India's Evolving Nuclear Force and Its Implications For U.S. Strategy In the Asia-Pacific

India's Evolving Nuclear Force and Its Implications For U.S. Strategy In the Asia-Pacific
India's Evolving Nuclear Force and Its Implications For U.S. Strategy In the Asia-Pacific
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Since India declared itself a nuclear weapon state in May 1998, its nuclear capabilities have grown significantly. India is now on the verge of acquiring a triad of nuclear delivery systems. Its increasing nuclear profile has also stirred a debate on its stated nuclear doctrine involving principles of No First Use (NFU) and massive retaliation. This Letort Paper examines changes in India’s nuclear trajectory, the accompanying doctrinal debate, and its nonproliferation policies in the backdrop of the current regional and international context. The implications of this for the United States and its policy in the Asia-Pacific region are also discussed.

India’s nuclear arsenal development is generating new technical options for its nuclear strategy. India is developing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-range Agni-V and Agni-VI ballistic missiles, and is claiming that these will be able to host multiple nuclear warheads. It is also building a new generation of short-range and potentially nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and fielding an indigenous naval nuclear force. However, as these advancements interact with those of India’s strategic rivals, China and Pakistan, they threaten to blur nuclear thresholds and elevate the risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation due to misperception.

Despite these shifts, India’s official public nuclear doctrine has not been updated since 2003, and as such, does not assess the potential implications of its emerging technical options, nor the changing strategic environment for India’s nuclear policy. While there is growing debate within India on the wisdom of continued adherence to the two main tenets of the Indian nuclear doctrine—No First Use (NFU) and massive retaliation—the official doctrine remains unrevised. This builds further ambiguity and risk regarding misperception of nuclear intentions and capabilities into the regional security context.

Alongside its nuclear force and nuclear doctrine policies, Indian nonproliferation policy is a third component of its overall nuclear approach. Indian nonproliferation policy is probably in greater convergence with that of the United States today than at any point in recent history. As the authors argue, India is likely to remain a constructive force in international nonproliferation policy so long as it is not expected to terminate all relations with a state at the center of a proliferation dispute (i.e., Iran) for the sole purpose of resolving that issue.

These developments all have growing relevance for U.S. interests in the region. Washington and New Delhi are building an increasingly wide-ranging defense relationship, directed against rising Chinese regional aggression. However, this Letort Paper recommends that this relationship not preclude Washington from developing an awareness of the evolving nuclear regional security conditions, discussed previously, and how it may become involved, even if only diplomatically, in a future regional conflict featuring some of these dynamics.



American citizens and students interested in the developments of India’s nuclear force posturing and strategic perceptions may find this book useful.  Military and political science, international relations, and foreign diplomacy students and professionals may find this Letort paper, which provides background information about India’s nuclear and warfare capabilities, a valuable research source for thesis and term papers.  Governmental and military members engaged with world nuclear powers and nuclear regulations, and members of the general public interested in how different countries are developing nuclear programs (and how this affects other parts of the world), will find this an engaging read.


THE DIPLOMAT FLASHPOINTS  Article: The Growing India-Pakistan-China Nuclear Rivalry: A U.S. Army War College report outlines India’s changing nuclear strategy in the face of geopolitical rivalries   by Francis P. Sempa   July 8, 2016

“The authors focus on the evolution of India’s nuclear force structure and strategic doctrine in the face of recent nuclear developments in Pakistan and China, and the implications of these developments for regional security. Since 1998, India has adhered to a nuclear doctrine called Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) that emphasizes no first use of nuclear weapons and massive or assured retaliation to deter potential nuclear opponents. But recent trends and planned weapon systems in India’s nuclear force structure are leaning in the direction of a war fighting capability and a rethinking of its strategic doctrine.”

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Defense Dept., Army, U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute
  • Joshi, Yogosh
Key Phrases:
  • Letort Papers
  • India
  • United States Strategy in the Asia Pacific
  • Nuclear Forces
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