The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has recently launched its annual yearbook 2020 and assessed the current state of armament, disarmament and international security. Concerns have been raised, however, over the actual and reported strength of the nuclear stockpile in India.
While maintaining its years-long tradition of adding 10 more nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s stockpile, SIPRI estimated that India possesses the smallest numbers of nuclear warheads in the South Asian strategic context. The yearbook appeared to be misleading and politically motivated because it did not incorporate other independent sources with higher estimates of Indian nuclear stockpile.
SIPRI did not even bother to take notes from a recent report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The report has deliberated the annual nuclear spending of the nine nuclear-armed states. The most interesting case discussed was that Pakistan’s expenditure on its nuclear forces is about $1 billion, as compared to India which spends twice the amount, i.e. $2.3 billion to maintain almost the same number of nuclear weapons.
Reports show India’s nuclear programme is picking up pace
Today, India is operating the world’s fastest expanding nuclear weapons programme outside safeguards among any other non-NPT nuclear states. India is pursuing a nuclear triad that encompasses nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), dual-use cruise/ballistic missiles and an enormous naval modernization intended to nuclearize the Indian ocean region.
Various Indian experts and politicians claim India needs more than 300-400 nuclear weapons for its strategic forces. Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the former Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, has said in this regards that, “both, from the point of view of maintaining long-term energy security and for maintaining the ‘minimum credible deterrent,’ the fast breeder programme just cannot be put on the civilian list. This would amount to getting shackled and India certainly cannot compromise one [security] for the other.”
— BulgarianMilitary.com (@BGMilitary) June 28, 2020
So, India has intentionally reserved its fast breeder reactors and most of its so-called civil nuclear programme out of the safeguards and surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In order to acquire the full nuclear triad capability, India will strive to produce many more nuclear warheads without IAEA monitoring.
IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review by Robert Kelley has examined that how several avenues enabled India to achieve the quantity and purity of uranium that are needed in a closed nuclear fuel cycle and New Delhi appears to be interested in atomic vapour laser isotope separation (AVLIS).
Read more: US, Russia nuclear talks to come to a halt?
It further added that reactor-grade plutonium from the unsafe-guarded Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) provides a further strategic military stockpile to India. The IHS Jane also mentioned that India imports Jordanian phosphate in large quantities for fertiliser production.
A large stream of phosphoric acid will be processed at the Rare Material Recovery (RMR) Plant at the Pradeep Phosphates Ltd plant near Odisha in the east of the country. The extraction of uranium from imported phosphate fertilisers gives India a source of uranium that is not subject to international monitoring and uranium from phosphate can be used for military activities.
An in depth analysis has shown that India has enough resources and fissile materials to develop between 356 and 492 nuclear warheads. The study titled ‘Indian Unsafeguarded Nuclear Program’ which was published by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) revealed a recent and detailed evaluation of the capability of India’s nuclear weapons programme.
Whereas, a Belfer Center’s study has indicated that India is already installing more than five fast breeder reactors, which will proliferate its production capacities of weapons-grade plutonium 20-fold to 700 kg annually. The analysis of this production capacity demonstrates that New Delhi has the capacity to produce roughly 80 to 90 plutonium-based and 7 to 8 uranium-based nuclear weapons every year.
According to the study, if all of the weapons and the reactor-grade Plutonium and the Highly Enriched Uranium stocks are taken into account, India could produce between 2,261 and 2,686 weapons.
Matthew Clements, editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, in an interview, uncovered the expansion of an Indian clandestine uranium enrichment plant that could potentially support the development of thermonuclear weapons. The facility, located near Mysore in southern India, would yield nearly twice as much weapons-grade uranium as New Delhi would need in its fastest-growing nuclear weapons programme.
Whereas, unabated growth in its centrifuge enrichment programme will allow it to intensify the production of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium to 160kg annually. Matthew Clements said that “taking into account all the enriched uranium likely to be needed by the Indian nuclear submarine fleet, there is likely to be a significant excess.”
India attempts to complete the nuclear triad
To complete nuclear triad, India is rapidly expanding its nuclear weapons program under many covert projects. Such as, it is operating a plutonium production reactor, Dhruva, and a uranium enrichment facility, which are not subject to IAEA safeguards.
India is building South Asia largest military complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories. This facility will give India the ability to make many large-yield nuclear arms & hydrogen bombs.
In the back drop of Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement, undisclosed plutonium reserves were not inspected and were left with Indian weapons development facilities. Al Jazeera and Foreign Policy investigation reports also specified that India is secretly building a nuclear enrichment complex in Challakere to escalate arms race. It will covertly triple the number of nuclear warheads in the coming years from what India possess today.
India is hiding its stockpile using technical loopholes
India has introduced an ambiguous nuclear separation plan with the IAEA in which it encompassed only those facilities on the civilian list and offered them for safeguards that are not involved in activities of strategic implication. The civilian Plutonium reserves that are outside the safeguards of the IAEA and designated for strategic purposes are the main cause of concern.
In a three-stage plan, India is continuing to expand its unsafeguarded
Over the next few years, India will be capable to replace China, France and the United Kingdom in terms of its abilities to produce nuclear weapons to become the third behind the U.S. and Russia.
India has intensified development and strategic procurement to stockpile weapons-grade material for future usage in military modernization programmes. The increasing stocks of weapons-grade fissile material by New Delhi would have unbearable effects from the South Asian viewpoint of strategic stability.
A number of nuclear suppliers, on the assumption of non-factual estimates of Indian stockpile, concluded nuclear cooperation with New Delhi. Although the material from these countries appears to be being reused in arms for the policy of Indian military expansion with respect to aggressive nuclear weapon modernization.
The mere simple facts that the Indian Nuclear programme started well before Pakistan’s, has a bigger capacity than Pakistan with bulk of it outside IAEA safeguards, has 14 nuclear deals under exceptional trade waiver in 2008 by NSG and is actively pursuing a triad of nuclear and space forces being sponsored by leading Western states, are sufficient to prove that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is no match to India’s dangerous and expansionist nuclear quest.
It then becomes hard to understand as to why respectable institutions like the SIPRI try to downplay the emerging dangers of massive vertical proliferation carried out by India in the last two decades?
The author is a student of Current Affairs and Political Science with a Masters degree from NUST, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.