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Aditya Ramanathan, a research analyst with the Takshashila Institution, has provided insights into the findings of the 2024 Yearbook released by the Swedish think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The yearbook highlights the global increase in nuclear arsenals, including those of India. Ramanathan, an expert on India’s strategic affairs and foreign policy, delves into the implications of these developments.

“We don’t actually know the exact size of India’s nuclear arsenal, but most studies place it in the range of 150-200 warheads,” says Ramanathan. He suggests that any increase in India’s nuclear arsenal is likely a direct response to China’s military advancements. “India has to be concerned about ensuring that enough of its own nuclear forces can survive a Chinese first strike and inflict unacceptable damage in retaliation. To that end, I think India’s response is cautious and well-reasoned.”

Ramanathan emphasizes that India’s strategy is not about matching China in sheer numbers. “India is not interested in competing with the Chinese on numbers. Instead, we are developing specific capabilities to ensure we can hit back effectively.” Key to this strategy is increasing the survivability of its nuclear forces. India is deploying Arihant-class ballistic missile submarines and is likely to establish an airborne command post to maintain nuclear command and control after a potential first strike.

To penetrate Chinese missile defenses, India is developing the Agni V missile, which can carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). This capability ensures that India’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and capable of delivering a devastating retaliatory strike if necessary.

While China is a primary concern, Ramanathan acknowledges that India must also keep a close eye on developments in Pakistan. The nuclear dynamics with Pakistan remain a critical aspect of India’s strategic calculus.

Ramanathan also points to the possibility of new nuclear powers emerging in West Asia, such as Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. “Over longer time horizons, we may see new nuclear powers emerging in West Asia. It makes sense for India to gradually update its nuclear forces and perhaps make slight increases in numbers when necessary.”

On India’s nuclear No-First-Use (NFU) policy, Ramanathan reiterates that India’s primary objective is deterrence. “India’s not interested in fighting a nuclear war. It only wants to convince adversaries that if they initiate a nuclear first strike, they have no means to stop India from conducting a terrible retaliatory strike.”