A webinar on “India’s Growing Strategic Capabilities: Dynamics and Consequences” was organized by Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) on Thursday October 15, 2020. The purpose of the seminar was to assess the status of India’s growing strategic capabilities and its implications for South Asia. There were four distinguished speakers in the webinar, Dr. Naeem Salik, Dr. Petr Topychkanov, Dr. Adil Sultan and Dr. Ali Ahmed.
Executive Director CISS, Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi, welcomed the panelists and the audience. He initiated the discussion by stating that India’s technological acquisitions and emerging capabilities exacerbate the asymmetric strategic dynamics of the region, blurs the distinction between conventional and strategic force postures, and exacerbates the Offence-Defence imbalance aggravating the arms race in the region. Also, on India’s eagerness to get new technologies including hypersonic weapons, anti-satellites weapons, and cyber capabilities, he said that after the Pulwama crisis and the recent India-China stand-off, the pace of India’s defense equipment acquisition is accelerating.
Dr. Naeem Salik examined that since the coming into power of Modi government, there is a deliberate upping of the ante by India along the parts of the LOC and more seriously across the working boundary using all kinds of weaponry including artillery and mortars. Also India’s new policy of so called ‘surgical strikes’ with serious potential for inadvertent escalation, both horizontally and vertically, have emerged as serious sources of tensions between India and Pakistan. He added that Mr. Modi is playing the ‘Game of Chicken’ and trying to persuade Pakistan that he is irrational enough and in any future crisis will be willing to go to the brink. He deliberated that Pakistan has no option but to respond firmly as it cannot afford to blink, because that will condemn it to disadvantaged position for the foreseeable future and irreversibly damage the credibility of its deterrence.
Senior Researcher SIPRI, Dr. Petr Topychkanov, said that India is investing in new capabilities and new areas of strategic capabilities that are of non-nuclear nature but have offensive and defense characteristics of strategic dimension, for instance early warning systems, space capabilities, Artificial intelligence based solutions for strike capabilities and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. On the India-Russia cooperation, Dr. Petr said that India is facing a challenge to build engine for its new strike capabilities i.e. Nirbhay missile – that are core for India’s precision strike forces – where Russia is helping. Also, Russia helped India to build INS-Arihant and Russia continues to help India in building INS-Arighat, S-400 and cruise missile BrahMos. He anticipated that India’s acquisitions of new technologies seems to be a game changer and will effect nuclear deterrence relations between India and Pakistan in future.
While speaking on India’s counterforce ambitions, Dr. Adil Sultan said that India may be contemplating the option of a ‘First-Strike’ or the ‘First Use’ against Pakistan. He cautioned that Indian leadership could be led to a ‘false sense of security’ by its scientific and military establishment that India’s BMD system would be able to intercept all incoming missiles from the Pakistani side. On India’s recently tested hypersonic technology and underdeveloped cruise missile BrahMos-II, Dr. Adil said that in a future military crisis, the Indian decision makers could possibly use these weapons in a counterforce role to prevent Pakistan from the early deployment of its tactical nuclear weapons, and to create space for their Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) or the Pro Active Operations (PAOs) strategy. He added that to prevent such a scenario, Pakistan can work on developing its own anti-satellite (ASAT) capability and recalibrate the Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) to address the threat of a conventional counterforce strike.
Dr. Ali Ahmed opined that India’s technical developments open the possibility of a counter force posture and make feasible a move away from NFU. He stated that India’s nuclear doctrine is beyond offensive deterrence and bordering on compellence. While referring to Pulwama-Balakot crises, Dr. Ali said that there was much ado over the effectiveness of aerial surgical strikes, which means that while India may be quicker on the draw, it is wary of escalation. Its response to the Chinese intrusions has also been rather reticent. He predicted that India’s nuclear doctrinal shift will help consolidate Hindutva as much as consolidation of Hindutva midwives a new nuclear doctrine, as the principal feature in Indian politics over the recent past has been the firming in the right wing at the helm of the state.
The presentations were followed by an interactive question-answer session. The webinar was attended by a large number of academics, experts, scholars and diplomats as well as students of international and strategic affairs. The session lasted two hours.