Context: India’s No First Use Nuclear policy.
More in news: On the first death anniversary of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh tweeted that India’s ‘future’ commitment to a posture of No First Use of nuclear weapons ‘depends on the circumstances’.
India’s nuclear doctrine: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 2003 said that it had ‘reviewed progress in operationalising India’s nuclear doctrine.India’s nuclear doctrine can be summarized as:
- Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent.
- A posture of “No First Use” nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.
- Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
- Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
- Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.
- However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.
- A continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
- Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.
No First Use Policy:
The no-first-use policy that is India would not be the first to launch a nuclear weapon, but retained the right to retaliate in response to an atomic strike, was formulated by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government in 1998. The doctrine states, “The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India, and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.”
Factors that prevent against revisiting our nuclear doctrine:
There are many factors which counter against revisiting our nuclear doctrine and sacrificing the restraint it encapsulates by for instance abandoning NFU some of which are enumerated below:
- All the gains enjoyed by us in the international community by the restraint of our nuclear posture would be frittered away. These do not merely constitute intangibles but entailed the termination of sanctions, support for our entry into the multilateral nuclear export control regimes as well as our civil nuclear cooperation agreements.
- While revoking the commitment to NFU does not necessarily equate with abandoning restraint, it does leave India’s doctrine more ambiguous. Ambiguity, in turn, can lead to miscalculations, as India found out with Kargil (1999), where it would appear that Rawalpindi misread India’s resolve to carve out space for conventional military operations despite the new nuclear overhang.
- It would enormously complicate and increase the expenditure incurred by us in regard to our command and control mechanisms which would have to be reconfigured to engage in calibrated nuclear war fighting.
- It would weaken the possibility of our engaging in conventional warfare insulated from the nuclear overhang.
- It would encourage the use of tactical nuclear weapons against us under the illusion of no massive response.
- It would facilitate the painting of South Asia as a nuclear flashpoint and thereby encourage foreign meddling.
Conclusion: India’s nuclear strategy builds on the principle of restraint, and despite being a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), its policies have been greatly consistent with the key provisions of NPT that apply to nuclear-weapon states. India’s declared nuclear doctrine of 2003, which stands by principles such as credible minimum deterrence, No-First-Use (NFU), non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states, remains a fundamental document till date. The Indian government has not shown any indication that it is attempting to deviate from these declared norms. India’s record when it comes to observable and measurable benchmarks of responsible nuclear behaviour is a largely positive one.