Why India is Not a Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7/8)

India’s challenge in asserting its stance on global nuclear disarmament requires a precise articulation of its goals and plans.

Photo: Peter Miller — © Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

For India, non-proliferation challenges have warranted special attention both from regional and global contexts for several decades. India’s tumultuous relationship with its neighbours and its desire to be a regional and global power has continually shaped the tenets of its nuclear weapons programme and policy. India has also remained a steadfast champion of global nuclear disarmament, including through multilateral initiatives such as the 1988 “Action Plan for A Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-violent World Order.

Nevertheless, proliferation of nuclear weapons and the current international security environment has created a tense space for making global disarmament a reality. India’s nuclear weapons programme, therefore, is heavily predicated upon its ability to act as a deterrence mechanism to prevent a nuclear conflict. The discourse on the logistics of nuclear non-proliferation has remained focused on the need to maintain regional stability. Even as India’s dominant assumption of its nuclear weapons has been determined by the effectiveness as a deterrence mechanism, the international community, from time to time, finds discrepancies in India’s ideology and its ability to actively promote nuclear disarmament (even if it is not actively increasing it either).


India’s nuclear weapons programme is heavily predicated upon its ability to act as a deterrence mechanism to prevent a nuclear conflict. The discourse on the logistics of nuclear non-proliferation has remained focused on the need to maintain regional stability.


The non-proliferation challenges faced by the world today require focused engagement by major nuclear powers like India, France and the US, since the popular understanding is that Pakistan has plans to steadily increase its nuclear weapons arsenal (in the near future), despite India putting the advancement of its weapons programme on hold. India’s position on the non-proliferation challenges cannot be divorced from the intentions of nuclear states like Pakistan and China. In order to engage major nuclear powers in a productive dialogue, there has to be special effort from New Delhi to reify its position as a responsible partner in the nuclear stability dialogue.

Another potential aspect that affects India’s stance is Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons and the expectations that come with a significant response to these advances. Common perception of defence policymaking in India dictates that many policies in the advancement of weapons on either side of the border is a calculated response to the other’s moves. Pakistan’s close relationship with China (a nuclear and global superpower) has also been a cause of concern for Indian policymakers. However, in India’s quest for a Nuclear Weapon Free World (NWFW), the exaggeration of this relationship is potentially detrimental. India has managed to gradually define its parameters for nuclear weapons in a manner that reflects its resistance to increasing its arsenal. However, the role of Pakistan’s stance and its relationship with its neighbours cannot be downplayed in the context of regional stability.

Another challenge that India faces, within this conversation, is in terms of the ability of international organisations to advocate and ensure the possibility of a NWFW. With the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, there was a legally binding feature that was introduced on the global nuclear disarmament policy narrative, which did not exist previously in other UN mechanisms such as the NPT and the CTBT. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge that the UN’s ability to produce tangible results has been sub-par. As is the case with such endeavours, major state actors are not signatories to one or the other, and therefore the attainment of a NWFW remains unfinished.


Pakistan’s close relationship with China has also been a cause of concern for Indian policymakers. However, in India’s quest for a Nuclear Weapon Free World, the exaggeration of this relationship is potentially detrimental.


Public perception in India on nuclear weapons is shaped by the India-Pakistan conflict dynamics, based on nuclear capability, among other parameters. Nuclear policy aspects such as No First Use (NFU) and Negative Security Assurance (NSA) have garnered extensive attention which has perpetuated India’s status as a responsible Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) in a relatively volatile region. India attempts to assert its relevance in the nuclear dialogue in order to perpetuate its stand on the policy of global nuclear disarmament.

With India maintaining a prolonged overt nuclear programme, there has been concern surrounding the country’s stance on non-proliferation. However, it is important to note that India has not wavered from its push towards universal disarmament in a credible time frame. Nevertheless, the international community has expressed anxieties over India’s own lack of credibility, due to its refusal to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and concerns over the commitment to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Within this context, it must be noted that India has agreed to partial safeguards, monitoring nuclear technology that has been acquired from outside sources. India has also categorically reassured the international community of its commitment to non-proliferation, but the sense of ambiguity around the commitment still plays out in the global nuclear debates.

India’s challenge in asserting its stance on global nuclear disarmament requires a precise articulation of the goals and plans to promote this agenda. Although India reinforces its commitment to the policy of nuclear disarmament, the complex security dynamics in the South Asian region has had a determining effect in its ability to pursue this agenda. Its pursuit of reduction is hampered by the qualitative and quantitative factors, demonstrated by the significant changes taking place in both China and Pakistan respectively. However, India holds the potential to provide the necessary push needed to create a space for accountability and action, in a situation that has previously remained relatively stagnant.

The non-proliferation and global disarmament discussions require a monumental shift towards more dialogue. The lack of concrete responses from the nuclear powers has perpetuated a gridlock situation. This provides New Delhi with an opportunity to articulate the pertinence of non-proliferation and disarmament dialogue, which can also strengthen the credibility of India as a responsible stakeholder in the regional and global nuclear context.


 The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.

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