For some states, nuclear weapons serve as the only means of national survival in a dangerous and volatile security environment. And some continue to bolster their nuclear capabilities for prestige and technological supremacy. In this age of technological advancement, the arms-control arrangement between major powers is uncertain. The recently extended New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which limits both powers’ strategic nuclear arsenals, is the only bilateral arms control treaty between the United States and Russia. The United States has embarked on a risky path by supporting its allies on strategic matters and endorsing its nuclear capabilities. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) has seen worse days as the US has turned a blind eye as its allies continue to acquire sophisticated weapons. The US support for its allies is undermining efforts for global peace as it is fueling the arms race and intensifying rivalries.
The recent geopolitical and technological trends threaten the global strategic scenario and South Asia at large.
For a long period, India has been ambitious to dominate the region and become a superpower nation. For this, it has been working on bolstering defense capabilities and achieving technological supremacy. Under the aegis of China`s threat, India has strengthened its military capabilities in both conventional and nuclear domains. The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reveals that India is the top arms importer in the world while continuing to enhance nuclear capabilities with the support of the US under the exceptional NSG waiver. Another, even more perilous development will be thermonuclear weapons tests by India, a bomb that, according to experts, is a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb. Despite its commitment to refrain from conducting a hydrogen bomb test, there are indications by academicians about a possible hydrogen bomb test by India. For instance, in an interview with the Indian Express on October 31, 2022, Ashley Tellis, an Indian-origin academician in the US and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, mentioned that India may test its thermonuclear weapons. He also stated that it would be in the US interests not to punish India for the test and that this capability would play a crucial role against China’s growing influence. More recently, Happymon Jacob, an Indian analyst, tweeted on X, indicating a possible thermo-nuclear bomb test by India and questioning the international community`s response.
How would the international community respond, especially the US, which treats India as a key partner in its efforts to contain China? In the past two decades, India has received extraordinary support from the US, which has provided India access to cutting-edge technologies and granted an NSG waiver under which India is enhancing its nuclear weapons production capability, ignoring the facts about India`s record as an aggressor state. The US CAASTA sanctions never happened against India after Russia purchased S-400 missile defense technology.
The US’s immense defense and political support for India can increase the risk of nuclear escalation in the conflict-prone region of South Asia.
The infuriating religious extremism in India, the continued human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir by the Indian forces, and India`s aggressive military posture have complicated the regional security landscape. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine War has already resulted in a global divide and an intensification of great power competition, thus challenging the global nuclear order and undermining efforts for global peace. In such a highly unpredictable global and regional security environment, any move undermining strategic stability in South Asia would increase the risk of nuclear escalation with far-reaching consequences.
The Author is a Research Officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN), Quetta.