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SOURCE: AFI

As India celebrates the 50th anniversary of Pokhran-I and the 26th anniversary of Pokhran-II, it faces a rapidly evolving global security environment that necessitates a reassessment of its nuclear strategy. The United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has further destabilized the international arms control regime, creating a need for India to consider advancing its nuclear capabilities through a potential Pokhran-III test series.

Pokhran-I in 1974, codenamed “Smiling Buddha,” marked India’s entry into the nuclear club, establishing its scientific and technological prowess. In 1998, Pokhran-II, under “Operation Shakti,” solidified India’s status as a nuclear-armed state capable of strategic deterrence. These tests laid the foundation for India’s nuclear doctrine based on credible minimum deterrence.

The dissolution of the INF Treaty in 2019 by the United States significantly altered the strategic balance. The treaty, which had been a cornerstone of arms control, eliminated ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Its termination has reignited fears of a new arms race, as global powers, including China and Russia, explore the development and deployment of previously prohibited intermediate-range missiles.

Since the last tests in 1998, nuclear technology has advanced considerably. Conducting Pokhran-III would enable India to test new nuclear warhead designs and delivery systems, ensuring that its nuclear arsenal remains credible and effective. The modernization of the arsenal is critical to maintaining a strategic edge in a rapidly changing security environment.

India also faces significant security challenges from its nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan. Both countries have been expanding and modernizing their nuclear arsenals. China’s advancements in hypersonic weapons and sophisticated missile defense systems, coupled with Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons, necessitate a robust and updated Indian nuclear capability.

The development of the Agni-V missile with Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) represents a significant advancement in India’s strategic capabilities. However, these technologies need to be validated through actual tests to ensure their reliability and effectiveness. Pokhran-III would provide the empirical data necessary to confirm the performance of MIRV systems and optimize their deployment.

Nuclear tests provide critical data that cannot be entirely replicated through simulations. Validating new designs and ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear arsenal is imperative. This empirical data is essential for refining simulation models and enhancing the overall efficacy of nuclear weapons.

While Conducting new nuclear tests would attract significant international scrutiny and potential sanctions. India would need to navigate these pressures through strategic diplomacy, leveraging its economic and strategic partnerships to mitigate the fallout.

India’s commitment to a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing, declared after Pokhran-II, would need to be reconsidered. The decision to resume testing must be justified by emphasizing the strategic necessity in light of current global security dynamics and need for validating newer technologies.