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India’s nuclear submarines

JANUARY 14, 2019, SPECIAL SERIES – SOUTHERN (DIS)COMFORT Editor’s Note: This is the 24th installment of “Southern (Dis)Comfort,” a series from War on the Rocks and the Stimson Center. The series seeks to unpack the dynamics of intensifying competition — military, economic, diplomatic — in Southern Asia, principally between China, India, Pakistan, and the United States. Catch up on the rest of the series.

After INS Arihant, India’s first ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), finished its maiden deterrent patrol in November 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphatically declared India’s nuclear triad complete. Arihant’s operationalization has catapulted India into a select group of states with an underwater nuclear launch capability. It has also raised alarm over the safety and security of India’s nuclear arsenal because a sea-based deterrent may entail a ready-to-use arsenal and less restrictive command and control procedures, increasing probability of their accidental use. For Pakistan, India’s nuclear force modernization endangers the balance of strategic forces in the region and could intensify the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent……….

Arihant’s operationalization is an opportunity for New Delhi to reflect upon its nuclear trajectory. With China and Pakistan as nuclear adversaries, India confronts a unique challenge. It has to build up its nuclear capability enough to ensure that Chinese decision-makers fear it, without sending Islamabad into panic and undermining regional stability. This “Goldilocks dilemma” will be difficult to resolve, and India should not leave it to chance — especially as the United States, once South Asia’s chief crisis manager, loses both interest and influence in the region. India should reassure Pakistan by reaffirming its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and a retaliation-only nuclear doctrine. More importantly, India should rethink its deterrence requirements vis-à-vis China.

Ultimately, the risk is that India will fail to achieve its aim of deterring China while unintentionally provoking its smaller rival……………..

To increase stability, India should publicly reaffirm its policy of no first use and adopt a retaliation-only nuclear posture, particularly since prominent voices in India’s strategic community have questioned these principles in the recent past. It should clarify that it has no intentions to use its nuclear forces in a preemptive mode. One Strategic Forces Command official told me that Arihant will only be used for countervalue strikes — that is, retaliatory strikes against Pakistani cities. Such declarations ought to be made at the highest levels of the Indian government. Arihant’s job — and, for that matter, the job of India’s entire nuclear arsenal — is to not create “fearlessness” in the Indian mind, as Modi’s office claimed. Rather, it is to ensure that India’s nuclear adversaries fear the consequences of their actions. A nuclear dialogue with Pakistan should therefore be reopened and shielded from the vagaries of domestic politics.

The nuclear competition between China, India, and Pakistan is a classic case of a triangular security dilemma. As India pursues deterrence stability vis-à-vis one adversary, it makes another adversary feel increasingly vulnerable……..

Yogesh Joshi is a Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University. He is the coauthor of India and Nuclear Asia: Forces, Doctrine and Dangers (Georgetown University Press, 2018).

January 15, 2019 - Posted by | India, weapons and war

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