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India’s Nuclear Policy Reflects Past Ideology


According to the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India’s nuclear programme is an expression of its historical philosophy. He stated that the world was currently facing the prospect of devastating weapons, the use of which benefited only the weapon’s producers.


GS-II: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Need of No First Use Policy
  • Arguments opposing the No First Use Policy approach
  • Consequences of India abandoning its NFU policy
  • Way Forward

Need of No First Use Policy

  • The NFU plan permits a small nuclear weapons development without tactical weapons or a complicated command and control structure.
  • The approach decreases the danger of nuclear conflict by delaying the deployment of weapons on high alert and preventing an arms race.
  • The doctrine also reduces the possibility of unnecessary disruption by placing the burden of evidence on the adversary to determine whether or not to intensify a nuclear assault.
  • Strict commitment to the idea can help India’s goals to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Arguments opposing the No First Use Policy approach

  • Some nuclear weapon nations have rejected the notion of no-first-use (NFU), while most, if not all, others have just declared support for it.
  • Nuclear weapons are commonly regarded as a panacea for conventional inferiority, with the weaker side threatening a nuclear response to deter a conventional attack.
  • The superior state’s nuclear doctrine adds a nuclear risk factor to each conflict it considers, as it is harder for a potential attacker to confidently calculate that it can win at an acceptable cost when nuclear escalation is a possibility.
  • The NFU doctrine has been called into question in India since it allows Pakistan to take the lead while restricting India’s military choices and placing India at a disadvantage.
  • Pakistan’s low nuclear thresholds and policy of deploying its nuclear umbrella to incite sub-conventional conflict in India are the key reasons for the debate over India’s “no first use” policy.

Consequences of India abandoning its NFU policy

  • The abandonment of the NFU policy, as well as a proclamation to that effect, might harm India’s reputation as a responsible nuclear country.
  • Such a move would risk India’s commitment to the universal goal of nuclear disarmament and upend the regional balance of the subcontinent.
  • Reversing the strategy would also indicate India’s determination to deploy nuclear weapons first, limiting the room for conventional combat below the nuclear threshold. This might limit India’s capacity to impose conventional constraints on Pakistan’s offensive tactics and policies.
  • Furthermore, although amending the doctrine would not deter China’s expansionist goals, discarding it will send a deliberate signal of provocation to China.
  • Nuclear pre-emption is a costly doctrine since it involves significant investments not just in weapons and delivery systems, but also in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) infrastructure.
  • India would require a considerably greater stockpile of nuclear weapons, particularly since neutralising adversaries’ nuclear capabilities would demand a multi-warhead strike against India’s nuclear assets.
  • India has not incorporated Multiple Re-entry Vehicle (MRV) technology into its missiles, which is critical for eliminating fortified nuclear targets.
  • The transfer of nuclear weapons control from the scientific enclave to the military for final deployment will also be required under first-use policy.
  • Furthermore, depending on the magnitude of nuclear explosions, radioactive fallout might pose grave threats to society.

Way Forward

  • As New Delhi tries to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and rebalance its deterrent vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, discussions regarding India’s future as a nuclear state persist.
  • Shiv Shankar Menon, wherein he writes: “There is a potential grey area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against another NWS (nuclear weapons state). Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.”
  • India’s Nuclear Doctrine is not intended to threaten or attack any nation, but rather to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and borders.
  • Some claim that India is undergoing a fundamental doctrinal change in which New Delhi may forsake its NFU nuclear strategy and undertake a pre-emptive attack against Pakistan if it believes Islamabad would use the weapons first.
  • Many in the West see this as a seismic change in India’s nuclear stance, with substantial implications for South Asian strategic stability.

Source – The Hindu

December 2023