Amidst tense geo-political competition, qualitative and quantitative improvements in conventional and nuclear weaponry worldwide, and a decline in arms control initiatives, reports of up-gradation at nuclear test sites in the U.S., Russia, and China are emerging. In addition, Russia has de-ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to come on equal footing with the U.S. which is only the signatory of CTBT. Thus giving indications that a nuclear test by any of these three states in the future is likely.
The quality of its nuclear warheads as it will be requiring miniaturized nuclear warheads for its short-range missiles and prestige by joining the nuclear club of states with thermonuclear capabilities.
Interestingly, Ashley Tellis – an American analyst of Indian origin who played a key role in the India-U.S. nuclear deal – wrote in his book titled Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions In Southern Asia that “India’s decision to resume nuclear testing, if and when it occurs, will be necessary to both perfect its fusion weapon designs and to credibly communicate that it possesses the requisite capability to deter Beijing in the context of what may be deeply intensifying Sino-Indian (and possibly U.S.-China) strategic rivalries”. He also stated at a forum that “India may be compelled to test again, and when it does, it is in U.S. interest to avoid penalizing it”.
Indian scientific community has also been at the forefront of India’s testing of a thermonuclear weapon. P. K. Iyengar, a former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, has stated, “It is unscientific to embark on a long program of weaponization and develop elaborate plans for maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent, all based on just one, low yield, thermonuclear test”. Many Indian scientists also believe that India’s thermonuclear test of 1998 was a failure to make a case for the resumption of nuclear testing.
Year 2024 is an election year in India. The current BJP ruling party is known for gaining domestic popularity through anti-Pakistan rhetoric or by taking a popular decision just before the elections. In February 2019, just two months before the general elections, a so-called terrorist attack occurred on an Indian military convoy in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) for which India blamed Pakistan.
The incident led to the 2019 Kashmir crisis between the two countries and increased domestic popularity for PM Modi just before the elections.
Therefore, for the 2024 elections, PM Modi may employ the same kind of tactics and conduct a nuclear test to gain domestic popularity. The current geopolitical environment is also in India’s favor. The U.S. is making India a counterweight to China. For that, it is supporting New Delhi diplomatically, economically, and militarily and turning Nelson’s eye towards every Indian move be it buying discounted oil from Russia or weapons. Therefore, considering the leverage India has over the U.S. at the moment, it may opt to resume a nuclear test without fear of any consequences.
Such a move, if materialized, carries profound implications for regional stability, global disarmament efforts, and the broader international order. It will be a setback to CTBT which bans nuclear tests altogether. Though India is not a signatory of this Treaty, which has yet to enter into force but propagates its so-called unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing as a responsible and restraint behavior.
However, this year, India abstained from voting on a CTBT resolution presented at the United Nations General Assembly First Committee. India has also rejected twice Pakistan’s proposal of entering into a bilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. The Indian double speech on nuclear testing will come out clearly if it conducts a test. This shows that India is not serious about non-testing and just uses catchy phrases just as “voluntary moratorium” to gain brownie points.
The potential resumption of nuclear testing by India raises questions not just about adherence to international treaties but also about the broader security landscape in South Asia. The region is marked by longstanding geopolitical tensions, historical conflicts, and unresolved territorial disputes. Nuclear testing could significantly exacerbate these tensions and could trigger a dangerous precedent, encouraging other nations to follow suit, triggering a renewed arms race, and escalating insecurities among neighboring states, with dire consequences for regional stability.
India is least concerned about regional stability and disregards any initiatives that can achieve this objective.
It is involved in nuclear brinkmanship, increasing its conventional and nuclear military capabilities, adopting destabilizing military strategies such as surgical strikes and Land Warfare Doctrine, and propagating hybrid warfare in its neighborhood. This is a perfect template for any state to be called an irresponsible nuclear-weapon state.
Furthermore, for global and regional stability, major powers of the current international order should also realize that India is using the current geo-political environment to milk them for its interests and any leeway to New Delhi will be counter-productive to their interests and the world’s stability. Therefore, it is in the interest of regional and global peace that the U.S. must realize its faulty strategy before it is too late. Confidence-building measures, sustained dialogue, and dispute resolution should be the way forward in this region.