A Nuclear Game of Thrones
Japan and India vs. China and Pakistan

With India investing in sea power and Japan getting more militaristic, New Delhi and Tokyo are deepening their defense ties. Today, the Indian Defense Minister begins a four day visit to Japan. The objective of the meetings will be not only to deepen bilateral commitments to maritime security, but also to explore possible arms deals. India is said to be very interested in purchasing Japanese submarines.

India and Japan’s respective biggest rivals also have a major deal in the works. Pakistan and China, whose already close relationship has been warming noticeably of late, are close to signing a major contract that would have Islamabad buying eight subs from Beijing. According to the FT, it could be the largest arms export deal in Chinese history. Given Pakistan and India’s bitter rivalry, this move doesn’t exactly demonstrate Beijing’s deep concern for Indian wishes and interests. That’s notable, given how hard Xi was working to bring Modi’s India onto his side just a few short months ago.

A recent report in the Lowy Insitute’s Interpreter looks at exactly how dangerous this kind of one-upmanship on the high seas really is, especially as both India and Pakistan race toward “moving their nuclear weapons capabilities into the maritime realm”:

India is the furthest down this track, having launched its first indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant in 2009 (expected to be commissioned this year); it is also in the process of building two more so-called SSBNs. Further, India is developing nuclear-tipped Dhanush short range ballistic missiles for deployment on offshore patrol vessels. India has leased a nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine and has plans toconstruct up to six more SSNs (unlike SSBNs, SSNs are not armed with nuclear ballistic missiles). Pakistan is following India’s lead, having recently established a Naval Strategic Force Command Headquarters with the declared intention of developing a sea-based deterrent. This may involve nuclear-armed conventional submarines supplied by China, rather than SSBNs.

Some nuclear weapons states have created a nuclear ‘triad’ in order to have an assured second strike capability. While such an assured capability can help stabilise a nuclear relationship, according to a recent Carnegie report, taking the India-Pakistan nuclear dynamic into the maritime realm may in fact create greater instability.

The article goes on to explain the issue in close detail, and we encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s not a good sign that a pressing question in world affairs right now is whether the dispute between the two biggest powers in East Asia is a bigger threat to world order than the dispute between the two biggest powers in South Asia.

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