Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

With partners, India and Japan can form credible deterrence


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUKUS

Mains level : Paper 2- Rethinking the nuclear policy


Last week’s report on Asian nuclear transitions by Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Japan’s debate on its atomic options underline the shared security challenges for Delhi and Tokyo.

Common nuclear challenge for India and Japan and need for rethink

  • At the root of that common nuclear challenge is the continuing growth in Chinese military power and the rapid modernisation of Beijing’s nuclear arsenal.
  • 1] Modernising and expansion by China: China is modernising and expanding its nuclear arsenal as part of the general military transformation. Some estimates say China’s arsenal could grow to 1,000 warheads by 2030 from about 350 now.
  • 2] Muscular approach of China:  Xi Jinping’s China has taken a more muscular approach to its territorial disputes, including with India and Japan.
  • 3] Reluctance of the world to confront nuclear power: The Ukraine crisis has revealed that if a nuclear weapon power invades and seizes the territory of a neighbour, the rest of the world is reluctant to directly confront the aggression for fear of an escalation to the nuclear level.
  • Russia made this amply clear with its threat to use nuclear weapons if the US and NATO decide to join the war.

Nuclear disarmament challenge

  • Indian and Japanese capacity to deter China is eroding steadily thanks to the problems with India’s minimum deterrence posture and the US nuclear umbrella over Japan.
  • India and Japan have long presented themselves as champions of nuclear disarmament.
  • Despite its call for total nuclear disarmament, India never agreed to give up its own nuclear weapons.
  •  Japan, as the world’s victim of nuclear bombing, had even a higher moral claim than India as the champion for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.
  • But Japan’s narrative is shaded by one reality—Tokyo’s reliance on the US nuclear umbrella.
  • Today neither Delhi nor Tokyo is ready to sign the 2017 Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.
  • It is the problem presented by the expanding Chinese nuclear arsenal and its growing sophistication.
  • Locked in a confrontation with the US, China is determined to raise its nuclear profile.
  • As China closes the economic and military gap with the US, there is a darkening shadow over the credibility of the US-extended deterrence for Japan.
  • This uncertainty is transforming the Japanese security debate.
  • For India, the question is whether its nuclear restraint and policy of minimum deterrence are enough to prevent China’s bullying.

How Japan is responding to the challenge?

  • In Japan, former prime minister Shinzo Abe had called for a fresh look at Japan’s nuclear policy.
  • He was suggesting that Tokyo must consider “nuclear weapon sharing” with the US.
  • The model is Europe, where several countries including Belgium, Italy, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have arrangements to participate in the US nuclear weapon deployment and use.
  • This proposal was rejected by the current prime minister.
  • While rejecting nuclear solutions to the problem of deterring China, Japan’s focus has been on raising the defence expenditure, developing sophisticated conventional weapons, beefing up the alliance with the US and widening the circle of Asian as well as European military partners,

Suggestions in the report

  • Unlike Japan, India has no constraints on its nuclear weapons programme except the ones it has imposed on itself.
  • In the wake of the nuclear tests of 1998, India quickly announced a policy of minimum deterrence and a doctrine of no-first-use of nuclear weapons.
  • The big question is whether this conservatism in India’s nuclear posture can or should be sustained in the face of China’s military modernisation, nuclear expansion and strategic assertiveness.
  • Fresh debate on nuclear policies: The Tellis report, detailed and technical, should provide a basis for a fresh Indian debate about its nuclear weapons policies.
  • Revising US attitude to India’s nuclear weapons: Tellis also calls on the US to revise its attitudes to India’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • In the past, the US insisted on constraining India’s nuclear weapon programme.
  • Today a strong Indian nuclear deterrent against China is critical for the geopolitical stability of Asia and the Indo-Pacific and in the US interest.
  • Facilitating more sophisticated nuclear warheads: Tellis suggests that the US should be prepared to facilitate India’s development of more sophisticated nuclear warheads as well as improve the survivability of the Indian deterrent against the expanding Chinese nuclear arsenal.
  • The US should midwife an agreement under which France would help India accelerate the development of an Indian underwater deterrent based on ballistic missile carrying submarines (SSBN) as well as nuclear attack submarines (SSN),


Tellis is calling both Delhi and Washington to reconsider entrenched nuclear assumptions in the two capitals. While the resistance to his ideas will be strong, Delhi and Washington will have to respond, sooner than later, to the dramatic changes in the global environment triggered by the rise and assertion of China.

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Back2Basics: Nuclear umbrella

  • At the dawn of the nuclear age, to encourage friendly countries to refrain from building nuclear weapons, the United States promised to protect them with U.S. nuclear weapons.
  • This arrangement came to be called the nuclear umbrella. The experts call it extended nuclear deterrence.
  • The umbrella covers the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
  • It is not a binding legal arrangement included in their security treaties with the United States.
  • It is an informal assurance reinforced by dialogue and, in the case of NATO, cooperative arrangements to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons if authorized by a U.S. president.

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