A Rand Corporation study, commissioned by the Pentagon, has said that New Delhi does not possess or seek to build a ready nuclear arsenal, contrary to views held by many within and outside India.
The study, titled India's Emerging Nuclear Posture: Between Recessed Deterrent and Ready Arsenal, notes that India's objective is to create a 'force-in-being', which it describes as a nuclear deterrent that consists of available but dispersed components.
Essentially, it consists of unassembled nuclear warheads, with their components stored separately under strict civilian control, and dedicated delivery systems kept either in storage or in readiness away from their operational areas -- all of which can be brought together rapidly to create a usable deterrent force during a supreme emergency.
According to the study by Rand -- considered to be the Pentagon's think tank -- the implications of such a force for the US are many, and in this regard argues that any effective US policy in South Asia must first acknowledge that nuclear rollback is not a viable option for India.
The study, authored by Ashley Tellis, senior policy analyst at Rand, suggests that a regional restraint regime of some sort could be sustained if the US were committed to a deepened engagement with India.
It states that the Indian government's decision to resume testing in 1998 was a result of growing pressures for a strategic deterrent in the aftermath of the Cold War.
The study traces the roots of this decision to the country's first nuclear test in 1974 which, it states, produced an insufficient yield, thus ensuring that New Delhi would someday need to resume testing if it sought to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent.
It argues that this need became more pressing after a series of events in the late 1980s, including the demise of India's most important protector, the Soviet Union; the newly acquired nuclear capabilities of its traditional antagonist, Pakistan; and the growing economic and military capabilities of its prospective competitor, China.
Ultimately, it says, a new, more risk-acceptant government in India used the opportunity afforded by Pakistan's test firing of the Ghauri -- a missile acquired from North Korea -- to resume nuclear testing.
According to the study, the 1998 tests did not signify a dramatic change in New Delhi's strategic capabilities nor did they signal India's emergence as a potent nuclear weapons power.
However, it acknowledges they did symbolise a critical shift in India's strategic direction by committing the country to the active development of a nuclear deterrent of some kind, a course that is unlikely to be reversed in the future by any succeeding government.
The study says the force-in-being implies that India's nuclear capabilities will be strategically active, but operationally dormant, giving New Delhi the capability to execute retaliatory actions within a matter of hours to weeks. Such a capability will allow India to gain in security, status, and prestige, while simultaneously exhibiting restraint, it says.
Consequently, according to the study, India would acquire a nominal deterrence capability against Pakistan and China, while avoiding both the high costs of a ready arsenal and any weakening of its long tradition of strict civilian control over the military.
The study says Beijing's current nuclear force is both technologically and numerically superior to that of India and extensive Chinese attacks could devastate India's ability to reconstitute its dispersed components, leaving New Delhi with only a ragged retaliatory capability of perhaps little political consequence.
It says although Indian policymakers acknowledge that a ready nuclear arsenal is not desirable from the viewpoint of New Delhi's interests, they are strongly committed to continued nuclear weaponisation and missile development.
Indo-Asian News Service
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