Prithvi short-range ballistic missile
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]RIME minister Manmohan Singh’s recent exhortation that a global no-first-use convention relating to nuclear weapons should be established, is surreal. He argued that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons being to deter nuclear aggression, the nuclear weapon states should formally declare their adherence to this norm, permitting the establishment of a global no-first-use regime, reduction and finally, elimination of nuclear weapons.
The bewildering question is why the Prime Minister chose to make this statement in the dying hours of the UPA government, especially when its return to power seems unlikely. Moreover, India’s present ‘No-first-use’ policy was derived by the BJP and the NDA government that had conducted the Shakti nuclear tests in May 1998, making India a de facto nuclear weapons state. The BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 general elections pledges to “Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.”Nuclear impasse
The problem of attack by non-state actors remains open, which has been the subject of anxious debate in the three global Nuclear Security Summits
How does one define a ‘major attack’ by biological or chemical weapons? What is ‘major’ and what is ‘minor’ could be interminably debated
Serious difficulties arise in identifying the perpetrator of a chemical or biological weapons attack. They could be undertaken by a state actor or non-state actor and, conceivably, by a non-state actor assisted by a state actor
It remains unclear what will be India’s response to a limited attack with tactical nuclear weapons
How the nuclear doctrine would be modified has not been clarified, though there is speculation that India’s traditional ‘No-first-use’ posture would be reviewed. Election manifestoes are not taken seriously in India since they are plainly designed to garner votes. Not so the BJP. Its manifesto in 1998 had stated that if elected to power, it would “Re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.” This had attracted little attention except for a few comments. Hence the huge surprise when the Vajpayee-led NDA government conducted the nuclear tests in 1998, ostensibly to counter the threat from China and Pakistan.
Shortly thereafter then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee declared that India would pursue a ‘No-first-use’ policy in regard to employing nuclear weapons. This was reaffirmed in Parliament in December 1998. Ultimately, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) undertook an extensive exercise to draft India’s nuclear doctrine.
There was some ambiguity after its release in August 1999, when the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, declared that it was only a draft proposal by the NSAB and not yet approved by the government. The unseemly haste in releasing the doctrine followed by a disclaimer was widely believed to be designed to seek electoral advantage by emphasising the BJP’s commitment to national security.
Ultimately, India’s nuclear doctrine was officially released in January 2003 by promulgating the decisions thereon by the Cabinet Committee on Security stating, inter alia, that India would adopt a policy no-first-use of nuclear weapons. These would only be used to retaliate against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces. But in the event of a major attack by biological or chemical weapons, India would retain the option of using nuclear weapons. Further, the doctrine pledges that India will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. These are important qualifications to India’s nuclear weapons policy, but they leave three important dilemmas.
First, the problem of attack by non-state actors remains open, which has been the subject of anxious debate in the three global Nuclear Security Summits.
Second, how does one define a ‘major attack’ by biological or chemical weapons? What is ‘major’ and what is ‘minor’ could be interminably debated.
Third, serious difficulties arise in identifying the perpetrator of a chemical or biological weapons attack. They could be undertaken by a state actor or non-state actor and, conceivably, by a non-state actor assisted by a state actor. The present difficulties in identifying the source of chemical weapons attacks in Syria are instructive in this regard.
The BJP’s current unease with pursuing its ‘No-first-use’ policy is believed to be resultant of internal discussions regarding Pakistan’s determined efforts to increase its nuclear stockpile and deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Pakistan, of course, has no use for a no-first-use doctrine, arguing that the weaker conventionally armed power in a nuclear adversarial situation has to rely on nuclear weapons to assure its security. NATO had refused to accept a no-first-use policy during the Cold War, although this was declared by the Soviet Union on the premise that Warsaw Pact’s superior conventional forces could defeat NATO. This logic might also be behind Pakistan’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to counter India’s Cold Start strategy, despite the dangers inherent in this strategic posture.
Paradoxically, India is pursuing the same nuclear policies as the United States and the former Soviet Union. It wants to deploy the strategic triad comprising land, air and sea borne nuclear weapons. While India is committed to a ‘credible minimum deterrent’ posture, there is little understanding about what exactly this means in terms of weapon systems and funds. Paradoxically, India’s armed forces have been kept out of the nuclear decision-making structure. The Atomic Energy Agency (AEC) is charged with maintaining the physical infrastructure and security of the nuclear arsenal but the armed forces are charged with maintaining the delivery systems and the actual utilisation of nuclear weapons. Further, it remains unclear what will be India’s response to a limited attack with tactical nuclear weapons.
A detailed study India’s nuclear doctrine is called for that has to address all these issues in their totality. An exercise to either promote India’s present exception-riddled ‘No-first-use’ policy, as sought by Manmohan Singh, or reject it completely in a knee-jerk reaction, as suggested by the BJP manifesto, will not serve the national interest.