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Is Modi government mulling scrapping of”No First Use” clause in its Nuclear Doctrine?

With  Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar questioning the nuclear deterrence doctrine being followed by India, there appears to be a pressing need to match the fast changing geo-political environment. He argues this aspect of “”no first use”” takes away the element of unpredictability about the country’s military strategy. The minister has been criticised for his views even though it is his personal opinion, the discriminating believe including some former chiefs of the armed forces that the no first use option is best left unsaid and kept in limbo. 

This assumes importance as the New Delhi’s reliability and trust when it comes to the nuclear deterrence is not in doubt unlike its immediate neighbour Pakistan. Then, China being a power and an all weather friend of Islamabad posing a threat to India on two fronts cannot be wished away. Beijing is already flexing its muscle and making its presence felt not only in South Asia but the South China Sea and other parts of the globe undeterred by the United States, the lone super power. 

While releasing a book — The New Arthashastra : A Security Strategy for India — earlier this month on November 10, Parrikar in his own inimitable way made a telling point that ultimately the “”written defence strategy does not mean you have to follow it. If a written doctrine exists you are giving away your strength. Why should India bind itself to no first use (NFU). We are a responsible nuclear power and will not use nuclear weapons irresponsibly””. 

The Raksha Mantri did not want to be tied down to NFU. More than starting a fresh debate on this subject, the opinion coming to the fore is that the NFU doctrine needs to be reviewed and changed. “”There must be an element of unpredictability in the policy. Only then it carries weight,”” the minister emphasised. 

There is an element of unease in this regard because BJP stalwart and the Lotus party’s first Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a statement in Parliament in May 1988 that “”“India is now a nuclear weapons state…. We do not intend to use these weapons for aggression or for mounting threats against any country; these are weapons of self-defence, to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion.” 

The 2014 BJP election manifesto drew pointed attention to “”revise and update India’s nuclear doctrine””. The NFU was the point of contention in the manifesto which has been brought to the fore by Parrikar. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the NFU clause is expected to be deleted.  

The former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash, who was also Chairman, Chiefs of Staff, found it refreshing that politicians are finally willing to talk openly about national security and nuclear deterrent. This was not the case in the previous Congress led UPA regime when two of its Defence ministers assiduously steered clear of this issue. 

In a newspaper article, he opined that the government must appoint a CDS without further delay. It may be recalled that a draft nuclear doctrine was prepared by the National Security Advisory Board chaired by the late K Subrahmanyam and submitted to the government on August 17, 1999. After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, on January 4, 2003, the Vajpayee government spelt out India’s nuclear doctrine and the operationalisation of its nuclear deterrent. 

The salient features include building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent; follow no first use posture; and will use nuclear weapons only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere. It was also affirmed that nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage; retaliatory attacks will be authorized only by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority; nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear weapon states; and India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack against it with biological or chemical weapons. 

Defence experts and analysts emphasise that security issues and nuclear deterrence requires to be reviewed periodically as changes are required to effectively counter the changing ground realities. The ever changing strategic realities including new alignments being thrown up coupled with the fresh challenges and security concerns needs to be factored in the nuclear doctrine. This assumes significance because the factors prevalent when the doctrine was framed 13-years back have become irrlevant. India needs to be prepared for the worst case security scenario.

Under the prevailing circumstances Parrikar’s desire of injecting an element of unpredictability will keep India’s foes guessing about its strategy in case it is pushed to a corner. It is widely believed Raksha Mantri’s argument cannot be dismissed out of hand as the 13-year old nuclear doctrine needs to be upgraded at regular intervals.

(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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