Rajagopalan on Yusuf, 'Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia'

Moeed Yusuf
Swarna Rajagopalan

Moeed Yusuf. Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018. 320 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5036-0485-8.

Reviewed by Swarna Rajagopalan (Independent Scholar) Published on H-Diplo (November, 2018) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=52603

Moeed Yusuf’s book, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments, is remarkable for two reasons. First, inheriting an academic discourse on international conflict that is accustomed to thinking in dyads, it reminds us that the real world is less simple, and brings into focus tripartite engagement, with additional actors having speaking parts. Second, it reconstructs three recent crisis events in quiet detail. This distillation, based in part on an impressive list of interviews, is useful especially to those interested in studying India-Pakistan relations with specific focus on nuclear policy and advocacy.

The central point that Yusuf makes is that in a unipolar world, when a nuclear crisis is imminent, it is not just the dyad in conflict that manages the crisis but also whichever third party has the global interests and capacity to be engaged. The two parties might separately approach the third party or the third party might intervene diplomatically, but Yusuf demonstrates through his deft story-telling that all three are part of the moment. So much so, he introduces the idea of “brokered bargaining” whereby even as the two countries (here, India and Pakistan) are addressing each other during the crisis, they are also speaking to the third party (here, the United States) and other countries. Reputational concerns matter in the escalation (where a state cannot afford not to respond in a certain way) and de-escalation (where a state does not want to erode its moral high ground). He calls this the “resolve-prudence” trade-off. In three crises discussed in the book, the third party is shown to play a part in de-escalation, while balancing its closeness to each of the two conflict parties. The author points out, however, that third-party intervention may, through misread signals for instance, inadvertently reinforce escalation, and it is important to note that while much of the book describes successful de-escalation, the author does not assume that will always happen.

Yusuf sets up and explicates ten propositions about brokered bargaining, relating to factors shaping the third party’s crisis behavior, factors shaping the regional rivals’ crisis behavior, and implications for crisis stability and outcomes. He then narrates the three crisis case studies—the Kargil Crisis, the 2001-02 military standoff, and the 26/11 Mumbai Crisis, before returning to a discussion of the propositions where he weaves in details from the three cases, and then explores the relevance of his argument for other regional conflicts around the world.

The case studies truly warrant attention. All three of them are recent and this is probably one of the first books by an academic that reconstructs what happened during and after the 26/11 Mumbai Crisis. Yusuf does not mince words, yet manages to write about each of them dispassionately and analytically. He does so in spite of not using long-archived materials but official statements, media reports and analyses, and interviews for his research, given that there has not been enough time to declassify documents. Each reconstruction would therefore be a useful, stand-alone case study reading for a class on South Asian international relations. Indeed, the book would be a useful addition to the recommended reading list for any graduate class on international security and South Asian politics, and should be required for nuclear diplomacy studies.

Given the consequences of nuclear conflict, it is tempting and comforting to think of a world in which third parties can be relied upon to try and de-escalate conflict. This book by and large imagines that third party to be a benign, value-bound, and rational United States. It is impossible to read this and not wonder about the historical possibility that that is not the case. What if it is not the US that is the sole superpower remaining but another state? It remains to be seen, perhaps in a follow-up study by the author or someone else, whether “brokered bargaining” would stand up were Russia, China, or Germany to occupy that position. The assumptions that the sole power would be benign, value-bound, and rational may also be tested by changing US leadership. The dyad would effectively then be on their own or at greater risk through third-party engagement.

The book's discussion of the wider relevance of its theoretical argument includes the possibility of nuclear conflict in the Korean peninsula. Events have left the author’s analysis behind (which cannot be helped and is sometimes a good thing for the world anyway!). But the changing context in Korea offers an opportunity to reexamine the ten propositions on brokered bargaining posited by this book. What was the impact, if any, of US president Donald Trump’s various statements on North Korea? What was the impact of Chinese sanctions? What if there are not three, but four, state actors with converging or diverging interests in a crisis? It would be fascinating to read a follow-up work by the same author that reconstructed this dramatic change in Northeast Asia, through the lens of “brokered bargaining.”



Citation: Swarna Rajagopalan. Review of Yusuf, Moeed, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. November, 2018. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52603

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