Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan- India’s- No First Use Policy
No First Use Policy means that India which became a nuclear weapon capable state in May 1998 made a solemn commitment that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons and it saw the nuclear weapon as being one that “deterred” any potential adversary from using this apocalyptic capability against India.
The genesis of the “No First Use” goes back to the early 1980s when a small group of security professionals proposed that as and when India acquired the weapon capability, it should stand on no first use. This concept was formalized by the first National Security Advisory Board after the Shakti test of May 1998. This issue has come into the public domain after the Defence Minister Mr. Manohar Parrikar recently shared his thoughts on the subject that this policy needs to be reviewed. This is also required because Pakistan often invokes its tactical nuclear weapon capability or what is referred to as battlefield nuke.
There was a clear understanding within the Government in 1998 that nuclear weapons are different kinds of weapons. It is more of a political weapon and its role is primarily to deter. At present, this is a complex issue in the sense that a country’s arsenals dictate its doctrine. In 1998, India did not have first strike capability in any case so No First Use was appropriate.
In the present scenario, NFU sounds good like in case of India making a perception in the world for seeking NSG membership and confers it a diplomatic advantage. But in case of adversaries, it is important whether India should have a No First Use policy and whether it should proclaim this or not. This policy also determines how Indian forces are structured, commanded and controlled.
It is extremely difficult to think that India will have a first strike capability which will take out each and every one of Pakistan’s or China’s nuclear assets. Today even US is not in a position to mount a decapitating strike on North Korea which is supposed to have six or eight nuclear weapons. Without a decapitating strike, implementing first use will have serious implications on the size of the arsenal i.e. the number of weapons to be used each time in the attack as the case may be, economy and deployment posture i.e. alert or de-alert of the army.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is well known that they are conventionally weaker than India therefore, the threats they make to India of going nuclear is quite understandable. This is only rhetoric. In Pakistan, nuclear thinking is dominated by the military and this is a key difference between India and Pakistan. Military finds it difficult to accept the notion that these are political weapons which should be should be used under certain circumstances only. Pakistan wants to address every single kind of security threat it is facing through this option like tactical, operational and strategic deterrence. But in doing so, it ignores the nature of nuclear weapons and its consequences.
In case of China, using nuclear weapons in the Himalayan region would be an ecological disaster. Both India and China have their No First Use policies therefore, on the issues of loss of Arunachal Pradesh or the areas near the border, it is unlikely that nuclear weapons might be used. Developing conventional military capabilities is good enough to tackle these issues and it would be better to keep the nuclear weapons primarily as deterrence to other nuclear weapons and to ensure national survival.
The last time India articulated its nuclear doctrine was in 2003. There are scientific and technological developments that take place, security environments evolve and change. Therefore, once a decade, India should have a kind of review of the nuclear doctrine and No First Use which is a part of it. The nuclear issue is complex and opaque. What is in the public domain is only one part and on the other hand it cannot choose to ignore some of the harsh strategic realities which constitute China-Pak weapons of mass destruction and covert cooperation between them. India needs to proceed with caution.