Nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean region

Published: May 27, 2016
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A file photo of India's Republic Day celebrations. PHOTO: AFP

A file photo of India's Republic Day celebrations. PHOTO: AFP

The Indian Ocean is the third largest oceanic division of the world and commands strategically important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) that link the Middle East, Africa and South Asia with Europe, East Asia and the US. Around 80 per cent of the world’s energy trade passes through the choke points of this region.

India is massively boosting its missile and nuclear capabilities as well as rapidly moving towards fielding an under-sea deterrent. This was demonstrated when it conducted the test launch of the K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on March 31 from the indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant. Reportedly, the test was conducted with full operational configuration. The missile is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads with a strike range of up to 3,500km and allows India the ability to field an under-sea nuclear deterrent, commonly known as a second strike capability, which provides the capability to absorb the adversary’s first strike and still be able to hit back. The most potent and survivable second strike comes from submerged platforms like the submarine, which operates underwater away from the so-called ‘eye in the sky’ surveillance tools.

Pakistan concerned at nuclearisation of Indian Ocean

Ramping up military modernisation and expanding its naval capabilities are part of India’s push to assert itself as the region’s dominant power, though the country’s political experts club these moves as part of the measures being taken to enhance security against the growing Chinese influence in the region. However, objective analysis would reveal that the projection of China as a threat in the Indian Ocean region has often been exaggerated. It can be argued that China is more focused in the Pacific region and in the South China Sea, and that it lacks the geographical advantage which India enjoys. This notwithstanding, China’s interest would lie in ensuring the security of SLOCs and an uninterrupted trade flow.

The nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean is a serious development, which poses a threat to the security of around 32 littoral states of the region, including Pakistan’s. On the one hand, the US presence and active support to build India’s military and nuclear capacity to counter-balance China’s power is pressuring the regional security environment. On the other hand, India is vying to become the region’s dominant power. The nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean will not only jeopardise maritime security, it will also exacerbate the already fragile strategic balance in South Asia. Pakistan has objected to this development. A statement issued by the Foreign Office states, “The reported Indian tests of a submarine-launched ballistic missile and development of a nuclear submarine fleet are serious developments, which impact the delicate strategic balance of the region. It has resulted in the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean.”

Pakistan says “seriously concerned” by India’s missile tests

Projection of military and nuclear power into the seas will grip the region into an arms race and inevitably place it at the risk of a nuclear showdown. It is up to India to de-escalate rather than ignite confrontation at the behest of the US or for self-aggrandisement. The growing Indo-US strategic relationship is largely seen as aimed at counter-balancing China’s rise. However, any likely increase in India’s military and political power may also be seen by Pakistan and other regional countries as a potential threat and thereby stimulate counter strategies. The emerging security dilemma will not only fuel an arms race in South Asia, it will also reinforce China’s perception about the attempts to prevent its rise as a power.

Nuclear strategy experts agree that the operationalisation of a sea-based nuclear deterrent requires an elaborate command and control structure backed by satellite navigation and over-the-horizon communication means to maintain a constant link with the under-sea vessel carrying nuclear weapons. If the communication link with the vessel is disrupted, it could prove to be extremely risky. Since India’s nuclear command and control structure is still evolving, it would, of necessity, pre-delegate the launch authority of a nuclear-tipped missile carried in a submarine thus raising the spectre of a miscalculation and an unauthorised launch. With the advent of a sea-based deterrent, the issues of warhead mating and civilian vs military control would be no more relevant and the command of the nuclear-armed vessel would fall on the shoulders of the local naval commander. Needless to say, this manifests India’s preference for an offensive inclination and may reinforce a tendency for pre-emption with disastrous consequences. Imbued with the perceived protection provided by an anti-ballistic missile shield reinforced by the assured second strike capability, India would adopt a more aggressive posture in its approach towards China and other neighbouring countries of the region, which will be compelled to respond. Although India maintains a ‘no first use’ policy, this is heavily loaded with caveats and exceptions.

Why are NSG berths crucial for nuclear Pakistan, India?

The Indian Ocean is of utmost strategic and economic significance and all nations share the burden to maintain security in this region as a common goal. The situation becomes obdurate in the absence of an institutionalised mechanism of conflict prevention and confidence-building measures to assuage mistrust. The international community has a significant role to play by curbing India’s vertical proliferation of nuclear capabilities and encourage the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. Through a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan has declared its intention of highlighting the dangerous implications of India’s plans to nuclearise the Indian Ocean at all relevant international fora. One specific proposal under consideration is to move a resolution in the next session of the General Assembly in September 2016 to declare the Indian Ocean a “nuclear free zone”. The obligation now lies on all the 32 littoral states that straddle the Indian Ocean to co-sponsor this resolution. India is playing a dangerous game in pursuit of achieving the status of a great power and regional hegemon.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Bairooni Haath
    May 28, 2016 - 12:15AM

    I will wait for you to address the 4 wars Pakistan started with India and the terrorism it sponsors in your next article.Recommend

  • Mahakaalchakra
    May 28, 2016 - 12:46AM

    Pakistan started it all by giving deep see port and its infrastructure to China for next 50 years under exclusive control of China almost next to Indian maritime boundary. BTW Palistan is on Arabian Sea, not a littoral state of Indian Ocean.Recommend

  • vinsin
    May 28, 2016 - 1:20AM

    India is a regional power since time immemorial so what is new? How India can ever be a regional power when she doesnt have GB? Since India is not an offensive country so what problem Pakistan has except that Pakistan will not repeat Kargil.Recommend

  • gebde
    May 28, 2016 - 1:45AM

    Good luck.Recommend

  • Jag Nathan
    May 28, 2016 - 4:46AM

    Pakistanis are crying wold for they realize short of bankrupting their economy, they have absolutely no chance of competing with India when it comes to second strike capability. THree cheers to Modi.Recommend

  • Bitter Truth
    May 28, 2016 - 5:27AM

    31 countries know which country has not taken real action to neutralise extreme ideologies and people with mentality to use religious bigotry which has created so many blow ups and shootings around the world which is threatening peaceful coexistence of humanity…All 32 countries know which country is exporting these type of people threatening the world peace and except 1 all 31 countries accept who this 1 country is!!!Recommend

  • SKChadha
    May 28, 2016 - 5:51AM

    It is good realization for Pakistani writers that power balance issue is an Indo-China issue. Pakistan nowhere figures in it except crying without reason especially about Indian Ocean. Pakistan to concentrate only on Arabian Sea ….. :-) Recommend

  • wiserneighour
    May 28, 2016 - 6:31AM

    Whatever resolutions or counter measures you take,you cannot stop India playing a dominant role in India’s backyard.People who start unnecessary conflicts should be in constant alert.Also people who use proxies to sabotage other countries.Proxies are getting killed one by one.So the restlessness is evident in this article.Recommend

  • Tyggar
    May 28, 2016 - 8:45AM

    India has never threatened to use its nukes. Pakistan has..repeatedly. In addition to selling its nuclear technology to North korea and Libya,The biggest danger to the world is a nuclear PakistanRecommend

  • MILAN
    May 28, 2016 - 10:11AM

    Please don’t cry.Recommend

  • Sri Varahadev
    May 28, 2016 - 10:22AM

    India has a declared policy of “No Use” of Nuclear Weapons against Non-Nuclear Weapon States. With the overwhelming majority of countries on the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) being Non-Nuclear Weapon States and legally binding themselves to remain so by accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) the IOR States have nothing to fear from India deploying ballistic missile carrying nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. If Pakistan is so concerned of India using ballistic missile carrying nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, not to mention any other nuclear weapon, Pakistan under UN/IAEA supervision should dismantle all her Nuclear Weapons including ballistic missiles, dismantle all Nuclear Weapon enabling facilities including those for ballistic missiles, surrender to the UN/IAEA all fissile material and accede to the NPT as a Non-Nuclear Weapon State.Recommend

  • Ravi
    May 28, 2016 - 10:30AM

    India has a vow of no first use and there are no caveats and exceptions as manufactured by the author without mentioning the exact caveat. Why does Pakistan has luxury of thinking that it will be compelled for first strike? Indian nuclear command is seen by strategic forces under the watch of NSC headed by the Prime Minister. Until his codes are provided, no local commander can have the launch codes. India has sufficient technological capacity in place for command control structure maintained through secure satellite channels unlike Pakistanis who use telephones.Recommend

  • rich
    May 28, 2016 - 10:45AM

    seems like spokesperson for china

    if china militarise the ocean its security needs, if india does its nuclearosation

    strange logic, rules should be the same for everyone

    no country except Pakistan objects to india naval expansion, infact Vietnam phillipines iran ect are ready to give india access to their bases

    they are a bhuddist catholic and muslim countries

    think about itRecommend

  • Feroz
    May 28, 2016 - 1:05PM

    Author must recommend to the government that here on 75% of revenue should be spent on Military and weapons. Since devil India has nuclearized the entire Indian Ocean, Pakistan must nuclearize the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Parity will be established and weighing scale balanced. After TNW, nuclear weapons that can be carried in the pocket should also be introduced, not just first Islamic country but first in the world to do so.Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    May 28, 2016 - 4:01PM

    Does Pakistan has boundary with Indian ocean? Why all this fuss??Recommend

  • Feroz
    May 28, 2016 - 4:06PM

    Pakistan must catch up and show its superiority by nuclearizing the larger Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Indian Ocean being only number three, higher ambitions need to be shown.Recommend

  • vinsin
    May 28, 2016 - 7:32PM

    @Tyggar:
    North Korea was created by India to secure China and to reduce influence of Japan in that reason. Nehru sent forces in Korean war. Nuclearization of North Korea is seen a successful foreign policy of India.

    @rich:
    India nuclear weapons are illegal as India became a nuclear power after 1968. Before dying Nehru decided that India will not become a Nuclear weapon state in 1964 inspite of having huge pressure from USA to become one. Since China never attacked India, India doesnt need Nuclear weapons.Recommend

  • Mega
    May 28, 2016 - 7:34PM

    Don’t understand why only 1 country feels tensed and threatened..none of other regional countries in the area raised any objection or released a statement on India’s missile or defence programme ever, be SAARC countries or otherwise. Because they don’t see us as threat.
    Also our eastern neighbour have coast to Arabian sea, not Indian Ocean, so no need to worry about indian ocean countries.
    2. India also has no first use policy..so somone firing nuke on us..we use interceptor missile to finish it off and save ourselves.Recommend

  • quatro
    May 28, 2016 - 9:48PM

    Author is concerned about command and control over nukes on subs .. but somehow having tactical nukes roaming Pakistan isn’t a concern? Control of tactical nukes is so difficult that even the American’s (who originally developed them) have admitted the risks outweigh the benefit. Recommend

  • mind control
    May 29, 2016 - 12:10AM

    The nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean is a serious development, which poses a threat to the security of around 32 littoral states of the region, including Pakistan’s.

    Surprisingly the rest of 31 ‘Littoral States’ are not making a song and dance about the India threat to them.

    I wonder why??Recommend

  • lmao
    May 29, 2016 - 10:09AM

    Indian ocean is way beyond your reach and understanding. Please worry about Arabian sea and Gwader and the game changing/world changing, universe altering CPEC. Do what you have to, pls stop the whining. Recommend

  • Raj
    May 29, 2016 - 3:34PM

    China is a big threat to all its neighbouring countries and china has quarrels with all its neighbours. Further, whether China is a threat or not to India, it is for India to decide and does not need any advice from Paksitan as this is highly biased. Paksitan can never say anything against china beacuse, it si already bound by the huge aid and CPEC. Earlier it was tied to the US and now with China. SO, pakistan can never go for an independent policy. China is using pakistan to contain india and india should use the US or vice versa to contain china. So, nobody is right. No body can cry foul. INdia never cries foul. It is always paksitan which always finds fault with india and keep on crying on whatever india does. But india is focused in opposing china and it should continue.Recommend

  • rama
    May 29, 2016 - 3:36PM

    Does Pakistan has the guts to say “no first use policy “Recommend

  • someone
    May 29, 2016 - 7:09PM

    @vinsin:
    “Indian nuclear weapons are illegal” . Illegal?????? Like how??? Was there a law that said any oher country other than those 5 of NSG, can not have nuclear weapons? Who made that law? UN? In that sense Pakistan weapons are illegal too and Pakistan should give up to set a good example. Recommend

  • Tyggar
    May 30, 2016 - 4:53PM

    @vinsin:
    North Korea was created by India to secure China and to reduce influence of Japan in that reason. Nehru sent forces in Korean war. Nuclearization of North Korea is seen a successful foreign policy of India.

    Please help me understand what is creation of North Korea have to do with its nuclearization. Given the fact that Benazir Bhutto admitted to providing nuclear technology to NK in exchange for missiles?Recommend

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