Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2012

Understanding the Arms "Race" in South Asia

Toby Dalton, Jaclyn Tandler

September 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The apparently rapid pace of nuclear developments in India and Pakistan has led many analysts to warn of an impending arms race between the two countries. India and Pakistan are indeed entangled in a long-standing security competition. However, they are not two closely matched opponents engaged in a competitive tit-for-tat cycle of nuclear weapons development in which one state makes advancements to its nuclear capability and the other reacts in kind. An analysis of aggregated missile test data since 1998 reveals that the armament dynamic is far more complex. The Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs are largely decoupled. The data show little correlation between the adversaries’ testing behavior contrary to what would be expected in a classic arms race. In fact, the types and ranges of missiles under development provide concrete evidence of the divergence in their nuclear objectives and security strategies.