China, Pakistan Nuclear Posture: Need for a Comprehensive Review of India’s Nuclear Doctrine


China, Pakistan Nuclear Posture: Need for a Comprehensive Review of India’s Nuclear Doctrine

Nuclear factors have returned to the top of the agenda in the competitive calculus among major powers as well as in key regional theatres like Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The Ukraine war and Russian sabre rattling on use of nuclear weapons, are compelling the West to rethink the deterrence dynamic.  China’s assertiveness and the fear of American isolationism under a potential second term for Donald Trump  are nudging Beijing’s Asian neighbours to reconsider their atomic abstinence. For now, Japan and South Korea are negotiating steps to strengthen the American nuclear umbrella; but if Trump wins in November, the debate on national nuclear arsenals is likely to become more serious in North East Asia.


Pakistan’s nuclear weapons presents a serious challenge

In this context, writes C Raja Mohan  (contributing editor on international affairs for The Indian Express and visiting professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore). “the debate on Pakistan and nuclear weapons in the Indian elections might have generated much heat but it has shed little light on Delhi’s emerging nuclear challenges……

"The current Indian political argument over ‘who is afraid of Pakistan’s atomic weapons’ appears self-indulgent amidst sweeping changes in global nuclear politics and emerging challenges to the traditional ideas of nuclear deterrence.”

The question of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their impact on India’s security, argues Mohan  “is a serious one….During the last decade, the Modi government sought to limit Pakistan’s atomic impunity and expand India’s options to enhance deterrence. To be sure, there has been some success, but few would claim that the problem of deterring Pakistan’s terrorism has been fixed for good.

“Equally unwise is the temptation to dismiss Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. As Pakistan’s comprehensive national power declines in relation to India’s, Delhi must expect that Rawalpindi will double down on its nuclear weapon programme as the final insurance against the much-feared ‘Indian hegemony’ in the region. Delhi’s current rhetoric on taking back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir might well reinforce Rawalpindi’s determination to strengthen its nuclear arsenal.”

Presently, Pakistan has the edge: Rawalpindi “has long had a focused nuclear weapons programme and a definite edge over India in terms of the size and sophistication of its arsenal. Pakistan’s continuing strategic partnership with China suggests room for sustaining that edge against India.”


The China threat also real

It has become commonplace, states Mohan  “to hear in Delhi that India is no longer bothered about Pakistan and is concentrating its energies on China. While Pakistan’s nuclear challenge continues to simmer, China’s atomic challenge continues to mount. After decades of keeping its nuclear arsenal to a modest size, Beijing is now in the middle of expanding it. According to some Western estimates, China is on track to have an arsenal of 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030 and 1,500 by 2035……

“If China remains India’s principal security challenge, building deterrent capability against Beijing’s expanding nuclear arsenal should be a national priority. This would involve a more purposeful programme to build nuclear and missile capabilities and not just ‘technology demonstrators’ and ‘symbolic capabilities’ that have dominated India’s deterrence…..”


Need for a comprehensive review

Therefore, “the next government in Delhi must order a comprehensive review of the changing global nuclear dynamic and regional atomic challenges, and find ways to modernise India’s atomic arsenal and doctrine. The review must also explore ways to accelerate India’s civilian nuclear energy programme. Although India was the first Asian country to build an atomic power plant back in 1969, it has fallen way behind China and South Korea. To catch up, India will need an overhaul of the legal and institutional frameworks governing India’s atomic energy development.”

All Neighbours Article