The Strategic Chain: Linking Pakistan, India, China, and the United States

©Brookings Institution

©Brookings Institution

Considerable policy analysis has been devoted to bilateral strategic relationships between Pakistan and India, India and China, and China and the United States. But the strategic dynamics among these four nuclear powers cannot be understood or effectively addressed on a strictly bilateral basis. While Pakistan responds strategically to India, India responds both to Pakistan and China, which in turn responds both to India and the United States.

A 15-month Brookings project focused on the “strategic chain” linking Pakistan, India, China, and the United States—a series of relationships that are resulting in some of the most active nuclear weapons, missile, and missile defense programs anywhere in the world today. The project’s main goal was to identify policies and measures that could promote stability and reduce incentives for arms build-ups between key pairs of protagonists, regionally, and globally, while also contributing to a better understanding of the various strategic interconnections among these four nuclear-armed states.

The project brought together a distinguished group of former senior diplomats and military officers and prominent non-governmental security experts from the four countries. In the course of three workshops, they shared their national strategic perspectives, discussed the strategic connections among the four states, and explored various approaches to reducing tensions and the likelihood of armed conflict. They prepared a report in which scholars from each country addresses his country’s security environment, threat perceptions, and defense doctrine and in which areas of convergence and divergence in the four countries’ strategic perspectives are identified.

A key section of the report contains proposals for strengthening stability that the group, by consensus, recommends as meriting consideration by their national governments. The recommendations are divided into those applicable on a quadripartite basis or more broadly and those applicable bilaterally.

  • Among the proposals applicable to the four powers is a recommendation that they pursue a dialogue on nuclear security and the sharing of best practices.
  • The U.S.-China measures included a recommendation to establish an institutionalized bilateral strategic stability dialogue to discuss the various components of strategic stability, including offensive nuclear forces, missile defenses, and space, cyber, and conventional prompt global strike capabilities.
  • The China-India measures included a proposal to pursue a dialogue or exercises on maritime security.
  • The India-Pakistan measures included a proposal to resume a comprehensive dialogue and institutionalize it so that it is insulated from bilateral tensions.

Download the full Brookings Institution report The Strategic Chain Linking Pakistan, India, China, and the United States

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Mar 02, 2017
Robert Einhorn, WPS Sidhu