India and China – a nuclear race?

On 27 November, Gaurav Kampani, University of Tulsa, and Elin Enger, FFI, spoke about Indian and Chinese nuclear armament.

​​​Gaurav Kampani, assistant professor of political science, University of Tulsa, discussed China and India's threat perceptions, nuclear trajectories and sources of stability and instability between the two states.

Elin Enger, researcher, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), discussed the technical aspects of fissile materials (uranium and plutonium) and nuclear technology; and the developments and current nuclear capabilities of China and India.

China's threat perceptions include Indian exploitation of domestic unrest in Tibet, India's dominant geographic location astride the Straits of Malacca through which China's trade and energy supplies traverse, and India's potential participation in an anti-China balancing coalition with the United States. 

India's threat perceptions include an unsettled border dispute with China, China's division of India's strategic attention through conventional arms supply and nuclear weapons assistance to Pakistan, and Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

As highlighted by Kampani, India and China's nuclear trajectories have been characterised by historical restraint, technological determinism and weak institutional capacity. China has favoured a 'no first-use' policy over aggressive nuclear deterrence strategy, and India has opted for a minimal deterrence strategy rather than a limited nuclear deterrence strategy. Satiated power, structural advantages, and civilian control over the military were highlighted as sources to stability between China and India. Absence of stable deterrence, new technical developments and the increasing role of the respective militaries, however, were outlined as sources to instability between the two states. 

Kampani defined the Indian and Chinese rivalry as a 'light rivalry'. Nuclear competition has been a side show for both China and India, and both states are following a relatively relaxed pace of nuclear modernisation. For both states, nuclear weapons have been primarily political weapons. 

Enger discussed the nuclear weapons development of India and China - which both were started in the 1950s. While China started developing nuclear weapons by taking the uranium route, India chose the plutonium route. Today, both countries produce both plutonium and enriched uranium; have nuclear weapons arsenals of 100–300 warheads; and have and are further developing new nuclear capable missiles. China and India both have bomber airplanes and Ballistic missiles. 

Summarising the countries' nuclear weapons delivery systems, Enger highlighted China's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) ranging from 11200 km (DF 31A) up to 13 000 km (DF 5). The newest Chinese ICBM, the DF 41, is claimed to have an even longer range than the DF 5. China also has nuclear capable cruise missiles, and is testing one nuclear propulsion submarine (JL-2 missiles). India's Prithvi I, II and IIIrange from 150–350 km. India also has intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM)Agni III ranging up to 3000 km and the ICBM Agni V ranging up to 5000 km. India does not have nuclear capable cruise missiles, but is testing one nuclear propulsion submarine – the Sagarika missile.

Both speaker's and the Chair of the seminar, Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, emphasised the methodological challenges of studying nuclear weapons programmes, due to opacity and scarcity of information sources.

Report by Maral Mirshahi

Publisert 27. november 2014 00:00.. Sist oppdatert 28. juni 2016 11:07.