India and China are engaged in their worst border crisis in 40 years. China has occupied areas of India-governed Ladakh since at least May 2020, with a clash in June 2020 leading to double-digit mortalities on both sides. These intrusions surpass China’s previously claimed line in its Ladakh territorial dispute with India. They have the effect of cutting off Indian border patrol posts from each other, while establishing a position to potentially sever the crucial Indian Darbuk–Shyok–Daulat Beg Oldi strategic supply road.
It is perhaps inevitable that this continuing Indian national security crisis has amplified the debate in New Delhi regarding its nuclear doctrine. India has deployed INS Arihant, its sole nuclear-armed submarine (SSBN), in the Indian Ocean to “send out a message” to China. A former chief of the China-facing Indian Army Northern and Central Commands has written that if China attempts further offensive military actions, New Delhi “will have to resort to nuclear brinkmanship to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
These developments are symptoms of the growing insecurity within India’s government and strategic circles regarding the ability of its 2003 nuclear doctrine to continue to deter its adversaries. This doctrine committed India to a policy of no-first-use (NFU), but with important exceptions, including permitting an Indian nuclear response to a biological or chemical weapons attack. This doctrine was arguably revised in August 2019, in an official statement by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
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