Modi’s statement on INS Arihant is a marked departure from India’s past stance on nuclear weapons.
All the focus has been on the first deterrence patrol by INS Arihant, India’s nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made an interesting assertion that India’s nuclear weapons are a pillar of global peace and stability.
This is significant as it indicates that India, a reluctant nuclear power, was first forced to weaponise its nuclear capability because of the security threats it faced from its nuclear-powered neighbours; and now sees its nuclear weapons as an important element in global strategic stability.
Modi tweeted, “India’s nuclear triad will be an important pillar of global peace and stability.”
“Our nuclear programme must be seen with regard to India’s efforts to further world peace and stability.”
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India developed nuclear weapons to deter the use of such weapons against us. The draft nuclear doctrine released by the National Security Advisory Board in 1999 stated the objective of India’s nuclear weapons: “In the absence of global nuclear disarmament, India’s strategic interests require effective, credible nuclear deterrence and adequate retaliatory capability should deterrence fail.”
Drawing from India’s long-held stand on global disarmament, the draft states: “Global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is a national security objective. India shall continue its efforts to achieve the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world at an early date.”
While the final text of the nuclear doctrine has not been made public, the draft provides a broad framework on how India sees its nuclear weapons.
Seen in this light, Modi’s statement is a departure from India’s decades-old views on nuclear weapons. It reflects the Indian security establishment’s views on the reality of nuclear weapons and the elusive global disarmament, which India championed for decades.
It made sense for India to champion disarmament while it took time to evaluate its options to weaponise and even mask it. For all practical purposes, India has given up on the idea of nuclear disarmament.
Since its last nuclear tests in 1998, India has got de facto recognition as a nuclear weapons state outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has worked its way into major export control regimes and non-proliferation groups like the Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. Its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group has been blocked by its northern rival—China.
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In 2016, India abstained in the UN General Assembly First Committee resolution to launch negotiations on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons saying it is not convinced the move can lead to a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament and boycotted the negotiations subsequently along with other nuclear weapons states. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in July earlier last year. India did not sign it, nor did the other nuclear weapons states.
There is global strategic uncertainty amidst renewed great power competition. The US has singled out China and Russia as revisionists powers and resolved to maintain American primacy. The US is modernising its nuclear arsenal in a $1 trillion programme over the next 30 years.
President Putin of Russia has unveiled new nuclear missiles, which he said were invincible and that the West should not consider it a bluff. China too has been modernising its military. While its conventional forces are visibly building up, it is secretive about its nuclear forces, although it claims to have the smallest arsenal amongst the P5. China has built an arsenal of thousands of missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons and continues to build newer and more potent ones. President Xi Jinping has set a goal to be the most powerful country by 2050.
After withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, a move India supported, the US might pull out from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, accusing Russia of violating it and saying that China needed to be part of such a treaty.
There is growing threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. China continues to provide support to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Despite negotiations between the US and North Korea, the latter is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal raises the possibility of a sanctioned Iran restarting its own nuclear weapons programme.
The strategic instability across the world, and especially in the Indo-Pacific region, may lead more nations to seriously consider acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Indian security establishment sees it as an opportunity to play a larger role in regional and global security as its economic and military strength rises. It is in India’s economic and security interests to do so rather than it being just aspirational.
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In 2013, then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, “We have also sought to assume our responsibility for stability in the Indian Ocean Region. We are well positioned, therefore, to become a net provider of security in our immediate region and beyond.”
Narendra Modi’s assertion of India’s nuclear weapons for global peace and stability is in that regard a continuation of India steadily taking on greater security responsibility in the region and beyond. It’s in India’s security interests that more countries don’t acquire nuclear weapons. Stability in the region will reduce possibilities of proliferation. It will take another decade for India’s nuclear triad to be truly potent and be a source of that stability, as it intends. INS Arihant is the first steps towards that.
Yusuf T. Unjhawala is the editor of Defence Forum India and a commentator on defence and strategic affairs. He tweets @YusufDFI
In South Asia the very nuclear equation between Pakistan and India is historic. Both the states have shared a common history of rivalry and conflicts, which with the passage of time deepens and made both states to be quite aggressive in achieving the so called goal of “peace” in the region. As nuclear weapons for India are only the “peaceful explosives” India’s mountainous expenses on military complex and induction of new and sophisticated weaponry in its defense companies would in fact make the regional stability more fragile and would make the other regional actors to seek for alternatives in order to respond to India’s everyday military developments the same way and to maintain the regional stability.
No nuclear power is ever “ reluctant “, except about their actual use.
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