“‘In 2012, the unequal relationship between India and Pakistan is spinning sharply out of control. Terrorists attack the Indian parliament and kill two ministers and 12 MPs. There is no doubt that Pakistan had a hand in this, and in a month India goes to war. Pakistan threatens to use nuclear weapons if India does not stop the invasion. Indian troops close in on Lahore, and Pakistan launches Ghauri missiles with nuclear warheads aimed at Delhi... A long-range radar for missile defense detects the Ghauri missiles 30 seconds after their launch. Five minutes later... the missile defense system launches interceptor missiles. Four Pakistani Ghauri missiles explode in the sky and fall harmlessly to the ground in pieces... The city of Delhi is saved. India carries out a nuclear counterattack that, in the words of one military officer, ‘will put an end to Pakistan once and for all.’ Science fiction? Not entirely.” This text was published by Raj Chengappa, a columnist for the Indian magazine India Today, in the official publication of the Indian Embassy in Moscow in 2008.

Petr Topychkanov
Topychkanov was a fellow in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program.
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Setting aside for the moment an analysis of India’s possible use of a missile defense system, it is necessary to note that the initial stage of the author’s fictitious conflict repeats the course of many Pakistani-Indian conflicts. Among the most serious of these were the crises of 2001-2002 and 2008, which were characterized by a common development: an act of terrorism in India, followed by a reciprocal show of strength and a growth of mutual tensions in India and Pakistan. Further escalation has so far been avoided, in no small measure thanks to active steps taken by other states.

Raj Chengappa’s text demonstrates the consequences that could result from further escalation, including large-scale military operations with the use of conventional—and possibly nuclear—forces. For many specialists in India and Pakistan, it is clear that in the event of nuclear war between two powers of such territorial proximity, there cannot be a winner. Significant areas of the South Asian region would be rendered uninhabitable. The entire ecological system of the region would change. The consequences of a nuclear exchange would be felt far beyond South Asia.

According to Raj Chengappa’s scenario, Indian missile defense could save Delhi from a nuclear attack, but it could not prevent a nuclear catastrophe. In fact, for the moment, it is difficult not only to consider Indian missile defense effective, but to see it as a system that really exists. India has not completed a missile defense system by 2012, in part due to its limited resources, scientific and technical difficulties, and obstacles encountered while obtaining the necessary technologies on the international market.

However, an important role was also played by the deficit of expert consensus in India in regard to the expediency of the substantial costs associated with developing missile defense, which, as it seems at the moment, cannot guarantee the country’s protection from missile and nuclear threats. Moreover, it is expected that India’s success in this area will provoke responses on the part of its potential rivals, Pakistan and China, that will require additional spending.

Despite the deficit of consensus, India continues development in the area of missile defense. Prospects for its success are actively discussed in India and abroad. Concerns about the reaction from Pakistan and China are beginning to be substantiated. The persistent uncertainty regarding Indian missile defense continues to adversely affect regional security. As a result, the assessments of missile and nuclear threats in South Asia, the prospects for missile defense in India, and the reactions on the part of its potential adversaries all remain relevant.