RSIS Seminar by Frank O’Donnell, Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow, Belfer Center
India's Search for Deterrence: Nuclear Subcultures and Policy Choices
Since 1998, India has navigated multiple shifts in its nuclear status. Over this period, New Delhi has moved from nuclear “opacity” — neither overtly weaponizing its nuclear capabilities, nor curtailing its ability to do so — to a nuclear test series, proclamation as an overt nuclear weapons state, and issuance of two nuclear doctrines. However, obtaining reliable information on India’s nuclear decision-making remains a challenge for external analysts.This seminar will first discuss how the requirements of Indian deterrence, as perceived by New Delhi’s strategic elite, have evolved since 1998. It will next detail the characteristics of two “minimalist-political” and “maximalist-operational” schools of thought within Indian nongovernmental strategic elite discourse, and how their comparative influence has changed over time. The seminar will reconstruct the policy options developed by this strategic elite as it faced each nuclear policy juncture and demonstrate how a numerically dominant option in each discourse provides a reliable proxy indicator for the subsequent official strategic decision. It will conclude with an exploration of how this approach can inform scholarly understanding of current and potential future Indian nuclear policies.