Working Papers

The Influence of Arms: Explaining the Durability of India-Russia Alignment (with Frank O’Donnell, Tyler Sagerstrom, and Akriti Vasudeva) – April 2020

Despite India’s deepening alignment with the United States in defense of the rules based order, India professes a puzzlingly robust partnership with Russia, a country that US strategists regard as an adversary and revisionist threat to global order. While some accounts dismiss this as a gradually obsolescing Cold War legacy, this paper evaluates the drivers of the relationship and offers a materialist explanation for its endurance. India has not only maintained but invigorated its relationship with Russia primarily due to significant transfers of advanced military hardware, technical support, and unique opportunities for indigenous military technology. Analysts have generally under-appreciated the quantity of current and future Russian hardware in India’s materiel stock as well as the quality of Russian inputs into India’s strategic systems and technology base. This paper also identifies secondary drivers of the relationship to include overlapping interests and approaches to Asian geopolitics as well a shared foundational vision of a polycentric global order. We argue that these points of alignment—material, geopolitical, and even ideational—will likely sustain a robust India-Russia partnership for decades.

How Does this End? Conflict Escalation Scenarios and De-Escalation Pathways in South Asia (with Elizabeth Threlkeld) – November 2019

Heightened nuclear risks in South Asia—most recently demonstrated in February 2019 with the first cross-border air strikes exchange between nuclear powers—have revived the study of conflict dynamics on the subcontinent. However, this analytical renaissance has tended to focus on crises that prompt major strategic escalation dynamics, while discounting a range of limited war and crisis scenarios that may not meet the traditional “interstate war” definition. Implicit is the assumption that these scenarios are not escalatory and that certain forms of warfare can in fact remain “limited”. While one frequently cited route across the nuclear threshold envisions Pakistani tactical nuclear use in response to an all-out Indian ground offensive (a “Cold Start” operation), several other potential pathways likewise carry this risk. Alternative seemingly controllable conflict scenarios including Line of Control artillery duels, reciprocal air strikes, fait accompli operations, and naval blockades also carry significant risk of increased intensity, risking deliberate and inadvertent escalation and potentially consideration of nuclear use. This paper articulates these escalation pathways and then evaluates a range of de-escalation trajectories and their challenges during high-intensity conflict. A clear understanding of both the actors involved in third-party crisis management and previous such efforts can inform future practice. Based on these inputs and the outlined escalation scenarios, we identify a variety of information-, incentive-, and intervention-based mechanisms and deliverables available to crisis managers seeking to terminate conflict between India and Pakistan.

Afghanistan and Pakistan Stability Prospects in the Medium- and Long-Term (with Elizabeth Threlkeld) – June 2019