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The South Asian Nuclear Posture: A Vicious Nuclear Arms Race

Strategic Security Analysis - 2018


Marc Finaud and Gaurav Sharma (Alumni ITC 2011)

Release Date:

November 2018

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The year 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the last nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan. Since 1998, both nation states have pursued their nuclear ambitions via the use of new ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. Events in the last five years have put emphasis on nuclear weapons technology, research and development, as well as production and testing. This evolution has taken place in a context of deteriorating bilateral and regional relations: the tense situation across the line of control (LoC); China’s support for Pakistan’s missile programme; the one-month stand-off between Indian and Chinese military forces; India’s test of the Agni-V ICBM; Pakistan’s testing of the nuclear capable Ababeel missile with a multiple warhead (MIRV) payload; and India’s surgical strike response to attacks attributed to Pakistani terrorists. These developments underscore the growing nuclear complexity in South Asia, the increasing investments in nuclear capabilities, and a dangerous nuclear arms race in the region.

Key Points

  • The current evolution of military doctrines and technological choices by India, Pakistan and China in favour of the full triad of nuclear capacities contribute to lowering the threshold of an all-out nuclear war.
  • This is all the more worrying in a context characterised by protracted conflict, bilateral and regional tensions, as well as lack of communication, transparency and long-term strategic vision.
  • Due to the global and regional consequences of such a dangerous trend, this paper recommends urgent measures to prevent escalation or mitigate this threat.
  • These measures include more transparency in nuclear doctrines, more focus on non-use of nuclear weapons, greater mutual communication, and a long-term outlook.