Critical Analysis of India’s Nuclear Doctrine

INA Arihant, Indian First Nuclear Capable Submarine

Post 1998 nuclear test, in 2003, India came up with a comprehensive nuclear doctrine to clear doubts and misunderstandings prevailing around the world regarding India’s nuclear policy.

Feature of India’s Nuclear Doctrine

The features of India’s Nuclear Doctrine are as follows:

1. No first use: This is the basis of India’s nuclear policy. According to this policy, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.

2. Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent: This includes:

a) Sufficient and survivable nuclear forces to inflict unacceptable damage to the enemy.
b) Nuclear Forces operationally prepared at all times.
c) Effective intelligence and early warning capabilities.
d) A robust command and control system.
e) Communication of deterrence capability to the enemy.

3. In case of India being subjected to a nuclear attack by any country, the country’s retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.

4. Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.

5. The right to take nuclear action against the enemy will only be taken by the elected representatives of the people, i.e. the political leadership of the country, although the cooperation of the Nuclear Command Authority will be necessary. In other words; the bureaucracy of India is not authorised to take decision of the nuclear attack on the enemy.

6. If there is any chemical or biological attack against India or Indian security forces, then India will keep the option of nuclear attack open in its response.

7. A continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.

8. India will continue to support the global initiative to create a nuclear free world and will push forward the idea of discrimination free nuclear disarmament.


Significance of India’s Nuclear Doctrine

  1. A nuclear doctrine serves multiple uses such as; it determines the nuclear posture, provides guidance for deployment and targeting, chain of command and control, communication and signalling to adversary.2

  2. Credible minimum deterrence along with “No first use” and “No use against non-nuclear states” clearly indicates that India’s nuclear capability is for defensive purpose. Deterrence can be defined as the use of threats by one party to convince another party to refrain from initiating some course of action.

  3. Political council chaired by PM will be the final authority to take decision, who will be aided by an executive council headed by NSA. Bestowing the decision on popularly elected political executive (in a vibrant democracy like India) earns India a lot of credibility.

  4. Effective intelligence and early warning capability will be critical not only to counter an attack but also to retaliate. Organizations like NTRO, RAW provide 24×7 intelligence data to the authority in this regard.

  5. NFU ensure that India will use its nuclear arsenal once deterrence has failed.

  6. Pakistan has a ‘First use’ policy and China has maintained a ‘no first use’ policy since 1964 when it went nuclear, and the Chinese leadership has always considered nuclear weapons as political weapons.

  7. The recently acquired nuclear triad capability of India aims to counter threats from them.


Limitations of ‘First Use’ policy

  1. First Use policy will lead towards the nuclear war as nuclear weapon will be seen as weapon of war instead of weapon of deterrence.

  2. It would lead to greater instability as declaring a first-use policy would create instability for either side because of the ‘use it or lose it’ syndrome brought on by hair trigger alerts.

  3. India has a potential military controlled nuclear neighbour, Pakistan, which does not hold any political share in the sense of deterrence. In this scenario, first use policy will not serve the desire sense of deterrence.


Last Line to Say

As a responsible nation, India has put in place a robust nuclear command and control structure, effective safety assurance architecture and strict political control, under its Nuclear Command Authority. It remains committed to the doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use.

This is not to suggest that India’s nuclear doctrine cannot be changed. It should be periodically reviewed and updated, possibly every decade or so, taking into account technological developments and changes in the security environment. The completion of the deterrence patrol by INS Arihant is a big jump in India’s defence capability.

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