According to the latest news, India has successfully tested two nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles.
New Delhi is developing a range of missiles to improve its strategic capabilities against neighboring Pakistan (with whom it has fought three wars) and China (with whom it fought a brief border war in 1962). Pakistan was quick to follow suit and tested its own short-range missiles shortly thereafter.
South Asia is a nuclear tinder box, and U.S. policymakers should do everything possible to keep regional tensions in check. But the heightened missile activity in South Asia also highlights that President Obama’s road to “nuclear zero”, which is currently driving the U.S. arms control policy is built on precarious and unrealistic assumptions about the realities of the current international world order.
New START, a strategic arms control agreement with the Russian Federation, was justified on the grounds that a positive example set by the U.S. is essential to convincing other nuclear powers to renounce their nuclear weapons. In reality, other countries are unlikely to give up their arsenals unless the regional conflicts pertaining to them are resolved and their security is guaranteed by other means. Moreover, by placing nuclear weapons back at the center of the international community’s attention, the United States inadvertently increases their value in the eyes of other states.
Regional conflicts continue to fuel the development of ballistic missile technologies as a means to deliver nuclear warheads in the fastest and the most surprising (and thus the most militarily efficient) manner anywhere in the world. Such proliferation is undesirable and could have potentially disastrous consequences. It is in the U.S.’s vital national interest to do everything possible to avert such a possibility.
But the way forward is not to produce lopsided treaties with the Russian Federation, such as New START, especially given the fact that we live in an environment with multiple nuclear or emerging nuclear powers. As The Heritage Foundation’s research shows, the most effective way to address nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation is to pursue a “protect and defend” policy that consists of a mix of offensive nuclear weapons, credible deterrence, and robust defensive systems such as missile defenses—including on the regional level. These systems are essential to secure the United States and its allies from ballistic missile attacks. Unfortunately, the Administration has yet to show much progress on this front.
Co-authored by Michaela Bendikova.