Making a very significance comment, the Union Minister of Defence, Rajnath Singh today suggested a possible shift in India’s nuclear doctrine, if needed. While commemorating Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 1st death anniversary, Rajnath Singh said that for a long time India has adhered to the ‘No First Use’ policy regarding country’s nuclear weapons but its future compliance will be contingent upon the circumstances.
Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal Ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power and yet remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) August 16, 2019
Singh was in Jaisalmer for the International Army Scout Masters Competition. He visited Pokhran as a mark of tribute for the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, under whose leadership India had conducted the second round of nuclear tests.
This is not the first time that a change in India’s nuclear policy has been suggested. Ever since PM Modi came to power in 2014, there has been a growing chatter among defence analysts and security officials about an urgent review of India’s ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine. In fact, erstwhile Defence Minister late Manohar Parrikar was pretty vocal in questioning India’s no first use policy. He had said that India shouldn’t bind itself to the policy and instead declare that it will use its nuclear prowess responsibly.
— ANI (@ANI) August 16, 2019
According to India’s long followed ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine which was first adopted after its second nuclear tests, the Pokhran-II, in 1998, the Indian government asserted that the nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of “retaliation only”. The Indian government released a draft of the doctrine stating that “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail” and that decisions to authorise the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the Prime Minister or his ‘designated successor(s)’.
India and China remain the only two nuclear powers in the world who have still pledged their allegiance to this doctrine. Among other nuclear-powered nations, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France say they will use nuclear weapons only for defensive purpose if they are attacked or invaded by others. But it is not a ‘No First Use’ pledge, as they may retaliate with nuclear weapons even if they are not attacked by nuclear weapons.
Despite repeated provocations from hostile neighbours such as Pakistan, India has remained firmed and committed to its nuclear no-first-use policy. However, latest remarks by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hints that India might alter its stance vis-a-vis country’s nuclear doctrine. India is precariously perched between two inimical neighbours- Pakistan and China and given the ever-evolving threat of asymmetric warfare from non-state elements from Pakistan, India cannot afford to remain inflexible on its nuclear policy.
The statement from Rajnath Singh comes at a time when there is heightened tension between India and Pakistan after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan PM Imran Khan has been hysterical ever since the decision to strip JK of its special status was taken by the virtue of a presidential decree.