A Disruptive Nuclear China and India’s Imperatives

Published as “In a Nuclear Imbroglio, a Disruptive China and India’s Imperatives are Stark Realities” in Global Dialogue Review , Volume 5, Number 1, January/February/March 2017


The United States policies and nuclear security literature have been the model and set the precedent for other countries to follow in the nuclear realm. Washington has striven to delegitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by less developed countries, to sustain a global nuclear order based on the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and to control nuclear developments especially in the subcontinent. By using different metrics of security the concerns and motivations of the five NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) – US, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China, the so-called P-5, have been de-linked from those of the non-NWS and the NPT non-signatories, such as India and Pakistan. This unhelpful tendency is beginning to be mended. A recent ‘Threat Assessment Brief’ by the influential Arms Control Association in Washington, DC, the leading non-proliferation lobby, for the first time expressly concedes the connection between what the US does as the leading nuclear weapons power, and how – by way of response calculi — it shapes the thinking of the Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani governments and determines the quality, quantity, posture, deployment patterns, and growth of their nuclear assets.[1]

This admission of the action-reaction effects of US nuclear policies on other nuclear weapon states is a good start. But there’s another, more important, reality that remains in the shadows — the collusive arrangements among the P-5 to not just overlook but actually condone each other’s past and continuing policies of deliberate nuclear proliferation. It served their respective national interests while imperilling the disarmament goal the P-5 publicly swear by.

The Obama Administration, contrary to its “weapons free world” rhetoric, earmarked one trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize and upgrade the US strategic triad, with a new strategic bomber, a more silent and lethal nuclear-powered ballistic nuclear missile firing submarine (SSBN) and a land-based advanced inter-continental range ballistic missile (ICBM).[2] Indeed, the US has spent some $8.25 billion in just improving one B61-12 atomic bomb.[3] To neutralize US and NATO conventional military superiority, Russia has emphasized a beefed up strategic muscle with induction of technologically impressive weapons and delivery platforms, including the new Topol-M ICBM, the Yassen-class SSBN, and the refurbished Tu-180 ‘Blackjack strategic bomber.[4] China’s strategic arsenal is, likewise, undergoing rapid growth and technological updating,  inclusive of the DF-41 ICBM with multiple warheads, the Jin-class SSBN, and the H-6K bomber.[5] The British and French nuclear forces are alike in that, while smaller in size than during the Cold War years, feature advanced platforms and thermonuclear warheads for their attack systems (such as the British Trident SSBN).[6] This short summary of the state of the modernization of the P-5 strategic forces is to suggest that the Bomb will remain, for a very long time, the final arbiter of international relations. This is the context in which China’s unbridled nuclear proliferation policy abetted by Washington’s power politics considerations will be examined and India’s strategic imperatives located.

Washington looked on as China clandestinely dealt nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan, sanctioning Islamabad only after that country had served its purpose as a frontline state needed to militarily unsettle the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Beijing had achieved its realpolitik aim of containing India to South Asia.[7] Seeing it as a virtual cost-free exercise, Beijing proceeded some two decades later to just as brazenly nuclear missile arm North Korea.[8] In both these instances, Washington did nothing, especially with regard to Pakistan and showed its disapproval after the nuclear genii had been uncorked. It crystallized, what I have called, the “rogue nuclear triad” comprising China and its nuclear clients – Pakistan and North Korea, helped along by a complicit US.[9]

If Washington turned a Nelson’s Eye to China’s transgressions, the rest of the international security and strategic enclaves had their attention on the wrong ball while this nefarious activity was progressing. Like a deft magician, China moved the worries about possible nuclear catastrophes involving Pakistan in South Asia and North Korea in Northeast Asia to centre stage while diverting the world from its own principal role as a proliferant and sustainer of these two countries as unpredictable outlier and outlaw states which could, at any moment in time, do the unthinkable – initiate a nuclear exchange and, depending on how, when, and where other countries are drawn into the vortex, even a “catalytic” nuclear war engulfing the whole world.[10]

China – chief nuclear proliferator

China has been the assiduous spider proactively spinning an intricate nuclear web in which over the years it has been able to ensnare most of its adversary states, in the main, India, Japan, and the United States. Beijing very early reasoned that keeping its enemies in check required it to transfer nuclear weapons and delivery system technologies to their regional competitors. So, with great strategic forethought, the relevant materials and expertise were covertly onpassed to Pakistan in the late 1970s and to North Korea in the 1990s. It achieved its primary purpose of keeping India and Japan preoccupied with the nuclear danger at their respective doorsteps. Specifically, China helped Pakistan to not just assemble an implosion device according to a Chinese blueprint but conducted a test explosion of the assembled Pakistani device at its nuclear underground testing site in Lop Nor in 1990 to prove it works.[11] As Gary Milhollin, a stalwart proliferation researcher at the University of Wisconsin observed “If you subtract Chinese help from Pakistan’s nuclear programme, there is no Pakistan’s nuclear programme.”[12]

China is thus at the heart of the global proliferation problem, encouraging an enabled Islamabad and Pyongyang to cooperate with each other, to enhance each other’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities under its discreet technical guidance and political-military protection, and prompting them to go rogue on their own to further roil the regional and international security situations by proliferating their nuclear wares to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya, Iran and whosoever else is willing to pay a lot of money in hard cash.[13] This quite extraordinary phenomenon of a proliferation cabal headed by China is not reported by the international media, nor analyzed in policy circles in terms of how it affects regional security scenarios. And there’s no talk of punishing China because it has, in the meantime, built up huge trade, economic, and investment interlinks with the US and the West, and has become an important prop for the existing world order. It is this Chinese involvement in, and the stability of, the international system that Washington does not want to put at risk by prosecuting punitive policies against China, whatever the stake. And Pakistan is still a “frontline” state with continued utility to the US where Afghanistan is concerned, and in any case has crossed the nuclear weapons Rubicon, just as North Korea has.

The US, the self-designated globocop, having refrained from policing China has concerned itself with preventing the India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” from sparking at one end of Asia and, at the other end, Japan and South Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons of their own owing to the latters’ concerns  about the “extended deterrence” afforded by US, an unreliable ally.[14] Even though victimised, India and Japan have chosen not to impose serious costs on China and, together with the US, actually helped Beijing legitimate itself as mediator and an indispensable part of any arms control solution (on the Korean peninsula).

China, the nuclear Dr. Frankenstein, swearing by the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty that it has fatally weakened, continues to enhance the capabilities of the twin monsters it has created. Beijing has financed the construction of four 50MW natural uranium-fuelled nuclear power plants in Khushab to enable Pakistan to produce weapon-grade plutonium for more effective armaments, and assisted it in designing and developing low yield, possibly miniaturised tactical nuclear warheads to fit the 44 mm diameter size of the Nasr 60 km rocket. More recently, it has guided Pakistan and North Korea jointly to design, develop, and to test a fusion-boosted fission (FBF) weapon – Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, without Pakistan facing sanctions for resuming nuclear testing.[15] For Beijing to so bald-facedly spread nuclear weapons of mass destruction technologies and, far from suffering any ill-effects, actually have more diplomatic and political leverage accrue to it, indicates a foreign policy of a very high order. When confronted, Beijing refers to the “the root causes of proliferation” and the need for “international cooperative efforts to mitigate” the risk.[16] Small wonder that with such dextrous policy China is elbowing out the US from its pivotal position in Asian and the world stage, and fast reducing India and Japan to countries of at most sub-regional consequence.[17] But assisting Pakistan become an NWS doesn’t mean Islamabad can expect any active Chinese help in case of a nuclear war with India, because that would expose China to Indian retaliatory strikes.

What India must do

The Indian government has not had the will and the hard-nosed attitude to payback Beijing in the same coin by nuclear missile arming weak states with territorial disputes with China and keen to obtain the wherewithal to deter and dissuade Chinese aggression, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Such counter-proliferation would bring about parity in the security situations facing China and India, and is an eminently doable policy foresworn by New Delhi owing to its moral and other inhibitions against acting forcefully vis a vis China. Indeed, India’s supposed moral standing was used by the West for decades after it reached the weapons threshold in early 1964 against its becoming a full-fledged NWS, and positively reinforced its non-proliferation policy tilt by trumpeting India as a “responsible” state. So what would be most effective in defanging China strategically remains unimplemented even as India suffers from a Chinese fuelled nuclear security situation turning against it. Even the “nationalist” Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed only to transfer the conventional warheaded Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles to Hanoi, and even these are yet to be shipped. The Brahmos missiles, effectively employed by Vietnam, has the potential to bottle up the powerful Chinese South Sea Fleet and the secret “Fourth Fleet” tasked for the Indian Ocean in the Sanya naval base on Hainan Island. A string of Brahmos missile equipped states on China’s periphery would dampen Beijing’s instincts to throw its weight about in Asia. Should India decide at any time to up the game and arm these Brahmos systems with nuclear weapons it will finish once and for all Chinese adventurism in Southeast Asia and extended region. Alas, no Indian government has had the strategic vision and the political determination to pursue such policies of retribution.

There’s a fundamental problem facing India that the Indian government has done nothing to correct. The 1998 test of the weaponizable fusion device was a “fizzle” and, absent a new series of open-ended tests of high-yield thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons, the Indian fusion armaments in the armoury pack little credibility and inspire no confidence. But the Indian government has been reluctant to resume nuclear testing, which may be sourced to the Indian government’s unwillingness to imperil the 2008 nuclear deal with the United States predicated on India’s sticking with its “voluntary test moratorium”. Thus, in any conceivable future strategic face-off with China, India will be psychologically crippled in responding to Chinese megaton nuclear weapons. [18] In comparison to the only proven Indian warhead of  20 kiloton(KT) yield, the standard issue weapon carried by the Chinese Dong Feng (East Wind) series of missiles — DF-3, DF-4, DF-5, DF-21, and DF-41, have yields ranging from a minimum of one megaton to 3.3 megatons, i.e., with destructive power 50 to 150 times that of their Indian counterpart. Facing such yield differential will impose a “brain freeze” in New Delhi, which has time and again showed it loses its nerve in crises of far lesser import.

China’s nuclear forces – the Second Artillery Strategic Forces (SASF), have a complicating configuration. Under its command and control are both nuclear tipped and conventional missiles. There is no extant technology to distinguish a nuclear warhead from a conventional (chemical) high explosives warhead of a missile in flight. Thus, any missile fired by China from anywhere will have to be assumed to be nuclear and a nuclear retaliation would have to get underway even before the Chinese weapon impacts its target. The SASF and Chinese logic behind mixing up conventional and nuclear missiles under a single controlling structure, in the event, is obscure. The only way to make sense of it is to see it as a means to make the Chinese deterrent more opaque, offer forward forces more strategic flexibility, stretch the deterrent effects of SASF units in the field, and otherwise to induce extreme caution in adversaries. The enemy state will have to assume the worst that because any missile fired by China could be nuclear, it will have to take care to not let hostilities begin, or do anything Beijing may consider provocative enough to merit launching its missiles.

In practical terms though, the firing of any missile from the vast Chinese holdings (some 200) of the short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) on the Tibetan plateau will require the Indian Strategic Forces Command (SFC) to plan on the basis that any incoming missile fired from Tibet in a southerly direction and detected by Indian radars will necessarily trigger a nuclear counter strike. With the road-mobile canisterized Agni-5 ready-to-fire missiles, India presently has a Launch-on Warning capability.[19] It is necessary therefore that the Indian government make it plain to Beijing that it is the SASF that will have to be very careful not to start a nuclear affray. The shorter the time lag between the detection of a Chinese missile launch and the firing of Indian missiles in retaliation, and the more automatic this process of Indian reaction, the greater will be the hair-trigger situation that will be created and, hence, the greater the credibility of the Indian deterrent posture, even if hobbled in a more massive exchange by the lack of proven thermonuclear weapons in its arsenal. The problem is the rapid augmentation of missile numbers and weapons quality requires open-ended testing of both the fusion warheads and missiles, which neither the Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party government in the period 2004-2014 nor the successor Modi regime have permitted. This is having the effect of blunting the slight advantage the Indian strategic forces initially enjoyed with respect to the lesser foe, Pakistan.

The Agni-5 (or A-5) intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) has advanced technologies, such as an all-composite rocket motor, guidance on chip, and a nosecone geometry that, depending on the extent of warhead miniaturisation, can also accommodate from three to eight weapons in MIRV (multiple independently targetable vehicles) mode, i.e, a single missile can take out three to eight different targets. These and other technological advances will be retrofitted on existing 700 km range A-1 SRBM, the 1500 km range A-2 and 2000 km range A-3/A-4 MRBMs. But the A-5/A-6 intercontinental range ballistic missiles in the development stage, and the  3500 km range K-4 IRBM and the K-5/6 intercontinental range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried by the Arihant and the successor class of SSBNs in the Indian strategic triad are oriented specifically for China. Having undergone harbour trials and sea trials, including trials of submerged firing of the K-4 missile, Arihant will by late 2016 or early 2017 enter fleet service. It is a more silent boat than the second generation Chinese Jin-class SSBN, and leagues better than the first lot of Chinese submersibles, the Xia-class SSBN, which were so noisy they rarely put out to sea and, on the rare occasions when they did, could be heard all the way to Guam! The lack of blue water experience of the Chinese Navy will likely result in the Jin-class SSBNs being deployed not far from home shores. While its onboard Julong Jl-2 SLBM will be unable to hit the US, it can reach the Indian homeland. Such strikes by China’s SLBMs will be most effectively deterred, I have argued, by forward basing the Arihant SSBNs in northern Australia to increase their loiter times off the South and East China coasts. At a minimum, it will hold hostage the wealth-producing areas around Chinese coastal metropolises, such as Shanghai and the short impact times of Indian SLBMs will match those of the Chinese SRBMs and MRBMs emplaced in Tibet.[20]

Most of China’s intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles are held in secure and invulnerable horizontal tunnels excavated in the mountains in the Chengdu and Qinghai regions. Indian long range missiles – those not canisterised and road/rail mobile — too will be increasingly deployed in similar tunnels in the Himalayas, with the launchers mounted on railway wagons which will be hauled out, to be free of the mountain overhang, for firing.[21] The Arihant has so far launched a K-4 IRBM but in a depressed trajectory; it will have to be test-fired from submerged positions to extreme ranges to validate it and the onboard vertical launch system. Under development is the longer range K-5/6 SLBM that constitutes India’s survivable second strike capability – the core of the Indian nuclear deterrent. When fully deployed, the Indian sea-based deterrent will be potent enough to threaten unacceptable damage and wide area destruction and dissuade Beijing from testing New Delhi’s strategic restraint. [22] The airborne part of the Indian triad is filled by the medium range Su-30 MKI fighter-bomber aircraft pending the acquisition of a genuine strategic bomber. There’s talk of the Indian government approving the purchase of four Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ bombers, which will transpire in only one aircraft being on station at any given time. Moscow has proposed that India buy/lease 20 Backfire bombers (a squadron plus reserve) to enable half of them to be on deterrence duty, and are superior to the Chinese H-6K bomber.[23] A more potent recallable and flexible aerial deterrent solution, I have contended, is the Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber, which has been available for India to lease for some time now but which option the Indian Air Force has not so far favoured.[24]

China claims to have no more than 250-odd nuclear weapons. The US and Russian military intelligence agencies estimate the Chinese force strength at upwards of 800 nuclear weapons. Given the discrepancy in numbers I have suggested that the average of the estimates at the lower and higher ends should be the number for India to shape its strategic forces around. This number for the Chinese force strength is around 500-525 nuclear weapons. For India’s deterrence strategy to be viable would require a build-up to the 500 plus nuclear weapons level, and thereafter for the Indian forces to remain in lockstep with the Chinese counterpart forces in size and quality to ensure Beijing never has an edge.[25] Constant force augmentation is, in fact, permitted by the inherently “elastic” concept of “credible minimum deterrence” at the heart of the Indian nuclear doctrine.[26]

Nuclear deterrence is ultimately a mind game and China has the upper hand because its rulers have cultivated a reputation over the past 70 years of not taking guff from any country, not backing down in the face of military disadvantage, and of reacting forcefully and unpredictably to even the remotest provocation. It has always acted as a great power should and is now reaping the benefit of not being taken lightly by anyone. India’s record, on the other hand, is of New Delhi habitually accommodating and appeasing bigger powers, and backing down when pressed. In a nuclear contingency, therefore, the Chinese pronouncements will always carry more weight. Even so, conflict between India and China is unlikely to ever become nuclear sphere because both the countries believe in deterrence, not nuclear warfighting, and both adhere to the No First Use principle.[27] It won’t happen also because the A-5 and the Arihant can wreck prohibitive damage.

India and Pakistan

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists sizes the Indian inventory at around 110 nuclear weapons.[28] However, a report by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, suggests India possesses fissile material to make as many as 356 to 492 nuclear weapons.[29] But in terms of actual weapons fielded by Pakistan’s fast growing weapons inventory, currently standing at 130 plus weapons, eclipses India’s.[30] So, why unlike everybody in the Indian strategic community and every agency of the India government, including the Indian armed services, do I discount and, over the years have consistently underplayed, any real threat of nuclear war with Pakistan?

Nuclear weapons have their political uses (to increase the status and prestige of a country) and are critical to deterring an otherwise heftier enemy from militarily reducing a country. But inherent in the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons as between nuclear weapon states is the likelihood of a war of annihilation. Cut from the same social and cultural fabric, India and Pakistan have not waged and cannot in the future wage a war of annihilation owing to their organic links — “partitioned” families and communities, ongoing kith and kinship relations, and shared religion, social values, norms, cuisine, language, and ethos, which act as tremendous political constraints on the governments in the two states.[31] In the event, what has obtained in the subcontinent are limited “wars of manoeuvre” that fit the description of them by the late Major General D.K. Palit, Director, Military Operations during the 1962 War with China, as “communal riots with tanks”. This is because Indo-Pakistan military hostilities are time, space, and intensity constrained and fit the metrics of riots.[32] This does not preclude tough talk and nuclear bluff and bluster, which is the warp and woof of nuclear deterrence. Nor does it prevent India and Pakistan from taking precautionary measures, such as putting nuclear forces on alert in case of incidence of conflict — reasonable actions that are invariably misinterpreted by the West and feed its alarm about the “nuclear flashpoint”.[33] It is a line that Islamabad understandably propagates because it legitimates its nuclear deterrent[34] and, more importantly, guarantees US intervention in case of hostilities endangering Pakistan.

This does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons by Islamabad or any other country, as the UK government policy paper says, “to deter the most extreme threats to [its] national security and way of life, now and in the future.”[35] But such a threat has never been posed by India in the conflicts so far (1947-48, 1965, and 1999). The 1971 War was an exception to this rule, but only because the hideous political mismanagement of East Pakistan by the martial law regime in Islamabad compounded an even worse military strategy of stretching the defensive forces thin around the then East Pakistan border, which allowed small breaches in defence to widen, with the help of the rear area operations by the Bangaldeshi Mukti Bahini guerillas, into pathways for the Indian forces to race to Dhaka. In this respect, it may be recalled that the original directive by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the army was to occupy a thin sliver of East Pakistan territory on which to install a “government in exile”, which was then expected to negotiate with General Yahya Khan in Pakistan.[36]

The public announcements by Pakistani officials during crisis, notwithstanding, the Pakistan army cannot, realistically speaking, afford  initiating use of nuclear weapons because of the sheer disparity of resources and a very adverse “exchange ratio” – the ratio of the destruction absorbed to the destruction imposed on the enemy. The certain extinction of Pakistan as a state and social organism in return for the destruction of at most two Indian cities is not a prospect even the most callous Pakistan army leadership can stomach. If, as it is said, most countries have armies but the Pakistan Army has a state, losing Pakistan is therefore absolutely unacceptable to its army. As a professionally run force it understands only too well the dangers of fighting itself into a corner, or pushing India into unleashing a war to the finish that Pakistan cannot win. This last could happen if it follows through on its threat and attacks Indian armoured and mechanized army units with tacnuckes even if on its own territory. Doctrinally, India is geared to respond with “massive retaliation”. Excessive or not, credible or not, this is how India officially says it will respond in that situation. Will the Pakistan army leadership see this as an Indian bluff and risk the consequences? It is the uncertainty attending on the Indian response and its outcome that will stay Pakistan from breaking the seven decade-old “nuclear taboo” and chancing escalation by tripping the nuclear wire.[37] The Pakistan Army leadership has always been prudent and pragmatic, and sued for peace when the hostilities have gone badly on the battlefield. It is unlikely to venture recklessly into a nuclear exchange that could spell Pakistan’s doom.

That said, the predominance of tacnukes in Pakistan’s arsenal does give credence to its India-centric deterrence and raison d’etre of providing the Indian government with pause for thought before ordering an armoured offensive. Moreover, to the extent nuclear sabre-rattling unnerves New Delhi and keeps it from retaliating with military penetration and strikes in depth to Pakistan’s asymmetric use of terrorists across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, its tacnuke-heavy nuclear arsenal, from the Pakistani perspective, serves a purpose. But it is limited purpose considering that India holds the upper hand in the asymmetric/covert warfare sphere as well. Compared to India Pakistan has more numerous social, ethnic and political faultiness for New Delhi to exploit. This is a fact of life the Pakistan army can ignore at its own peril.[38] Nuclear weapons are supposed to confer a sense of unshakeable security and equanimity on countries possessing them. Should this happen to Pakistan, it will usher in durable nuclear peace on the subcontinent.

The negative fallout of the Pakistani tacnukes is that the Indian government and military can readily rationalize their inappropriate threat focus on a measly Pakistan and justify an otherwise obsolete Indian conventional force structure featuring excessively large armoured forces meant, it seems, to keep an influential combat arm in good humour.[39] No one seems to care that this keeps a predominantly industrial age Indian armed services from transforming themselves for fifth generation warfare centered on robotic systems and network-enabled armaments, and the defence budget from being more effectively utilized to meet the primary challenge posed by China.[40]


[1] Greg Theilmmann and David Logan, “The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia”, Threat Assessment Brief, Arms Control Association, July 27, 2016 at https://www.armscontrol.org/files/Threat_Assessment_Brief_Nuclear_Weapons_Geometry_of_Asia.pdf ,

[2] “US Nuclear Modernization Programs”, Arms Control Association, Washington, DC, October 2016 at https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USNuclearModernization

[3] Aaron Mehta, “Updated B-61 Nuclear Bomb to Cost $8.25 billion”, Defense News, Oct 19, 2016 at http://www.defensenews.com/articlces/updated-b61-nuclear-bomb-to-cost-825-billion?utm

[4] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian nuclear forces, 2016”, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 3, 2016 at www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00963402.2016.1170359

[5] Tomaz Strojnik, “Fact Sheet: Chinese Nuclear Modernization”, American Security Project, August 2016, at https://www.americansecurityproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Ref-0198-Chinese-Nuclear-Modernization.pdf

[6] UK nuclear deterrence: what you need to know, Policy Paper, UK Government, Ministry of Defence, updated March 24, 2016, at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-nuclear-deterrence-factsheet/uk-nuclear-deterrence-what-you-need-to-know. Claire Mills, The French Nuclear Deterrent, Briefing Paper No. 4079, House of Commons Library, 29 June 2016 at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN04079

[7] William Burr, ed., China, Pakistan and the Bomb: The Declassified File on U.S. Policy, 1977-1997, National Security Archive, March 5, 2004 at http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB114/

[8] Joseph A. Bosco, “China’s Complicity in North Korea’s Nuclear program: Henry Kissinger for the Defense”, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. 15, Fall 2015, at http://web.stanford.edu/group/sjeaa/journal151/korea/SJEAA_Vol15_Korea_China’sComplicityInNorthKorea.pdf

[9] Bharat Karnad, “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea”, The Wire, 25 July, 2016 at http://thewire.in/53338/countering-the-rogue-nuclear-triad-of-china-pakistan-north-korea/

[10] Henry S. Rowen first conceptualized such a war. See his “Catalytic Nuclear War” in Graham T. Allison, et al, eds., Hawks, Doves and Owls [New York: Norton, 1985], 148-163.

[11] Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation [Minneapolis: Zenith Press, reprint edition, 2009], 241-242.

[12] Quote in G. Parthasarathy, “Dealing with China’s military might”, Business  Line, August 5, 2010

[13] Karnad, “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad”.

[14] “Nuclear dominoes” I have argued will fall in Asia, starting with Japan and North Korea going nuclear as soon these two states are persuaded about the essential unreliability of the US as an ally. See Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy [Westport, CN, and London: Praeger Security International, 2008], ch. 1.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Li Bin, Tong Zhao, Understanding Chinese Nuclear Thinking, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Oct 28, 2016 at http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/10/28/understanding-chinese-nuclear-thinking-pub-64975

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition ]New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2005, 2002], 397-438.

[19] Bharat Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) [New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015], 371-372.

[20] Ibid, 119-122.

[21] Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy [Westport, CN, London: Praeger Security International, 2008], 63-106.

[22] On India’s missile power, see Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 374-378.

[23] Bharat Karnad, “Mindless military procurement – S-400”, Security Wise blog, Oct 15, 2016 at https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/10/15/mindless-military-procurement-s-400/

[24] Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 335-336.

[25] In 2002 and again in 2005, I had recommended India build up its strategic forces to nearly 450 nuclear weapons level. See my Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, 612-645

[26] Ibid.

[27] Re: Chinese thinking, see Li and Tong, Understanding Chinese Nuclear Thinking.

[28] Hans M Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, Indian nuclear forces, 2015, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 1 September 2015 at http://thebulletin.org/2015/september/indian-nuclear-forces-20158728.

[29] “India’s growing N-arsenal threat to regional peace: FO”, Express Tribune (Islamabad), Oct 30, 2016 at http://tribune.com.pk/story/1213806/atomic-spectre-indias-growing-n-arsenal-threat-regional-peace-fo/

[30] Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons, Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 1 August 2016 at https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34248.pdf

[31] The organic ties are illustrated by the strong existing relationship and the troubles faced by members of the Muslim Nayawati community with regard to marriage, domicile and residence because of this community being divided between the coastal Karnataka town of Bhatkal and Karachi. See Mohit M. Rao, “The marriage vows between Bhatkal and Karachi”, The Hindu, October 30, 2016 at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-marriage-vows-between-bhatkal-and-karachi/article9282371.ece

[32] This thesis is explicated in all my books, most recently, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 279-281.

[33] See the editorial “The Kashmir flashpoint”, New York Times, January 17, 2002 at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/17/opinion/the-kashmir-flashpoint.html.

[34] Sadia Kazmi, “Kashmir: A nuclear flashpoint”, Foreign Policy News, July 31, 2016, at http://foreignpolicynews.org/2016/07/31/kashmir-nuclear-flashpoint/

[35] See UK nuclear deterrence.

[36] Refer Lt. Gen. T.F.R. Jacob (Retd.), Surrender at Dhaka: Birth of a Nation [New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1997].

[37] On the effects of breaking the nuclear first use taboo, see George Quester, Nuclear First Strike: Consequences of a Broken Taboo [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, paperback].

[38] Prime Minister Modi in his 2016 Independence Day address hinted at India’s support for freedom fighters in Balochistan, enthusing the Baluchis. See Prasun Sonwalkar, “India can do a lot, Modi will be remembered: Balochistan leader in self-exile”, Hindustan Times, August 31, 2106. There are other sub-nationalist movements in Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, and even the MQM headed by Altaf Hussain in Karachi that India can stoke

[39] The costs of militarily fixating on Pakistan detailed in Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 278-289.

[40] On the Indian military’s grave transformative deficiency, Ibid, ch. 5.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, North Korea, Northeast Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to A Disruptive Nuclear China and India’s Imperatives


    Time to test a 1 MT bomb… Don’t know if it is already done via simulation in labs.

    • No, I MT weapon is not even a design on the shelf. And simulation doesn’t help.

      • Parth Paul says:

        will india ever convince japan to go nuclear or give nuke tech to vietnam ….only way to limit chinese rogue behaviour is to have nuke neighbours around his periphery …what stops japan to go nuclear …..

      • &^%$#@! says:

        Get real man. India cannot convince itself to go nuclear (in the sense the phrase is generally understood). Why do you think Japan or anybody else would take India seriously?

  2. Shaurya says:

    Bharat: A tour de force article with clear benchmarks for the Indian arsenal…Congratulations and thank the gods that we have at least one Indian with an uncompromised view of the Indian national interest.

  3. andy says:

    Great work Bharat with a comprehensive article and you wont hear a peep from the serial baiters after they read this one.

  4. Apna says:

    Why are you giving to USA a right to decide who gets to be nuclear power ?
    Usa is a proliferate. It have nukes to england all free.
    Polaris and now trident is gift to england who begged nukes from USA in 1963 from Kennedy.
    Despite NP T USA is upgrading nukes rather than eliminating them
    So America and west itself violated use deal.
    So all 3rd world nations must hAve nukes and missiles to stop Anglo American bullying.
    Stupid India wants Anglos to punish China but is oblivious that Anglos are already at border of old India now.
    800 years of slavery for stupid Indians has not wisened this loser nation of Hindus

    • In 1953 Korean war Mighty America surrendered before the Chinese. Nuclear blackmail proved hollow before Mao. In 9/11 Saudi give USA an unforgettable gift. Now America gives counter terrorism award to Saudi Prince. Prince Obama bowed down down in front of Saudi, Chinese emperors. Will Trump fall in line? Taming of Trump already begins.

    • The signing of a $3 billion deal on Tuesday between Boeing Company and Iran’s Aseman Airlines on purchase by the latter of thirty 737 MAX aircraft has been possible only with the approval of the Donald Trump administration. An earlier agreement of last December – a whopping deal of $16.6 billion – on purchase by Iran Air of 80 passenger planes from Boeing, which was reached during the Obama administration, also stands unchallenged by Trump.

      The 17th century Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric Jonathan Swift once wrote, “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.” President Donald Trump has no love lost for Iran, but then, money appeals to his head – even Iranian money. Trump won’t stand in the way of American companies doing lucrative business with Iran.

      The fact of the matter is that there are churnings in the US-Iran engagement. Bloomberg reported this week that Senator John McCain, who has been a leading voice against the Iran nuclear deal, sees nothing wrong with Boeing’s deal. He says,

      I have opposed the Iranian agreement and I am not interested in doing anything to help the Iranians but what they’ve done is completely legal. They’ve got the money and it’s not a weapons system, so it doesn’t require any involvement from the Congress.

      Now, this was the politician who once famously said, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!” Again, Senator Ben Cardin, who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, says there is little Congress can do to block the plane sale as long as it meets the terms set out in the nuclear deal.

      Evidently, the mood in the Congress is shifting, because the $3 billion deal on Tuesday is expected to create or sustain about 18000 jobs in America. According to Bloomberg, Boeing shares rose 0.8 percent to $178.07 at 2:02 p.m. in New York on Tuesday. “The gain was the third largest among the 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

      Meanwhile, US Senate has postponed the bill to impose new sanctions against Iran. Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday that the bill will not move forward for now. The proposed bill enjoys “bipartisan” support and aims at slapping tighter sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles. Corker has given a curious explanation:

      We’ve got a Iran sanctions bill that has a number of co-sponsors that wasn’t able to mark up at present because of concerns about how the European Union might react and (Iranian) elections that are coming up.

      Now, the stunning part of what Corker implied is that the US is fervently hoping that President Hassan Rouhani will get re-elected in the presidential election on May 19. Clearly, Iranian leadership’s platform to expand relations with western countries has caught the imagination of American elites and they don’t want new sanctions to hurt Rouhani’s chances of victory!

      Indeed, what needs to be factored in here is also the testimony by the head of US Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Iran is not attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and that it is abiding by the terms of the deal. The general effectively said that it is untimely to slap additional sanctions against Iran.

      To my mind, Tehran senses that the tide is turning. Trump held back from endorsing the anti-Iran tirade by the visiting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince recently. (See my recent opinion piece US-Saudi reset is real but rather unpredictable.)

      In an extraordinary interview on Monday with a Persian-language daily, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disclosed that Tehran will exercise strategic patience vis-à-vis Trump administration. Zarif said,

      The (Iranian) establishment in its entirety has reached the conclusion that we shouldn’t give them (the Americans) any excuse. This should not be taken to mean that we back away from our plans… but we don’t seek tension.

      Importantly, Zarif implied that it is “some regional actors” (read Israel and Saudi Arabia) who are ratcheting up pressure on the Trump administration, “who want to steer the US into adopting policies which leave us with no choice but to contravene it (nuclear deal of 2015).”Any long-time observer of US-Iran relations will take note that such a remark by an Iranian FM would have been simply unthinkable not too long ago.

      To be sure, the ground beneath the feet is shifting under the cloud cover of rhetoric. Historically, Iranians have got along far better with Republican presidencies. There is a story that refuses to go away that Tehran had deliberately delayed the release of the American hostages to January 20 1981 so as to time it perfectly with Ronald Reagan’s inaugural – and that this was also what Reagan’s team had preferred through back channels. At any rate, Reagan who had some of the most anti-Iranian rhetoric to his credit while on the campaign trail in 1980, is today remembered better for the infamous Iran-Contra Affair. Trump, by the way, has never hidden his admiration for Reagan as his role model.

  5. Satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1) Are (admittedly unproven) thermonuclear warheads with a 100-200kt design yield already part of our armory as you have written above ?

    2) Is the A-5 already in service (IOC at this stage)? It just completed its final developmental trial last December.

    3) Has INS Arihant already conducted K-4 firings with the submarine underway ? Enough for the K-4 to be in service as of now ?

    4) Are the K-5/6 sanctioned programs ? The A-6 does not seem to have GoI sanction as of now.

  6. devraj says:

    Sir. How many 100kt bombs india ha.if ten chinese cities are hit by ten 100kt bombs(each city with single 100kt bomb).killing one million per city and half million wounded.will such casuality enough to scare chinese

  7. In 1962 China attacked India and proved to the Soviets China will attack any Soviet ally with impunity.
    In 2016 USA and China proved they will box in India forever a nonnuclear nobody . In the NSG fiasco, six so called Indian friends (Turkey, Austria, Brazil, New Zealand, Switzerland and Ireland) turned Brutus.
    In the coming imminent, inevitable showdown with China we can count only on Russia, France, Israel and Vietnam and maybe Japan.
    Australia New Zealand South Africa, South Korea and Brazil will back China. USA, UK and West will preach India to accept Chinese supremacy.

  8. &^%$#@! says:

    This article is OK in summarizing the current stage of strategic deterrence, but what is saddening is to see Karnad hark back to his disgraceful and discredited view of basing Indian SSBN;s in Australia. Specifically, he states: “… I have argued, by forward basing the Arihant SSBNs in northern Australia to increase their loiter times off the South and East China coasts….”.

    In suggesting that Indian SSBN’s stage out of a deep water port on the northern Australian coast as a means of increasing the strategic reach and deterrence impact of the Arihant-class boats.”. Karnad obviously feels no dangers in basing Indian SSBN’s which are the most survivable element of India’s feeble strategic deterrent in the sovereign waters of Australia, which is an avowed US ally and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Here the Indian SSBN’s can be subject to seizure, infiltration, sabotage, and snooping by any and every form of sensors. Neither Australia nor the US are positively inclined to India’s strategic deterrent, to say the very least.

    Even recently when choosing the submarine for its navy, Australia seems to see India as a greater enemy than China. Such views coming from a so-called “Nationalistic” strategist are uncalled for, and raise quite a few questions.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Karnad, apart from the very pertinent issues I have raised, have you ever thought that in the unfortunate event of a nuclear exchange, a missile launched from an Indian SSBN based out of Australian would in all probability invite a nuclear strike on Australia. Do you think that Australia would place itself in such a situation, and that too for India?

      • Shaurya says:

        Seriously! You think Bharat would suggest basing SSBN from Australian ports?!! SSBN are priced assets with sheltered pens as in INS Varsha. India does not have frickin air strips in small prickly islands in the IOR and you imagine that Bharat is suggesting basing precious IN SSBN in Australian ports. I mean, what do you think, Bharat is thinking? You are just here to pick on the inane using the anonymity of the web nothing more. Some of you folks who pick on words and use it out of context need to be refuted – your claims to superior knowledge notwithstanding. Seen many of you super intelligent folks, who claim know it all attitudes. Either you are ignorant or full of malice! Does no good to the discussion. Critique on valid points and constructively, the author will acknowledge, correct or refute – based on as he has done so many times in the past.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        @Shaurya, just because one is stupid, it doesn’t make one virtuous. For example, in:


        Bharat has stated: “But a strategically more potent issue requires to be broached by Modi. Abbott should be sounded out about permitting Indian SSBNs (nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarines) to stage out of a deep water port on the northern Australian coast as a means of increasing the strategic reach and deterrence impact of the Arihant-class boats.”:

        This was the first time this bizarre concept was introduced. I responded to it. If this does not convince/quieten you, then you are even worse than I thought you were. Perhaps you should confine yourself to your pet topics of handing Siachen to Pakistan, making it a park, demilitarizing it, and the whole lot of spiel your friend (?) who was in CLAWS and is now in the US preaching the virtues of NFU.

        BTW, I have no malice towards Bharat. In fact, I quite like him and know him. I am issue based. If something needs to be backed, it will be backed. If it needs to be derided, it will be given the treatment.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        The sentence in the above post should read as:
        “Perhaps you should confine yourself to your pet topics of handing Siachen to Pakistan, making it a park, demilitarizing it, and the whole spiel introduced by your friend (?) who was in CLAWS and is now in the US preaching the virtues of NFU.”

    • Shaurya says:

      Hello, First Bharat did not say park the boat in a N. Australia port and neither in “sovereign” waters of Australia – if you know what that means. Also, it seems you have no idea on SSBN patrols and safe zones for launch are mostly from open waters — away from prowling ASW assets, usually close to the the coast. Take a look at the map and with the way PLAN would dominate the SCS along with prowling eyes of other nations, we need the closest open water for our SSBN patrols and that is North Australia. About 5,000 KM range for the K4/K5……Some of you just do not get it but are quick to judge.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        What do you make of “…basing the Arihant SSBNs in northern Australia “? Do you know what *basing* a submarine means? BTW, I possibly have forgotten more on SSBN’s than you have ever learned. So kindly don’t patronize me.

  9. Shaurya says:

    @ &^%$#@! Now you bring in context. As a strategic deal to bring in Australia as part of I
    India’ security orbit is indeed far fetched at this time BUT if India can gather her wits and capabilities together is the NATURAL outcome of Indian dominance in IOR.

    As part of a strategic quid pro quo, the equation changes entirely not as you have put it. Anyways, it takes some balls to think and act audaciously, hope the nation gets such a leadership.

    As for your other innuendos, again you are just proving your antecedents of being a complete prick and out to slander and defame. A coward really.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Shaurya: A strategic deal to bring Australia into India’s security orbit – who do you think you’re fooling other than yourself. Have you ever lived, worked, and taught in Australia, or interacted with their senior military personnel? About antecedents – I suggest you refrain from commenting on what you do not know. You commence sitting on a very high horse and lecturing me on my lack of knowledge despite your abject ignorance, and when you are “called out on the mat” and factually informed as to what you are, you get all flustered. It is you who are a coward and not me.

    • andy says:

      Don’t waste your time trying to change his thought process (if thats what you can call this)because you just can’t change his mindset. The kind of drivel venkatramana puts out on this forum, with that self righteous and pompous tone, he should have been ostracized a long time back.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        @Andy: It’s pretty rich that you choose to talk about thought processes. Without the anonymity of the internet (or what you perceive to be your anonymity), people like you and your friend @Shaurya are worth nothing. All you people can ever do is parade your stupidity, ignorance, and arrogance on a blog anonymously.

      • andy says:


        Anonymity?Thats pretty hilarious coming from someone who wont even write using a name(leave alone his own)As for the fancy name calling I will stick to calling you venkatramana since it so gets your goat.The discerning readers can very well make out that its you who is stupid,arrogant,ignorant and a nincompoop.

        As for offering myself as a domestic servant,just shows the kind of shit your head is full of,are you for real or just acting to entertain everyone?sorry but its not funny.

        What you have done by riling a cool customer like Shaurya is prove that buggers like you who thrive on shit picking can irritate anyone,did you train for this?shit picking I mean.

  10. Shaurya says:

    &^%$#@! It is YOU who has been called out on a mat for making wild accusations on Bharat that “Indian SSBN’s can be subject to seizure, infiltration, sabotage, and snooping by any and every form of sensors”.

    I forced you on the above to come clean and only when challenged you said, oh Bharat said base it in a port – AFTER a quid pro quo. Now seizure and infiltration does not go well after a deal has been struck, right?

    Let us face it, what you are here for. It is to defame and slander. A critique and disagreement is fine for the issue is not of agreement.

    You know who does these things scums and people of low esteem, who do not have any respect for truth processes. You remain the abject coward.

    As for Australia, yes I have been there for work multiple times over two decades, what is the point, your d*ck is bigger than mine?

    You could have made the simple point that Australia is unlikely to be in a strategic understanding of this nature with India in the foreseeable future, in your view and I do not think there would be any issue. But no, you have to go low!! So, now get called out for your lies.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Shaurya: Kindly cease causing me a liar. What lies of mine have you called out? You haven’t called me out on the mat, but it is I who called you out on the mat to the extent that you contradicted your own “preaching” regarding the meaning of berthing SSBNs.

      • Shaurya says:

        I will do what I like, do not think you can stop me. Your lies has been called out. So, next time you come here, come with some modicum of honor and respect given and taken. Good bye.

  11. Should intervene here because the discussion is getting heated. (And please, again, no name calling — what’s the point?)

    Actually in my book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) I do argue for a northern Australian basing for the Arihant-class boats in the context of an Australia distanced strategically from the US (with Washington’s unwillingness to deliver on its extended deterrence promises — a fear heightened in Australian policy circles, incidentally, with the advent of Trump). My thinking was and is this: Australia in the event will need a hefty strategic partner to shore up its strategic defence, and India fills the bill. Now, it may well be true that Australian is too white, too Christian, too Western for Washington to abandon entirely. In that case, because a hit on Australia will bring the US rapidly into the picture, it may deter Beijing from escalating hostilities into a nuclear affray in the first place. What I did not think through is the realistic possibility of sabotage, snooping, etc. in Australian port, which puts a different spin on the option and cannot be lightly dismissed.

    • Shaurya says:

      If one has to worry about about sabotage/snooping, one would not start a strategic relationship and that too with SSBN’s of all things. It is indeed far fetched at this time to envision such a deal with Australia but let me ask, is there a single soul in India who even thinks of this possibility. This is where some do not get it calling you “disgraceful”. It is these repeated personal attacks that got to me. But, am back in my cool mode now 🙂

      There are many who disagree with you, nothing new. The important point is for you to continue to articulate your view points as there is simply no one else, who has the gumption to state these possibilities, even if they are not probable and for that you are called names.

      India is not a great power yet because these possibilities are not explored, even ones where the delta between the possibility and probability is low.

      On SSBN patrols from the N. Australian coast even without a “basing” facility makes sense. We can have a secret arrangement with Australia to share data on Chinese SSN movement.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Also Australian is too white, too Christian, too Western for India to ally entirely.

      And basing the solitary SSBN design we have, when we cannot realistically expect our SSBN to be as updated as the that of others is difficult to be confident on. May be when we have the follow on to Arihant in the works. May be that time we can begin to send the Arihant in harms way. Should be doable in future. But right now even the fleet display in home waters carries avoidable risks. What to say of basing in Far Far Away Kingdom.

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