NEW DELHI: Pakistan continues to be slightly ahead of India in terms of the number of nuclear warheads, with China having more than double the quantity, but the Indian defence establishment remains confident of its nuclear deterrence capability.
The latest assessment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which was released on Monday, says China now has 320 nuclear warheads with Pakistan having 160 as compared to 150 of India.
The SIPRI report comes at a time when India is grappling with an over 40-day major troop confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, while the two armies have also undertaken military build-ups all along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control. The 778-km Line of Control, in turn, remains extremely volatile with daily exchanges of heavy shelling between India and Pakistan.
The US and Russia are in a different league altogether with 5,800 and 6,375 nuclear warheads respectively, together accounting for over 90% of the estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2020, as per SIPRI.
This marks a decrease from the 13,865 nuclear weapons that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2019, which is primarily due to the dismantlement of retired nuclear weapons by Russia and the US over the last year.
The arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states – France (290), UK (215), Israel (90) and North Korea (30-40), apart from China, Pakistan and India — are considerably smaller. “But all these states are either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so,” said SIPRI.
China, for instance, is in the middle of a significant modernization of its nuclear arsenal. It is developing a so-called nuclear triad for the first time, made up of new land- and sea-based missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft.
“India and Pakistan are slowly increasing the size and diversity of their nuclear forces, while North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear programme as a central element of its national security strategy,” said SIPRI.
Acknowledging that there were low or varying levels of transparency about the status of nuclear arsenals, the SIPRI said, “The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide little information about the status or size of their arsenals.”
Russia and the US, of course, have extensive and expensive programmes under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities.
“Both countries have also given new or expanded roles to nuclear weapons in their military plans and doctrines, which marks a significant reversal of the post-cold war trend towards the gradual marginalization of nuclear weapons,” it said.