Perspective – India’s nuclear doctrine

It is irresponsible to speculate that India’s nuclear doctrine will be completely overhauled by a political party if it comes to power. It is sensationalist to suggest that India’s no-first-use policy will come under reconsideration.

Much furore has been created thanks to media speculation over one sentence included in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: “Revise and update India’s nuclear doctrine.

It is only natural that India’s nuclear doctrine comes up for review, the current policy being over a decade old. India’s current nuclear doctrine was formalised in 2003 (initially drafted in 1999) as part of the Cabinet Committee on Security review.  Salient elements of the doctrine have been published by PIB.

Since 2003, the geopolitical situation in the Indian neighbourhood has changed significantly. First, the nuclear doctrine was drafted at a time when Pakistani nuclear force levels were in their infancy, and today Pakistan has a large and growing nuclear arsenal, already bigger than India’s and soon expected to exceed the inventories of the UK and France. Pakistan has also expressed a desire to induct so-called ‘tactical nuclear weapons’, lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in conflicts. It also has a deteriorating internal security situation across its territory, including potentially, in areas housing sensitive nuclear installations.

Second, China is also expanding its naval and submarine reach in the Indian ocean. There is also greater Sino-Pakistani nuclear co-operation today, including the “grandfathering in” of nuclear reactors at Chashma. The international nuclear nonproliferation regime has singularly failed to curtail these activities or impose costs on these two serial proliferators.

Third, there is a tripartite nuclear dynamic between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran  that is yet to play out fully and has significant bearing on India’s national security.

Apart from this, there has been significant change in India as well in terms of nuclear force levels, maturation of command and control structures, and the development and induction of delivery systems by air, sea and land. This alone can necessitate a review of assumptions that went into crafting our nuclear doctrine that may not be entirely relevant today.

There are sufficient reasons for a review of India’s nuclear doctrine in 2014. However, the review does not imply a drastic policy change. Nuclear doctrines don’t exist in a time warp. Strategy and force postures must always be reviewed and updated as needed. None of this calls for speculation.

Past perspectives from the Takshashila Institution | Media Contact