Nuclear Deterrence

2024 MAR 26

Mains   > Security   >   Border area management   >   Nuclear


GS 3>> External Security


The successful trial of the Agni-V ballistic missile, named Mission 'Divyastra,' marks a significant milestone in advancing India's nuclear deterrence capabilities. With an impressive reach of 5000 kilometers and the added advantage of Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs), Agni-V has significantly strengthened India's nuclear deterrence.


  • Nuclear deterrence is a strategy employed by states possessing nuclear weapons to prevent adversaries from initiating a nuclear attack by convincing them that the costs and consequences of such an attack would outweigh any potential benefits.
  • Nuclear Deterrence operates on the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), where both sides possess sufficient nuclear capabilities to inflict unacceptable damage on each other, thereby deterring any hostile actions.Maintenance of credible nuclear deterrence is one of the foremost priorities of India’s Nuclear Policy.
    • Credible Minimum Deterrence: India would maintain a sufficient number of nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack, but it would not seek to match other countries’ arsenals in size.
    • Retaliation to a Nuclear Attack: If India is subject to a nuclear attack, it would retaliate, causing massive damage to the aggressor.(No first use policy)


India has embarked on a comprehensive missile development initiative as a key component of its strategy for nuclear deterrence. This program seeks to improve its ability to efficiently deploy nuclear weapons, thereby reinforcing a credible stance on nuclear deterrence. 

Land-based DeterrenceSea-based DeterrenceAir-based Deterrence

Agni series of ballistic missiles

Prithvi series of ballistic missile

Shaurya, hypersonic missile

INS Arihant submarine

S-4 Submarine

Rafale aircraft



  1. Entry into the ICBM Elite: Agni-V's achievement of a 5,000 km range propels India into the exclusive circle of nations capable of deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles. This milestone not only showcases India’s technological advancements but also strategically extends its reach to significant parts of China and some regions of Europe, enhancing its global military stature and influence.
  2. Reinforcing Deterrence in Regional Power Dynamics: The deployment of Agni-V, with its MIRV capability, significantly strengthens India's position against regional adversaries, notably China. By being able to bypass advanced missile defense systems such as China's HQ-19, Agni-V solidifies India's nuclear deterrence framework, ensuring a robust defense posture within the complex Sino-Indian relations.
  3. Credible Second-Strike Capability Following a "No First Use" Policy: Agni-V is pivotal in enabling India to maintain a potent retaliatory force, aligning with its commitment to a "no first use" nuclear doctrine. The missile’s ability to deliver multiple nuclear warheads across vast distances ensures that India can effectively deter adversaries by guaranteeing severe consequences in the event of a nuclear attack.
  1. Advancement in National Defense Capabilities: The induction of Agni-V into India’s defense arsenal marks a significant leap forward in its military capabilities. This development not only enhances India's strategic deterrence but also promotes national security, asserting its ability to safeguard its interests against external threats.
  2. Promotion of Strategic Autonomy Through Technological Self-Reliance: Agni-V’s successful deployment reflects India’s strides towards self-reliance in defense technology. By developing indigenous, state-of-the-art military hardware, India not only reduces its dependency on foreign arms but also asserts its position as a technologically advanced and strategically autonomous power.
  3. Contribution to Regional Security and Strategic Stability: By advancing its nuclear deterrence with Agni-V, India plays a crucial role in maintaining regional security. The missile's capabilities serve as a deterrent against potential aggressors, promoting peace and stability in a region marked by strategic rivalries.
  4. Enhancing Diplomatic Leverage: The strategic advantages provided by Agni-V elevate India’s standing in international forums, especially in discussions concerning nuclear non-proliferation and arms control. Possessing such advanced capabilities allows India to engage in diplomatic negotiations with greater confidence and from a position of strength.


  • Rapid Advancements in Chinese Strategic Capabilities: One of the primary challenges to India's deterrence capabilities comes from the swift and comprehensive expansion of China's nuclear arsenal and missile defense systems. These developments pose a significant challenge to maintaining strategic balance and deterrence in the region.
  • Restrictions Due to Limited Nuclear Testing: India's capabilities to optimize the design and effectiveness of its missile re-entry vehicles are constrained by the inadequate availability of nuclear testing facilities. This limitation hampers the ability to extensively test and refine the technology needed for advanced nuclear delivery systems.
  • Communications Challenges with Submarine-Based Deterrents: The effectiveness of India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, particularly its Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), is compromised by difficulties in deep-sea communications. The reliance on very low-frequency communication systems, which are susceptible to disruption at significant depths, presents operational challenges in maintaining continuous and secure communication with nuclear submarines.
  • Uncertainty Over Warhead Capacity: The classified nature of India's missile programs, including the Agni-V, leads to uncertainty and speculation about the exact number of nuclear warheads these missiles are capable of carrying. It is believed that currently, Agni-V may be limited to carrying a maximum of only three warheads, which could impact the perceived strength and flexibility of India's nuclear deterrent.
  • Concerns Over the Potency of Nuclear Warheads: The effectiveness of India's nuclear deterrent is also questioned due to the potentially limited yield of its nuclear warheads. This limitation is attributed to the small number of nuclear tests conducted, which may restrict the development of higher-yield nuclear weapons essential for a robust deterrent capability.


  • Advancing Missile Defense Initiatives: In response to the evolving threat posed by China's rapidly modernizing nuclear capabilities, India needs to prioritize the enhancement of its missile defense infrastructure. This includes accelerating the development and deployment of sophisticated missile defense systems, notably progressing with projects like Agni VI, to bolster its defensive and deterrent capabilities.
  • Enhanced Collaboration with International Partners: Strengthening ties with global allies, particularly nations like the United States, is crucial for India to bolster its defense posture against potential adversaries. Engaging in intelligence sharing, joint military drills, and strategic defense planning with allies can significantly enhance India's security and deterrence framework.
  • Early Deployment of Advanced SLBMs: To fortify its second-strike capability and ensure a robust nuclear deterrence, India should expedite the testing and deployment of advanced Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). These long-range missiles, deployable from nuclear submarines, are vital for maintaining a secure and credible nuclear deterrent, especially in the face of emerging maritime threats.
  • Boosting Conventional Military Strength: Alongside its strategic nuclear deterrent, India must also focus on amplifying its conventional military forces. Enhancing the conventional warfare capabilities can serve as a critical deterrent against lower-level conflicts escalating into nuclear confrontations, thereby maintaining regional stability.


Q: Explain the idea of nuclear deterrence and its effects on international peace and stability. How has the nuclear taboo evolved over the years?(10M, 150W)