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Don’t fear the MIRVs!

India’s induction of MIRVs can enhance nuclear stability in Asia.

Yesterday’s Times of India carries excerpts from the Federation of American Scientists’ report entitled “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013.” It’s co-author, Hans Kristensen, spoke to the Times of India on reports that future enhancements to India’s strategic missiles would carry multiple independent targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs):

Kristensen told TOI that MIRVs are not in keeping with New Delhi’s policy of minimum deterrence and that Indian officials needed to explain why they want to develop the technology because it could lead to a buildup with China. “MIRV is developed for a particular strategic objective, normally to quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on missiles or to be able to hit a lot of targets in a single attack. Both of those objectives are incompatible with India’s policy of minimum deterrence because they would significantly increase the size of the arsenal and signal a shift to a nuclear counterforce war-fighting doctrine,” Kristensen told TOI.

The report says that such moves by India and China could set off an increased and more intense nuclear arms race in Asia. “The United States, Russia, and the international arms control community should discourage this competition by significantly curtailing their own MIRVed weapon systems and ballistic missile defense programs,” it says. [Times of India]

Mr. Kristensen’s statements defy logic because the development and deployment of MIRVs is not only in keeping with India’s nuclear weapons doctrine, they are an essential component of it.  India’s policy of No First Use (NFU) means that it must necessarily ensure both the survivability of its nuclear assets in the event of a preemptive attack by an adversary, as well as maintain the ability to respond in a manner that will impose unacceptable costs on the enemy.

Both components of the NFU (i.e., survivability of its arsenal and assured imposition of unacceptable costs) will be enhanced through the induction of MIRVs.  This better assures the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, which, in turn, also enhances nuclear stability between India and China.

India has quite lucidly articulated its position in its Nuclear Doctrine (emphasis added):

2.3. India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence. In this policy of “retaliation only”, the survivability of our arsenal is critical. This is a dynamic concept related to the strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security. The actual size components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors. India’s peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that :

(a) any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat: and (b) any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor

4.3(i):  India’s nuclear forces and their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response. They shall be designed and deployed to ensure survival against a first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor. [Federation of American Scientists] (1999 Draft)

The nuclear programs of both China and India continue to evolve today, thereby contributing to a more competitive nuclear dynamic in the region, whether one side would acknowledge it or not.  A legitimate question for us to ask here is whether both countries (and the region) would be better served and stability enhanced if India and China were to engage each other in nuclear confidence building measures.

The answer, of course, is yes.  India for its part has indicated an interest in entering into a strategic dialog on nuclear issues with China.  However, not only does China continue to refuse to engage India in talks over nuclear CBMs, it remains unwilling to even acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons power.

India’s options are indeed limited if China simply refuses to talk. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between India and China remain unresolved, China’s clandestine assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — brazenly flouting all non-proliferation norms — continues, and its belligerence towards India and other neighbors has increased in proportion to its growing global clout. Under such circumstances, efforts to enhance the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent are both necessary and entirely in keeping with India’s national security interests.

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