South Asia’s nuclear dynamics are closely linked to global scenarios, characterized by two interlinked aspects of US-Russia arms control cooperation and prospects of nuclear disarmament.
In June 2022, the annual global weapons arsenal inventory assessment was released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). It pointed out the marginal decrease in the inventories of nine nuclear-armed states.
Yet, over the coming decade, the inventory is expected to grow. According to estimations, there are 12,705 nuclear warheads in total, of which 9,440 are in military stockpiles for potential use.
India, Pakistan, and China appear to be in the middle of a nuclear arsenal expansion. They are also seen deploying various kinds of delivery systems.
SIPRI highlighted that China is expanding its arsenal and constructing over 300 new missile silos. China currently has 350 operational warheads, 72 sea-based ballistic missiles, and 248 land-based ballistic missiles. It also owns 20 nuclear gravity bombs. Beijing is activating its triad based on sea-based, land missiles nuclear-capable aircraft.
India currently has approximately 160 warheads and is modernizing its arsenal by developing cauterization and Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle technologies. India is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal.
Pakistan has 165 warheads and is exploring options to upgrade its delivery systems as a part of its full spectrum deterrence posture.
SIPRI’s report shows an impression that Southern Asia is in the middle of the arms race. The two interlinked aspects that shape India’s threat perception include the uncertain fate of the United States-Russia arms control and the bleak prospect of nuclear disarmament
The Ukraine conflict has ruled out substantial progress on the arms control front shortly. The repeated references to weapons during the ongoing Ukraine conflict, by the Russian officials, have only added to the worsening of the matters.
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US-Russian bilateral consensus over arms control has been unraveled. Both nations have withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range N. Force Treaty in 2019 and, consequently, from the Open Skies Treaty.
Such moves have demonstrated their unwillingness to move ahead in negotiations on arms control instruments and to retain existing bilateral or multilateral aspects of cooperation.
Russia and the US proceeded quickly to salvage the one last bilateral nuclear arms control arrangements through the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Both the Presidents, Vladimir Putin, and Joe Biden have mutually agreed on the expansion of the treaty by five years.
It is a significant development, but it is inconsequential for the alteration of larger dynamics. The trust deficit levels between the two nations are still high to envision progress on arms control and negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia will react to the real danger if Ukraine goes nuclear.
“With [Russia’s] illegal invasion of Ukraine and their continued, horrific 17th-century activities, it’s very hard to figure out how we can sit and think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side.” – Mallory Stewart
Mallory Stewart is the US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance.
Maybe an escalation or a crisis like that of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis may break the cycle and trigger interest in arms control and non-proliferation.
United States’ role:
To mitigate or resolve core disputes in Southern Asia that threaten regional peace. The US should continue to facilitate diplomatic initiatives to encourage reduced tensions between India and Pakistan. It should support the long-term regional economic development projects to build material incentives. It must work for the improvement of the indicators and warnings of regional crises.