Indo-Pak DFNU Scenario in Asymmetric Scenarios

There has been some recent research on 'Deliberate First Nuclear Use' in a scenario with conventional warfare.  With the Ukraine war in progress, speculation about Russia's first use of nuclear weapons has provoked a sudden interest in gaming scenarios.

Here is the article:

The overview on game theory and parameters is worth reading.  Reproduced below is the section on India-Pakistan which can be appreciated fully by reading the preliminary theoretical discussions:


Dyads with less extreme asymmetries on the two levels are also influenced by these deliberate employment pressures. The India–Pakistan dyad has traditionally been characterized by numerical nuclear parity and conventional imbalance (Narang 2010; Tasleem 2018).

India is believed to hold two to three times the conventional military power compared with Pakistan (Kapur 2009). This significant advantage in manpower and materials would probably be decisive in a conventional confrontation. Thus, Pakistan is facing a conventional superior and nuclear-armed adversary, which, according to Narang (2014, 91), poses “an existential land threat to the state, particularly since the ‘core’ of Pakistan, Punjab, is extremely vulnerable to Indian land conventional power.” Therefore, Pakistan has developed a force structure and command-and-control architecture appropriate for AE (Narang 2014, 83–90); in addition, its nuclear strategy threatens with the early use of nuclear strikes in a tactical environment, countering or stalemating a conventional war with India (Bernstein 2014, 107–8; Narang 2014, 78). Moreover, Pakistan has made it explicitly clear that its nuclear doctrine is to employ nuclear weapons first to confront Indian conventional aggression (Jacob 2018, 205–6; Narang 2010, 58; 2014, 79).

On the nuclear level, experts estimate that India possesses 150 nuclear warheads (Kristensen and Korda 2020) and Pakistan 165 nuclear warheads (Kristensen and Korda 2021d). The conventional wisdom has been that India retains a no-first-use (NFU) policy and a centralized nuclear force that is meant for retaliation (Narang 2014, 94–120). However, Clary and Narang (2019, 7–8) argue that India is gradually carving out its NFU pledge by making statements about preemption while acquiring the capabilities appropriate for a counterforce option against Pakistan, including more accurate and responsive delivery systems, surveillance platforms, and ballistic missile defenses. According to the authors, this potentially provides “India with a limited ability to disarm Pakistan of strategic nuclear weapons.“25

This implies that India is moving in a more hawkish direction and that we are entering a period characterized by some degree of double asymmetry. If we assume that Pakistan perceives a conventional defeat as existential, PBE 1.1 shows that Pakistan can still behave aggressively in a crisis but only if the probability that India is a hawk is lower than its valuation for backing down from that crisis. This leads to the intuitive conclusion that India’s ability to deter the initial escalation increases with the probability of it being a hawk. Hence, it is also noteworthy that Indian escalation seems to be more deliberate in recent crises compared with its crisis management approach in previous crises (Pegahi 2019, 154). Moreover, some analysts have argued that India’s new escalator willingness and nuclear signaling in the 2019 and 2016 crises “reflect India’s sustained shift toward a preemptive counterforce posture” (Mansoor Ashraf 2019).

This also suggests that Pakistan will only deepen a crisis in which it has relatively high stakes because there is still a possibility that India will submit. What forces Pakistan to be more restrictive is the risk of receiving a nuclear counterforce strike in return. This illustrates India’s motivation to acquire a counterforce option; they hope to get out of the paralysis caused by Pakistan’s convincing AE posture. As illustrated by PBE 1.4 and 1.5, Pakistan has previously felt bolstered to act aggressively in crises by carrying out subconventional or terrorist attacks against India and seeking long-standing revisionist aims without fearing retaliation (Narang 2010, 64). In isolation, a more hawkish India might imply fewer severe crisis in the South Asian theater. However, as demonstrated in PBE 1.1, this also introduces an escalation pathway in which India is the nuclear initiator.