Known for his carefully calibrated choice of words, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh created a flutter when he said that India remained “firmly committed” to the doctrine of “no first use” for nuclear weapons but indicated that this may not be etched in stone.
The Defence minister’s tweets came after visiting Pokhran where India carried out nuclear tests in May 1998 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.
Challenges for India
India’s official position has been no-first-use since Vajpayee. But Rajnath Singh’s comments re-open the debate. As China and Pak cosy up on Kashmir and India aspires to join the NSG, Delhi will have to do a tightrope walk. A commitment to not be the first to use a nuclear weapon has long been India’s stated policy.
While Singh’s remark doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is looking at a review of the nuclear doctrine, it could re-open the debate on no-first-use policy.
History of No first use Policy
India first adopted a “No first use” policy after its second nuclear tests, Pokhran-II, in 1998. In August 1999, the government released a draft of the doctrine which said that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of “retaliation only”.
The document also maintained that India “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).”
Despite the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan in 2001-2002 and again in 2008 after the Mumbai terror attack, India remained committed to its nuclear no-first-use policy. India is in the process of developing a nuclear doctrine based on “credible minimum deterrence”.
Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told The Indian Express Friday that Singh’s comments could be a “signal to China and Pakistan” in view of their increasing co-operation and the latest attempt to corner India by raising the issue of J&K at the UN Security Council after 1971.