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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

A June 22-23 plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended inconclusively on the controversial question of parti­cipation by India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Meeting chairman Benno Laggner of Switzerland said in a statement on June 23 that he intends to continue the discussion at an “informal meeting” in November.

The NSG, with 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that transfers do not contribute to weapons proliferation. Laggner said diplomats, meeting in Bern, Switzerland, discussed “technical, legal, and political aspects” of NSG participation by non-NPT states. China and others have objected to India’s and Pakistan’s membership bids, which were submitted last year. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has sought to reach agreement on membership criteria for non-NPT states. NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections. In 2008 the NSG agreed to exempt India from that provision, and in 2010, the United States endorsed India’s bid for NSG membership.—DARYL KIMBALL

India Tests Two Missiles

India Tests Two Missiles

India conducted two missile tests last month, with the super­sonic Brahmos cruise missile recording a success but the Agni-2 ballistic missile test aborted. The tests were on May 2 and 4, respectively.

The Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, has several variants. The May 2 test was a land-attack version with a range of 450 kilometers, which is longer than the 290-kilometer range of the original system. The missile was launched from a mobile launcher and tested in steep-dive mode. Indian officials said the test was a success and noted that the missile hit its target with the desired precision. The nuclear-capable Agni-2 is a two-stage, solid-fueled system. It is capable of delivering a 1,000 kilogram payload over a range of 2,000 kilometers. An Indian official was quoted in The Times of India as saying “things went awry” during the May 4 test after half a kilometer and was aborted. The Agni-2 is deployed, but has not been tested for several years.—DANIELLE PRESKITT

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions

CIA Warns on Indian-Pakistani Tensions


Relations between India and Pakistan may “deteriorate further in 2017” given Islamabad’s “failure to curb support to anti-India militants,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 23 in discussing the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment. “Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors,” he said. Easing of tensions, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, “will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan” and progress in Pakistan’s investigation of the January 2016 cross-border attack on India’s Pathankot air base.—TERRY ATLAS

Is India Shifting Nuclear Doctrine?

Is India Shifting Nuclear Doctrine?

May 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre and Kelsey Davenport

A key tenet of India’s nuclear doctrine, the commitment not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, is being called into question based on comments from former senior Indian officials.

It is unlikely that India is formally abandoning its no-first-use policy, but indications that New Delhi may be relaxing this commitment could have damaging implications for stability in the region.

India displays its nuclear-capable Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2013. Credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty ImagesShortly after first testing nuclear weapons in 1998, the Indian government said that the country “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” This commitment was included in India’s nuclear doctrine in 2003. Under current doctrine, India reserves the option to use nuclear weapons under limited circumstances: if it is attacked with biological or chemical weapons or if a weapon of mass destruction is used against Indian forces outside Indian territory.

Comments from former Indian officials, including former Strategic Forces Commander Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal, former Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, and retired National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, have led some experts to conclude that India would consider nuclear first use in a third circumstance, as a pre-emptive counterforce attack if India has reason to believe that Pakistan is preparing a first strike against it.

India’s doctrine may have the flexibility to allow for pre-emptive counterforce strikes designed to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal before Islamabad could retaliate, some experts think based on remarks from Menon and Nagal.

Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ignited the debate at the Carnegie Endowment’s International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington on March 20 when he stated that India, not Pakistan, may be the first to launch nuclear weapons in the event of a South Asian conflict.

He highlighted elements of Menon’s 2016 book, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, which identified the rationale for India shifting away from countervalue targeting, such as cities, to counterforce targeting, such as military assets, based in part on Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons. Narang argued that India’s no-first-use policy has “far greater flexibility” than generally recognized and that India could strike first if it considers a Pakistani strike to be imminent.

This assessment is supported by several well-known South Asian defense analysts, including Ajai Shukla, a journalist and retired Indian army colonel. Shukla wrote in an April 10 article in The Business Standard, an Indian newspaper, that the traditional South Asian nuclear exchange scenario, in which India responds to a Pakistani first strike with a countervalue second strike targeting Pakistani cities is not realistic. If India had reason to believe that Pakistan was preparing to launch a first strike, an Indian pre-emptive counterforce strike, targeting the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, would be more strategic, he wrote.

Others contend that India is not technically prepared for this shift in doctrine and that there is little evidence to prove it is taking place. Rajesh Rajagopalan, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arms Control Today in an April 18 email that he does “not see any indication of any official shift to change Indian doctrine beyond” the hints offered by former officials.

If India were to move toward a counterforce strategy, a “clear indicator of the shift” would be “expressions of concern about the imbalance of nuclear forces with Pakistan” and steps to increase the size of India’s nuclear arsenal, because New Delhi would require “significant superiority in Indian nuclear forces over Pakistan,” Rajagopalan said.

In addition to a larger nuclear arsenal, India would need to develop more accurate missiles and effective tracking of Pakistani systems to technologically carry out a pre-emptive counterforce strike. “India does not have the surveillance capacities needed to monitor Pakistan’s nuclear forces after they are dispersed, as they presumably would be in a crisis,” Rajagopalan said. This puts a pre-emptive counterforce attack in a crisis “clearly beyond India’s capacities,” he said.

Narang acknowledged that India does not have the requisite capabilities to launch a pre-emptive counterforce strike but that it is in the process of developing them. India has taken steps over the past several years to build a ballistic missile defense system and improve the accuracy of its own missiles. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Regional Impact

Although it is unclear if India’s nuclear doctrine is shifting, debate over the flexibility of India’s no-first-use pledge could provoke changes in Pakistan and China that further destabilize the region.

Pakistan has retained a more ambiguous policy on first use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-armed states and has indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating so-called red lines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any threshold for use.

In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India. Pakistan’s development of a short-range, tactical nuclear missile, the Nasr, supports the strategy of using nuclear weapons against superior conventional forces.

If Pakistan were concerned that India might conduct a counterforce first strike, that could provoke Islamabad to use nuclear weapons first in an escalating conflict, rather than risk losing the option for use.

Rajogopalan said any change in India’s doctrine may have a limited impact on Pakistan because Islamabad believes that India already has a first use doctrine. But Pakistan “may move toward a nuclear force that is in a constant state of readiness, instead of keeping its nuclear forces disassembled,” he said.

Pakistan, like India, is thought to store warheads separately from delivery vehicles. Moving to higher-alert status and mating warheads with delivery systems allows for quicker use, but increases the risk of inadvertent launch.

Further, Islamabad may choose to accelerate the expansion of its deterrent and its options for delivering nuclear weapons. Pakistan is already taking steps to counter India’s ballistic missile defense system by developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles and looking at a sea-based deterrent to mirror India’s recently deployed ballistic missile submarine. (See ACT, March 2017.)

China has consistently declared a no-first-use policy. Most recently in 2015, Beijing said that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

It is unlikely that Beijing would move away from its no-first-use policy based on discussions in India about doctrine, but India’s steps could push China toward other measures, such as launch-on-warning or higher-alert status for its nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2016.) In a 2009 defense white paper, China declared that its nuclear missiles are “detargeted” in peacetime and “not aimed at any country.”

A more assertive Indian doctrine and the growing nuclear and missile capabilities in New Delhi could prompt Beijing to consider changes in its practices, particularly if the United States is seen as strengthening India as a regional counterbalance to China.

India, Pakistan Escalate Missile Rivalry

Missile advances may destabilize an already dangerous region.

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India and Pakistan are pursuing the development of new nuclear-capable missiles that risk further escalating tensions in South Asia and increasing the chance of a nuclear exchange.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Peshawar on October 4, 2016, after Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their border. (Photo credit: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)In the past several months, both countries have tested and refined systems for deployment. Although their nuclear ambitions and advancing capabilities should not be considered in isolation or solely as bilateral, there is an action-reaction dynamic between the two states that drives their advances. China is also a factor, particularly in India’s military planning, as New Delhi pursues longer-range ballistic missiles that are more relevant to deterring Beijing than Islamabad. 

This creates a complex nuclear geometry in Asia, in which developments intended to provide stability often have the opposite effect. Indeed, some of the recent developments raise serious concerns about control of nuclear missiles in the field and an increased risk of an unauthorized nuclear attack. 

Sea-Based Capabilities 

Pakistan’s Jan. 9 test-firing of a sea-launched cruise missile, the first for that missile, is one of Islamabad’s responses to India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent and advancing ballistic missile defense system. The missile was tested from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean and hit its target with “precise accuracy,” according to a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the Pakistani military.

The nuclear-capable missile, known as the Babur-3, has an estimated range of 450 kilometers. It is a variant of the ground-launched Babur-2 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 700 kilometers and was last tested in December 2016. The Babur-3 gives Islamabad “a credible second strike capability, augmenting deterrence,” the military statement said. 

That judgment might be premature, given that the Babur-3 was tested from an underwater mobile platform and is not likely ready for deployment on Pakistan’s diesel submarines. But Pakistan’s decision to pursue a sea-based deterrent is not a surprise. Evidence, such as Pakistan’s decision to stand up a Naval Strategic Force Command in 2012, pointed toward its pursuit of a sea-based deterrent. 

India was not cited by name as the reason for pursuing a sea-based deterrent, but the Pakistani military statement alluded to Indian developments as a motivation, saying that the missile is a “measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood.” The reference likely included India’s recent deployment of a nuclear-capable, submarine-launched ballistic missile to ensure the survivability of its deterrent and complete New Delhi’s nuclear triad. 

India’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, completed sea trials in 2016 and is widely believed to have been inducted into the Indian navy. The Arihant-class submarines can carry India’s nuclear-capable K-4 or K-15 ballistic missiles. 

In the days following the Babur-3 test, India announced it would test-fire a K-4 ballistic missile, but there has been no subsequent announcement of a test taking place. The K-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile assessed to have a range of approximately 3,500 kilometers, as opposed to the K-15, which has a range of approximately 750 kilometers. The K-15 reportedly was tested twice in March 2016 and is now in production. 

The decisions by India and Pakistan to pursue sea-based nuclear weapons systems, although presented in terms of strengthening deterrence, raises concerns about the actual impact on stability in the region. 

Both countries currently are believed to keep warheads separated from missiles. Sea-based deterrents, however, require mating the warheads and missiles prior to deployment. If India and Pakistan view their submarine forces as the survivable leg of the nuclear deterrence forces, waiting to deploy a submarine until a crisis scenario is not an attractive option.

This raises questions about the management of the nuclear warheads at sea and the reliability of the communications systems. If submarine commanders have the ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles, it could increase the chances of an unauthorized or accidental launch. 

New Land-Based Capabilities

The concern about delegating command-and-control authority also applies in the case of some ground-based systems, such as Pakistan’s short-range tactical ballistic missile, the Nasr. The Nasr has a range of approximately 60 kilometers, and the ISPR has described the system as filling a gap to “deter evolving threats,” which includes India’s conventional military superiority. 

To use the Nasr as a deterrent against conventional attacks, it may be necessary in certain situations to transfer command and control of these tactical nuclear weapons to commanders on the ground. Some experts view the development of the Nasr, with possible pre-delegation of authority, as potentially destabilizing and increasing the likelihood of use against a conventional attack by India. 

Pakistan also tested a second new system in January, a medium-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). The ISPR said that the Jan. 24 test was a success and that the missile, called the Ababeel, has an estimated range of about 2,000 kilometers, “the capability to engage multiple targets with high precision,” and the ability to evade radar. The missile will ensure the “survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missile defense environment.”

Pakistan conducts its first successful test firing of the nuclear-capable Babur-3 cruise missile January 9 from an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. The missile, intended for submarine deployment, was fired from an underwater, mobile platform. (Photo credit: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations)

Pakistan’s development of the Babur-3 and MIRV capability on the Ababeel comes as India makes advances with its ballistic missile defense system. The Indian Ministry of Defence announced Feb. 12 that it “successfully conducted a test wherein an incoming ballistic missile target was intercepted by an exo-atmospheric interceptor missile off the Bay of Bengal.” The statement described this as an “important milestone in building its overall capability” to defend against incoming ballistic missile threats. 

MIRV-capable and cruise missiles, however, can make it more difficult for missile defenses to intercept incoming warheads. The Babur-3 “features terrain hugging and sea skimming flight capabilities to evade hostile radars” and air defenses, the ISPR said in its statement.

India’s Missile Developments

While Pakistan is orienting its new delivery systems based on developments in India, India is considering China as it deploys new ballistic missiles. 

India’s pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles further destabilizes the region’s complicated strategic geometry. These missiles, primarily the Agni-4 and Agni-5, are clearly directed toward China. 

For example, the Agni-5, with a range of more than 5,000 kilometers, is not necessary for targeting Pakistan. But it does put all major Chinese cities within India’s range. India tested the Agni-5 in December 2016 and the Agni-4 on Jan. 2. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The Agni-4 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that has an estimated range of 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, January/February 2012.

China often does not respond to Indian ballistic missile tests, but the most recent Agni-5 launch drew a quick, negative response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman the next day. Hua Chunying recalled a UN Security Council Resolution in 1998 that urged India and Pakistan not to pursue nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, after both countries tested nuclear devices, and said China takes the position that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries.”

During the Chinese New Year, Beijing posted a video of its new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16. This system, first displayed in September 2015, is assessed by the Pentagon in an annual report on China’s military in 2016 as improving China’s ability to strike at “regional targets.”

Although it is doubtful that China’s decision to display the missile again is directed at India alone, it does highlight China’s regional nuclear capabilities that likely concern India.

India Tests Long-Range Missile

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely to reach intercontinental-ballistic-missile classification. 

January/February 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely able to reach the range for classification as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 

According to a press release from the Indian Defence Ministry, the Dec. 26 launch tested the full range of the Agni-5 and successfully achieved all mission objectives. The release said that the flight test “further boosted the indigenous missile capabilities and deterrence level of the country.” 

The Agni-V missile is displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2013. (Photo credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)The Agni-5 is a road-mobile, three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile believed to be capable of carrying a 1,500 kilogram warhead an estimated 5,000-5,800 kilometers. The threshold for ICBM classification is 5,500 kilometers. 

The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization, which developed the Agni-5, will not give an exact range for the system, but has said publicly that it is more than 5,000 kilometers. That distance would put within range all of China, a nuclear-armed neighbor that New Delhi views as a threat. The two fought a brief border war in 1962 and have continuing territorial disputes.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, at a Dec. 27 press conference cited nonbinding UN Security Resolution 1172, which in 1998 called on India and Pakistan to “cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Beijing maintains that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries,” Hua said. 

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rebutted the implication that India was not complying with the UN resolution and said India “abides by all” applicable international obligations. 

The missile was tested from Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, off the eastern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. The first Agni-5 test took place in 2012, and the most recent before the December launch was in January 2015. (See ACT, March 2015; May 2012.)

NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation

Six years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged his support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the nuclear technology control organization established in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapon test blast, which used plutonium produced with nuclear technology from Canada and the United States. According the official NSG website , India’s 1974 test explosion “demonstrated that peaceful nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused.” NSG membership currently requires that the state is a member in good standing with the nuclear...

India Stays Silent on First Nuclear Sub

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. 

December 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

India has quietly put into active service its first ballistic missile submarine in August, according to news reports. If so, India will have taken the last necessary step to possess a nuclear triad, the ability to launch nuclear weapons from air, land, and sea. 

The Indian government neither confirmed nor denied reports of the commissioning of the INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. It can be equipped with 12 750-kilometer-range K-15 missiles or four 3,500-kilometer-range K-4 missiles. A K-4 missile launched from the northern Indian Ocean could reach China and Pakistan. The K-15 has been operational since July 2012, but the K-4 is estimated to require further testing before deployment. 

An Indian Kalvari-class attack submarine is escorted by tugboats in Mumbai on October 29, 2015. Recently, India is believed to have put its first Arihant-class ballistic missile submarine into active service. (Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s submarine program began in 1984. The Arihant is the first of three ballistic missile submarines to be developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel program; the second, the INS Aridhaman, is scheduled to be delivered in 2018. India began development of the Arihant in 2009 and started testing it in December 2014. Sea trials were completed in February. In a March 19 interview with Arms Control Today, an Indian official claimed that the submarine would be ready to be commissioned at any time in the following month. (See ACT, April 2016.)

But the Indian government has made no announcement about commissioning the Arihant. The defense ministry did not confirm or deny that the submarine had been commissioned in August, reported The Diplomat on Oct. 19. When asked about the Arihant, the ministry and the Indian navy refused to comment on the grounds that the submarine program is a strategic and classified project, according to an Oct. 18 Times of India article. “There will soon be an opportunity to talk about it,” Vice Admiral GS Pabby stated in response to questions about the submarine at an Oct. 18 event, reported Hindu Business Line.

Several members of India’s defense community welcomed the news reports that the Arihant had begun active duty, citing the gap between India’s submarine fleet and those of other nuclear powers. As of 2015, India possesses 15 submarines while rival China has more than 50 conventional submarines and four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. 

The implications of India’s acquisition of a ballistic missile submarine are a “mixed bag,” Shane Mason, a research associate in the Stimson Center’s South Asia program told Arms Control Today on Nov. 15. Although such submarines are the most survivable leg of the triad and could enhance deterrence, they may create command and control challenges for India and give Pakistan an incentive to pursue its own sea-based leg of the nuclear triad, Mason said. 

In India, nuclear command and control traditionally has been directed by the political sector, not the military. “The practice of sea-based deterrence will be a new one for India and will upend the country’s tradition of strict civilian control of nuclear forces,” Mason said.

India to Deploy Missiles Near China

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the deployment of supersonic cruise missiles along the country’s northeastern border with China...

September 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the deployment of supersonic cruise missiles along the country’s northeastern border with China, a move that Beijing’s army denounced as destabilizing the region and increasing the likelihood of confrontation. 

Brahmos missiles are seen during the rehearsal parade for India's Republic Day in New Delhi on January 20, 2007. [Photo credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images]Modi chairs the Cabinet Committee on Security that in early August cleared the deployment, which includes about 100 Brahmos cruise missiles, five mobile launchers, and a command post. The missiles will be located in the region of Arunachal Pradesh, the border of which is disputed by China.

The Brahmos cruise missile, jointly developed by India and Russia, is estimated to carry a 300-kilogram warhead over a range of 290 kilometers. The missiles, which have a reported maximum speed approaching Mach 3, are likely to be armed with conventional warheads, although they could be paired with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. 

The official publication of China’s People’s Liberation Army, the PLA Daily, said Aug. 22 that India’s decision to deploy the Brahmos “exceeded its own need for self-defense and poses a serious threat to China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces.”

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia


Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.


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