Explaining India and China's small nuclear arsenals

Nicola Horsburgh (Oxford) and Kate Sullivan (Oxford)




China and India are both investing heavily in the expansion of their conventional military capabilities. Why have they not invested in a parallel exponential development of their nuclear weapons arsenals? What explains the ‘minimalist’ approaches of these two countries in the domain of nuclear weapons capabilities? This article argues that China and India have small nuclear arsenals i) because they perceive the security value and military utility of nuclear weapons differently, and ii) because the political dividends they seek in these weapons is not enhanced by possessing a larger arsenal. The article presents a historically informed analysis that points to alternative conceptualisations of nuclear deterrence, security and prestige and adds depth and diversity to the conventional scholarship on nuclear weapons. Moreover, the examples of China and India’s small nuclear arsenals offer alternative scenarios for states contemplating a fresh approach to the realisation of a low-salient nuclear world.

Dr Nicola Horsburgh

Dr Nicola Horsburgh is currently Junior Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford working for Professor Andrew Hurrell on the 21st Century Concerts of Power Project. Nicola has recently been awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on 'China and Nuclear Responsibility in the Global Nuclear Order' based at Oxford for academic years 2012-2015. Nicola holds a DPhil in International Relations and an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies from Oxford, an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a BScEcon (Hons) in International Politics and Strategic Studies from Aberystwyth University. In addition to her graduate studies, Nicola was a Research Fellow at King’s College London, a visiting Senior Scholar at the Arms Control Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a Pre-doctoral Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey.

Dr Kate Sullivan

Dr Kate Sullivan is Lecturer in Modern Indian Studies at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford and a Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Her doctoral research focused on Indian conceptions of greatness among Indian foreign policy elites, and how the study of a rising India can contribute to existing theorising about great powers. Her current work centres on India's nuclear and disarmament politics, including early official Indian discourses on nuclear restraint; India’s recently ‘trustworthy’ nuclear status (signalled by the Indo-US nuclear deal); and explanations for the 'small' nature of India's nuclear arsenal. Kate teaches International Relations and supervises Master's dissertations on IR and Politics topics as part of Oxford’s MSc in Contemporary India. She also tutors in Indian Politics for Mansfield College, Oxford.