Nuclear arsenals and strategies | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 02, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, March 02, 2019

Nuclear arsenals and strategies

This week's conflict between India and Pakistan, which involved air strikes in each other's territories for the first time by the two nuclear-armed nations, has sparked fears of a nuclear confrontation. Below is a look at their nuclear capabilities:

COMPARABLE ARSENALS: India has much stronger conventional armed forces than Pakistan, but both countries have comparable nuclear arsenals. They are comparable in the sense that both have the capability to strike each other's territories and cause immense damage and massive loss of life. India's nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine "INS Arihant" became operational last year, giving the country a "nuclear triad" – the ability to launch nuclear strikes by land, air and sea. Pakistan is working on sea-launched cruise missiles to complete its own triad. Pakistan has longer-range nuclear weapons, such as the Shaheen 3 missile that can reach India's Andaman Islands near Southeast Asia. India is developing long-range ballistic missiles able to strike targets across China.

DOCTRINE: India has a "no first use" policy, meaning it has pledged to not strike first. It aims to make retaliatory strikes so powerful that an opponent would be unable to strike back. Pakistan has not stated a "no first use" policy and there is little known about its nuclear doctrine. However, if faced with the threat of a nuclear attack, India could strike first.


HISTORY: India and Pakistan have taken different paths to develop their nuclear arsenals. India is believed to have sought nuclear capabilities after its defeat in a brief 1962 border war with China. For Pakistan, weapons experts say it was the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that led to the independence of Bangladesh and proved a turning point for Islamabad. Since then, the countries have engaged in an arms race that has outpaced traditional nuclear rivals. "I don't think we see the level of tit-for-tat development between the US and Russia that we do in the India and Pakistan programs," said Liu.

AMBITIONS: India in recent years has developed solid fuel missiles in canisters that require warheads to be already fitted onto the missiles, increasing the turnaround time of the weapon. Previously, it said it kept warheads separate from missiles. "That makes things a little bit easier to use if you're India, but it also makes Pakistan worry more about India potentially breaking its 'no first use' pledge," said Panda.

RISKS: The risk of rogue elements gaining control of nuclear weapons is higher in Pakistan, home to several militant groups, including some that have attacked its military facilities. As for the threat of actual nuclear war, some experts say Pakistan sees the weapons more as a deterrent to prevent a situation from escalating. "Nuclear weapons these days are maintained mainly to avoid asymmetry," said Air Marshal V Patney, an executive committee member at the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.

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