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Impact of India’s Growing Missiles Inventory on the Strategic Stability of South Asia

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Impact of India’s Growing Missiles Inventory on the Strategic Stability of South Asia

India and Pakistan, the two arch rivals of South Asia have been in an action-reaction cycle since 1998 when both countries acquired nuclear power. In recent times, the arms race has been growing concerning the missile race in South Asia which causing a stabilizing-destabilizing dilemma in the region. Recently, the tests of Agni-Prime and Ababeel are making the world curious about what will be next for these countries, will these advancements in missile technology lead the countries towards confidence-building measures or more efficient technology? Will CBMs be enough for them or disarmament regimes should be followed?

These technologies, which are cost effective for both countries and highlight their lesser attention to the non-traditional security challenges that constitute another area of concern, represent a large proportion of defence budgets.

Pakistan, the smaller and less developed state, has long considered India to be its main security threat. However, India considers Pakistan to be a security threat as well. Despite this, India’s aspirations to become a significant regional and international force also influence its security and foreign policy. In addition to creating missiles that can travel over all of Pakistan, India is also constructing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could travel as far as certain regions of China. While India’s ballistic missile program is also motivated by its aspirations to become a great power, Pakistan’s missile program focuses entirely on India and intends to prevent any aggression from that country.

The missile and nuclear programs of India and Pakistan reflect an action-reaction cycle that poses a threat to regional peace and security. Systems such as India’s missile defence are particularly disruptive to regional strategic stability and nuclear deterrence. India’s theoretical invulnerability to a ballistic missile attack is compromised by the deployment of a BMD, putting into question Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. Additionally, it would urge India to pursue a first-strike strategy in which it would use its BMD to neutralize the majority of Pakistan’s nuclear forces and counter any remaining retaliation. From a Pakistani standpoint, the TNW, Nasr, is stabilizing for deterrence. However, if India hadn’t adopted CSD, the necessity for developing Nasr would not have emerged. Pakistan faces a stabilization-destabilization dilemma as a result of its pursuit of TNW. The actual use and deployment of the weapons in combat is destabilizing, even though Pakistan may find stability in the demonstration of TNW capability.” Pre-emption, unintentional use, and command-and-control problems are dangers associated with military deployment that destabilize deterrence.

The dual nature of the missiles is another aspect contributing to instability in South Asia. The missiles of both India and Pakistan can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. As a result, the opponent remains in doubt, which further complicates communication. The enemy is unable to determine whether the missiles being assembled for launch are conventional or nuclear. This can cause the enemy, such as India, to avoid taking chances like invading Pakistan, stepping over the Line of Control, or engaging in other violent operations. It might also result in a different scenario where an enemy launches a pre-emptive attack to destroy the enemy’s nuclear assets because it believes the other side is getting ready to unleash a nuclear weapon.

The deployment of nuclear weapons by New Delhi in the Indian Ocean is the other destabilizing factor. India now has a second strike capability which shifts the odds in its favour due to its advanced naval nuclear and missile capabilities. Pakistan has been obliged to create its second strike capability due to this risk. The missile race has now only reached the Indian Ocean as a result of this. Developing and deploying underwater nuclear assets raises several risks, including those of escalation, misinterpretation, and accidental or unauthorized use. Underwater deterrents are likely to intensify instability in this region of South Asia. The most significant problem is one of command and control, which has the potential to compromise deterrence. This essentially means that, at sea, the weapons need to be in a ready-to-use state but have the increased challenge to prevent accidental use. At sea, communication with civilian leadership cannot always be certain, increasing the likelihood of unauthorized launch in times of crisis.

Risk Reduction

Pakistan and India must collaborate on a Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR). Pakistan has offered numerous suggestions for SSR over the years, one of which is the creation of a WMD-free system. Following the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan offered a new proposal for an SSR that had three key components: nuclear restraint to maintain deterrence, conventional balance, and conflict resolution. India rejected it, and Pakistan later suggested a similar regime in 2016, only to have it rejected once more. The two nations require some sort of crisis management system.

There are certain confidence-building measures (CBMs) in place between Pakistan and India; these must be strengthened. A few of the CBMs in existence include an agreement to pre-notify ballistic missile launches and a regular exchange of names of each country’s nuclear installations along with an agreement to avoid attacking them. A Ballistic Missile Treaty for South Asia that places restrictions on the development and use of missile defence systems is one possible CBM that the two nations can discuss. Other potential CBMs include an agreement to prevent incidents at sea, advance notification of cruise missile tests, and specific steps for negotiating this treaty. Additionally, the two nations must have some CBMs to prevent unintentional launches as they are fielding nuclear deterrents at sea.


India’s growing missile inventory and its investment in the defence system for power projection, regional competition against China and Pakistan, and security concerns are harming strategic stability and deterrence instead of stabilizing the region. The risk reduction measurement and adaptation of confidence-building measures are extremely necessary to lessen the risk of nuclear war in South Asia. India has built missiles with the same capabilities and ranges as the original five nuclear states which is quite threatening for South Asia as well as for western states. According to analysts both India and Pakistan are more prone to the accidental use of nuclear weapons so they must get engaged and cooperate to take necessary measures to reduce nuclear arsenals for the stability of the region.


Dhanda, S. (2011). Dangers of Missile Race in South Asia: an India-Pakistan Perspective. International Affairs and Global Strategy, 2(4), 1-8.

Hussain, S. R. (2004). Missile Race in South Asia: The Way Forward. South Asian Survey, 11(2), 273-286.

Jalil, G. Y. (2020). Missile Race in South Asia. Strategic Studies, 40(1), 39-57.

Matamis, J. (2023). Institutionalizing Nuclear Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan. Stimson Center. Retrieved from https://www.stimson.org/2023/institutionalizing-nuclear-confidence-building-measures-between-india-and-pakistan/ South Asian Voices-Stimson Center. (2023, October 26). SAV Q&A: Understanding the Evolution of Missile Technology in Southern Asia. Retrieved from https://southasianvoices.org/sav-qa-understanding-the-evolution-of-missile-technology-in-southern-asia/

Saniya Ishaq

Saniya Ishaq, currently pursuing my MPHIL-IR from University of Punjab.


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