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Opined

Agni-V – What Is The Way Forward ?

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Why does every move in our country(India) these days, draw cynicism and have some ‘desi Durkheim’ amongst us crib about India’s state of poverty, health, malnutrition ? And then someone will draw our dear old ‘Paaji‘ (the punjabi one, not Bengali), doing something funny, and then starts the unending ‘Fabebook Bashing’ , ‘Re tweets’ , “Bharat Mata Ki Jai .. ” (no seriously, I have seen it) et. al.

When someone question such move(of launching missiles), it clearly shows lack of understanding of the geopolitical equations prevailing in the region. We need to understand that we aren’t in the begin surroundings afterall. Alongside problems relating to Pakistan, terrorism and domestic insurgency, there lies a big Asian giant (China) , who is busy modernizing its military, has off late heightened its activities in Indian Ocean and is increasing its military expenditure(China’s 2012-13 budget was over $120 billion, compared to India’s $40 billion). In such an environment, India cannot afford to look the other way. Even though New Delhi cites China as a reason for its nuclear weapons and part of Beijing’s arsenal is intended to deter India, the risk of nuclear confrontation between China and India is considered to be low.

Successful Agni V test alongside, the triad of nuclear deterrence from sea, land and air, demonstrates India’s strengthening defense and deterrence capabilities. The missile has particular relevance to India in the context of advance military capabilities in its neighborhood, enabling New Delhi to upgrade its present strategic posture of ‘dissuasion’ to that of ‘credible deterrence.’

Check what the Chinese had to say about this launch here

Having said that, a nuclear competition between China and India would bring multiple and unforeseen risks. Asymmetric capabilities(China around 250-300; compared to India’s around 100) and threat perceptions between the two nations along with no progress on a nuclear dialogue and stability – embedded in a willingness to respect each other’s interests – risks could grow that some future confrontation between these powers might involve nuclear threats and misjudgments

Mistrust is an enduring feature of relations between India and China, however over the years some substantial elements of cooperation have grown and persisted – China has become India’s largest trading partner, security and political dialogues have improved, there is an annual defence dialogue between the two countries and also an operational-level measures to manage incidents on the disputed border.

But strategic-level issues of military co-operation and transparency or stable nuclear deterrence is yet to feature in any of these discussions.

Main reasons for mistrust in India-China relations:

(i) Disputed Himalayan Border and the legacy of 1962 border war. Both countries have postured and renewed their claim on the land.

(ii) India is concerned about China’s increasing foray into the Indian Ocean, its overall military modernization, rising military expenditure, non-transparent nature of its programmes and objectives. India’s Military expense in 2012-13 budget is circa $40 billion, whereas China’s military budget for the same year is around $120 billion or even more, as Chinese don’t reveal the real numbers.

(iii) China’s strategic assistance to Pakistan on nuclear, military and missile is seen by India as a strategic attempt by China to ‘contain’ it in the Indian Subcontinent. Also remember the recent ‘stapled visa’ issue for J&K state residents?

On the other hand, growing India-US ties strategic partnership is perceived by China as a measure to ‘contain’ or limit its power including a potential blockade of energy imports traversing the Indian Ocean. A recent example being hardening of China’s stance towards India on several issues after the path breaking US-India civil nuclear deal in 2005.

(iv) China’s anxiety about Tibet and presence of some politically active Tibetan exile community in India. Remember whenever these Chinese people visit India, Tibetan people in India create a huge furore.

(v) Diplomatic and soft-power competition in other regions and in Southeast Asia.

(vi) Nuclear mistrust – There seems to be a no confidence between the two countries on nuclear relations.

The famous Panchsheel agreement with China spearheaded by Nehru was the first step towards principles of peaceful co-existence with neighbours, though it is a different thing that the 5-principles of Panchsheel agreement have never been followed either in letter or in spirit by China. This was followed by the 1962 war which led to more misunderstanding and bitter relations.

Inspite of that, recently India proposed to negotiate a nuclear No-First-Use (NFU) agreement with China, with a belief that it would confer mutual security benefits and led both countries towards a bilateral dialogue on nuclear relations. But it seems China does not consider India’s possession of nuclear weapons legitimate because it is not a recognised nuclear weapon state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China has thus resisted any bilateral nuclear discussions.

China’s Nuclear Doctrine has historically been to use nuclear weapons as tool of coercion, with their value being in possession rather than use. Although China’s doctrine and capabilities are primarily aimed at deterring the United States, these also affect the security dynamic with India. Also there is an inherent ambiguity in the Chinese nuclear doctrine relating to its No-First-Use (NFU) pledge, because it says that it is applicable only to the members of NPT signees.  See here. Since India is not a signee to NPT, so it automatically excludes India. Moreover it does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons on ‘Chinese territory’, which presumably includes disputed territory as well.

On the other hand, India’s nuclear doctrine is premised upon a ‘credible minimum deterrent’. India’s NFU policy talks of no first use but massive retaliation ‘designed to inflict unacceptable damage’.

So what is the solution to all this?


In view of emerging no confidence on nuclear relations between the two nations, there is an urgent need to begin a dialogue on nuclear and strategic stability talks. The two countries must realise that the current silence on these issues in official discussions is unsustainable and in the interests of neither.

(i) Mutual respect for each other’s interests in the broader relationship
India needs to indicate its accommodative nature towards China’s legitimate Indian Ocean interests as a maritime trading and energy-importing nation.

On the other hand China needs to recognize India as a nuclear peer(which it has not as yet) and demonstrate the place for ‘relationship with India’ ahead or atleast at par with its ‘relationship with Pakistan’.
A good gesture can be to support India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

(ii) Use trade to get inroads into strategic bilateral talks between the two countries. I think some work towards this end has already begun.

(iii) Sit and discuss the nature and purpose of each other’s nuclear weapons programs and doctrines, as well as of their missile defence efforts. They can use this platform to clarify any doubts on NFU ambiguities between the two states.

(iv) Adopt ways that would stabilise deterrence and workable crisis management and communication mechanisms. There was a telephone hotline established between the PMs of the two countries in 2010. It is a good step forward, but serves little purpose unless both sides agree on the circumstances in which they need to use the hotline, and actually use it in those situations.

(v) Both countries should identify common ground and objectives to contain nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament globally. This might give two countries a platform to sign the CTBT (remember both countries haven’t signed the CTBT as yet).

Between the two nations, the overall aim should be to reduce tensions and to engage in periodic military confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a means of mutual reassurance.

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