US-China missile rivalry opens up new opportunities for India

Synopsis: The power projection done by china has its own message and also a ground for others to fall into arms race. The scenario further presents an opportunity for India.


In the past several years, China has tested its hypersonic missiles, publishing papers reporting their advances in such a sensitive field.

The US govt is obviously aware of this. Hence, US officials expressing shock at this development and comparing China’s hypersonic missile tests to a “Sputnik moment” do seem a bit of exaggeration.

Is this a new arms race?

Indeed, Washington’s open public message on China’s hypersonic missile tests, may well be a part of its defence establishment’s political-bargaining process, whereby US using it as an excuse to further speed-up its missile building process.

This can be seen in the recent context of US President reaffirming commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

However, the new missiles that China and Russia are deploying are a response to Washington’s 2002 decision to withdraw from the ‘anti-ballistic missile treaty’ and invest in ballistic-missile defence.

What is the message that China wants to convey?

China, in showing up its capability to strike the US homeland with ICBMs and hypersonic missiles, helps in signalling US and others, that a confrontation with China can be problematic.

What are its implications?

Hypersonic missiles are certainly a technological advancement over plain old ballistic missiles as vulnerability to nuclear attack is the basis of ‘strategic deterrence‘ and ‘world peace’.

However, every additional warhead and delivery mechanism raises the risk of an ‘accidental nuclear war‘.

What does this mean for India?

Opportunities for India:

– India should reframe the issue from “non- proliferation” to “No-First use” policy of nuclear weapons. India is ideally placed to champion a Global No First Use (GNFU) treaty as the first step. Beijing, like India, has a no-first-use policy, and a post-Trump Washington is likely to be more receptive to the idea.

An independent ‘Space Situational Awareness(SSA)’ crucial for space defence, also it has the potential to become strategic technology that other countries will require. Indian companies can aim to acquire a competitive advantage in the tracking of space objects, both from the ground as well as from space.

India can take advantage of space reforms by focusing public investment in the physics, materials and engineering of anti-satellite and hypersonic systems.

Path for India:

India should stick to ‘minimum credible deterrence’ by having nuclear warheads so as to create detterence. India has wisely achieved strategic deterrence without getting into an arms race. We should stay the course.

Source: This post is based on the article “US-China missile rivalry opens up new opportunities for India” published in “Livemint” on 25th Oct 2021.

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