somewhere along the way, it watered down to a non-aggression treaty built on the principles of non-alignment (Indian position) and the 'resort to arbitration of all points of difference' (Pakistani position in 1951), later amended to bilateral mechanism as included in the Simla Agreement of 1972. But it never got concluded. A G Noorani has chronicled the various stages of the process well in his February 27, 2016 piece in 'Dawn'. Along the way, Pakistan and India fought the 1965 and 1971 wars, as well as suffered Indian aggression in Siachen in 1984.
If the Zia-Rajiv huddle of 1985 had indeed pulled off this agreement, South Asia would have been a different world. As a consequence, South Asia continues to struggle with managing a nuclear regime between two neighbours who tag each other as the ' enemy' and continue to harbour ' use of force' as a viable medium of resolving conflicts. In such a state of impending doom, the world has urged restraint and disavowal by both of their destabilising elements of the arsenal - tactical nukes for Pakistan and India's growing delivery options, especially its nuclear submarines - and a concerted commitment to a Ballistic Missile Defence. All surely escalatory manifestations of the stability-instability paradigm - while they sit atop a tinderbox.
There is something to learn from the US and the USSR experience in managing to avoid a nuclear war and reduce arsenal sizes to minimise the possibility of an Armageddon. Set into a two-block global formulation that emerged after WW II, both the US and the USSR chose to temper things down through a change of policy seeking detente. Meant to 'unfreeze' relations, the foreign policy objective sought accommodation and conciliation under a rubric of engagement meant to mitigate hostility between the two cold-war protagonists.
In 1969, presidents Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev began a series of consultations that eventuated into a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, SALT I and II, which paved the way for a serialised reduction of destructive means both in delivery vehicles and in nuclear warheads.
Alongside came what would stabilise deterrence when the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was concluded. Both offensive and defensive measures were put to a control to sustain deterrence considered essential to maintain status quo and a forced peace between the two most destructive military powers in human history. The INF treaty of 1989 also forged the path to eliminating what was considered superficial to the larger issue of deterrence. The intermediate range weapons thus in the NatoWarsaw Pact context (range: 500-5000km) were thus exorcised from the two inventories in 1989 between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. Europe, especially, became less dangerous.
The journey thus has continued. SALT was followed by START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), three of which have been finalised. The arsenals that numbered 50,000 nuclear weapons at one time are now headed to be reduced to only 4,000 each. In this game of mutually assured destruction, nay complete annihilation, the gains are only relative and incremental.
Lest we gloss it over, Mikhail Gorbachev gave further meaning to the detente by two explicit political corrections in policy through 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' - 'openness' and 'restructuring'. Gorbachev's political initiative ushered the breakdown of the 'Iron Curtain'; the Berlin Wall came down; East Europe, long under Soviet control, gained freedom; while the Soviet Union's Near Abroad in Asia, the 'stan' states found their independence from Soviet hold. USSR had to withdraw from its long war in Afghanistan, and the Soviets' virtual empire crumbled.
Perhaps the most seismic political event to change global politics in the 20th century was the eventual meltdown of the Soviet Union. Alongside such political reformation, and the detente of the 70s, came initiatives such as ' arms limitation' and 'arms reduction' treaties.