Shift from credible minimum deterrence to compellence

By Yasir Hussain

South Asian security architecture became complex and less predictable after India carried out first nuclear weapons test in 1974 – so-called Peaceful nuclear test. Since India received a slap on the wrist, it partly emboldened New Delhi to test again in 1998 and its abstention from recent voting on the resolution that seeks ban on future testing makes their intentions doubtful. It remains to be seen how would the international community react if India resumes testing.

The conflict prone Indo-Pak subcontinent has witnessed arms build up by India that Pakistan tries to match but nuclear weapons bridged that conventional military asymmetry to some extent. However, Indian acquisition of ballistic missile defense system, massive expenditures on satellites and Russian leased nuclear powered submarines, which India is reverse engineering, are dangerous trends. The nature of strategic stability between these arch rivals would then tilt from that of deterrence to compellence, as India shall have this assumed sense of enhanced power that could motivate it to coerce by taking ‘pre-emptory action’ rather then deterring Pakistan. The Western powers and other minions, who have economic or geo-strategic interests with India, unfortunately encourage this imbalance in power. This dangerous trend would push the region towards perpetual instability.

This shift in Indian policy of credible minimum deterrence is motivated by global power ambitions and became possible because of three reasons: India’s economic rise, its narrative to project itself as a prospective counter-weight China and willingness of Beijing’s competitors to let New Delhi bid to such position. The facts are, however, a bit different. It is not necessary that India would do American and Western bidding to actually contain China. Like them, New Delhi also has huge trade interests with Beijing and there is visible economic interdependence. China does not react Indian provocations to consider it is a competitor.

Since, BJP came in power; security artists in New Delhi have drafted policies for more bombs and better ways to deliver them. The shift in Indian nuclear posture from credible minimum deterrence to that of effective deterrence is clear from the recent developments that took place since Modi came in power. Developments, such as flight testing of subsonic cruise missile, Nirbhay, ICBM Agni V, super-sonic cruise missile Brahmos, Dhanush missiles, most controversial Indo-Australian uranium deal and recent refusal to UN Draft resolution on NPT depicts Modi’s over –consciousness in national security. Recently, BJP government has opted to buy $525m worth of Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel. Indian echoes arms imports have increased by 111% within 3 to 4 years and its weapons purchases account for about 14% of the global arms trade.

Indian domestic politics also plays a role in this policy shift. Indian nuclear establishment creates the conditions that favor weapons acquisitions by encouraging extreme foreign threats and actively lobbying for increased defense spending. The roots of Modi’s security driven initiatives can be found in BJP’s maiden budget that overwhelmingly boosted its defense budget to 12% and foreign direct investment in domestic weapons industry has also increased to 49%.  Nuclear establishment in India has lion’s share in defense budget and more importantly and a nod from Modi in making more sophisticated missile systems – a shift to reliance on hard power.

From the developments of last three months, it can be seen as word minimum has lost its meaning in Indian nuclear policy of deterrence. Minimum is just a hangover of a bygone era that was only associated with economically weak India. With newfound money and political support, India is pushing towards more aggressive nuclear posture in order to deter regional adversaries. In pursuit of regional hegemony, its nuclear posture is even more aggressive than other nuclear powers. India sees its unchecked nuclear spending as a policy tool in achieving national interests. It is quite clear that, in near future Modi’s belligerent policies and aggressive doctrinal shift will further deteriorate regional peace and stability and Western myopia has let this happen.

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Yasir Hussain

Yasir Hussain is a student at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan

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