Interestingly, the Indian Ocean had never been nuclearized even during the Cold War. In its deployment toward Pakistan and China, the transfer of Indian nuclear weapons capability from land to sea could contribute to a nuclear three-party competitive phase. India is increasingly modernizing the magnitude and quality of its naval forces, and in 2020 it has offered approximate 22106 Crore Indian Rupees in the fiscal budget. Through securing the territorial waters of the Indian Ocean Region by abnormal naval modernization, the Indian Naval Force has taken an aggressive vital position. If India avoids dreaming of possessing the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) then this exclusive naval trade hub can be spared from being a zone of conflict.
A fleet of nuclear power submarines is already planned in India in accordance with its military modernization. By deploying a nuclear powered ballistic-missile armed nuclear submarine (SSBN), INS Arihant in 2014, India drew IOR into an intense battle for an unimagined regional arms race. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently called Arihant’s first deterrence patrol as “historic.” Arihant’s production is part of Indian plans in the coming half-century to induct a fleet of 5 SSBNs to secure second-strike capability. The second-strike capability is historically considered to improve the equilibrium of deterrence between the two nuclear rivals. However, this factor only accentuates stability if all sides have a second-strike potential and solid structural base to improve this capacity. If one of the countries involved lacks any of these elements, the geopolitical mismatch inevitably destroys the integrity of the deterrent. The nuclear disparity in South Asia can be seen in this context, where Pakistan’s demand for sea-based nuclear response is a reference to the naval nuclearisation of India.
India’s effective presentation of its nuclear power at sea has severe consequences for strategic stability between Islamabad and New Delhi. The allocation of monitoring protocols to enforce sea-based nuclear assets is one of the major problems of this deterrence equation. India has traditionally claimed that nuclear arms are robustly operated by civilian authorities. When the SSBN fleet has gone into service it can gain higher administrative control of nuclear forces to improve the legitimacy of its maritime destruction and thus render it more complex for central civilian leadership, in particular during crises, to provide assertive power and control.
The power of reciprocal deterrence resides in Indian and Pakistani nuclear capabilities in the shared vulnerabilities in land and air domains. The latest entry of Arihant into the Indian Naval Fleet risks deterrence stability because of the decrease in the magnitude of mutual vulnerabilities. India has indeed rendered the attempts of Pakistan to make IOR a ‘nuclear-free zone’ in jeopardy by introducing SSBN. There are also two more Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear submarines under development in India. New Delhi now has two platforms to deploy capability related to Dhanush missiles, INS Subhadra and INS Suvarna. The Indian Naval forces are also able to launch BrahMos, a joint effort between Russia and India which is capable of carrying conventional as well as nuclear payloads. The procurement of naval multi-role and military helicopters estimated at over $5 billion was recently authorized by India. The domestic military sector of India is also cooperating strongly with western firms in military joint projects. The Indian Naval Force has crossed 140 warships and has been scheduled to put in 56 new warships and 6 submarines.
According to Prime Minister Modi, “the Indian Ocean is India’s Ocean” and nowadays this is the stable way of thought in the Indian foreign ministry’s enunciation of military policy. In this respect, Modi’s trips to littoral states of IOR in 2015 can be categorized as the diplomatic push to materialize this strategy. India plays a risky game in pursuit of global validation and prestige in IOR, where confidence-building measures or institutionalized conflict-resolution appear to be entirely vague. South Asia has no systemic framework to cope with the confrontational actions of regional countries in the IOR. If India is determined to take the path to nuclear strike capacity in IOR, then any potential escalation would be highly unlikely to be tracked.
The introduction of nuclear-capable submarines into the Indian naval forces in the sense of conventional rivalries in the region is a major challenge to Pakistan and China. This provocation might push Pakistan and other regional states to unleash similar naval capabilities, thus triggering a fresh arms race in the region.
*Syed Zain Jaffery is a student of Current Affairs and Political Science with Masters degree from NUST, Islamabad.