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Need to relook at India’s No First Use Policy?

Ques. Need to relook at India’s No First Use Policy?


  • According to Kenneth Waltz balance of threat is a situation in which the threat of mutual annihilation by nations with the capability to wage nuclear war serves as a deterrent against military aggression and the actual use of nuclear weapons.
  • ’No First Use’ was the outcome of this logic. India’s ‘No First Use policy’ has been described as a commitment to not be the first to use a nuclear weapon as a means of combat in a conflict.
  • This has been India’s declared stance on the use of nuclear weapons for a long time keeping in mind its history of Gandhian and Nehruvian idealism.
  • The nuclear doctrine of India is only retaliatory in nature with response to a nuclear assault strike to be enormous and intended to inflict intolerable damage [credible minimum deterrence and massive retaliation]. With development of second-strike capabilities, exponential response to a nuclear strike has become a reality.
  • However, India’s geopolitical situation wherein it is surrounded on two sides by belligerent nuclear neighbours in the form of China and Pakistan and international events like rise of Taliban and global terrorism have underlined the need for rethinking of NFU Policy.
  • Vipin Narang argues that India’s commitment to No First Use policy should be determined by the circumstances. Prof. Narang claims that Pakistan’s continuous aggressiveness has altered India’s counterforce policy. It has led to Delhi’s leadership to consider more flexible pre-emptive counterforce options in an effort to restore deterrence.
  • Specialists like General B. S. Nagal have said that the policy of no first use is ethically incorrect since it puts people in grave danger.
  • Harsh Pant argues that India’s steadfast rhetorical adherence to its no-first-use principle has been facing challenges on multiple fronts:
    • First, there is a growing consensus in the Western non-proliferation community that, in practice, New Delhi has already nearly relinquished the policy. In fact, experts believe that should India and Pakistan go to war, India would ready its nuclear force for pre-emptive strikes.
    • Second, China and India are embroiled in military scuffling in the Western Himalayas, where the Chinese army has sliced off significant chunks of Indian territory. Given the disparity between New Delhi’s conventional military power and Beijing’s, publicly adopting a first-use doctrine would communicate both power and resolve on India’s part.
  • Shivshankar Menon in his work, Choices, refers to the views of K Subramaniam who held that deterrence is all about perception rather than posture. The first use posture may be highly provocative. It may force country to attack to save itself from attack, no first use is better for deterrence. 
  • Rakesh Sood argues that India does not have actual capacity to handle the complexities and expenditures involved in first use. 
  • Furthermore, Rajesh Rajagopalan argues that India’s nuclear doctrine is an important variable determining nuclear stability in South Asia, especially because the doctrine is generally considered to be restrained.
  • According to P K Chari, nuclear doctrines need not to be static, it should be a work in progress. If needed, required changes should be made. There is also a consensus that the Indian government needs to release more information about its nuclear doctrine and policy, both in order to deter adversaries as well as have a better informed Indian public debate on the issue. 

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