An Indian Perspective on China’s Nuclear Weapons

March 25, 2022
Sanjana Gogna

China’s response to its security challenges from the US appears to entail a ‘hedging’ nuclear strategy involving asymmetric and competitive ‘assured retaliation’ capabilities. These include nuclear modernization marked by the deployment of Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) and Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) to counter the US missile defense systems.

Further, while Beijing’s nuclear strategy is primarily geared towards the US, it also has inconspicuous involvement in the nuclear dynamics in its immediate neighborhood. China is involved in protracted territorial disputes with its nuclear armed neighbor India. The territorial disputes led the two states to war in 1962, and in recent times, have caused frequent border skirmishes. Although both China and India have never issued a nuclear threat to each other, Beijing often views New Delhi as a peripheral threat. China has been involved in building Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capabilities, which the latter uses to balance against India.

The existing global nuclear dynamics are marked by nuclear multipolarity—a situation much different from the bipolar Cold War context — which make nuclear deterrence increasingly complex and enmeshed. Changes in the nuclear capabilities of either the US or China inevitably disturb the strategic nuclear balance between Beijing and New Delhi. Further, any attempt by India to redraw the strategic balance vis-à-vis China is bound to pull Pakistan into an offense-defense spiral. This way, the overlapping dyads get morphed into a chain of security dilemmas and strategic rebalancing.

China’s evolving nuclear posture in the context of nuclear multipolarity presents a unique and complex set of challenges for the world’s security. This monograph attempts to analyze the gradual developments in China’s nuclear capabilities and strategy and their implications on global and Southern Asian strategic stability. Conjoined to this endeavor is an attempt to highlight the Indian variable in Beijing’s nuclear strategic calculus, and to bring out an Indian perspective on China’s nuclear strategy.

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