Global security architecture has witnessed multiple regional and sub-regional transformations in the last two decades. Countries worldwide have reoriented their military and strategic postures by incorporating the latest weapon systems and technological advancements. These developments encompass both traditional, non-traditional and strategic security elements. In this regard, South Asia has remained one of the most militarily activated regions, with its spillover effects spanning adjacent regions. South Asia hosts two-nuclear armed belligerents with antagonist history and a third nuclear-armed country that has evolved as a stakeholder in the region. Pakistan and India have long-standing territorial disputes where Kashmir is one of the most crucial nuclear flashpoints. Over the years, Indian aggression toward China has opened another confrontational front attached to a nuclear overhang. These developments combined have snowballed to account for more significant imbalances in the existing balance of power structures. Moreover, with the new alliance structures, considerable changes in doctrines and force postures have also been adopted. For instance, Pakistan has highlighted a defensive-defence posture for its military and strategic forces, whereas India continues to operate under an offensive doctrine towards Islamabad and Beijing. On the other hand, previously, China detached itself from the regional territorial disputes by signing agreements which kept them passive. However, with the increase in India’s military activism, the country was forced to reorient its military posture to deal with the recent crisis. This has plunged India and China into an arms race which has further stimulated a militarisation drive in the Asian countries. China and India’s emphasis on becoming more self-sufficient in military tech will heighten in the upcoming years, heavily inclined towards the technological domain such as semiconductors, drones, AI-based warfighting robots. It is expected that the deterrence stability between the three countries will become highly volatile in future, affecting the regional balance of power. This special report provides an in-dept analysis of the contemporary security dynamics in South Asia while taking into consideration the role of China. In doing so, this report evaluates the transformed deterrence stability in the region and analyzes how the delicate balance of power is shifting with the involvement of extra-regional actors, acquisition of the latest military technology, doctrinal transformations and associated strategic goals of the countries.
Over the past two decades, particularly from 2012 to 2022, several escalator events have occurred in South Asia. The final result was a series of critical events that resulted in crisis stability. This situation escalated the precarious triangular relationship between Pakistan, India and China. These nuclear-armed countries have conducted or retaliated against low-intensity military operations against each other over disputed territories like Kashmir, the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean, impacting the global nuclear order. Due to the growing power rivalry and technological advancement, Pakistan, India and China, for different reasons, have demonstrated a growing appetite for new strategic weapons. Pakistan is forced to invest in a defensive military posture to secure border threats with India. India, facing China’s political power rise, wants to increase its international prestige and continues to lure the region into a continuous conventional and unconventional arms race. China is boosting its nuclear weapons arsenal to match the United States. So, Pakistan uses nuclear weapons for security reasons, India as an ideological tool, and China to boost the economy.
As mentioned above, the complexity of deterrence stability among Pakistan, India and China is strongly connected with these countries’ security policies, force postures and operational strategies. To start with, it remains pertinent to determine a decisive factor which proves detrimental to the delicate strategic stability and balance of power and pushes the region into an arms race. Being geographically at the epicentre, most of the conflicts have originated due to the Indian offensive-offence approach towards Pakistan and China, increasing the hostility and putting international security at stake. Although New Delhi considers Beijing its primary adversary, its force posture and operations are directed towards Islamabad. The triangular strategic environment has been immensely impacted by the Indian escalatory policies, including massive weapons acquisition, disruptive technological pull and aggressive posture towards its neighbours.
The Indian military, nuclear and political experts claim China has enabled Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs over the years. China tends to embolden Pakistan. It was visible when China refused to condemn alleged terroristic activities coming from Pakistan and exercised its military in Tibet. Moreover, China expanded its nuclear submarine capabilities in the Indian Ocean.
As for Pakistan, the long-standing dispute over Kashmir is the central issue and the most likely trigger point for nuclear escalation. According to Pakistani experts, India’s current leadership holds nuclear weapons in connection to the Kashmir Dispute to maintain a balance of power against the conventional military superiority of India. Regarding China, the issue of the China-India border, the India-Pakistan border and the dispute over Kashmir could be the trigger points for nuclear escalation, recalling, for example, the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan or the more recent 2019 Pulwama-Bakalot crisis.
How aggressive will be this triangular relationship? How far will these countries go in developing their nuclear arsenals, and how much will the regional stability be impacted? This special report is divided into six sections to evaluate this complex relationship of deterrence stability between the three countries. The first section discusses Pakistan, India and China’s military and strategic force postures in the contemporary security landscape. The second section evaluates the effects of the Indian military modernization drive on the regional security mosaic. The third section connects Indian defence alliances with deterrence stability and calculates its relevance vis-à-vis Indian aggressiveness. The fourth section highlights how the recent military crisis between India-Pakistan and India-China has fueled an arms race in the region parallel to pushing the countries to the brink of a nuclear war. The fifth section dives deeper into the arms race between China and India, focusing on military technology, missile systems and the use of artificial intelligence for warfare. Lastly, the sixth section follows up with risk assessment, mitigation, and conclusion.
In order to define regional nuclear involvement, Indian experts and politicians use the term “Southern Asia” nuclear posture and not “South Asia” since the last frames a dynamic strategy composed by China and not only by Pakistan. For India, China is fundamental. According to Indian experts, China sits at the nadir of an inverted triangle with Russia and the USA at the top and the apex of a lower triangle with: India and Pakistan at the base. China is the connection between these two triangles that could significantly impact India’s nuclear posture. The missing dot in the India-China relationship is the lack of a routine China-India nuclear dialogue. The dialogue could be detrimental to enhancing mutual understanding. However, the two countries share an unwavering commitment to NFU and credible minimum deterrence.
India understands its opponent because it exists in the same cultural space as China. This sharing allows the two countries to avoid bang-on force-on-force engagement. Nevertheless, the conflicting nature of the two sides remains. From the Indian point of view, Pakistan incorporates and uses instability as part of its nuclear doctrine and internationalizes crises through nuclear threats. The probability that political tensions and low-level conflict will erupt into a major war remains high.
However, nuclear escalation is improbable in South Asia. The reason to think it differently comes from the West, a western narrative. Although there are still cases in which it could occur — Pakistan’s potential engagement in accidental nuclear use through provocation or miscalculation of Indian response — nuclear escalation remains unlikely.
Pakistan’s primary concern is India. Both because Pakistani experts view ambiguity behind its pillar of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use (NFU) vs modernization and because security reasons pose threats on its borders, such as Kashmir. On NFU, Pakistani experts say that India has a broader interpretation of threats related to using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Indian assets. India’s military modernization targets Pakistan explicitly. In describing China’s role in nuclear deterrence, some experts argue that even if there is no military alliance between China and Pakistan, the Chinese posture deters India from using nuclear weapons against any country in the region. China is an essential stakeholder in peace and security in the region. However, China’s interests in South Asia are more economical than the military. The country is trying to avoid instability and armed conflict because they do not respond to long-term Chinese interests.
The central issue for Pakistan is securing its borders. Using force against Islamabad may undermine New Delhi’s nuclear command, becoming vulnerable to domestic political processes that use the threats from Pakistan as a political tool. Indian military posture has become increasingly aggressive (the conventional strikes India claimed to have conducted against Pakistan at Bakalot in February 2019). Moreover, the issue of Indian advancement of technology, like ballistic missile defence (BDM) and early warning strategic system, can exacerbate pre-existing asymmetries, challenging the nuclear deterrence architecture.
Chinese nuclear and military experts say that Indian and Pakistani postures have changed. Despite this argument, in China, there is a tendency to gloss over Pakistani’s tactical nuclear weapon developments. Several cases existed in which India’s NFU came under question. Nevertheless, according to Chinese experts, Pakistan’s nuclear posture bolstered regional stability. The country’s hedging deterrents are controllable, defensive and stable, so as the deterrence of attack or invasion because they are part of the regional nuclear balance. While India and Pakistan could get into further tensions, the two countries will probably remain suspicious, and the conflict will not reach a nuclear level.
In future developments on nuclear war, experts argue that a significant loss on the battlefield by either India or Pakistan could lead to nuclear retaliation. On technologies, China is focusing on those directly affecting India-Pakistan territorial disputes. However, China is paying more attention to India’s technology than Pakistani one, for example, to ballistic missile technology. This emphasis revealed a sizable Chinese interest in future India-China nuclear dynamics.
|“Essentially, … the art of war is the art of using the given means in combat; there is no better term for it than the conduct of war. To be sure, in its wider sense, the art of war includes all activities that exist for the sake of war, such as the creation of the fighting forces, their raising, armament, equipment, and training.”|
The adjustments of a nation’s military to achieve a specific objective is what, in the globalized world, is known as military transformation. It comprises four major issues: force structure, modernization, readiness and sustainability. Today, adapting one’s armed forces to a real or perceived threat is a political aim that keeps the military engaged on a national and international level. It goes along with the military modernization process, which means the capability to quickly change and adapt methods, doctrine, materials, personnel, finances and infrastructures according to the situation. The “capability-based approach” is a fundamental concept that allows states to plan and influence the enemy’s future actions.
Armed forces transformation has been understood, since Carl von Clausewitz, as one dimension of strategy which corresponds to the modern understating of strategy.
India is following this approach today by exploiting the Army, Naval and Airfare capabilities at the maximum level according to the changing situations.
The Integrated Defense Staff (IDS) in April 2017 released the first public joint doctrine for the Indian armed forces, which explained what the national strategy might be and stated India’s approach toward joint warfare. The IDS was established, under the Ministry of Defence, in October 2001 to support the structurally weak and operationally slow-paced Chairman of the Cheifs of Staff Committee (COSC)’s Office. The IDS took the lead on the first joint doctrine in 2006, and it was clear from the beginning that it had little impact on how India formulates and implements its military policies. That is why, even if the Indian military is highly focused on achieving interoperability among the forces, it has demonstrated a lack of cohesion in the intelligence, communication, deployment and employment of allotted forces in various exercises and operations over the years.
Considering that India does not publish a national security strategy or defence paper, a joint public doctrine is the closest official document articulating the Indian position on how tools of forces combine to meet national security objectives. However, it has been criticized by the most. An overview of the Joint Doctrine of Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) 2017 points out that the Indian military aimed to transform its operability. The desired objective of JDIAF is to include the concept of “integration” and “jointness” in the Indian tri-services Army, Navy and Air force. However, the paper presents itself as incoherent, poorly-edited and premature.
Why? The principal approach is primarily army-centric and has a narrow and general view of external threats. The JDIAF-2017 lacks a codified national security strategy and continues to hobble jointness and defence planning. Without a coherent and forward-looking strategy, JDIAF-2017 has adopted a general view of threats, focusing only on Pakistan and China. Over the years, the Army sought to establish itself as a primus inter pares among the three other services. Coherently, the document does not provide any space to discuss the tri-service theatre command’s role, losing its first opportunity to counteract this trend, injecting a new spirit of jointness into Indian institutions. This could have been done by taking a broader view of India’s security challenges beyond its borders and explaining how the tri-service theatre could strengthen India’s position. The JDIAF should be the roadmap towards facilitating a smooth integration of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Even if India’s emphasis over the years has increased, above all on the cyberspace and aerospace domains considered as force multipliers, the objective is still very far away.
Indian military integration among tri-service lies in the formation of theatre commands. Theatre commands constitute essential elements of military operations and are the core elements to initiate the jointness and integration processes. Five major theatre commands were established by the late Chief of Defence Staff of the Indian Military, General Bipin Rawat, that operate under the high-ranking Indian Army, Navy and Air Force officers. The Indian military forces were structured into different tactical commands stationed at various locations. These tactical commands made up a total of nineteen commands apart from the Andaman and Nicobar Command and were initially tasked to deal with Pakistan and China in case of a conflicting situation. More specifically, the Indian Army encompasses seven tactical commands; Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command, out of which only six are operational. The Indian Army’s air resources include utility helicopters, medium-lift helicopters, attack helicopters and the Air Force transport aircraft.
The Indian Air Force also comprises seven tactical commands; Western and Eastern Air Commands, Southern Air Command, Southwestern and Central Commands and the Training Command and Maintenance command, out of which only five are operational. The Indian Air Force supports the Indian Army and Navy for air operations and has its advanced Head Quarter with each command of the Army and Navy. A tactical air centre from Air Force is also allocated with all the corps. Similarly, the Indian Navy comprises three tactical commands; Western, Eastern and Southern Naval Commands, out of which only two are operational.
Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, announced the formation of the following theatre commands in 2020:
- Peninsula Command;
- A Dedicated Jammu and Kashmir Command;
- A Dedicated Command for China;
- Air Defence and Space Command;
- Joint Logistics Command.
These commands were proposed as a part of the significant restructuring and reorganizing exercise, where it was expected that the joint theatre commands for the military would start rolling out by 2022. However, the Indian military began force transformation by early 2021, establishing two most significant theatre commands, Northern Command against China and Western Command against Pakistan. General Rawat, on February 17 2020, said that peninsula command would be for maritime threat, a separate command for Jammu and Kashmir and the need to have a focused command for China is part of the blueprint for joint theatre commands that are part of the significant restructuring exercise, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat has said.
The Indian Army plans to form a tri-services theatre command, the “Peninsula Command,” for monitoring the Indian Ocean Region, merging the Navy’s western and eastern commands and spreading from Sir Creek near the Arabian Sea to the Sunderbans in the Bay of Bengal. The message is clear: the security of peninsular India should remain under one command only. Instead of having separate commands for every service, the Office of CDS is working on having a joint theatre command that can carry out war information under a single commander. The plan was due completion in 2021, and the theatreistion was planned to start in 2022. In addition, a dedicated command for Jammu and Kashmir was also established under the restructuring to draw support from the region’s existing and newly allocated resources. Jammu and Kashmir share the volatile 198-km International Border with Pakistan, which passes through the undulating flatland of Jammu.
A logistic support pool was also established as a single depot and base workshop that provides supplies and repair works to the services. The pool will lead to saving human resources and funds and avoiding wastage. The Joint Logistic Command, operationalized in 2021, will provide a platform for the joint contract management for the three services of the Indian Armed Forces, which will be responsible for maintaining standard inventories and reserves for the services. It will help in the following:
- The similarity in the procurement of vehicles
- Ease of maintenance and spare management (among three services)
- Specialized equipment can be contracted together
- Increases the scope for management of sources where services are co-located.
Some areas identified for jointness and synergy include creating joint logistics support pools in stations with two or more services. According to the statement, General Rawat stated that all three services and the Coast Guard must be consulted and their views obtained in a time-bound manner. Decisions will, however, be taken to ensure the optimization of resources. Efforts will be made to cut out non-proficient ceremonial activities, which are workforce intensive. CDS announced that the theaterisation of commands in the country would be on the pattern of the United States and China. Indeed several U.S. analysts noted similarities between JDIAF-2017 and the Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the U.S. (JP-1).
Nevertheless, JP-1 identifies three planning documents that are missing in the JDIAF-17. JP-1 identifies strategic guidance to the doctrine of the U.S. armed forces, such as national security strategy, national defence strategy and national military strategy. These three form the core of the U.S. strategy for each administration. The Indian system remains unclear in such issues, especially for J&K.
JDIAF-2017 states that essential to the national security strategy is to maintain an effective conventional and nuclear deterrent capability. Despite recent debate about “pre-emptive counterforce” in the Indian nuclear posture, it is clear that the nuclear doctrine should be of “credible minimum deterrence”. It is also clear that India’s nuclear posture changed drastically with the nuclear weapons placed under the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) established on January 4 2003. The SFC was formed to provide collective assistance to the armed forces of India with representation from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, scientists and experts from the Indian Atomic Commission and missile experts from Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) works in association with the SFC and carryout is the execution orders collectively. With the command and control regulated under the SFC, the strategic forces and nuclear assets also fall under a similar aegis.
JDIAF-2017 make three important assertions about this:
- The joint doctrine declares that: “chaired by the Prime Minister, the Political Council is the only body empowered to decide on nuclear issues while the ultimate decision to authorize the use of nuclear weapons rests solely with the prime minister. It means that the role of the Political Council get minimal because it can rule only over nuclear issues. Now, these nuclear issues remain unclear.
- The JDIAF-2017 first spoke about a credible deterrence, not a minimum one. The original omission was a mistake, an accident, and an example may be of the poor drafting but potentially severe consequences in shaping others’ perceptions of India’s posture.
- In the document, it is unclear whether or not the controls of all India’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of the tri-service commands. JDIF-2017 devoted little space to analyzing problems flowing from nuclear energy. There is no mention of chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological risks or coordination between conventional and nuclear forces.
India’s nuclear capabilities are mainly land-based, and the principal operational capability resides in the Prithvi and Agni, which are families of short/intermediate-range land-based ballistic missiles. Also, a naval component is now entering into service. The Command authority of nuclear weapons rests with the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority (chaired by the PM), while the operational control lies with the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). India has distributed its nuclear assets in dispersed locations to ensure the survivability of its forces while keeping these locations secretive. This has been done in order to prevent the assumed Chinese planning of entirely erasing India’s ability to launch offensives on China.
India’s equipment on land includes 54 surface-to-surface missiles; 42 are road-mobile launchers assigned to Agni 1. However, in contradiction to this strategy, the number of Indian nuclear missile forces stationed along Pakistan’s border is more significant than closer to the Chinese border. Only ten, Agni-III launchers, can reach the entire Chinese mainland and eight can hit Chinese central targets. A squadron of Mirage 2000H fighters and two squadrons of Jaguar I.S. (approximately 51 aircraft) would carry out nuclear missions against China. These aircraft can hit Tibetan airspace with “nuclear gravity bombs.” The element of surprise is only achievable in the Tibetan region because Chinese air defences in other areas are far more alert.
However, if we combine the Brahmos missiles, what is clear is that nearly all of the Strategic Force Command of India, including UAV units, can reach Islamabad in contrast to Beijing. Let us look, for example, at the Agni-P missile that is of little relevance to scenarios involving China. China’s densely populated provinces are coastal and out of the Agni-P range, especially if they are launched from central India. Scenarios involving Pakistan seem to have driven the development of the missile.
After 2010, aligned with its doctrinal transformations, the Indian defence industry witnessed a strategic overhaul. The Indian defence industry has shown promising growth in the last two decades based both indigenously and spearheaded by multiple defence agreements under a set of its defence alliances. By opting for an offensive military posture and launching a multi-faceted operational doctrine, New Delhi has activated almost all sides of its international borders – be it with Beijing, Islamabad or other neighbours. It has also increased its defence engagements with the U.S., Japan, Australia and many European countries after a strategic realignment in the region which has accounted for the conversion of foreign policy objectives between China and Russia. In this regard, New Delhi has entered into various bilateral and multilateral security agreements with these countries and actively participated in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). Moreover, adhering to its ‘Act East’ Policy, New Delhi works closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to enhance its strategic ties and military diplomacy.
The Indian military is not limiting itself to a sub-regional level for hedging China; instead, it competes globally. For example, in 2002, India built its first military base in Tajikistan to guarantee its presence in Central Asia and maintain eyes and ears in the region. Similarly, India has contested the Chinese involved in Iran’s Chabahar port. So far, India’s leverage in Iran has allowed it to dominate the control.
The Indian military is primarily focused on developing strong relations with different countries to boost its indigenization processes. It aims to not only conclude defence deals but also carry out joint military exercises, increase the level of interoperability with different militaries and, above all, minimize the technology curve by transfer of technology (accessing top-notch military technology) from these countries. For instance, the Indian Navy is working rapidly to roll out its first indigenously-made aircraft carrier by the end of this year. Similarly, the Indian armed forces have also conducted a series of missile tests for operational readiness and as a tool deterrence against its neighbouring countries.
Another critical aspect of establishing defence alliances is research and development (R&D) for introducing cutting-edge military technology and significantly disruptive technology, for which India is working closely with the U.S., Israel and other countries. India has been pushing for more indigenization of military hardware as India imports about 70% of its high-tech defence hardware, such as aircraft, ships, submarines, missiles and other weapon systems, mainly from Russia, Japan, Israel and the USA.
4.1 The United States
Indian defence trade witnessed a steady increase with the U.S. in the 21st century. From almost no defence trade in 2000 to around $20 billion in 2020, the two countries have enjoyed close ties in various streams of military engagement. In 2019, the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report made public by the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) declared New Delhi as its strategic partner, which elevated its political and military cooperation status. Before that, in 2016, India became a major defence partner of the U.S. and was given Strategic Trade Authorization (STA-I) status, giving it directly and priority access to many defence products, particularly in the intelligence, surveillance and aerospace domains. Most recently, the partnership has matured to the “Global Strategic Partnership” level aligned under their foreign policy, which shared common democratic values and promoted rule-based world order and mutual regional and global interests.
In 2015, the U.S. secretary of defence and India’s defence minister signed documents for the renewal of a ten years US-India Defense Framework Agreement. Later the U.S. and India signed an agreement on deeper military cooperation.
New Delhi’s defence partnership with Washington fulfils multiple objectives of both countries at levels ranging from tactical to strategic. For India, these objectives include but are not limited to:
- Containing Chinese Rise, militarily and economically;
- Actively acquire the latest weapon systems to maintain an aggressive military posture;
- Becoming a regional hegemon.
To achieve the objectives mentioned above, New Delhi and Washington have signed critical defence agreements such as the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) which were followed either by defence sales, transfer of technology or creation of working groups to design and complete special projects with dedicated outcomes within specified times.
4.1.1 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI)
The bilateral agreement was signed in 2012 to deepen military cooperation, and its scope was increased to facilitate the development of the Indian aircraft carrier through technological transfer. DTTI also established two working groups: (i) Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG) and (ii) Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC). In 2016, Information Exchange Annex (IEA) was signed to exchange information, data and expertise related to aircraft carriers. It also included extended help by the U.S. in developing high-energy laser systems, small intelligent unmanned aerial systems and other sensitive military technology.
To strengthen the existing military cooperation and further increase its scope, Washington and New Delhi signed LEMO on August 29, 2016. LEMOA facilitated the utilization of military bases for logistics support and (re)fueling by both parties. It also enabled the two to use military and naval facilities for “specific type of activities.” Furthermore, after the signing of LEMOA, the U.S. and India started working on anti-submarine warfare.
4.1.3 Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)
Formerly known as the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the agreement was re-resigned on September 06, 2018, and named the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). The primary objective of COMCASA was to deepen defence ties and strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington through increased cooperation on advanced communication technology, production of disruptive communication channels, providing access of U.S. defence equipment to India and real-time information sharing between the two militaries. Under COMCASA, the Indian armed forces are equipped and able to respond to any Chinese military activity by sea, land or air. This is done using the widespread American ISR infrastructure and multiple military bases in the South Asian region.
In the multiple streams of defence partnerships with the U.S., India renewed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA) on October 27, 2020. Previously, BECA revolved around the sharing “of unclassified and controlled unclassified geospatial products, topographical, nautical and aeronautical data” and other services between the National Geospatial Agencies of the two countries. During the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, held in 2020, the U.S. and India decided to increase the agreement’s jurisdiction by including the maritime domain focusing on information sharing, situational awareness and other critical nodes. Moreover, the joint services were also linked with BECA to advance the agreement’s implementation.
|Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin says, “We are doing all this because the United States supports India as a defence industry leader in the Indo-Pacific and a net provider of security in the region.”|
America’s recent geopolitical strategy documents, like Indo-Pacific Strategy Reports and many of its military doctrines, have called for the establishment and furthering of defence alliances with regional countries in the wake of Washington’s reorientation towards Asia-Pacific. Under the umbrella of these official documents, the U.S. is developing various military aid packages specifically for India to reduce its reliance on Russian weapons. Moreover, the American military is also helping the Indian military replace its Russian weapon systems with American or European origin. One package under consideration is worth $500 million to support the military functions of the country.
It is unclear when the deal will be announced or what type of weapons will be included. Washington wants to be seen as a reliable partner for India across the board, and the administration is working with other countries, including France, to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has the necessary equipment. While India is already diversifying its military platforms away from Russia, the United States wants to help them to accelerate it.
In 2014, the U.S. and India applied their strategic realignments toward each other. The former became India’s largest arms supplier pushing Russia to the second position. However, between 2014 and 2018, Russia maintained its position as India’s top defence items supplier – totaling 42% of Indian defence imports. It is also critical to note that much of Indian defence equipment, technology and ammunition is of Russian origin. Moreover, the Russian market shares as a net supplier of new and spare parts, ensuring market domination. Despite many lows from 2014 to 2015, with Washington embracing New Delhi as a strategic partner, India and Russia re-corrected their postures in 2016 to sign various operational and strategic inter-governmental agreements at the Annual Summit. It included the supply of S-400 Triumph Air Defence Missile Systems and four Admiral Grigorovich class frigates.
The first squadron of S400 Air Defence Missile System has been deployed in the Punjab sector to ward off aerial threats from China and Pakistan. Another deal was signed with Moscow to manufacture the AK-203 assault rifle in amity jointly. Over the past decade, India has purchased more than $ 4 billion worth of military equipment from the United States and more than $ 25 billion from Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which collects data on arms transfers. Table 1 shows the defence deals between India and Russia from 2018 to 2019.
|2018||S-400 missile defence system||$5.2 billion|
|2018||Project 11356 class frigates (2)||$950 million|
|2019||Akula class nuclear-powered submarine||$3 billion|
|2019||T-90 tanks||$2 billion|
|2019||Igla-S Very Short-Range Air Defence Systems||$1.47 billion|
|2019||J.V. to manufacture AK-203/103 rifles||$ 1 billion|
Table 1: SOURCE: Collated Data from Business Standard and Indian Defence Industries
The Indian military is embarked on a journey to become one of the most aggressive militaries in the region by modernizing itself. In doing so, it is not only acquiring the latest weapon systems, ammunition, and technology but also developing aggressive strategies and offensive doctrines. These developments are being carried out across the tri-services, the strategic forces, and the cyber and electronic warfare domains. From acquiring Russian S400 Air Defence Systems to ramping up the construction of indigenously-made INS Visakhapatnam-class stealth guided-missile destroyers and deployment of AI-led robotic warfighting sentinels along the Line of Control, New Delhi is altering the delicate balance of power in the region which in turn is adversely impacting the strategic stability and putting international peace and security to threat.
|India and France also signed an agreement on ‘Classified or Secure Information Exchange and Mutual Protection’ to strengthen mutual trust and facilitate credible intelligence sharing between their respective security agencies.|
Paris and New Delhi have enjoyed close relations with each other for a long time. Their bilateral cooperation has revolved around trade and development and in strategic domains such as defence, space and nuclear energy. France was the first to sign a bilateral agreement with India on nuclear energy on September 30, 2008, to establish the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. The two countries conducted a Joint Air Force Exercise, named Garuda-IV, at the Stress Air Base France in June 2010. India also initiated a joint military exercise, Shakti in Chaubatia, Uttrakhand, held in October 2011.
Moreover, in July 2012, the Indo-French Joint Naval Exercise was held in the Mediterranean Sea. From 2013 to 2015, high-level military visits were exchanged between the two countries, including former Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh’s visit to France. Again, in 2016, India hosted the French military to conduct a joint military exercise in Rajasthan. The two countries conducted a Joint Air Force Exercise named Garuda-VI at the Mont-de-Marsan Airbase 118, France, in July 2019.
Under the Indo-French Defense Cooperation Agreement, several meetings on industrial cooperation and the exchange of services are held regularly under systematic negotiations. In 2015, the High-Level Committee on Defense Cooperation (HCDC) at the level of Defense Secretaries met in Paris, following which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Indian military would acquire 36 Rafael fighter jets from France. Similarly, in the maritime domain, French President Marcon and Indian PM Modi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the early implementation of the formerly signed White Shipping Agreement (2017). The MoU also involved the joint development of maritime surveillance satellites targeting the Indian Ocean.
With the strengthening of their bilateral engagement over the years, India and France have developed close ties at different levels to support and safeguard each other’s national interests. France has, time and again, shown overt support for Indian ambitions to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In May 2019, after conducting the largest ever Varuna exercise in Goa and Djibouti, the Chief of France’s Navy announced that French naval ships (with Indian aircraft and ships) would undertake joint maritime security patrols in the Indian Ocean. The first such patrol took place in March 2020 using a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft. The first of these, the Coordinated Patrols (CORPAT), represents a significant depth of Indo-French military cooperation and demonstrates the willingness to engage militarily with France in the Indian Ocean in the way that India has so far rejected with other western states.
In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron visited India and signed a deal worth $16 billion to strengthen their partnership on Defense and Security. Indian PM Modi unveiled a new broader strategic partnership focusing on the maritime domain stating that New Delhi considers Paris one of the most reliable defence partners. President Macron also agreed to bring cutting-edge military technology to India.
4.4 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or commonly known as the “Quad”, has become one of the most prominent and critical security regional rather than global security arrangements. Having its ambit of operations stretching across Asia-Pacific and the scope of domains expanding somewhat swiftly, Quad’s relevance for the South Asian and greater Asian theatre has snowballed over time. Most defence arrangements between Washington and New Delhi also find Quad at the epicentre. As highlighted above, Quad has significantly extended its areas of operations, having Islamabad’s southwestern flank and Beijing’s eastern flank as two of its limiting nodes in terms of jurisdiction. After being inactive for almost eight years, the leaders of the Quad countries met at the ASEAN Summit in the Philippines in 2017, thus restoring Quad as Quad 2.0.
Proposals have been set-out for Quad +3 to include Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia as part of the security arrangement to increase the political jurisdiction of members and craft a new Asia-Pacific Order. The primary objectives of Quad include:
- Countering China militarily, politically and economically;
- Supporting allies in the South China Sea;
- Military coherence includes increasing interoperability, joint military exercises and training;
- Capability enhancement, including transfer of technology;
- Strengthening and spreading democracy.
Quad partners have established six working groups, of which three are related to achieving the abovementioned goals. These working groups include (i) Maritime Security Working Group, (ii) Critical and Emerging Technologies Working Group, (iii) Cyber and Space Working Groups, and (iv) Supply Chain Resilience Working Group. The four navies conducted their first joint naval exercise in November 2020 after unanimously claiming Chinese assertiveness in the region. Within four months, U.S. President Joe Biden convoked a virtual Quad Summit attended by Australian PM Scott Morrison, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Indian PM Narendra Modi. During the Quad Summit 2022, held in Tokyo, the established maritime working group was further strengthened when the Quad leaders welcomed a major maritime initiative named the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Awareness (IPMDA). IPMDA aims to provide “near-real-tome, integrated, and cost-effective maritime domain awareness”, which will enable the stakeholders to safeguard their respective national and collective security interests.
Not only has the Indian military drawn considerable support from Quad partners regarding capability enhancement, transfer of technology, joint military exercises, training and contingency planning, but it has also ably aligned its national policies with theirs. For example, New Delhi has time and again floated its Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) Policy to the Quad partners in an attempt to integrate it with Quad’s objectives. SAGAR is somewhat an extension of India’s Look East Policy, through which the country intends to increase its political clout and decrease its dependence on the grander alliances already existing in the region. In the words of Ram Nath Kovind, former Indian President, the SAGAR policy has helped New Delhi to become the “Preferred Security Partner” of many countries. He further outlined that with the induction of an advanced naval fleet and the acquisition of new technologies, India maintains an upper hand over its adversaries as it did in the past. It clearly shows how India is moving towards an aggressive posture detrimental to the deterrence stability of the region and world peace by becoming a member of such alliances.
Similarly, the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) – proposed at the East Asia Summit in November 2019 – aimed at positioning Indian policies with Quad and eastern allies. The core objectives included curbing terrorism, managing conflicts over resources and territory, and maritime security issues.
If we reverse-engineer these stated objectives, we can easily understand that the underlying purpose translates into India gathering a shortcut of support from these countries to equip itself for confronting its regional rivals, notably China and Pakistan. For instance, during the last five years, Quad partners have ramped up their activities by conducting joint military exercises, enhancing interoperability, exchanging confidential information, and equipping each other. India has not only attended overseas military exercises but has also engaged with Quad partners at the state level to conduct test-bed exercises focused more on mountainous and manoeuvre warfare. These compounded the occurrence of conflicts in South Asia and beyond, including the Doklam Crisis, Pulwama Crisis, Galwan Valley Crisis and the Ladakh Stand-off.
“Il Triangolo No” is one of the most famous Italian songwriters by Renato Zero, published in 1978. The song talks about a love affair between three people. It resembles the relationship between Pakistan, India and China. Like almost all relationships, this is unequal: India and China share most of the cake while Pakistan feels threatened.
Experts from both countries say that India and China share the same stance on NFU (no first use of nuclear weapons), so a nuclear escalation between them is unthinkable. This does not mean that they depart from the same starting point but that the level of conflict between China and India is lower than that between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is concerned about how this bilateral relation may change and affect the deterrence landscape.
With the annunciation of Ladakh under the fold of its union territory followed by the publishing of new maps by the Indian government in August and October 2019, respectively, New Delhi unilaterally nullified the existing status-quo established at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Line of Control (LOC). In 2020, the Indian armed forces started building barricades, logistic facilities and military check-posts at the LAC – trespassing the Chinese territory. In doing so, the Indian armed forces also disrupted Chinese patrolling troops by launching offensives even after an agreement was concluded at the corps commander level. The miscalculated re-initiation of military action by the Indian military resulted in a harsher response by the Chinese military, killing soldiers from both sides.
New Delhi’s hasty invasion of Beijing’s territory for a multifront engagement caused grave repercussions for the country itself, putting pressure on the Indian economy and loss of its territory parallel to the death of its soldiers. It also made the Indian military more vulnerable by exposing the lack of coordination, weak leadership and inability to correctly use the acquired weapons and technology to its leverage.
5.3 Pulwama Crisis
Another incident which adversely affected the escalation ladder pushing India and Pakistan to the brink of a nuclear war, was the 2019 Pulwama crisis. After associating a terrorist attack on the Indian paramilitary convoy in the Pulwama district of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK), the Indian military claimed to have conducted air strikes deep inside Pakistani territory and killed over 300 JeM terrorists. The two countries continued heavy artillery shelling against each other on the sidelines. In another attempt to launch an offensive operation against Pakistan, the Indian Air Force breached Pakistani territory when the Pakistan Air Force retaliated and shot down two fighter jets, capturing one Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman – who was later released.
Indian government’s jingoism supported and promoted by the former Indian Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, went down the tubes with the downing of the two fighter jets. However, while W.C. Abhinandan was detained in Pakistan, PM Modi did not refrain from lashing out at Pakistan and threatening the country with grave consequences. Nonetheless, the Indian political and military regime saw substantial national and international criticism. Even many Indian allies, including the U.S., called New Delhi to proceed with restraint and avoid misadventures.
6.0 China and India’s Battle To Become Leaders in Military Technology
China and India have been head-to-head in an arms race to secure the best capabilities for the “intelligentized” warfare upon us. The stream of investment in cutting-edge military technology and the procurement of hypersonic capabilities has increased in recent years. Innovation in Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) has made huge strides simultaneously and has led many to fear the uses A.I. may have in the future of warfare. These new capabilities are widely available for countries like China and India, whose military spending is counted in billions, although it is highly unbalanced.
Despite the war in Ukraine and the international sanctions imposed on Russia, Moscow remains a strategic ally and the leading arms supplier to China and India. Nevertheless, both countries consider their dependence on Russian weapons as they may bring more harm than good. The urge to become self-sufficient in arms production is on the rise in both countries, as well as the need to outpace one another. This race has, however, the potential to spark a conflict more quickly in their disputed borders or escalate tensions in the region.
6.1 An Imbalanced AI Race
In 2017, Xi Jinping laid out his vision to turn the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a “world-class” military before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in 2049. Its first step: modernize the PLA by 2027. To do so, China has invested heavily in A.I. and nurtured national technological progress among the private and public sectors. Beijing’s China A.I. 2030 and Made in China 2025 strategies and the Communist Party’s (CCP) 14th five-year plan (2021-2015) give an insight into how China is preparing the grounds to become the world’s leader in A.I. before the end of the decade. Research and A.I. applications in the private sector have experienced remarkable progress in the last two decades, leaving some relevant voices in competing countries fearing China might have already won the A.I. race.
The path to becoming a leading force is marred with obstacles, namely dependency on foreign production. Beijing relies heavily on the U.S. and Taiwan for their semiconductors. The US-China tech war has barred arms sales and data transfer to many Chinese defence companies, which is why the government in Beijing has had to explore new ways to acquire the latest A.I. capabilities for its military. The CCP’s military-civil fusion strategy, which aims at developing stronger links between key civilian sectors and China’s defence industrial base, has successfully dodged international sanctions and advanced its military tech capabilities. Data gathered by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology proves that, in most cases, sanctions do not prevent outsourcing foreign data and components to sanctioned defence companies through Chinese suppliers due to legal loopholes.
In comparison, India’s government’s efforts to use A.I. for warfare are still in their early stages. In early 2019, New Delhi’s Defence Ministry established two bodies to provide guidance and help boost national production: The Defence Artificial Intelligence Council (DAIC) and the Defence A.I. Project Agency (DAIPA). Both bodies aim to provide strategic insight on acquiring technology, using A.I. for defence and ensuring the necessary policy changes. India is also fixated on becoming self-sufficient in chipmaking. Bengaluru, India’s tech hub, recently hosted the inaugural session of the Semicon India Conference. The event is framed in the national initiative Make in India and is tasked with incentivizing investment and innovation to establish the country as a chip design and manufacturing powerhouse.
The differences in the progress China and India have made in their A.I. strategies are also present in their allocated national budget. The current PLA’s annual spending on AI-related systems and equipment to prepare for the so-called “intelligentized” warfare exceeds $1.6 billion. Beijing’s expenditure is now on par with the Pentagon’s, which amounted to $1.3 billion and $800 million in 2020. In contrast, New Delhi’s A.I. budget was estimated at $300.7 million in 2019. These figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, however. China might be a heavy investor in A.I. and lead the race for technology dominance alongside the U.S.; however, India has a thriving A.I. industry and is in the lead in A.I. skill penetration and talent concentration, which could bolster the industry shortly.
Regarding the provision of missiles, India and China still rely too much on Russian exports. It is unsure to what extent the ongoing war in Ukraine and the international sanctions toward Russia will potentially change this dependence. The India-Russia relationship stretches far and wide. Arms imports from Moscow are vital for New Delhi to deter its regional rivals: Pakistan and China. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of India’s military equipment comes from Russia. Most of its recently-acquired Russian arsenal consists of the Konkurs and 9M119 anti-tank guided missiles and S-400 missile defence systems. However, the crown jewels are the BrahMos medium-range supersonic cruise missile and the currently under-development BrahMos-II hypersonic cruise missile, both the result of a joint venture between India and Russia’s national defence R&D centres.
Narendra Modi’s national security policy focuses on deterring a two-front war along its borders with Pakistan in the Line of Control (LoC) and China in the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is why maintaining good relations with Russia is vital even during the war in Ukraine. However, even though India may not afford the luxury to disengage from Russia under the current circumstances, the war in Ukraine has undoubtedly highlighted India’s need to diversify its arms suppliers. In a recent meeting between Indian Prime Minister Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron, both leaders reinforced existing defence cooperation and inked a deal for New Delhi to acquire French Hammer missiles. Another issue that has taken centre stage is the increased support of its national arms industry. India has recently conducted successful tests on its first indigenous short-range ballistic missile, the Prithvi-II, and its nuclear-capable Agni missile.
China may have more freedom in ignoring the international calls to decouple Russia, but its decision has come at a cost. Beijing’s ties with the E.U. and its Eastern European partners on the 16+1 platform had deteriorated considerably since Putin and Xi signed a “no limits” partnership mere weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. China is instead prioritizing its ties with Russia, which have increased at a similar pace as the China-Russia military integration has. Moscow has delivered long-range missiles like the 40N6E and missile systems like the S-400 to China in the last decade. Conversely, China is trying to even the trade balance and has recently started supplying arms to Russia. Both countries have worked together to develop missile warning systems to deter U.S. presence in the region. However, the sale of military tech to Russia may cost dearly to China as it is believed that Chinese-made drones acquired years ago may have been used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite their “no limit” partnership, China and Russia’s ties have boundaries and are ruled by distrust. Russia has supplied the PLA with weapons for the past three decades. Supplies to China of Russian missiles, fighter jets and drones averaged an annual amount of $1.5 billion. However, sales have shrunk in recent years because of China’s goal of becoming self-sufficient in weapon production and technology. The launch of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile attested to the modernization of China’s military and even surprised the Pentagon. This downward trend in sales is also due to Russia’s fear of Beijing’s incurring technology theft. Russia’s state defence conglomerate Rostec claimed that China had copied air defence missiles and medium-range surface-to-air systems over the last two decades.
The rationale behind the arms race between Beijing and New Delhi has, additionally, stimulated a militarisation drive among its Asian neighbours. Although some East and Southeast Asian countries might be on good terms with both India and China, the rivalry between these two countries and their emphasis on strengthening their military tech capabilities are a matter of concern. Southeast Asian countries have increased defence expenditure by almost 10% annually since 2009. The increase in military capabilities is also driving a remilitarisation of pacifist countries like Japan, whose government actively seeks an unprecedented constitutional amendment, or fomenting Vietnam’s development of indigenous missiles like the VCM-01.
Another factor to consider is the relevant trade ties these countries have with regional powers. Despite security concerns, they may have with Beijing and New Delhi, relations are smoothed out by trade, even regarding arms sales. However, the risk of escalating contentious conflicts resembling the one that occurred during the India-China clashes in the Galwan Valley in 2020 is increasing and, with it, its impact on trade. Even more so with the current conflict in Ukraine, the West’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific, and the creation of the Quad and AUKUS, organizations centred on bolstering security cooperation between the U.S. and its allies in the region.
China and India’s emphasis on becoming more self-sufficient in military tech will heighten in the upcoming years. The ongoing shortage of semiconductors relative to its high demand will push these countries to become chipmakers instead of chip takers. The same can be expected of arms production: it is not expected that China nor India will drop their military and strategic ties with Russia, but they will seek to cut their dependence on Russian weapons. The war may have come at the right moment for India to push its clout as a strategic ally for Russia and the U.S. However, New Delhi will have to balance these ties carefully as the war worsens. Conversely, China will also have to ponder to what extent it is willing to let its “no limits” partnership with Russia stand in the way of Beijing’s more pragmatic and business-oriented stance toward global affairs.
Key pointers indicate we are entering a Cold War-type era ruled by uncertainty. Firstly, the coming wave of military-technological advances is highly likely to create yet another long-lasting arms race. Additionally, relations between major powers have deteriorated steadily in the last decade; the war in Ukraine is just the latest chapter. In this zero-sum approach, China’s increase in military spending and the latest achievements in producing indigenous weapons and systems will be seen in India as a sign that it needs to max out its capabilities to stay ahead of the game.
These developments in China will be seen under a similar lens elsewhere in the region and among its rivals, feeding into the narrative of the end of the multilateral system and the re-enactment of two confronted blocs.
Risk mitigation is about dialogue, compromise, diplomacy and routine. Yes, routine because when the routine is lacking, violence occurs. India and Pakistan should be talking about risk mitigation. Instead, it seems that nowadays, India is only interested in tracking and destroying potential incoming missiles from Pakistan and conducting aggressive select-kinetic operations for political leverage. On March 9 2022, India fired a missile into the eastern city of Milan Channu in Pakistan, which shows how India is conducting test-bed exercises and using the newly acquired weapon systems. The U.S. stated, “we do not indicate, as you also heard from our Indian partners, that this incident was anything other than an accident.” However, according to the Pakistani leaders, the accident was a test to map the Pakistani response parameters. It was an issue of timing.
India and Pakistan’s nuclear, military and political experts should vigorously promote and establish a strategic risk reduction centre to prevent inadvertence and mishaps. The world needs to break this nuclear taboo. Nuclear power is a reality, and people should start to talk about that. As people, researchers and societies as a whole, we must talk about nuclear power more because politics is actually being shared by nuclear power, and countries are investing vast amounts of money in this. Unfortunately, the debate is actually governed by the elites, and without any means, they are trying to create a grass root involvement. The issue should instead be discussed on a social level because bad and hard choices can be irreversible and impact the lives of thousands of people.
The triangular strategic conundrum between Beijing, New Delhi and Islamabad has always remained critical for international peace and security. As mentioned earlier, India has become central to the deterrence stability debate over the last two decades based on its military modernization drives and over-ambitious nuclear program. India has repeatedly kept the LOC and LAC activated against Pakistan and China to test and try its newly developed or acquired weapons. Parallel to this, it has also vigorously campaigned to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), even though domestic production is sufficient for the country’s military and civil needs.
Given the Ukraine Crisis, when the international community is disengaging with Russia, India has taken bold steps to continue buying oil from Moscow and sent its troops for joint military exercises. It shows that, for India, securing its military investments and increasing its war-readiness capabilities is a top priority. The U.S. and its allies have sanctioned Russia for the Ukraine invasion. However, despite becoming the U.S.’ most significant trading and defence partner, India chose to side with Russia conveying to Washington that it is not a reliable partner regarding grander geopolitics.
India signed multiple deals with many countries to bolster its military prowess, modernize its military forces, and move ahead to become self-reliant in the defence sector. Indian Defence Ministry also approved the acquisition of 30 Predator Drones for $3 Billion to be used in mountainous areas. The country also signed a deal with Israel to develop next-generation technologies and products. Similarly, India has signed a contract with Spain-based Air Defence and Space Company to procure transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
Construction of Challakere Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP) to produce an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel to develop thermonuclear weapons, especially hydrogen bombs. Reports have also suggested that CNPP will enable India to produce high-yield nuclear weapons.
The placement of the SFC near the Pakistani border indicates a force posture for an early interface. Three factors are significant in this regard: (i) Type of missiles, placement of SFC and UAV units, (ii) Additional capacity of Indian nuclear fuel, Indo – U.S. cooperation in thermonuclear capabilities and delivery systems and (iii) Possible canisterization of nuclear weapon capability for sub-kilo ton nuclear devices, which allow the conduct of strikes from any terrain at short notice, leave the enemy without reasonable warning times. Each factor indicates a focused offensive posture of the Indian Strategic Forces Command (SFC).
The evolution of Indian nuclear capabilities with the development and testing of a mobile-mounted canister missile, Agni-V, offered India a benefit in the regional arms race. However, the concealed location of missiles and nuclear weapons of adversarial states and a larger quantity than that of India adds to the heated competition for deterrence. On India’s part, the increase in the technology evolution in non-conventional nuclear capabilities and the induction of Agni-V has alarmed the world.
It is probably too soon to conclude about the Indian nuclear posture. It may be that Indian policy is still in flux and cultivating a degree of ambiguity. It is clear that the historic Indian commitment to minimum deterrence is wavering and that if the country wants to shift, it could. At the heart of the Indian strategic dilemma is what the political scientist Glenn Snyder called the “stability-instability paradox”. The more unstable the conflict is, the more viable limited aggression becomes. These dynamic forces the target state to adopt a precarious counterforce posture and accept a high level of instability. The erosion of the Indian commitment to minimum deterrence illustrates that policymakers facing provocations may question accepted limitations on nuclear weapon use and the general equilibrium at stake.
It is widely debated that Pakistan’s induction of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) distorted the stable strategic pendulum of South Asia. However, Islamabad positions itself differently: deploying MIRVed systems secures two goals: (i) to deter India from operationalizing the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) and (ii) to ensure a second-strike capability in the absence of a nuclear submarine. Although Pakistan does not have a formal nuclear policy, the country’s strategic forces operate on the guidelines/thresholds outlined by Lt. Gen. (R) Khalid Kidwai, former Director General Strategic Plans Division (SPD). These four thresholds are mentioned below but are subject to variation in the event of a conflict:
|1.||Territorial Threshold||Loss of a large portion of Pakistan’s territory;|
|2.||Military Threshold||Destruction of land or air forces in substantial numbers;|
|3.||Economic Threshold||Economic blockade or strangulation;|
|4.||Political Threshold||Large-scale internal subversion.|
A series of events, including military confrontations, capturing of Kulbhushan Jhadev, and the revelation of Indian hybrid warfare to cause a political crisis in Pakistan by EUDisinfo Lab, directly impact these thresholds. An analysis of the events from 2018 to 2022 shows that even with multiple Indian attempts to launch select-kinetic operations against Pakistan and undermine the abovementioned thresholds, Pakistani armed forces acted with utmost responsibility and adopted a policy of restraint. The country continues to implement a defensive posture to ensure survival and maintain territorial integrity.
Chinese approach toward the regional security architecture is more comprehensive, aligning with its long-term strategic objectives. Having a veto status at the UNSC, Beijing has consistently downplayed Indian nuclear ambitions at the organization and on different platforms like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Chinese nuclear experts have developed an approach of investing in modernizing its nuclear forces to deter the constantly evolving military threats from its adversaries and their security alliances. Beijing is engaged in a multifront war stretching from its West to its East with many flashpoints in the South. Chinese political elite also believes that unless the country possesses a competitive nuclear arsenal, the Western countries will not exercise more self-restraint when dealing with Beijing. Despite possessing the latest nuclear-armed weapon systems, China is moving with utmost care and calculation on the Taiwan Crisis when its adversaries repeatedly provoke it. It is expected that China will pursue a strategic course of action when it comes to competing with India on various fronts. The two will pursue an arms race which would be highly inclined towards military and disruptive technology. It does not guarantee that the battlefields would shift from conventional to the non-kinetic or cyberspace domains due to the fact the territorial disputes hold greater importance than other components.
Mr. Sarmad Ali Khan is Founder of IIGSA. He is associated with Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, USA as a Policy Researcher. Mr. Khan is a Visiting Faculty Member at the International Relations Department, Bahria University Islamabad Campus. Earlier, Mr. Khan worked at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University as a Research Fellow. He has multiple research publications to his credit ranging from book chapters, research papers, and technical reports to white papers. Mr. Khan has been actively engaged with various international think tanks notably SIPRI, TASAM and technical institutes such as BI-MGT. He holds an M.Phil Degree in International Relations from Bahira University, Islamabad Campus. His areas of research include Cyberspace Strategic Competition between U.S and China, Transforming Deterrence Stability in South Asia & Emergence of New Security Alliances in Asia Pacific.
Dr. Desiree De Marco is doctor in Political Science and International Relations with a particular focus on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She obtained a First Level Master in “Middle Eastern Studies” from ASERI (High School of Economics and International Relations, Milan) and she achieved a diploma in Advanced International Affairs from the Diplomatic Academy. Beside her studies she completed two internships in Vienna to the OSCE and to the United Nations. The first year she worked for the Embassy and delegation of Malta to the UN and to the OSCE and the second year she served the Permanent Mission and Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the UN. In Italy she collaborates with several think thanks and journals and outside Italy she works as a Blog Editor for CESRAN
Ms. Marta Nuevo Falguera is a Political Analyst working with an international security company. Her work focuses on foreign policy, security, and international conflicts in Asia-Pacific. She also contributes articles about Asian politics to the Spanish magazine El-Orden Mundial and other media outlets. Ms. Falguera holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Ramón Llull-Blanquerna University & a Diploma in International Conflict Management from Utrecht University. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad in the U.K. and Japan. Ms. Falguera is a member of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She is based in the Netherlands.
Ms. Noor-ul-Huda is a Research Officer at International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics from COMSATS & has completed her MS in Peace and Conflict Studies from NUST which gives a broad perspective to her research in Space Militarization & Space Security. Her main research interest is in Emergent Alternative Technologies in Global Security Architecture. She also has a keen interest in defence, international security and nuclear coercion. She is a regular presenter at International Conference on Aerospace Science & Engineering (ICASE) & is well versed on Space Programs of India & Pakistan being the focus of her publications.
Ms. Bakhtawar Pervaiz is a Research Officer at IIGSA. She holds an M.Phil degree in Government and Public Policy from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad and a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Islamia University of Bahawalpur. Bakhtawar has worked on many national security and policy issues. She contributes research articles on various contemporary national issues and has previously worked for the National Assembly of Pakistan and Institute of Strategic Studies, Research & Analysis (ISSRA). Her major areas of interest include Public policy, governance, Cyber security, Defence policy, National and International Security and Water Crisis.