Why should India worry about Donald Trump's call to nukes?

As the world comes to terms with the election victory of Donald Trump, the perception in India is that a Trump presidency would be better for India than past US administrations. The reasons being given range from Trump’s searing criticism of China’s military and economic policies to the tough stand he would take to tackle Islamist terrorism. While India and China see each other as strategic rivals, India sees itself a major victim of terrorism, most of which it says is sponsored by Pakistan, an arch-rival with which India shares its western border.

The next US president has referred to India as a ‘good friend’ and has endeared himself to many right-wing Hindu groups on the subcontinent just by calling for a curb on Muslim immigration in the US.

All in all, Donald Trump’s proposed policies seem to have more in common with India than with most of the other countries.

However, Trump’s recent threat of starting a nuclear arms race, if carried out, has the potential to de-stabilise the fragile security environment of South Asia. While China has a lot to worry about from a Trump presidency largely due to his questioning of One-China policy, for India, the implications if US decides to ramp up its nuclear stockpile would be quite bothersome too.

Some scary scenarios for India:

  1. China increases its nuclear stockpile

In the event of the US deciding on starting a nuclear arms race, a similar reaction is bound to be provoked in China. There have already been calls in the nationalist Chinese media for increasing and upgrading Beijing’s nuclear stockpile in response to hostile statements made by Donald Trump.


A China with a bigger nuclear stockpile will affect the power balance in India-China relationship, and New Delhi may well seek ways to maintain strategic parity with Beijing.

2. Deeper Pakistan-China nuclear cooperation

While China and Pakistan have been inching closer militarily and economically for some time now, Donald Trump’s friendly overtures to India may well accelerate this move. While Trump’s call to nuclear weapons risk an arms race in the region, it also comes with an added threat of closer China-Pakistan military cooperation for India.

Traditionally a Pakistan ally, Washington started to drift away from Islamabad after Pakistan’s failure to act against anti-West terror groups holed up in the badlands of regions bordering Afghanistan. Around the same time, the US started to forge much closer relationship with India, in a bid to contain China’s growing heft in the region.

As far as China-Pakistan relations are concerned, Islamabad has kept itself in China’s good books for a long time now, with both countries being bound by their common hostility towards India. Nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and China dates back to 1970s, when Pakistan began its nuclear program.

The US Congress was as recently as in May 2016 warned by two of its Congressman that China was further helping Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions by supplying ‘super sensitive’ nuclear weapons system to the predominantly Muslim country. It was also noted that nuclear cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad was inimical to national security interests of both the US and India.

A foreign policy expert at India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Seshadri Chari, noted that China was all set to supply Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) systems to Pakistan which could be used with medium range nuclear ballistic missiles like the Shaheen III.

“It would be in the best interest of US and India to convince China that Pakistan will continue to be the fountain head of terrorism in the region which will affect China also, sooner rather than later,” Chari told InUth.

3. India’s bid for Security council seat affected

While India’s economy has grown rapidly to become the sixth largest in the world this month, the dream of a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) still eludes the world’s most populous democracy. Strategic rival China, whose successful permanent membership bid India had backed back in 1950s, is known to have kept India from entering the all powerful body.

India is also keenly eyeing a seat on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an elite grouping of nations possessing advanced nuclear technology. China, a member of this group too, reportedly vetoed a discussion on India’s membership earlier this year due to New Delhi’s failure to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), a 1968 international law that’s aimed at prohibiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

This doesn’t mean that India hasn’t made any headway in negotiations for membership in these two international bodies. India has played by the international rules of non-proliferation since conducting nuclear tests in 1998, with the signing of a nuclear deal with the US bearing testament to the New Delhi’s commitment on the issue.

However, India’s clean reputation on the international stage will be affected if it decides to upgrade or increase its nuclear stockpile.

A Donald Trump in the White House may just get India to take the path it doesn’t want to take.

4. Pakistan-based terrorist groups acquire nukes more easily

The deep reach of radical Islamist ideology in Pakistan’s military and politics is an open secret. India, which has fought three wars and shares a disputed border with Pakistan, has been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s Islamism since 1947, mostly in form of terrorist attacks.

If there is to be an arms race involving nuclear weapons, the odds of these weapons falling in the hands of international terrorist groups will be greatly increased.

In the past, terrorist groups have approached influential sections of Pakistan’s leadership to get access to nuclear technology. According to news reports, Islamic State’s leadership had approached Pakistan in 2014 in order to get information about nuclear technology. Before that, even Al-Qaeda had reportedly made overtures to Pakistan to get nuclear technology.

Yet another terrorist, Hafiz Saeed who is widely dubbed as the mastermind of 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has even threatened India with nuclear weapons during his speeches.

(Source: Youtube)

An international terrorist organisation getting their hands on nukes is the last thing the world wants.

For India, that is even more bone-chilling a prospect as it would be happening right in the neighbourhood.