Policy Paper

Managing Indian deterrence: pressures on credible minimum deterrence and nuclear policy options

in Program

India is developing new nuclear force options in response to what it perceives as a deteriorating strategic environment. New Delhi has historically adhered to the nuclear strategic concept of “credible minimum deterrence,” defined as maintaining a small, survivable nuclear force at low readiness in peacetime, which poses a credible risk of nuclear retaliation to adversaries but does not guarantee it. However, India’s stated commitment to credible minimum deterrence is currently challenged by four specific developments: the gradual weakening of elite support for India’s no-first-use policy; the decision of its defense scientific agency to pressure policy makers by publicly announcing it can field tactical nuclear weapons; the shift of Indian Air Force planning toward potential counterforce strikes; and New Delhi’s unclear intentions concerning ballistic-missile defense. This article concludes that India faces a choice between two distinct nuclear-policy pathways: retaining its adherence to credible minimum deterrence, or permitting increasing ambiguity surrounding its true nuclear doctrine and posture. The article evaluates these nuclear-policy options and concludes that credible minimum deterrence remains more consistent with Indian national-security and foreign-policy goals.

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