By: Anum A Khan
India, by expanding and modernizing its nuclear weapons, has made the region more volatile. These desires of New Delhi have tilted South Asia towards a nuclear arms race. Climbing up this ladder of chaos, the only priority of New Delhi is for India to be seen as a consensual leader in the region. Such moves by India to achieve its national goal of being a regional power, altogether altered the security dynamics of South Asia. As the world seeks to shrink global stockpiles of nuclear weapons, India continues to modernize its arsenal which increases Pakistan’s security dilemmas, compelling it to adopt an appropriate response.
The latest yearbook by SIPRI mentions, as of June 2020, India is estimated to have a growing arsenal of approximately 150 nuclear weapons and Pakistan of 160. The Western as well as Indian media immediately picked up the estimates of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and reported it as the fastest growing. However, realities on ground are quite the opposite. Among the Non-NPT states, India, not Pakistan, has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal.
A study assessment published by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) gives conservative and optimal capacity to produce nuclear weapons from both its estimated unsafeguarded reactor-grade plutonium (RG Pu) and weapon grade plutonium (WG Pu) stocks. The conservative estimates in the book suggest that India can produce at least 356 nuclear weapons. On the other hand, apart from attaining its fuel needs of its 500 MW Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR), India can still produce at least 493 nuclear weapons. By 2039, India will have six FBRs. The study estimated that each of the 500MW FBR, once operational, will assist in making 28 nuclear weapons yearly. These estimates were made in 2016, do this capacity has increased.
Another study by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard, states that according to Indian fissile material weapon equivalent potential, India can produce 2261 to 2686 nuclear weapons. The author breaks it down with 148—198 weapons from WG Pu, 688 from separated RG Pu, 1375—1759 unseparated RG Pu and finally, 50 from High Enriched Uranium
This oscillatory approach in guarding its vested nuclear interests is something the international community must watch. Shaking hands with India through nuclear diplomacy, intentionally looking away from everything India has done to protect its obsessive nuclear secrecy, shows state-centric interests of Western powers overruling a rule-based global nuclear order
According to a report, India is also building a secret nuclear city in Chakkakere. This report mentions that it will provide extra enriched uranium fuel for thermonuclear weapons. In this nuclear city, India could keep up to 1050 enrichment machines in Separative Work Units (SWUs) coupled with 700 older centrifuges. With this, Indian officials could complete 42,000 SWUs per year. These would be enough to produce about 403 pounds WG uranium annually. Even after providing 143 pounds for INS Arihant, India will have the capacity to fuel 22 thermonuclear weapons. However, Independent analysts estimated that India has a total enrichment capacity of 42,300 SWU/yr from RMP and BARC facilities. Furthermore, India only requires 5,835 SWUs to 10,375 SWUS for 4-5 of its planned nuclear submarines which is just 24 percent of total capacity. The remaining 31925 SWUs will be enough to produce nuclear weapons. The new nuclear city enrichment facility once fully operational will take Indian capacity of enriching uranium to 100,000 SWU/yr. Hence, these facilities will provide India with nuclear weapons consisting of a larger yield. This is the major rationale due to which India has kept most of its facilities, including this nuclear city, out of IAEA safeguards.
Indian ambitions are apparent the from statement by Indian Atomic Energy Chairman R.K. Sinha, “India will continue its nuclear programme without any interruption, irrespective of decisions taken by other countries and there is no reason to follow Germany, Japan which are cutting down on nuclear energy.”
Over the past decade, a nuclear struggle to achieve the maximum is underway by India. South Asia has been alarmed by India’s increase in nuclear weapons and its ability to wage conventional war. India’s massive military expenditure has taken an asymmetric approach in building up its nuclear arsenal. Additionally, India’s multiple nuclear deals with Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) member states, resulting in an increase in its fissile material stockpiles, can increase regional tensions.
In the Fullerton lecture in 2015, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said, “India looks to transforming itself from a balancing power to a leading power”. After keeping a low profile in the international system for long, India now wants to shape global outcomes as there are now growing demands that it make more contributions to the maintenance of the global order. Thus India is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal.
India’s existing and future nuclear capability fuels regional insecurity. The Indian civilian nuclear programme is significantly expanding, thanks in part to the 2004 civil nuclear agreement with the USA. Such exceptionalism helped it to sign 13-plus nuclear cooperation agreements with other states over the past decade. Under these deals, India imported around 20000 metric tons of Uranium. It is important to note here that every ton of imported uranium liberates a ton of Indian indigenous uranium for weapon use. This expansion is creating new pathways for India to acquire weapons fissile material faster.
The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement and the 2008 exceptional NSG waiver, has heled India to stockpile more fissile material that can be utilized for weapons production. This commercial deal has made it more easier for nuclear technology to spread in South Asia, because, as of today, India has the largest unsafeguarded civil and military nuclear programmes regionally and globally. The ensuing support helped India to not only acquire nuclear weapons, but also maintain and increase its weapon stockpile. Because of this exceptional treatment India has refused to sign the CTBT, FMCT and also does not abide by NPT guidelines. India is developing a triad which includes nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, ICBMs, SLBMs, dual-use cruise and ballistic missiles and a very large naval expansion designed to project power beyond the region. India is also opting for MIRVing as well as canisterization of missiles. Moreover, many official quarters in India also indicate India is moving away from its No First Use policy.
This oscillatory approach in guarding its vested nuclear interests is something the international community must watch. Shaking hands with India through nuclear diplomacy, intentionally looking away from everything India has done to protect its obsessive nuclear secrecy, shows state-centric interests of Western powers overruling a rule-based global nuclear order. International reports create misperceptions regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme as the fastest, while India has already grown its nuclear weapons, as SIPRI estimates that India has HEU (4.4 tons) and Pu (6.5 tons—if, 0.4 tons is not included as it is under safeguards) enough for an average of 1876 nuclear weapons which is about six times Pakistan’s capability. Closing eyes to this cannot change ground realities. Nevertheless, Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapon state which will guard its security interests by giving a restrained and rational response to the full spectrum of threats emerging from India.