India’s Evolving Nuclear Posture: Implications for Pakistan

It’s been twenty one years to the emergence of India, as an explicit nuclear weapon state (NWS), yet India needs to express the details about the core elements of its nuclear posture or nuclear doctrine like the policy of NFU, policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence, massive retaliation and assured survivability of its retaliatory forces. India has ambitious plans for the acquisition of robust triad of nuclear forces, which includes the land-based ballistic missiles, fighter bomber aircrafts, and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). India is rapidly building up its nuclear and strategic capabilities, which is a part of its grand strategy of attaining the status of regional and global power.[1]However, India is also strengthening its nuclear force by the introduction of new generation of short-range ballistic missiles which are nuclear capable in nature along with building up its naval nuclear force. These advancements are a threat to the nuclear threshold of Pakistan and will generate the probability of accidental nuclear escalation between the major states of South Asian region, India and Pakistan. Consequently, these advancements will have severe repercussions for the region.

Since 2003 it has been observed that no official up gradation has been made by India in its nuclear doctrine, showing its commitment to the NFU policy and the posture of massive retaliation as a result of a nuclear attack and credible minimum deterrence (CMD) force posture.[2]Though, the nuclear force of India, kept on changing from the time it released its nuclear doctrine. Critical examination of nuclear forces of India depicts that India will go on modernizing its nuclear arsenals by the introduction of at least four new weapon systems, which will complement the existing nuclear- capable aircrafts, land and sea based delivery systems and is also effectively working on the expansion of nuclear missiles with short range.[3]

According to the officials of India, the nature of the nuclear and conventional challenges has been changed since India released its nuclear doctrine in 2003. India’s stance on building up its conventional and nuclear capable ballistic and cruise missile system vis-à-vis China, is an element of its force posturing. As India claimed, the development of SSBN is for the conventional naval deterrence purposes[4] but these developments by India have great implications for the twin born state of Pakistan.

Despite of such shifts and development made by India, yet the nuclear doctrine of India has not been amended, since 2003. India is unable to assess the implications of these developments pose to the neighboring state of Pakistan. A growing debate has been observed with in India regarding the shift in the main principles of its nuclear doctrine i.e. India should move away from the NFU to FU and should opt more offensive posture. In the recent years proposals have been made at different platforms about the review of Indian nuclear doctrine. The idea of revision of the nuclear policy has been presented by Associate Professor Vipin Narang. He mentioned that Delhi is shifting its long held policy of NFU, the main pillar of its nuclear doctrine.[5] However, India has adopted the moderate nuclear posture of minimum retaliatory capability for deterring the adversaries to refrain from nuclear attack. Indian nuclear experts and officials have been criticizing the effectiveness of NFU policy. The Indian defense Minister Manohar Parrikar suggested India to move away from NFU by opting the offensive policy of first strike to fully disarm the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan.[6]

Indian nuclear program and strategic shifts along with the technological advancements will have several allegations in broad for international community and specifically on Pakistan. Firstly, the vying state of India, Pakistan; it is determined to continue to scrutinize the strategic situation of India and will respond accordingly. For Pakistan its nuclear program is an essential element of survival, because of the massive conventional discrepancies lie between them. And Pakistan is also busy in its own advancements and arsenal up gradation plans due to the expanding missile and nuclear capabilities of India.[7] India continues to modernize its nuclear force by acquiring technological reforms and also shifting its nuclear policy from NFU to FU or first strike capability, it has been indicated by the successful launch of Nirbhay cruise missile that India is trying to enhance its first strike capability by abandoning the NFU policy vis-à-vis Pakistan.[8]Consequently, it will create a security spiral between the two nations to counter each other by taking the actions accordingly. This spiral will lead towards an arms race which will impact the global proliferation enormously and will have negative repercussions on the strategic stability of South Asia.

For Pakistan, the recent developments/ build ups of India are a matter of great concern. Especially, the developments made in the missile technology in addition to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System and Indian collaboration with super powers like US and Russia along with the Jewish state of Israel have given a new dimension/ facet to the security situation of the region. These new developments especially the introduction of BMD system has posed negative implications to the neighboring state of Pakistan. And to counter India in these developments, Pakistan is also developing its nuclear arsenals, missile program and tactical nuclear weapons which is giving rise to the arms race in the region creating an action-reaction spiral.

In response to the nuclear developments and missile program of India, Islamabad is also up grading its nuclear forces and building up its missile program. Pakistan already possesses an extensive array of nuclear capable ballistic missiles with short and long ranges.[9] This includes the nuclear proficient aircrafts, ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles. Additionally in order to counter Indian developments, Pakistan is also working on its sea based nuclear missiles. Pakistan has launched all weathers, nuclear payload capable ballistic missile Shaheen II in response to the successful launch of Indian fastest cruise missile Brahmos– which has the capability to act as a anti-ship weapon –­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­which can pose serious threats to the Pakistan’s land and naval assets.[10]

If India opts the more aggressive nuclear posture of first strike capability, it will lead Pakistan towards the revision of its nuclear posture by opting more aggressive nuclear posture to deter India. The nuclear build ups by India especially the experiment of Agni V, SLBM, and the purpose behind the acquisition of Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and becoming the member of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is bothersome thing for Pakistan. Being the member of MTCR, India achieved the waiver of exporting its missile and space technology to the nations, which are adhered to the missile group principles, India is already a member of missile club which provides it an easy access to the sophisticated missile technology.[11] So, all of these aspects have negative implications for Pakistan. And to counter India in such domains Pakistan needs to work a lot. And in this regard Pakistan is also building up its nuclear arsenals, its cruise missiles, its ballistic missiles, aircrafts and naval buildups for its security and survivability and to deter India from its hegemonic goals and to ensure  the stability and peace in the region.     

India’s evolving nuclear posture is manifested by the modernization of its nuclear forces by the acquisition of new technology. And, ostensibly it is also shifting its doctrine from NFU to FU. These developments will have grave implications on the state of Pakistan and on the region of South Asia. The emerging nuclear posture of India i.e. shift from NFU to FU will have serious implications for Pakistan; leading to an arms race and instability in the region.

The shifts in Indian nuclear doctrine will encompass severe implications on South Asian region especially on Pakistan. If India shifts away from the NFU to first use capability then Pakistan will have to review its nuclear doctrine and has to take action accordingly. Secondly the nuclear buildups and strategic developments by India are also impacting the peace, harmony and stability of South Asia and is having negative repercussions for Pakistan. Due to such developments Pakistan is also forced to take measures by developing the same technology of strategic buildups to deter India.

Delhi has also advanced its aircrafts like Su-30MKI to carry BrahMos cruise missile, which perhaps will be nuclear capable and will also extend the strike range capability of the Indian air delivered platforms.[12]Such modifications will improve the viability of the striking capabilities of the Indian aircrafts as nuclear deterrents.

India has shown most of the improvements in its ballistic missiles quality.  Only one category of equipped ballistic missiles was occupied by India in 2002 that is the short range Prithvi I with a range of 150kms.[13] Now India has multiple ranges of ballistic missiles like short range, medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles as an element of its operational force. India possess Agni I which has a range of 700km, whereas Agni II which is a medium range missile with a projectile range of 2000 km.[14]  The highest array of operational missile of India is Agni III, which has a projectile of 3000 km and has ability to cover long distant areas of China. India has been successful in conducting the test of Agni V with an ICBM and it covered a range of 5000 km, which is considered to be less than that of the internationally recognized standard for an ICBM. It is believed that in future, India will possess Agni VI missile, which will have MIRV technology.[15]

Ballistic submarine is thought to be the most survivable leg of nuclear triad, India has also made a lot of progress in this sense. India’s indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, its construction was initiated in 1997,[16]but in 2013, it was experienced that the onboard nuclear reactor of it went critical[17]due to which this vessel didn’t get the operational status. Submarines are likely to be equipped with 12 Sagarika k-15 missiles, and it is also accounted that India is also building up a long-range missile with the name of K-4 for the INS Arihant, which will have an expected range of more than 3000 km.[18]India already acquired a surface naval platform which is used for the ballistic missile known to be the Dhanush, which might be nuclear capable. If India reached the INS Arihant’s operational status then it will truly acquire the technology of nuclear triad. This will enable India to become a part of the exclusive club of nations, which only comprised of U.S., China and Russia.

Because of the India’s goal of becoming a hegemony in the region which has been followed by it with the initiation of CIRUS reactor have left negative impacts not only on the strategic stability of the South Asian region in general but also on the belligerent state of Pakistan in particular. Along with it the nuclear deal between India and U.S. and the waiver to NSG also have negative consequences which add up more salt and pepper to the destabilization of situation among India and Pakistan. The gradual change in the nuclear policy of India has certain strategic implications on the subcontinent which also impacts the strategic environment of the Pakistan. India has already shown a shift in its nuclear policy without any of the confirmations from the leadership of India.[19] It creates a more mistrust in region and if India makes any of the gradual changes in its nuclear policy, it will automatically pulls Pakistan into the arms race.  Due to the gradual increase in the strategic forces of India, it will also drag the region into an unending arms race and will also make Pakistan and China to think of their own deterrent forces modernization.[20]It might lead the region towards a nuclear war. It looks like India is opting a more aggressive nuclear posture as India is developing more deterrent forces and also developing a triad which will impact the stable condition of South Asia as Pakistan do not afford such option because of its poor economic development. Gradual policy transformation in Indian nuclear posture to “launch on warning” or “launch under attack” which will provide India with the option of FU/ first strike capability and it will direct India to move from NFU to first use option, which will be a worrisome thing for Pakistan. Due to the absence of NFU option in South Asia would raise the reliance of states on the nuclear weaponry.[21]

Due to the strategic build ups and the missile program developments by India will lead the South Asian region in to the arms race. As these developments have negative effects on the stability of this strategic geographical entity. And have great implications for Pakistan. Pakistani strategic thinkers will also consider these repercussions serious or one of the main risk to the security of their state so Pakistan will also build its strategic arsenals to counter India. These missile and strategic developments of India has given birth to security dilemma in the region which is leading towards arms race. India’s shifting away from no first use to first use is also having severe implications for Pakistan. If India ever goes to aggressive nuclear posture, as a result Pakistan will opt a more aggressive nuclear posture than India.

[1]National Security Advisory Board, “India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, July/August 1999,


[3] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Indian nuclear forces, 2017,” BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS  73, no. 4, July 5, 2017 : 205.

[4]  O’Donnell and Joshi, “Lost at Sea: The Arihant in India’s Quest for a Grand Strategy,” Comparative Strategy 33, no. 5 ( November-December 2014): 476

[5]GurmeetKanwal, “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Reviewing NFU and Massive Retaliation,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, January 7, 2015,

[6] “Why Bind ourselves to ‘No First Use Policy’, Says Defence Minister Parrikar on India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” The Times of India, November 10, 2016,

[7] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2011,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 67, no. 91 (2011): 93, DOI: 10.1177/0096340211413360.

[8]SyedaSaiqa Bukhari, “Implications of Indian’s Nirbhay Missile Test,” Daily Times, May 22, 2019. Accessed on July 15, 2019.

[9]Musawar Sandhu, “The BrahMos Test and Its Implications For Current State of Strategic Relations Between Pakistan and India,” Eurasia review, June 4, 2019.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]Asma Khalid, “Implications of India’ Missile Program and Non- Proliferation Regime,” Foreign Policy News, June 24, 2017.

[12] Rakesh Krishnan Simha, “How the Su-30 MKI Is Changing the IAF’s Combat Strategy,” Indrus, January 5, 2014,

[13]Norris , “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” 71.

[14]Kristensen and Norris, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2012,” Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, 98.

[15]Ajai Shukla, “Advanced Agni-6 Missile with Multiple Warheads Likely by 2017,” The Business Standard, May 8, 2013,Acessed September 16, 2018,

[16] Norris, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” 72.

[17]Jyoti Malhotra, “How India’s Pride INS Arihant Was Built,” The Business Standard, August 12, 2013,

[18]Kristensen and Norris, “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2012,” 99.

[19] Zafar Khan, “Emerging Shifts in India’s Nuclear Policy: Implications for Minimum Deterrence in South Asia,” Strategic Studies 34, no. 1(Spring 2014).

[20] Ibid


Iqra Shahnaz
Iqra Shahnaz
Iqra Shahnaz, done MPhil in Strategic Studies from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad and BS (Hons) in defence and diplomatic studies (BDDS) from Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi. Currently working as a free lancer.