Nuclear Weapons and Indian Strategic Culture

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Basrur, Rajesh M. (2001) Nuclear Weapons and Indian Strategic Culture , Journal of Peace Research 38(2): 181–198.

The persistence of restraint, stability and minimalism in India's nuclear policy is best explained with reference to its strategic culture. This constitutes an intermediate structure between the power-acquisition imperative of the structure of the international system and domestic choices on how power is actually constituted. Disaggregation of strategic culture into three analytically distinct components - the level of assumptions and beliefs, the operational level and the structural frame - facilitates identification of the precise areas of continuity and change in a dynamic structure. The disjunctures observed, whether at one level or between levels, can then be subjected to social action in the pursuit of peace and stability. An examination of Indian strategic culture with respect to nuclear weapons on the basis of official and non-official preference structures reveals (a) high levels of continuity in the form of restrained responses to external and domestic pressures for change, and in a positive disposition toward arms control; and (b) a significant shift from high to low tolerance of ambiguity resulting from the steady growth of an operational, as opposed to a political, conception of nuclear weapons. The last creates space for nuclear instability. The anomaly can be corrected by exposing the deficiencies in the operational conception of deterrence, thereby reinforcing strategic stability.