Geopolitical Shift and Global Security: Imperatives for Arms Control in South Asia

Unfolding challenges in geopolitical arena is jeopardizing global arms control regime (GACR). The rise of China and the war in Ukraine has significantly increased the risks of nuclear escalation and resurgence in arms build-up. Unlike the Cold War, the new arms race appears to be a tripartite involving the US, China and Russia. It is based on indelicate structural constraints as all parties are defecting from global non-proliferation norms. As a result of this paradigm shift, the unsettling nuclear equilibrium between Pakistan and India given New Delhi’s force expansion and modernization in the wake of the competition with Beijing  

Commentators propose that a Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) can ensure strategic balance in South Asia. However, such attempts of proposition are futile because of India’s growing diplomatic support worldwide and especially by the US, its ambitions for great power status and strategic insecurities with China. Therefore, instead of striving for SRR, the South Asian rivals must set their trajectory to advocate for consolidating the GACR and multilateral initiatives since stability in the three-sided arms race on the world stage can promise strategic stability in South Asia.  

Unveiling New Geopolitical Realities and the Fragility of the GACR

The US considers the rise of China ‘the greatest threat to the US and its allies. Seeing China’s enormous naval modernization, enhancing military capabilities and assertions in the Asia-Pacific, the US is pivoting to Asia as part of its offshore balancing strategy. The incompatibility of the strategic demands of the both has increased a new arms race and weakening global norms.

The resurgence of Russia has further intensified the geopolitical race. The Russia-Ukraine war has not only disrupted global supply chains but also hit a severe blow to the free world. The US and its allies are highly investing in the war to not let Russia win. It is observed that China tacitly supports  Russia. Resultantly, a conducive environment is being built that supports arms race and escalation between major powers.  

In the backdrop of the given developments, the GACR is turning fragile. For instance, the US withdrew from Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, stopped sharing information with Russia under the New START Treaty followed by Moscow’s suspension of New START and invocation of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 2023. The US also withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF) in 2019 blaming Russia of non-compliance. Increasing the security risks and prospects of arms build-up, the withdrawal also decreased the predictable restraints in the missile sphere. It is reported that China is also increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal, and has kept investing in military modernization and force expansion. Beijing is also seeking to bolster ‘world class’ military by 2049. 

India Fishing in the Troubled Water and Shattering Dreams of SRR

The country leveraging most from the new geopolitical realities is India. Seeing the waning credibility of global non-proliferation norms, New Delhi is bolstering its defense and highly investing in its conventional and nuclear military capabilities and seeking asymmetries which are affecting the strategic landscape of South Asia. It is aspiring for hydrogen bomb, signed a deal with France for six nuclear-powered submarines similar to the nature of the submarines which Australia is receiving through AUKUS, and acquiring long-range missiles that can reach to Washington, London and Ottawa. This reflects how AUKUS is affecting the NPT’s aspiration for nonproliferation and the longstanding issue of nuclear disarmament.  

In the realm of diplomacy, India garners extensive support from the US, which perceives the former as a consequential ‘net security provider’ in countering the influence of China. In the Russia-Ukraine war, Washington exhibited tolerance against India’s purchase of crude oil from Russia. Similarly, India killed a Canadian citizen Harshdeep Singh Najjar on Canadian soil violating the sovereignty of a free state. After few days of the incident, ironically, President Joe Biden welcomed the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for a state visit. The US is also silent on the alarming human rights situation in India, especially on its revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Indo-China strategic rivalry is also incentivizing for India to seek credible military capabilities against a more secure, stable and powerful adversary. India’s deteriorating relations with China has historical roots that dates back to 1962. However, these relations have suffered a series of blows for a decade due to border skirmishes and China’s aspirations for a world class army. Consequently, the given prevailing dynamics and ambitions are stopping India to lock itself in a proposed SRR with Pakistan. 

Way Forward: The Imperative for Multilateralism in Mitigating the Arms Race

Instead of considering SRR, the established nuclear weapon states should aspire to consolidate the GACR, using diplomatic channels. They must encourage and persuade themselves for restraint and responsible behavior for global peace and security. The escalating challenges in the geopolitical front are posing great threats to nuclear governance and arms control in the world in general and in South Asia in particular. This tectonic shift has made a smooth way for India to exercise unrestraint behavior, creating substantial obstacles for the proposed SRR. Thus, it is imperative for the established nuclear weapon states to act fast for establishing GACR before they affect more the South Asian nuclear rivalry.

[Photo by U.S. Navy/PH3 Alta I. Cutler, via Wikimedia Commons]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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