Can Modi's India Be Trusted With Nukes?

India's March 9 "accidental firing" of Brahmos nuclear-capable supersonic cruise missile into Pakistan has raised serious questions about the safety of the Indian nuclear arsenal. Do the people in charge of India's nukes have basic competence to handle such weapons? Was this really an "unauthorized" or "accidental" firing? Why was there a long delay by New Delhi in acknowledging the incident?  Could Pakistan be blamed if it assumed that extremist right-wing Hindu elements had taken control of the missile system in India and fired it deliberately into Pakistani territory? Has the Indian government risked the lives of 1.6 billion people of South Asia?

Top Indian defense analysts Sushant Singh and Bharat Karnad have strongly criticized the Indian government for the incident and its response. Singh has accused the Indian government of risking the lives of 1.6 billion people.  Karnad has called the incident "quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a 'technical glitch'". Both have praised Pakistan's "mature" response to the incident. 

In an OpEd in the Deccan Herald, Mr. Singh says "we (India) have come out looking like either bumbling idiots or out of control, while the Pakistanis have come out as being both capable and mature".  In an interview with Rediff, Professor Karnad said, "This is quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a ‘technical glitch’".  Here are more detailed excerpts of remarks by Singh and Karnad:  

Excerpts From "A Broken Arrow" by Sushant Singh published in the Deccan Herald: 

"India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states that came close to climbing the escalation ladder in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrikes just three years ago. My column in this paper on February 27 (“Three years ago, we were on the brink of war”) had warned of the risks highlighted in February-March 2019, which have been overlooked since. The accidental firing of an Indian missile has brought the spotlight on those risks again. It would be irresponsible to ignore them now".

"The lives of 1.6 billion people of India and Pakistan cannot be dependent on such lucky breaks. It is for these reasons – the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, the minimal time available to take a decision, and Pakistan’s strategic mindset – accidents are unacceptable. Questions raised in western capitals about the safety and security of our nuclear weapon systems and processes were regularly dismissed by New Delhi by citing its impeccable track-record and supposedly fool-proof systems. It allowed India, despite the concerted efforts of certain American experts, to de-hyphenate itself from Pakistan’s poor track record of proliferation, its weak security systems always seen to be at risk of being infiltrated by religious religious extremists in uniform. On issues of nuclear safety, Pakistan has always attempted to bracket India with itself, but has often failed. But now, we have come out looking like either bumbling idiots or out of control, while the Pakistanis have come out as being both capable and mature. India can dismiss all Pakistani allegations but there will be renewed questions from the US non-proliferation lobby that are going to be tougher for New Delhi to respond to".

"India, as the bigger country, has the cushion of geography, while Pakistan, driven by the insecurity of a small territory, has a nuclear security doctrine of ‘first use’. To avoid the destruction of its arsenal and delivery systems by a pre-emptive Indian strike, it deems it necessary to strike India first in the event of hostilities threatening to break out. This makes the situation more dangerous in the subcontinent"

"An environment of relative calm between India and Pakistan, with a ceasefire on the LoC in Kashmir, definitely helped the Pakistani military keep its cool in the face of an Indian missile. Would it have reacted so maturely in the midst of military or political tensions? Or can Pakistan be blamed if they assume that certain rogue elements had taken control of the missile system in India and fired on it? Crucially, if the missile had a self-destruct feature, why wasn’t it activated? Should we expect every junior Pakistani military officer to display the same sagacity and courage as the Soviet naval officer Vasili Arkhipov, the Brigade Chief of Staff on submarine B-59, who refused to fire a nuclear missile and prevented a nuclear disaster in 1962? Or of the Soviet military duty officer Stanislav Petrov who, on seeing an early-warning system showing an incoming US strike, with about half-a-dozen missiles, in the early hours of September 26, 1983, made the call – in the face of incomplete information and doubt -- that it was a system malfunction, instead of reporting it to his superiors as enemy missile launches?"

Excerpts From Bharat Karnad's Interview with Rashme Sehgal:

RS: What does this say about their safety mechanisms and the technical prowess in the way these dangerous weapons are being maintained in India?

BK: That’s precisely the worry attending on this misfiring.

Indeed, the Pakistani government was quick to capitalise on this incident of the Brahmos missile going astray.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Secrity Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf publicly expressed concern and asked the international community to note the fairly casual manner in which missiles are the Indian armed forces.

He went on, understandably, to extend that concern to India’s handling of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Such criticism is bound to have an effect on international opinion and hurt India’s self-confessed status as a ‘responsible State’.

RS: The defence ministry seems to have landed with egg on its face.

BK: A whole barnyard full of eggs, in fact. This is quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a ‘technical glitch’.

The triggering mechanism is a hardy piece of work including a firing sequence and a final authorisation.

How this process was obviated is a mystery.

RS: Pakistan’s foreign office summoned India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad to lodge a warning that this unprovoked violation of its airspace could have endangered passenger flights and civilian lives.

BK: Well, yeah, anything could have happened, including the missile, even with a dummy warhead, kinetically taking out a passenger aircraft.

In your view, could this have been a BrahMos cruise missile possessing nuclear capability?

The Brahmos missile has interchangeable warheads and can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

But most forward-deployed Indian cruise missiles are conventionally armed.

RS: If it was a nuclear missile — albeit unarmed — is there a possibility in the future that the command and control system could fail again in the future which could have dangerous consequences for both nations?

BK: Unless the government clarifies the nature of the ‘technical glitch’ everything is in the realm of speculation. That could include a faulty command and control system.

RS: According to reports, Pakistani officials claim it was fired from Sirsa. How far is that assessment correct?

BK: No reason to doubt the Pakistani claim because the Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, District Miani, is very advanced and capable of detecting cruise and ballistic missile firings and minutely tracking their trajectory.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on March 15, 2022 at 8:13am

Errant Indian
Pakistan held back after realizing something was amiss: people
India missile launch occurred due to human, technical errors

An accidental missile fired by India last week prompted Pakistan to prepare a retaliatory strike, people familiar with the matter said, showing how close the nuclear-armed neighbors came to blows over a potentially disastrous mistake.

Pakistan had prepared to launch a similar missile to strike India but held back because an initial assessment indicated something was amiss, people familiar with the matter said. The Indian missile ended up damaging some residential property but caused no casualties.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 15, 2022 at 1:15pm

#India reviewing procedures after missile "accidentally" fired into #Pakistan. Pak NSA Yusuf called for an investigation into the "real circumstances surrounding" the incident "to ascertain if this was an inadvertent launch or something more intentional"

India is conducting a review of its standing operating procedures for operations, maintenance and inspection of weapons systems after accidentally launching a missile into Pakistan last week, its defence minister said on Tuesday.

"We attach the highest priority to the safety and security of our weapon systems. If any shortcoming is found, it would be immediately rectified," Rajnath Singh told parliament.

India accidentally released a missile, which landed in Pakistan, around 7pm last Wednesday during routine maintenance and inspection, he said.

"While this incident is regretted, we are relieved that nobody was hurt due to the accident," Singh said.

An Indian media report said that an unarmed, practice-version of the BrahMos supersonic missile was accidentally fired into Pakistan during an inspection at a secret satellite base of the Indian Air Force.

Quoting sources in the Indian defence ministry, the report claimed that the missile followed the trajectory that it would have in case of a conflict, but “certain factors” played a role in ensuring that any pre-fed target was out of danger.

The report said that since it was “a practice missile”, it had no warheads. The report also claimed that India informed Pakistan about this “accidental firing” soon after it happened. Pakistan, however, said that India failed to immediately inform Islamabad about the accidental launch, and waited until after the Inter-Services Public Relations announced the incident and sought clarification from New Delhi.

India subsequently acknowledged the incident on Friday, chalking it up to a "technical malfunction", and said that a "high-level court of enquiry" was ordered on the event.

The Foreign Office rejected the "simplistic explanation" offered by India and proposed a joint probe into the incident to establish the facts.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also took the issue up on Monday with his German counterpart and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf had also questioned Delhi's ability to handle sensitive technology in the wake of the incident and urged the world to consider whether India was able to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear weapon systems.

Yusuf called for an investigation into the "real circumstances surrounding" the March 9 incident "to ascertain if this was an inadvertent launch or something more intentional", saying that "it is hard to believe anything this Indian government says."

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 17, 2022 at 11:19am


That earlier crisis had begun following a suicide-bomb attack on Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, which had led to tit-for-tat standoff air attacks between the Indian and Pakistani air forces. In the course of those skirmishes, an Indian pilot was shot down and captured by Pakistan. According to subsequent accounts, India threatened to escalate violence further if its pilot was not returned unharmed, including reportedly explicit threats to launch a missile attack on Pakistani targets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi later told campaign crowds he had threatened a “qatal ki raat” (a night of bloodshed) if the Indian pilot was not released. As Vipin Narang and I commented at the time, “South Asia was a couple of wrong turns away from serious escalation.” It does not take a particularly creative imagination to conclude that an inadvertent missile launch in that atmosphere might have led to something different than a somewhat staid Pakistani press conference.


....Perhaps India hoped Pakistan would simply not notice, or that it wouldn’t find the debris. Alternatively, perhaps India was uncertain as to the missile’s trajectory and assumed that it had not strayed into Pakistan. The Indian defense minister told parliament that after the accident, “it was later learnt that the missile had landed inside the territory of Pakistan.” How much later? He didn’t say. What seems to have been a two-day delay in notification appears to contradict India’s obligations under a 1991 agreement with Pakistan on preventing air space violations which obligates both sides “if any inadvertent [airspace] violation does take place, the incident ....


Whether India’s opacity contributed to this episode is uncertain. The changing nature of India’s explanation in these early days has not been reassuring. Was the accident a result of “routine maintenance,” as India said in its official press release of March 11? Was it the result of “routine maintenance and inspection,” as India’s defense minister told parliament on March 15? Was it the result of a “simulation exercise” gone awry, as one of India’s largest newspapers reported on March 16? Transparency seems needed here, if for no other reason than to convince the Indian public that they are safe from accident. A majority of the missile’s flight trajectory, after all, was over Indian territory — Indian cities, towns, and villages that might have suffered from this accident that mercifully caused no harm to either country.


It is impossible to wring all the risk out of dangerous weapons. Brinksmanship works, to some extent, because the processes that unfold during a crisis are only partly controllable. They produce “threats that leave something to chance.” Yet the missile episode reinforces that policymakers should be under no illusions that they can fully control these weapons. Military organizations make mistakes, those mistakes cause accidents in peacetime, crisis, and war, and those accidents can be dangerous and deadly. While a full accounting of the causes of the March 9 launch remains to be done, and may never become publicly known, it is consistent with numerous odd and bizarre accidents that have occurred before in nuclear-armed militaries. “Things that have never happened before happen all the time in history,” Sagan observed three decades ago. Inadvertent cruise-missile launches on nuclear opponents are now definitively no longer on that “never happened before” list. We will be lucky if the next surprise is similarly inconsequential.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 26, 2022 at 7:29am

the (Brahmos) incident raises questions about the safety of India’s cruise missile systems, especially given the real risk of accidental escalation between nuclear-armed adversaries.

The missile at the center of the accident was reportedly a surface-launched supersonic BrahMos cruise missile jointly developed by India and Russia with a range of 290 kilometers. India is also developing an extended air-launched variant with a range of 800 kilometers. The BrahMos is not a part of India’s nuclear forces, though it has been reported to be nuclear-capable. India may realize its nuclear potential if it moves toward a counterforce nuclear doctrine, according to some scholars.

The incident was dangerous for several reasons. First, the missile, cruising at 40,000 feet, “endangered many international and domestic flights in both Pakistani and Indian airspace,” according to a spokesperson for Pakistan’s armed forces. It could have hit civilian aircraft in its path.

Second, the missile could have landed in a heavily populated area. The Indian government acknowledged the potential for disaster in a statement: “While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident.” Additionally, Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh later clarified that it only “later learnt” that the missile had landed in Pakistan, raising the possibility that India had not tracked the missile’s trajectory. The misfired missile might have landed in a densely populated part of India as well.

Finally, the incident risked a military escalation between two nuclear-armed countries. In recent years, the threshold for military engagement between India and Pakistan has been reduced. In 2016, Indian troops conducted “surgical strikes” against militants on the Pakistani side of the “line of control” in the Kashmir area, in response to a terrorist attack on an Indian army base. In 2019, the Indian Air Force crossed the international border and bombed Balakot in Pakistan in response to a terror attack against Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama, Kashmir. Pakistan’s response to this attack led to an air-battle over Kashmir that ended when a Mig-21—a supersonic fighter jet—was shot down. The potential for military escalation between both states is high. The accidental launch of the BrahMos missile could have sparked a military crisis.


India’s accidental missile launch joins a growing list of missile accidents, some of which were nuclear. In 1983, the Soviet Union’s early-warning systems mistakenly detected a US missile attack. At the time, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet military, reported a system malfunction and saved the world from a nuclear exchange. In 1995, Russia detected a Norwegian research rocket launch (to study the aurora borealis) and mistook it for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) heading to Moscow. President Boris Yeltsin was prepared to retaliate but ultimately decided that that Washington had not launched a nuclear first strike on Russia. However, the incident highlighted the risk of accidental escalation during peacetime and the role of luck in averting disaster.

The recent exchange between India and Pakistan was more of a diplomatic incident than a military one. But unless the two countries establish measures to mitigate such dangers, the world may not be so lucky the next time.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 1, 2022 at 8:46pm

#Indian Army Says Misfired Army Rockets Led To Blast In Crop Fields. The three rockets that were fired during an army exercise had lost track and landed in #Mohangarh in #Rajasthan, weeks after “accidental firing” of a #Brahmos missile into #Pakistan

Jaisalmer: Inquiry into the bomb explosion near Jaisalmer on Thursday revealed that three rockets that were fired during an army exercise had lost track and landed in Mohangarh area.
The bombs had exploded after getting misfired from Pokhran field firing range.
Fortunately, there was not much ammunition in the warhead of the rocket due to which a big accident was averted. Nearby fields caught fire but it was controlled. These rockets fell 2km away from Navodaya Vidyalaya.
Senior army official sources said army is regularly conducting exercises at the Pokhran field firing range these days and firing activities are underway. Trial of rocket firing was being done on Thursday and three rockets were accidentally misfired which fell in Nanod miner area in Mohangarh without hitting the target.

There was a loud noise and cloud of smoke and sand in the air along with three pits. Army is conducting a high level investigation and efforts are being made to prevent such incidents in future.

Jaisalmer district collector Pratibha Singh said that there was no loss to life and property except for minimum damage to the crops. The tehsildar has been asked for the report of the damage.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 9, 2022 at 9:32pm

India’s Inadvertent Missile Launch Underscores the Risk of Accidental Nuclear Warfare
Complex weapon systems are inherently prone to accidents, and this latest launch is one of a long history of military accidents in India

By Zia Mian, M. V. Ramana on April 8, 2022

Last month, while most of the world focused on the war in Ukraine and worried that a beleaguered Russian leadership might resort to nuclear weapons, thus escalating the conflict into a direct war with the U.S.-led NATO nuclear-armed alliance, a nearly tragic accident involving India and Pakistan pointed to another path to nuclear war. The accident highlighted how complex technological systems, including those involving nuclear weapons, can generate unexpected routes to potential disaster—especially when managed by overconfident organizations.

India and Pakistan possess more than 300 nuclear weapons between them, and have fought multiple wars and faced many military crises. On March 9, three years after their dispute over Kashmir escalated into attacks by jet fighters, the Pakistan Air Force detected “a high speed flying object” inside Indian territory change course and veer suddenly toward Pakistan.* It flew deep into Pakistan and crashed. The object was a BrahMos cruise missile, a weapon system developed jointly by India and Russia. India soon stated the launch was an accident.

The firing of the BrahMos missile falls within a long history of accidents involving military systems in India. Military aircraft have strayed across the borders during peacetime. India’s first nuclear submarine was reportedly “crippled” by an accident in 2018, but the government refused to divulge any details. Secrecy has prevented the investigation of an apparent failure of India's ballistic missile defence system in 2016. Engagements between India and Pakistan can arise from such accidents, as in 1999 when a Pakistani military plane was shot down along the border by India, killing 16 people. Pakistan has had its share of accidents, including a Pakistani fighter jet crashing into the capital city in 2020.


South Asia’s geography is pitiless. It would only take five to 10 minutes for a missile launched from India to attack Pakistan’s national capital, nuclear weapon command posts or bases. For comparison, the flight times between missile launch sites and targets in the United States and Russia are about 30 minutes. Even this extra time may be insufficient. In the event of a military crisis, no leader can make a judicious decision during this period, when faced with impossible choices. But shorter flight timesincrease the likelihood of mistakes.

The mistake that is of greatest concern is a false alarm of an incoming nuclear attack, possibly directed against nuclear forces. Indian or Pakistani—or Russian or NATO—policy makers may find themselves under immense pressure to launch a preemptive attack, thereby compounding the crisis. The terrible dilemma confronting them would be whether to use their nuclear weapons first or wait for the bombs from the other side to land. Nuclear war, even of a limited nature, between India and Pakistan could lead to millions of deaths in the short term and even graver consequences in the longer term for the region and beyond.

Compounding these dangers is the overconfidence of India’s officials, who displayed no recognition of the gravity of the Brahmos accident. A “technical malfunction” had “led to the accidental firing of a missile,” the official statement declared, noting glibly “it is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan.” India’s defense minister assured parliament members that the system is “very reliable and safe.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 23, 2022 at 7:46am

India sacks 3 air force (#IAF) officers for firing #missile into #Pakistan. Earlier, #India blamed a “technical malfunction” during routine maintenance. Military experts have warned of the risk of accidents or miscalculations by #nuclear-armed neighbors.

The Indian air force has said it has sacked three officers for accidentally firing a missile into Pakistan in March.

“A court of inquiry, set up to establish the facts of the case, including fixing responsibility for the incident, found that deviation from the standard operating procedures by three officers led to the accidental firing of the missile,” the air force said.

At the time of the accidental firing, India blamed a “technical malfunction” during routine maintenance.

Military experts have warned of the risk of accidents or miscalculations by the nuclear-armed neighbours, which have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller armed clashes, usually over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The incident raised questions about safety mechanisms.

Pakistani officials said the missile was unarmed and crashed near the city of Mian Channu, about 310 miles (500km) from the capital, Islamabad.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 2, 2023 at 8:30pm

Is There a Persistent Threat of Nuclear Crises Among China, India and Pakistan?

Southern Asia — India, Pakistan and China — is the only place on earth where three nuclear-armed states have recently engaged in violent confrontations along their contested borders. As a USIP senior study group report concluded last year, the problem of nuclear stability in Southern Asia is getting harder to manage because of geopolitical changes, such as rising India-China border tensions, as well as evolving military technologies, including growing nuclear arsenals and more capable delivery systems. Unfortunately, in the time since that senior study group completed its work, little has happened to revise its worrisome conclusion or to prevent the most likely triggering causes of a nuclearised crisis in Southern Asia. To the contrary, there are some good reasons to fear that the situation in Southern Asia has even deteriorated over the past year.

No one wants nuclear escalation — but it can still happen
To be clear, just because states invest in nuclear weapons and delivery systems does not mean that a crisis or war is imminent. Leaders in China, India and Pakistan have always viewed their nuclear arsenals primarily as tools of deterrence, less for practical warfighting than to convince adversaries of the extraordinary costs that a war would risk. Nor do any of the region’s leaders take their nuclear programs lightly; all feel tremendous incentives to keep their arsenals safe and secure and to build systems of command, control and communications intended to prevent accidents, unauthorised use or theft.

Nevertheless, because even a single nuclear detonation could be massively destructive, US policymakers have an obligation not to accept these sorts of logical assurances passively or uncritically. Accidents do happen. India’s misfire of a Brahmos missile test into Pakistan last year proved that point perfectly. No matter how well designed, nuclear systems are complicated and involve the potential for human or technical error. When something does go wrong, overreaction by opposing forces is less likely when they have a greater degree of confidence in, and knowledge of, the other side. Reliable and secure communications — in the form of hotlines — can help, but only to the point that they are actually used in a timely manner. Apparently, India failed to do so during the Brahmos incident.

Fear, hatred and other emotions can cloud human judgment, especially in the heat of a crisis when information is imperfect and communication difficult. Reflecting on his own experience of crisis management in Southern Asia, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently wrote that he does “not think the world properly knows just how close the India-Pakistan rivalry came to spilling over into a nuclear conflagration in February 2019.” The question — for Pompeo and current US policymakers — is what more they are doing now to prepare for the next crisis.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 2, 2023 at 8:31pm

Is There a Persistent Threat of Nuclear Crises Among China, India and Pakistan?

The terrorism tinderboxA return to serious India-Pakistan crisis could be just one terrorist attack away. Not even when Pakistan suffered devastating floods last summer could leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi create sufficient political space to open basic commodity trade. Hostile rhetoric is high, and there is reason to anticipate it could get far worse over the coming year as national leaders on both sides prepare for elections. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has learned he can whip up domestic political support from tough talk and cross-border retaliation. In Pakistan, neither civilian nor army leaders can afford to look weak in the face of Indian attacks, especially when they face jingoistic (if transparently opportunistic) criticism from ousted prime minister Imran Khan.The prospect of anti-Indian terrorism is also growing. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan shows no greater commitment to eliminating terrorist safe havens than it did in the 1990s, and Pakistan’s will (and capacity) for keeping a lid on cross-border terrorism will be tested as it faces heightened security and economic pressures at home. In addition, India’s repression of its Muslim minority community, especially in Kashmir, is simultaneously a reaction to past anti-state militancy and nearly guaranteed to inspire new acts of violence.
No matter the specific cause or circumstances of anti-Indian militancy, Modi’s government is likely to attribute culpability to Pakistan. That, in turn, raises the potential for an emotionally charged crisis that could, under the wrong circumstances, spiral into another India-Pakistan war.
Nor can Pakistan afford only to worry about its border with India. Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have deteriorated drastically ever since the Taliban swept back into power. Rather than controlling Afghanistan through its favoured militant proxies, Pakistan is suffering a surge in violence on its own soil, most recently the devastating bombing of a police mosque in Peshawar claimed by the anti-state Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Such violence, along with national political turmoil, environmental calamity and economic crisis, will raise concerns among some in the United States about threats to the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear enterprise. Sadly, that will probably lead Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division — the guardians of its nuclear arsenal — and other Pakistani military leaders to fear a phantom threat of American military intervention rather than to address actual causes of the Pakistani state’s fragility.
Events along the contested border between India and China hardly inspire confidence that New Delhi and Beijing have found a path back to normal relations after their bloody border skirmishes of 2020. To the contrary, the prospects of rapid military escalation have grown, principally because both sides have positioned greater numbers of more lethal forces close to the border. Before 2020, relatively small, unarmed Chinese and Indian patrols routinely risked coming into contact as they pressed territorial claims on the un-demarcated border. This was dangerous, but extremely unlikely to escalate rapidly into a serious military encounter. In early December 2022 hundreds of Chinese troops attacked an Indian camp in what could not possibly have been an unplanned operation. With tens of thousands of troops stationed not far away, conventional military escalation is far more plausible than it was just a few years ago.

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 2, 2023 at 8:32pm

Is There a Persistent Threat of Nuclear Crises Among China, India and Pakistan?

Against this backdrop of tensions, China’s growing nuclear, missile and surveillance capabilities will look more threatening to Indian nuclear defence planners. New Delhi may even come to fear that China is developing a first strike so devastating that it would effectively eliminate India’s retaliatory response and, as a consequence, diminish the threat of its nuclear deterrent. In response, India could seek to demonstrate that it has thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying Chinese cities in one blow as well as more nuclear submarines capable of evading China’s first strike

Not only would those Indian moves raise serious policy questions for the United States, but they would demonstrate the region’s “cascading security dilemma,” by which military capabilities intended to deter one adversary tend to inspire dangerous insecurities in another. When India arms itself to deter China, Pakistan perceives new threats from India and will likely pursue enhanced capabilities of its own. In a worst-case scenario, Southern Asia could be entering an accelerated nuclear arms race in which uneven waves of new investments in capabilities and delivery systems will alter perceptions of deterrence and stability in dangerously unpredictable ways.


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