Indian Navy announced the completion of India’s first indigenously developed nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant’s deterrence patrol – the first of its kind – in November this year. The development of this submarine, costing approximately USD 2.9 billion, marked the successful completion of India’s nuclear triad. Nuclear powered submarines with nuclear missiles operate underwater over long distances for months and are considered to be the most potent and challenging in detection out of the nuclear triad. INS Arihant is the second nuclear-powered submarine possessed by India after INS Chakra, a Russian Akula-class attack submarine which was taken on lease in 2012 for 12 years from Russia.
INS Arihant is the first of three such nuclear submarines constructed under the secretive programme Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project of the 1990s, making India the first country other than five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to have built a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine. Formally announced by Indian Minister of Defence George Fernandes in 1998, it was funded secretly by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in late 1970s after India conducted its first nuclear test ‘Smiling Buddha’. The idea came to her during the Indo-Pak War of 1971 when U.S. sent a carrier battle group (Task Force 74), led by nuclear powered USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal in an attempt to intimidate India.
Arihant which means Annihilator of Enemies is a 6000 tonnes submarine with a length of 110 meters and breadth of 11 meters that can accommodate a crew of 95. It is bigger in size and much more advanced than other conventional submarines which are powered by the diesel-petrol engine as their power source and surface daily to get oxygen for fuel combustion. INS Arihant can function effectively when submerged for a long period because it is nuclear powered by a 83 MW pressurized water reactor and can achieve a maximum speed of 12-15 knots (22-28 km/h) when surfaced and 24 knots (44 km/h) when submerged. The vessel will be able to carry 12 Sagarika K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that have a range of over 700 km or 4 K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with a range up to 3500 km.
The commissioning and deterrence patrol of INS Arihant not only indicates India’s blue water ambitions but also poses a great security challenge to Pakistan when viewed in the Indian hegemonic perspective. It has been rightly highlighted by Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Faisal that this development marked the first actual deployment of ready-to-fire nuclear warheads in South Asia which is a matter of concern not only for the Indian Ocean littoral states but also for the international community at large. It is a well-known fact that increase of such nuclear activities in the Indian Ocean has caused concerns among the majority of littoral states, that favour the establishment of the Indian Ocean as a ‘Zone of Peace’. In September 1970, Lusaka Conference of Non Aligned Countries and later, on December 16, 1971, 26th United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution initiated by Sri Lanka, declaring the Indian Ocean as a ‘Zone of Peace’ free of nuclear weapons, with airspace and ocean floor limits to be determined.
‘Deterrence patrol’ by the nuclear submarine in the Indian Ocean would adversely impact nuclear stability and develop renewed tensions. India is continuing to build up its strategic and conventional military capabilities, compelling Pakistan to take defensive countermeasures. U.S. which has recently augmented the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership, is also continuing to favour India’s mainstreaming as a nuclear weapon state by bending rules and offering waivers, disturbing the regional strategic balance by revising the non-proliferation regime in a discriminatory manner. This will not only redefine South Asia’s nuclear order but could also severely impact nuclear stability at the global and regional levels. This U.S.’ tilt towards India also seems to have encouraged the Indian leadership to behave like an arrogant regional power, thus reducing the prospects of reaching any peaceful co-existence with its nuclear neighbour, Pakistan.
The importance of the Indian Ocean was narrated well by Admiral Robert Long in 1981 when he talked of its significance for the U.S. and the Western world at large and emphasized “the will and resolve of U.S. to protect vital interests there”. Therefore, U.S. has many good reasons to see India as a maritime strategic partner. U.S.’ new strategic priorities are to develop long-term maritime strategic partnership with India. Therefore, India may be playing a central role in the U.S. security calculus for the Indian Ocean Region which is clearly manifested in the unprecedented expansion of Indian naval capabilities. The two allies concluded a Defense Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The U.S. is now using both coercive and persuasive techniques in order to create a balance of power in this region. Besides helping India to rise against China, it is also using the stratagem of divide and rule to maintain its supremacy.
For Pakistan, nuclear option is the ultimate deterrence against any aggression from the nuclear hegemon, India. India threatens Pakistan with pre-emptive strikes or first use to deny Pakistan any chance to use nuclear weapons, which is an alarmingly high-risk strategy. Pakistan is left with little choice but to counter India with a full spectrum credible minimum deterrence. Pakistan’s programme is not status driven but arose to counter the perennial security threat from its eastern neighbour. Similarly, conventional arms sales that create imbalances in region should be curtailed. It is unfortunate that Pakistan and India have not concluded any new confidence building measures for nearly a decade and India is now building new strategic capabilities on the pretext of balancing China.
Nuclearization of Indian Ocean Zone of Peace (iozp) is an existential and dangerous threat by all means, not only for Pakistan but for all 22 states located on the periphery of Indian Ocean including China. It is recommended that there is a dire need to fully project this threat by MOFA in order to make all states aware of this dangerous development. Similarly, Pakistan must focus on maritime security as a strong naval force is vital for a country’s geo-economic and geo-strategic interests. It should continue to maintain its efforts to have a robust deterrence capability, while also staying on course to seek further integration into the mainstream of the global non-proliferation regime as a responsible nuclear weapon state. Pakistan also needs to develop viable policies to promote defence cooperation with China and Russia so that it can further strengthen itself economically and militarily to balance against the growing Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. All stakeholders need to play a role in such an endeavour. If we fail to take stock of the situation today, it may lead us to another sea of troubled waters.
The writer is pursuing his PhD in Media Sciences.
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