India’s nuclear doctrine and its global aspirations | By Maliha Mughal


India’s nuclear doctrine and its global aspirations

SOUTH Asia is the world’s most volatile region, owing to the conflict of nuclear-armed states with disputed borders and global power rivalries.

India is one of the few countries that is proactively upgrading its nuclear arsenal. Following a nuclear test that appeared to be successful in 1974, subsequent Indian Government pursued a policy of uncertainty regarding the country’s nuclear status.

But in May 1998, India conducted several well-recorded nuclear tests, reaffirming its standing as a country with nuclear weapons.

India’s nuclear plans are motivated by regional concerns, primarily those from Pakistan but now increasingly from China.

In terms of its nuclear policy and military posture, India’s military leadership assumes that the country adheres to three main principles: Credible Minimum Deterrence, No First Use and Massive Retaliation.

It’s worth noting that none of the pillars still adhere to the former conceptions of the Indian security leadership or, more generally, to the idea of “minimal deterrence” that India had at the time.

India’s nuclear doctrine is nothing but just a draft that India changes whenever it wants to. It is so complex that ambiguity and gaps still exist in it.

Also, India’s nuclear doctrine of 1999 and 2003 are not coherent. India has claimed on several occasions that it still possesses a dependable second-strike capability that acts as a minimum deterrence for self-defence.

Despite formally stating that it adheres to credible minimum deterrence and a no-first-use policy, India has been moving away from the previous draught nuclear doctrines.

But at the same time, subsequent studies and official comments have weakened, disclaimed and called into doubt the NFU guarantee.

India’s strategic forces’ heightened readiness and development of MIR capabilities might make adhering to its NFU policy much more challenging and even lead India’s nuclear rivals to completely mistrust the NFU policy.

India is still modernizing its nuclear arsenal and operationalizing its developed triad. Potentially destabilizing advancements in India’s nuclear arsenal should concern all those who want to maintain regional tension below the peak, considering that Indian security forces have frequently engaged in combat with both Pakistani and Chinese soldiers during recent border conflicts.

The potential of a confrontation between India and Pakistan escalating is still quite high. India unexpectedly launched what seemed to be a ground-launched BrahMos cruise missile 124 kilometers into Pakistani territory in March 2022, destroying civilian property.

Then, according to Pakistani authorities, India failed to notify them via the high-ranking military hotline, and it took India two days to even make a public announcement about the mishap.

Even though the BrahMos is a standard weapon, the unusual occurrence and India’s inadequate response have major consequences for crisis stability between the two nations.

It’s plausible that the incident may have turned dangerous if the identical inadvertent launch had occurred during a period of greater tension.

India’s main deterrent connection is with Pakistan, but nuclear modernization shows that India is placing more importance on its relationship with China in the future.

China had emerged as India’s top security concern. Additionally, the ranges of almost all of India’s new Agni missiles indicate that China is their main objective.

The 2017 Doklam standoff, in which Chinese and Indian soldiers, were put on high alert due to disagreement near the Bhutanese border is likely to have strengthened this stance.

Indian hegemony in South Asia has been growing because India changed its defence and foreign policy stance in favour of the development of infrastructure and armaments.

India is Russia’s biggest armaments client. India utilized the ongoing situation between Russia and Ukraine to its farthest extreme.

India purchased a defensive missile system from Russia over US warnings. India wants to become a major economic and military force in the global arena.

Its policies reveal hegemonic intentions to dominate South Asia. Additionally, India takes a dim view of the rising influence of China and Pakistan in the region.

According to the authors of the book “India and Nuclear Asia: Forces, Doctrine and Dangers; and The China India Rivalry in the Globalization Era,” the United States has had a key role in shaping India’s nuclear strategy.

The South Asian area has become nuclearized because of discrimination, unfair mindsets and the world’s profit-driven approach.

However, this has also left the region susceptible since fanaticism and hegemonic inclinations in India would further contaminate the environment of the region, heightening the security problem between regional powers and posing a threat to regional security due to the presumed destruction associated with the deployment of nuclear weapons.

—The writer is currently working as Research Associate at Institute of Peace and Contemporary Affairs, Islamabad.