India’s Nuclear Policy: Doctrine of No-First-Use

Reading time: 3-4 minutes.

India became a nuclear state in the year 1998. That year, we implemented five nuclear tests in the month of May. Three tests were conducted on 11th May, 1998 while two were conducted on 13th May, 1998 in Pokharan, Rajasthan.

These tests led to a dramatic shift in India’s status on the global platform as a world nuclear leader. With these successful tests, India’s covert military operations to conduct these tests came into light before the entire world. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was considered to be the leading architect of India’s ballistic missile program and the development of nuclear weapons.

After successful tests, India was accepted as a nuclear power and we have been following the doctrine of no-first-use when it comes to nuclear weapons. But recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a critical statement about this policy. In this light, it is imperative for Indians to understand this doctrine and the implications of this statement.

How and when was this doctrine adopted?

Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his statement made in the parliament regarding these successful nuclear tests in 1998 stated that India would follow a policy of ‘minimum deterrence’ and will not be the first to use these nuclear weapons against anyone.

The August 1999 Draft Indian Doctrine also included the No-First-Use (NFU) policy. Since then this policy has undergone several changes. The country’s formal nuclear doctrine from January 2003 includes a no first use pledge, albeit with caveats, and this has been emphasised by numerous Indian officials. NFU is thus considered to be a core element of India’ stand on nuclear weapons making and reflecting India as a responsible state.  

What are the salient features of this doctrine?

India’s policy of No-First-Use is said to have certain salient features. These features being:

  • It is considered to be India’s official nuclear policy in the international arena.
  • There are details given under this policy regarding commands and controls.
  • There is a concept of massive retaliation in case of a nuclear attack on India.
  • It is also mentioned that India will consider the use of nuclear weapons in response to a major attack on India or on Indian forces anywhere with chemical and biological weapons as an important qualifier.
  • This doctrine calls for sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared nuclear forces.
  • Effective intelligence and early warning capabilities are also mentioned.

What are the recent statements by Rajnath Singh regarding this doctrine?

In a recent turn of events, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on 16th August, 2019 stated that “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘No First Use’ but what happens in future depends on the circumstances”. This statement has sparked a debate over the India’s nuclear policy and its current status.

This statement was also followed up by the Defence Minister on twitter stating that “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.” With these statements Rajnath Singh has indicated an expected change in the use of nuclear weapons by India in future.

What can be the implications of these statements?

Until now, the security environment of India in addition to the compulsions made by Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has forced India to follow the policy as it was adopted in 2003. But now, with the Defence Minister’s remark on nuclear policy, it is anticipated that a new nuclear arms race can begin.

Also, leaving such a critical statement open to interpretation is not a good idea as such statements imply everything at once according to one’s own whims and fancies. It would have been a better approach if the Defence Minister would have elaborated a bit on his idea of changes in the policy.

Thus, specifically pinpointing towards the implications of such statements would be a difficult task and will only spark off more debates. Hence, in this respect it would be a good idea for the government to come up with some strategic periodic reviews and make the public aware of the same.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Aprajita Jha from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.

Explained: Chief of Defence Staff

Reading time: 5-6 minutes.

Ever since surgical strike and the Balakot air strike, Indians have developed a very keen interest in the operations being carried out by our forces and other reforms and developments. Kudos to the defence forces for their courageous operations which have played a vital role in bringing a wave of unity, nationalism and a belief that India will no longer tolerate terrorism and those supporting it.

In his Independence Day speech from Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of CDS: Chief of Defence Staff. “Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort: India will have a Chief of Defence Staff: CDS. This is going to make the forces even more effective”, Mr. Modi said.

Even the former defence minister Manohar Parrikar said that he considers the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as “a must”. He also said that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was engaged in working out a mechanism for the post. In effect, CDS is to be the head of all three services, namely, the army, navy and air force. The mottos for creation of this post are many but the main is to bring coordination and integration among all three services.

What purposes will the CDS serve?

CDS will be the head of all three services and will be advisor to the government on various defence related issues like weaponry, training, pension schemes, logistics of all the three services. As per the current scenario, we are aware that we have two hostile nuclear-powered neighbours who pose a great security threat. Long term planning, coordination and integration among the defence forces is necessary and it will be brought about by the CDS.

It will help in joint planning and maximum utilization of resources by joint training. Also, honourable defence minister Rajnath Singh’s big statement on India’s nuclear policy: “Have adhered to no-first-use, future depends on circumstances” makes it very clear that the CDS will be the advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.

What is the background for creation of this post?

The proposal of CDS is two decades old. It was first made after the Kargil war by the K. Subramanyam Committee which was appointed in 1999 to recommend military reforms. However, due to lack of political will and consensus among the political parties and the three services, the proposal never saw light of the day.

Also, the GOM – the group of Ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government who were tasked with studying the Kargil report also recommended the creation of the post of CDS. The Kargil report committee and the Group of ministers emphasised on the urgent need of military reforms and a five-star CDS who will bring about integrity, integration and synergy between the three services.

The Naresh Chandra committee in 2012 also recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS. Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services which also recommended the creation of CDS post.

Why was the proposal not implemented so far?

All these years, the proposal was not implemented for the reason that there was no political will and even there were no backers for this even in the defence bureaucracy. The three services never together came forward in support of this proposal. Government was worried that making CDS powerful will make him autocratic and arbitrary. Air force and navy opposed it as they were sure that it will result in its own loss of supremacy and that CDS would be dominated by army.

What is the current scenario?

Currently, the senior most of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman of COSC. But it is an additional role and the tenures have been very short and limited. For instance, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) B.S. Dhanoa took over as the Chairman of COSC on May 31st from outgoing Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba.

However, ACM Dhanoa will be in the role for only a few months as he is set to retire on September 30th after which the baton will pass on to Army Chief General Bipin Rawat who will then be the senior most. General Rawat too is set to retire on December 31st after three years in office. So, as of now, there is no stability as the tenure is for short durations.

Has India reached a high time for the creation of CDS?

India is facing regional clashes; also, there are threats from some militants in Kashmir who have a tendency to get influenced by terrorist groups and an enemy country. Therefore, it has become imperative for national security and integrity reasons that a CDS be appointed. CDS will look after the strengths, weaknesses and integration of all the three services in order to deal with the looming security threats as well as complex challenges emerging from a hostile nuclear environment.

How are defence experts reacting to this development?

Former Air Marshal P.K. Barbora says that move will be beneficial only if the CDS is made a part of the cabinet as well. “Now, to understand what is in the politicians’ minds or the higher echelons of security and strategy, the Chief of Defence Staff should be sitting in the Cabinet under all circumstances, because then he will have a better idea of the government’s thinking. Secondly, he will have a better idea with how the government deals with external and international issues and thirdly he would also be privy to how the govt is dealing with many issues like finances and internal security also” – he said.

V.P. Malik, who was the army chief during the Kargil war calls this a “major step” towards military reform. “Now that we are going to have a CDS, his direct responsibility will be, of course, all the nuclear outfits and all the nuclear organisations and outfits that we have, including the strategic command. The other responsibility would be of ensuring coordination and jointness so that all the three services work together and the inter-operability improves amongst the three services. Plus, if there are any differences among the services, he will be able to sort it out and he will also have the direct access to the Prime Minister and will be kind of a consultant of defence issues” – he said.

In conclusion…

CDS will be a revolutionary and one of the great military reforms if the government and the defence bureaucracy together clear the hurdles which still exist in the implementation of this system. Also, the powers of CDS needs to be well defined so that it does not end up being just another ineffective name-sake military office. CDS will definitely prove to be a modern and most effective way to prepare defence forces to meet today’s challenges.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Deeksha Kathayat from Dr. D.Y. Patil Law College, Nerul.