India has embarked on a series of crucial weapons-systems tests that will result in the first deployment by air, sea and land of nuclear weapons by rival powers in Asia, in 2016.
The creation of what military planners call a nuclear theater in South Asia would pit India against neighboring foes China and Pakistan, nations with which India has fought a total of seven wars since 1947. The region comprises a population of 2.8 billion, nearly 39 percent of the world’s people, according to 2014 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
India fought a 1962 war with China and has had six conflicts with Pakistan since attaining independence in 1947, mostly territorial disputes left unresolved by departing British colonial rulers.
The strategic game change in South Asia comes as India perfects its ability to hit targets anywhere in China with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and establishes an ability to launch nuclear missiles from submarines.
The completion of India’s air-, land- and sea-based nuclear weapon triumvirate would place it on rough strategic par with China, its major rival for power in South Asia and Pakistan’s key ally.
“The reality of an arms race in South Asia is quite evident. For most Indian decision-makers, it is the China factor that remains the most important issue. (New) Delhi also fears a China-Pakistan axis, and so it feels the needs to be prepared for a ‘two-front’ war,” said Harsh V. Pant, an Asia security expert and professor of international relations at King’s College London, a British university.
China possesses about 250 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has up to 120, compared with India’s 110, according to a report published Nov. 23 by the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. research organization. Only the United States and Russia possess more.