Is the Indian Nuclear Tiger Changing Its Stripes?

Data, Interpretation, and Fact

A central question within the current nuclear discourse is whether or not India has fundamentally altered the manner in which it has traditionally conducted nuclear business. Dr. Gaurav Kampani of the Norwegian Institute of Defense Studies and Toby Dalton, Deputy Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, approach the notion of a radical transformation of India’s nuclear posture cautiously.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2014, Kampani and Dalton laid out two narratives that have largely characterized India’s operational nuclear narrative over the last decade and a half. One narrative asserts that India’s nuclear weapons program is a prestige-driven program, giving little consideration or emphasis to operationalization.  A more recent school of thought suggests that India’s operational nuclear advances follow the path taken by superpowers during the Cold War, focusing on the deterrent aspect of nuclear weapons.

Although Kampani recognizes that a plethora of scholars have focused on the “stability or instability inducing effects of nuclear weapons on a large scale,” he emphasized that what was missing from those arguments “is any discussion of the role software plays in managing nuclear stability; in essence meaning India and Pakistan’s institutional capacities and operational strategies to wield nuclear forces.” By utilizing data from open-source domains and field research in India, Kampani argued that India and Pakistan’s nuclear programs have evolved in different directions. Likewise Dalton expressed concern for stability in the region, citing that “the Indo-Pakistani relationship is explained less by classical conventional or nuclear arms race models than by the asymmetries in their security strategies as reflected in the types of nuclear delivery capabilities they are developing.” Moreover Dalton asserted that for the first time India is devoting personnel and resources to assessing the Chinese threat in operational terms. This paints a complicated nuclear security dynamic in South Asia as “Pakistan is building systems to deter India from conventional military operations below the nuclear threshold, while India is developing systems primarily to strengthen its strategic deterrent against China. Both states may be racing, but they are running on different tracks and chasing vastly different goals.”

In essence, while the asymmetries between India and Pakistan are widely recognized to contribute to the risks of misperception and miscommunication–thereby rendering nuclear use more likely in a future war–both Dalton and Kampani warn that “changes in internal structure and operationalization developments don’t necessarily constitute a change in stance.” While both speakers provided an overview of the operational distance travelled by nuclear India post 1998, both rued the lack of data contributing to the current asymmetries of information, perception and stance.

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