Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] A new Chinese threat warrants a review of NFU policy


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India’s No First Use nuclear doctrine and urgent need of its review


China’s new weapon threat

  1. China is developing an India-specific long-range rocket that can fly over the Himalayas from Tibet with an electromagnetic propulsion system, similar to what is used in a railgun or launch aircraft from aircraft carriers
  2. The rocket system is being designed to hit the heartland of India
  3. The Doklam standoff is being cited as the reason for its development
  4. This is the first time that China has explicitly named India to develop a weapon system and talked about striking India’s mainland

What does this imply?

  • China does not think it can impose its will on India in a border conflict
  1. The Doklam standoff lasted for more than 70 days, and despite constant threats from China, India did not blink till a disengagement was negotiated
  2. China will require a 10:1 force advantage to overwhelm the strong Indian defensive posture in the Himalayas, making it impossible for it to “teach India another lesson”
  3. India has won tactical victories in the two previous skirmishes in 1967 and 1987
  • China is considering the feasibility of waging a total war with India and not limiting itself to a border conflict that it cannot win
  1. By declaring the development of an India-specific rocket, China has revealed that it now considers India a threat
  2. It is trying to deter India from undertaking tactical military operations against China to stop its “salami slicing” by threatening to strike India’s industrial, commercial and population centres

The strategy behind the deployment of new weapons

  1. It may be part of China’s psychological warfare against India, but it does have other weapon systems already deployed in Tibet to strike at India’s heartland
  2. The idea is that once the system is ready, it will be deployed in large numbers as it is relatively cheap and will give China the capability to launch saturation strikes on major north Indian cities—New Delhi in particular
  3. This would overwhelm India’s air defence system and cause a lot of damage
  4. This is similar to China’s war planning against Taiwan—it has more than 2,000 missiles pointed at the latter to overwhelm the air defence and deliver crippling strikes that will destroy 90% of the island
  5. North Korea, too, has a large artillery force pointed at Seoul that will inflict unacceptable destruction without the need for nuclear weapons

India’s arsenal is not that strong

  1. China’s major industrial, commercial and population centres are located on its east coast, about 4,000km from India
  2. New Delhi does not have any conventional capability to strike them
  3. India only has a limited number of Agni series of missiles that can strike these areas, but they are all intended for nuclear weapons delivery, not conventional warheads
  4. It will be very expensive to make a large number of Agni V missiles with conventional warheads that can strike all parts of China

What will India’s limitations lead to?

  1. India’s options to counter any Chinese border and maritime violations will be restricted in the absence of conventional retaliatory options to respond to strategic bombing of Indian cities with conventional weapons
  2. China’s overwhelming conventional firepower superiority over India will leave only the nuclear option for India
  3. But India has pledged no first use (NFU) of nuclear weapons and will use them if it is attacked first with nuclear weapons
  4. India’s NFU is, however, qualified

No consideration of conventional weapons in NFU policy

  1. India’s nuclear doctrine says that if attacked with weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, India will respond with nuclear weapons
  2. It does not consider mass destruction by conventional weapons that strategic bombing can inflict as a reason to respond with nuclear weapons

Way Forward

  1. A review of India’s nuclear doctrine is long overdue
  2. Countries around the world are developing even more potent conventional weapons that fly at hypersonic speed and can accurately strike targets within minutes
  3. If India decides to stay with the NFU policy after any future review, it should qualify it further to deter destructive conventional attacks on its major population, industrial and commercial centres
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