In the Western World, we have woven a cultural motif for our feelings about nuclear weapons. Even Scientific American would go so far as to say, "We learned to fear the bomb".

Now some of this is rational. Many readers would have grown up in the Cold War, a time of Mutually Assured Destruction. To readers in the Western world this is normal and a cultural reality.

It surprised me then to watch this quote performed in a fictional work:

India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the half-century since they have gained their independence, with God knows how many skirmishes in between. It is about religion, and I can assure you, they do not share our fear of the bomb.

(The context is a brewing war between India and Pakistan in a fictional scenario.)

What surprised me was the assumption that the fear of the bomb is 'somewhat unique' to Western Culture. (I write as an Australian.)

My question is: What evidence is there to suggest that 'fear of the bomb' is culturally specific?

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    Well... India and Pakistan fought a war after both of them got nukes. This would suggest they were less afraid of nuclear war than Russia and America, whose relationship was at least as hostile, but who never dared to fight a direct confrontation. In Korea and Vietnam the Russians refused to deploy soldiers because the Americans already had. In Afghanistan the situation was reversed, and America didn't send soldiers to fight the Russian army. – Ne Mo Jan 2 '15 at 22:07
  • The Kargil war is the war between Pakistan and India that I was referring to. – Ne Mo Jan 2 '15 at 22:09
  • Thanks @NeMo - could you expand that into an answer? – hawkeye Jan 2 '15 at 22:29
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    Wouldn't 'fear of the bomb' also have to have existed within Russia & China for the MAD doctrine to work? If so, that would suggest that it's not limited to the "western" world. – Steve Bird Jan 2 '15 at 23:14
  • Agree @SteveBird - perhaps I could have phrased it better. I think you get my broader point that perhaps it is not 'universal'. – hawkeye Jan 2 '15 at 23:27

The cause of the Kargil war is deeply entrenched in politics, and a long history of conflict and competition between two countries. The full depth of the rivalry is well outside the scope of an answer here. But what must be categorically stated is that contrary to the claim above, religion has nothing to do with it.

Post-Kargil, a research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center (ISDPC) of RAND’s National Security Research Division (NSRD). NSRD conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments, and foundations. The purpose of the research was specifically to understand how India and Pakistan viewed the significance of the Kargil conflict, what lessons they drew from this conflict, and the implications of those lessons for future stability in South Asia. This was subsequently published as a book: Limited Conflicts Under the Nuclear Umbrella: Indian and Pakistani Lessons from the Kargil Crisis by Ashley J. Tellis, C. Christine Fair, Jamison Jo Medby.

Their report states:

The most important lesson Pakistan took from the crisis was that Kargil-like operations have high political costs, especially for Pakistan’s international reputation. That said, the Kargil fiasco does not appear to have extinguished Pakistan’s belief that violence, especially as represented by LIC, (low intensity conflict) remains the best policy for pressuring India on Kashmir and other outstanding disputes.

The most important lesson learned by India was that it must be prepared to counter a wide range of Pakistani threats that may be mounted by what is essentially a reckless but tenacious adversary. India must therefore develop the robust capabilities it needs to thwart surprise and to win even if surprised by Pakistan. Another lesson is that if India is obliged to respond forcefully in future episodes, covert rather than overt action may be preferable.

India and Pakistan have been designated as countries who not only have the ability, but also the intent to use the bomb. (I hope this is not true). But rhetoric and high drama apart, India has always considered the military regime in Pakistan as a dangerous element, with a definitive history of actively engaging beyond their borders, such as with their "Strategic Depth" doctrine.

India, on the other hand has been known to be a laggard and ambivalent in its Nuclear doctrine after Independence. While Nehru, the Prime Minister favoured a Non-Nuclear world, Bhabha, the man behind the nuclear technology in India, clearly preferred weaponization.

Indian politicians after independence in 1947 viewed the Indian army with suspicion as including the last supporters of the British Raj and did their best to isolate the military from policy and influence. This attitude was further reinforced by the views of two giants of the Indian nationalist movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi’s ardent belief in nonviolence left little room for accepting the role of the use of force in an independent India. It also shaped the views on military and defense of the first generation of post-independence political leaders in India. But more important has been the legacy of Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who laid the institutional foundations for civil-military relations in India. His obsession with economic development was only matched by his disdain and distrust of the military, resulting in the sidelining of defense planning in India.

Source: Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System by Harsh V. Pant

After India's Pokharan tests in 1974 many expected India to be a more assertive voice in the international scenario. But that did not happen. Nuclear policy too, lost its way amongst domestic problems.

The neglect of nuclear policy was reversed only in the mid-to-late 1980s when leading Indian strategists concluded that Pakistan was close to or already in possession of the bomb. They were correct. In addition to intelligence from their own sources, Indians had only to read the increasingly frantic public statements by American officials warning Islamabad it should not cross certain “red lines” as it moved toward a nuclear weapons program; Chinese assistance was also a widely known fact.

Source: Arming Without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization by Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta

On 11th May 1998, India simultaneously detonated three separate nuclear devices. One a thermonuclear device, one roughly a Hiroshima-sized fission device, and the third a miniaturized, sub-kiloton device. Two days later, India tested two more sub-kiloton devices. One reportedly used a reactor-grade, rather than the purer weapons-grade, mix of plutonium. Just 2 weeks later, on 28th May 1998, Pakistan also conducted nuclear explosive tests. Two days later, Pakistan tested another device. While the number of tests is not clear, and yields of both countries' tests are contested, but evidence showed that they were unquestionably nuclear devices.

Interestingly, the series of nuclear tests came only months before the Kargil war. And even more interestingly, India did not have a nuclear doctrine at the time. (In fact, one of the quick repercussions of the Kargil war was that India reacted immediately to draft a Nuclear policy.) On 17 August 1999 the government released a six-page preliminary draft nuclear doctrine prepared by a 27 member National Security Council advisory board. The draft outlined the broad principles for the deployment and employment of the nuclear force. Although the government would work out the policy and strategy details later, the draft indicated that the authority to release India’s nuclear weapons rests with the prime minister or his or her designated successors.

It was only after another set of saber-rattling between the two countries that the doctrine was officially accepted. In that sense perhaps every conflict has had an impact on formalizing the nuclear doctrine- at least in India.

India's Nuclear doctrine outlines:

• Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;
• A posture of NFU; (No First Use)
• Retaliatory attacks only to be authorized by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority;
• Nonuse of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states;
• India to retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack against India or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons;
• A continuance of controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the FMCT negotiations, observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests, and working toward the goal of universal nuclear disarmament.

It was perhaps under the umbrella of a nuclear deterrent that Pakistan sought to engage in the Kargil. On 12th April 1999, General Pervez Musharraf announced that while nuclear weapons had dramatically changed the nature of war, "this, however, does not mean that conventional war has become obsolete. In fact conventional war will still remain the mode of conflict in any future conflagration with our traditional enemy." (cited in Kargil Review Committee)

Pakistan's intrusion was, in retrospect, a miscalculation even by their own assessments. The geography of the region played an important part in their calculations, as did their own nuclear capability. If Pakistan could capture the Kargil area (stretching across 140 kilometres of mountain ranges) it could interdict the highway from the Valley to Ladakh and cut off India’s approach to both Ladakh and Siachen. In fact, they assessed that nuclear capability would provide the umbrella protection required to engage in a limited war and ultimately gain territory.

It is in this context that Pakistan launched “Operation Badr”, the invasion of Jammu and Kashmir through the Kargil sector...Most important, the Pakistani assessment was that the Indian Army would not be able to resist and push back Pakistani forces once the latter entrenched themselves at strategic heights on the Himalayan ranges in the vital Kargil sector. This assessment was based on repeated reports in the Indian media about our army being short of officers and equipment and its morale being low throughout the 1990s. There was also the confidence that if Indian military resistance became unmanageable, Pakistan could resort to using nuclear weapons which would bring in international intervention, and at the same time temper Indian inclinations to expand the war and threaten Pakistan’s general security as had happened in 1965 and 1971.

Source: India-Pakistan In War & Peace by J.N.Dixit

The Kargil sector of the Line of Control covering the Mushkoh valley, Dras, Kaksar, Chhainikund, Shingo Batalik and Chorbat La, because of the terrain, was not manned in detail and around the year. There were gaps between brigades providing security to the Siachen region and brigades responsible for security at Kargil and Gurez. India believed that the composition of the Buddhist-Shia population of the area would be a natural preventive against any extensive Pakistani military intrusion. However, India claimed that Pakistani forces came across the Line of Control all along the 140-kilometre stretch, penetrating into Indian territory to a depth of 10 to 12 kilometres between March and May 1999. When challenged by India, Pakistan argued that it had not crossed into Indian territory, that the Line of Control in this sector was not clearly demarcated or delineated.

In November 1998 Pakistani Northern Light Infantry Regiment soldiers infiltrated across the 11,483-foot-high mountain passes along the line of control to occupy high ridges in Batalik, Kaksar, Dras, and the Mushkoh valley. The intrusions would enable the Pakistanis to dominate and control the Srinagar to Leh Highway 1a. According to the Indian army, the Pakistani incursions into the Kargil sector were a desperate attempt to internationalize the Kashmir issue in the wake of the collapsing ISI-backed militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistanis completely surprised the Indian army. The Indians first detected the infiltrators on 14 May 1999, when the Pakistanis ambushed routine patrols, causing heavy casualties. In response the Indians sent in more patrols, only to face a similar fate. Only when reconnaissance flights over-flew the area on 21 May did the Indian army realize that the Pakistani-backed "intruders" were some 300–400 in number entrenched on 14,000–16,000 foot-high ridges. The chief of army staff, General Malik, on a trip to Czechoslovakia returned to India and flew to Kargil to receive an on-the-spot assessment. Conceding that it had suffered a major intelligence failure, the army began a massive troop buildup to eject the intruders, who it now assessed were Pakistani regulars.

Source: The State at War in South Asia by Pradeep P. Barua

Operation Vijay (victory) required a gradual troop buildup because of eography. Almost 25,000 additional troops had to be deployed. On 10th and 11th June the Desert Scorpions Paracommando Unit gained on Point 5203, a commanding position on the Yardol Ridge in the Batalik subsector. The seventy-five paracommandos took ten days to encircle the Pakistani bunkers on the peak and then seized it in a surprise assault on the night of 23rd June. There were Pakistani attempts to cut off the Siachen sector, but this was tharted by the Ladakh Scouts. Apparently there have been heavy casualties on the Indian side.

Thus, miscalculation and information failures were responsible for Pakistan wrongly assuming that the Indian leadership, cognizant of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, would decline to use overwhelming force and would also avoid a dramatic escalation or expansion of the conflict. . . . Pakistan’s overt nuclearization had . . . bolstered this sense of false optimism. Pakistan decision-makers had convinced themselves that their achievement of rough nuclear parity with India now enabled them to probe along the LoC with impunity.

Pakistan’s military incursion into Kargil did catch India by surprise. However, after the initial shock and setback, the Indian Army and Air Force battled Pakistan in a 73-day conflict. With a series of air strikes, India dislodged the intruders and managed to recapture key positions occupied by Pakistan. It was only by the end of July that the infiltrators withdrew and gave up their positions...

Source: Military Intervention and Secession In South Asia by Anne Noronha Dos Santos

The India-Pakistan war in Kargil lasted from 6 May to roughly the end of July 1999. It was the fifth large-scale conflict between the two countries. Pakistan planned to use four independent groups from four infantry battalions and two companies of the Special Service Group (SSG), which were already located in the FCNA (Force Command Northern Areas).

These were:
(1) 4 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Battalion, the FCNA reserve located in Gilgit.
(2) 6 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Battalion (ex 62 Infantry Brigade) located at Skardu.
(3) 5 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Battalion (ex 82 Infantry Brigade) located at Minimarg.
(4) 3 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) (ex 323 Infantry Brigade) located at Dansam.

The two companies of the SSG were to be allotted in smaller teams varying from 32 to 94 numbers among the four battalions. The groups were also allotted shoulder-fired Air Defence AD missiles of the Stinger variety. This coupled with 12.7mm AD machine guns integral to the NLI Battalions, gave them a modicum of air defence capability.

Some militants from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Afghan war veterans were also grouped with each battalion to give it the facade of a jehad. After the intrusion, 800 or more militants were brought to the Skardu area for further reinforcements.

Artillery Support:
Pakistani artillery numbering 20 batteries was to provide fire support to the intruding groups from the Pakistani side of the LoC. This ensured that each intrusion had the support of three to four batteries. Observation post officers from the Pakistani Army were also grouped along with line and radio communications.

Although nuclear weapons were not actually deployed in 1999, and although previous Indo-Pakistani crises had taken place under the shadow of emerging nuclear capabilities, the nuclear context of Kargil had three unprecedented effects on the strategic behavior of India, Pakistan, and outside parties, especially the United States. First, the achievement of mutual nuclear deterrence emboldened Pakistani military leaders to take assertive military action in Kashmir. Second, Indian elites believed that the nuclear revolution fundamentally changed Indo-Pakistani relations, and thus reacted in a slow and confused manner to the infiltration. As Pakistan’s military role became apparent, India responded with unexpected vigor, both militarily and rhetorically. Third, India’s forceful response fed into the worst fears of the Clinton administration about nuclear escalation and spurred President Clinton to become personally involved in effecting Pakistan’s withdrawal and preventing escalation to full-scale war.

Pakistan ultimately misread the impact of nuclear weapons on Indian and American behavior, mistakenly believing that India would not expend sizable resources to restore the status quo ante and that any international intervention would freeze the ground situation to Pakistan’s advantage.

Source: Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict Edited by Peter R. Lavoy

India's huge intelligence failure, as well as the new paradigm of war under a nuclear threat prompted change in its military doctrine. In line with the Limited Conflicts Under the Nuclear Umbrella report mentioned above, India in turn developed what is known as the "Cold Start" doctrine, although this has been denied by the defence establishment.

But the story hardly ends there.

The real test for these changing doctrinal assumptions came during the crisis that erupted between India and Pakistan after India’s parliament was attacked by terrorists in December 2001. It has been suggested by some that it was the failure of “Operation Parakram”—the 2002 army mobilization on the border—that forced the Indian political leadership to explicate the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) and provide an outline of the nuclear doctrine. A major factor in this failure was that India lacked the capacity, conventional and nuclear, to bend Pakistan to its will. The top political leadership failed to give the Indian armed forces any clear directives as to what objectives India wanted to achieve through the mobilization of its army. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan deterred India from undertaking a military offensive, even a limited one. In fact, the Pakistan army claimed that the Indian army’s “redeployment,” or withdrawal, was their “victory.”

Source: Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System by Harsh V. Pant

Pervez Musharraf made a speech to Pakistan Air Force officers in December 2002 asserting that it was Pakistan’s threat to use "unconventional tactics" that prevented India from launching a full-scale war against Pakistan in 2002. India, in retaliation and equivocal sabre rattling warned that a nuclear strike against India would be met with “massive retaliation.”

The story continues.

  • I'm posting this as OP requested expanding the comment to an answer. This might therefore not answer directly the question of bomb-fear being culture specific. – Rajib Jan 3 '15 at 16:24

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