20th August – An intervention that leads to more questions

India is one of two countries — China being the other — that adheres to a doctrine of No First Use (NFU) as a nuclear doctrine.

India’s nuclear doctrine

What is India’s nuclear doctrine?

  • Our knowledge of India’s nuclear doctrine is based largely on a statement circulated on January 4, 2003 by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which said that it had ‘reviewed progress in operationalising India’s nuclear doctrine’, and was making public the relevant details as appropriate (summarised in seven points).
  • The first said that India would maintain ‘a credible minimum deterrent’ and the second point avowed ‘[a] posture of “No First Use”: nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation….’ The remaining five points flow mainly from these two points mentioned.
  • India has maintained that it will not strike first with nuclear weapons but reserves the right to retaliate to any nuclear first strike against it (or any ‘major’ use of weapons of mass destruction against Indian forces anywhere) with a nuclear strike ‘that will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage’.

Background –

  • On August 17, 1999, the then caretaker Bharatiya Janata Party government released a draft Nuclear Doctrine in order to generate discussion and debate on India’s nuclear posture.
  • It was known that the first National Security Advisory Board, a group of 27 individuals convened by K. Subrahmanyam, and comprising strategic analysts, academics, and retired military and civil servants completed the draft of the doctrine.
  • Following criticism of the draft doctrine, the government appeared to move away from it. It was never discussed in Parliament and its status remained unclear for three and a half years until it was abruptly adopted by the CCS with minor modifications in 2003.
  • The draft’s emphasis on NFU, however, remained unchanged. The adoption of the nuclear doctrine came soon after Operation Parakram (2001-02).

NFU – Serving the strategic interests –

  • India used the strategic space offered by its repeated proclamations of restraint to repulse the intruders in Kargil 20 years ago and regain occupied land despite the nuclear shadow created by India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests of 1998.
  • Raising the nuclear threshold gave India the space for conventional operations and gained it sympathy in foreign capitals despite the fears of nuclear miscalculation that were widespread from Washington DC to London to Tokyo.
  • India’s self-proclaimed restraint has formed the basis for its claims to belong to the nuclear mainstream — from the initial application for the waiver in 2008 from the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to carry out nuclear commerce with the grouping, to its membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group and its ongoing attempts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Why a change can be unwarranted?

  • 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).
  • Neither does adhering to the NFU symbolise weakness, for India is committed to a devastating response to nuclear first use — a stance which underscores India’s understanding of nuclear weapons as meant primarily to deter.
  • National Security Advisory Board that formulated NFU clearly coalesced around an understanding of nuclear weapons not as war-fighting armaments but as weapons of last resort, meant to deter the threat and use of nuclear weapons. It was this understanding that was then used to bring India into the nuclear mainstream. It is also this understanding that has formed the basis of India’s nuclear posture, from force structure to numbers to its overall nuclear diplomacy.

Conclusion -No

At a time when there are multiple queries regarding the state of India’s economy, the road map to normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, the strength of India’s federalism, to name a few, we can now add questions about what has changed in India’s security environment to warrant a review of its nuclear doctrine. India’s neighbours will be as interested in the answers as this country’s citizens.

SourceThe Hindu