Nuclear Deterrence in Second Tier Nuclear States: A Case Study of India

Nuclear deterrence today anchors the national security of all states that possess nuclear weapons. Certain principles or requirements of nuclear deterrence are the same for all such countries. For instance, the ability to threaten with ‘unacceptable damage’, or the ability to ‘raise the costs’ of an action that an adversary might want to take by threatening punishment that would make the act seem meaningless and even regrettable. But must every nuclear nation indulge in an exercise of large-scale warhead accumulation or yield refinements through nuclear testing, or creation of elaborate nuclear war fighting plans in order to claim credible deterrence? Can the practice of deterrence in the second tier states follow a different course?
The study examines the manner in which India is engaged in constructing a credible and stable deterrence relationship with two of its nuclear armed adversaries, Pakistan and China with an arsenal much smaller, and command and control structures far simpler than in any of the P-5 nations. Does this difference impact the nature of its nuclear deterrence? In its efforts at creating and sustaining credible nuclear deterrence should India necessarily be expected to follow the same path and rules as those of the P-5? Would it be compelled to build hundreds of warheads and a huge weapons infrastructure? Would a deterrence based on anything less not be credible or stable?
The study concludes that even countries with small nuclear arsenals behave no differently from states that possess several thousands of such weapons. The assumption that small nuclear arsenals and rudimentary command and control lend themselves to temptations of easy nuclear use is misplaced. Credible nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan or India and China would hold on the same bases it has held elsewhere – fear of nuclear destruction, imposition of unacceptable damage, and the ability to rationally calculate and weigh the benefits against the costs of use of nuclear weapons.

Keywords: Nuclear deterrence, India, Pakistan, China, nuclear risk reduction