The number of nuclear weapons that India possesses is fewer than that of its twin rivals — China and Pakistan, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) analysis of the global nuclear weapons.
This report comes at a time when India and China mark one year of the deadly Galwan Valley clash amid a continuing standoff at the LAC.
According to the 2021 Yearbook on Armament, Disarmament and International Security by SIPRI, the world continues to modernize nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities.
Key Findings For 2021
The nine nuclear-armed states — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)— together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021, a slight decrease from 13,400 in 2020, the SIPRI report shows.
Despite a slight decrease in total warheads of the erstwhile cold war rivals, more than 90% of nuclear weapons are possessed by the US and Russia — close to 5550 and 6255.
The total number of deployed warheads with operational capacity has increased by 105 units to 3825. More than 50% of these remain in possession of Russia and the US.
India’s Twin Troubles – China & Pakistan
Both India and Pakistan increased the number of nuclear warheads by less than 5% as compared to last year’s assessment. India now has a total of 156 warheads, a little behind Pakistan that has 165.
Meanwhile, China’s nuclear arsenal grew by 9%, up from 320 to 350 in one year.
China’s nuclear tests date back to 1964 and continued until 1996, which is said to be its 45th test overall. China was recognized as one of the world’s five ‘weapons states’, while India was excluded from such status. China is also one of the P-5 countries (permanent members of the UN Security Council).
It remains committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 1968 that prohibits all countries except the P-5 (US, UK, France, Russia and China) from possessing nuclear weapons. China has been critical of nuclear proliferation in its backyard.
“China has never admitted that India and Pakistan are nuclear weapons states,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang had earlier said.
India’s nuclear program is said to have begun in the aftermath of the 1962 war with China whereas Pakistan began to prioritize the industry after its defeat in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.
India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 followed by a series of tests after a gap of 22 years, in 1998. India’s nuclear doctrine is committed to “no first use” policy and has defended its nuclear program on “deterrence” grounds.
Pakistan denoted six nuclear bombs in the course of four days in 1998 as well.
“Pakistan continues to prioritize the development and deployment of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems as part of its full-spectrum deterrence posture vis-à-vis India,” according to SIPRI.
The report also called out both countries on low levels of transparency. “The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide no information about the status or size of their arsenals,” it said.
Experts fear an increase in nuclear deterrence capacity will trigger an arms race between the two that will have wider repercussions for the whole South Asian region.
The Race For Nuclear Supremacy
While India has a stronger and larger military force than its historic adversary, the nuclear capabilities of both are similar.
India has the advantage of possessing a nuclear-triad, the ability to launch nuclear weapons by air, land, and sea. Pakistan is yet to possess sea launching capabilities.
India’s nuclear arsenal includes ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and fighter jets that can drop nuclear weapons on marked targets.
India’s range of short to medium-range Agni ballistic missiles along with its variants and Prithvi missiles currently make up for most of the land-based nuclear arsenal. India is on course to operationalize its second-nuclear powered submarine, INS Arighat after the first one, INS Arihant operationalized in 2018.
The induction of Rafael jets, in addition to Mirage 2000 and Jaguar fighters, increases the country’s nuclear bombs carrying capacity as well as nuclear deterrence missions.
Among Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the long-range ballistic missile Shaheen-3 is capable of targeting India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands as far as the eastern coast of India.
A worry for India is the consistent rise of China militarily and economically. It carried out tests on the first nuclear submarine launched way back in 1981. Since then, China has rapidly enhanced its nuclear program.
According to US government sources, it has four such submarines in operation with two more under construction. With possession of a range of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), tactical cruise missiles and the ability to chemical and biological weapons, China is diversifying its strategic nuclear capabilities.
China is in the middle of significant modernization and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory, and India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals, according to the yearbook.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entering into force this January 21, 2021, brings a sliver of hope for disarmament activists and civil society members.
“The TPNW is the first treaty to establish a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, including their development, deployment, possession, use and threat of use,” as per SIPRI.
Commenting on the growing divide between nuclear-armed states and the rest, Matt Korda, an associate researcher with SIPRI said that “all investing in the long-term future of their nuclear forces, and other countries that are impatient to see progress on nuclear disarmament promised by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.