Grand Tamasha: Detailing how India can bolster its sea-based nuclear deterrent

Updated on Nov 03, 2022 02:57 AM IST

Tellis was speaking about his new book, Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia, a highly detailed account of the transitions in the nuclear weapons programmes in India, China and Pakistan over the last two decades.

Tellis’s new book notes that Pakistan is building “the largest, most diversified, and most capable nuclear arsenal possible”. (HT Photo)
Tellis’s new book notes that Pakistan is building “the largest, most diversified, and most capable nuclear arsenal possible”. (HT Photo)
By, New Delhi

In order to bolster its sea-based nuclear deterrent, India should consider joining forces with France and the United States in a deal that would mirror the pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US (AUKUS), noted security scholar Ashley J Tellis has said.

Tellis, who holds the Tata Chair in Strategic Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, made these comments on “Grand Tamasha”, a weekly audio podcast co-produced by the Hindustan Times and Carnegie, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

The AUKUS pact made waves when it was announced in September last year as the accord entailed Australia cancelling an existing, multi-billion-dollar deal to purchase nuclear-powered submarines from France. A potential deal between India, the US, and France — which Tellis dubbed INFRUS — would boost India’s capabilities while placating Paris.

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“India’s primary nuclear reserves, which are land-based, would potentially become more vulnerable over time” due to improvements in Chinese surveillance, intelligence, and military hardware, Tellis told “Grand Tamasha” host Milan Vaishnav. He proposed that India’s solution is building a robust sea-based deterrent. “I’m not persuaded today that India will be able to do this entirely on their own, and that opens the door to thinking about some sort of a partnership to make this happen.”

Tellis was speaking about his new book, Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia, a highly detailed account of the transitions in the nuclear weapons programmes in India, China and Pakistan over the last two decades. The book analyses the dramatic changes in the nuclear dynamics in southern Asia over the past few decades, changes that pose fresh threats to India’s security but have not led to the kind of nuclear arms race many observers expected.

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“At the end of the day, India is a relatively satisfied state and a relatively secure state. That is, for all the challenges that it has vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, India still has mass on its side,” explained Tellis. “It is a huge country and it’s not a pushover and it has political ambitions that are relatively conservative.”

Tellis’s new book notes that Pakistan is building “the largest, most diversified, and most capable nuclear arsenal possible”. But he told Vaishnav that one should not exaggerate the threat India faces. “The Indians essentially control the cycle of escalation vis-à-vis Pakistan. As long as India is able to tolerate this subnational conflict, the chances of escalating to nuclear exchange are minimal,” Tellis said. “The issues of nuclear exchanges arise only if India responds through massive use of conventional forces. And this is something that successive Indian governments have refrained from doing...”

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