Tectonic shift in India’s nuclear policy? Circumstances can change No First Use policy, hints Rajnath Singh

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Published: August 16, 2019 7:49:55 PM

The minister made this comment from the nuclear test site in Pokhran on Friday, while paying his tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s first death anniversary. It was under his government that India had conducted nuclear tests in 1998.

nuclear policy, no first use policy, rajanth singh, Pokhran, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, nuclear power, Nuclear Suppliers Group, india pakistan tension“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,” Singh said. (IE photo)

India is committed to the “No First Use” (NFU) policy when it comes to nuclear weapons, but what happens in the future depends on circumstances, says defence minister Rajnath Singh. Experts say that it conveys strategic messaging to Pakistan.

The minister made this comment from the nuclear test site in Pokhran on Friday, while paying his tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s first death anniversary. It was under his government that India had conducted nuclear tests in 1998.

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“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,” Singh said.

Close on the heels of the nuclear tests, in the summer of 1998, India put in place its nuclear doctrine with NFU. And based on this, the concept of maintaining a minimum credible deterrence and a nuclear triad for delivery of nuclear weapons based on aircraft, missiles and nuclear submarines come from that.

Lt Gen AB Shivane (retd), former Director-General Mechanised Forces, told Financial Express Online, “The key punch line is “What happens in the future depends on the circumstances” is a welcome statement in tune with the present the proactive strategy of assured punitive retribution in the event of any threat to our national security be it Proxy war or otherwise. It conveys strategic messaging to Pakistan who fool themselves only by nuclear sabre-rattling to seek international attention.”

“The possible indicators of the statement are a) India does not differentiate nuclear weapon be it Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) or otherwise. A nuclear weapon is defined as nuclear weapon irrespective of its size, range of employment. b) The threat of use could be considered first use with the right to respond in a pre-emptive manner. c) The intensity of response lies with us as massive retaliation to preclude any further nuclear exchange. The size of a nuclear weapon, the target choice and multiple strikes will be an internal choice,” Shivane says.

“Thus we do believe that there is adequate space for a punitive conventional response (with our conventional superiority against Pakistan) should Pakistan misbehave. Pakistan must realise they have a severe geographical disadvantage and could risk extinction by our nuclear response.”

“As regards our adversary on the northern front, I do not see any nuclear sabre rattling by China. Our dissuasive strategic deterrence is in place, though we need to do a lot more to take it to the next level of credible deterrence. However, China will continue to support Pakistan in terms of technology, military ware and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The world sees India as the most responsible and respected nuclear power with triad capability. The recent events related to national security have also clearly highlighted the political will and demonstrated the capability to respond should national security be threatened. Indeed nation Above All,” the former DG Mechanised Forces added.

Sharing his views said Brig SK Chatterji “The 1998 nuclear tests were a momentous step taken by the then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee. It was a turning point in Indian history and power equations, globally. Had we not undertaken those tests, we could easily have been at the receiving end of nuclear blackmail by the Pakistanis, and browbeating by the Chinese, today. The tests launched India’s march into the league of nuclear powers, albeit a responsible one at that.

“It’s India’s strict adherence to non-proliferation protocols that have led to the country being recognised as a responsible nuclear power. India has also a declared no first use policy, post-1998 tests. Today, India is a member of three of the four major export control regimes to include the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. As far as the fourth group is concerned, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India was able to get a waiver from the NSG for the US India Civil Nuclear Agreement allowing it to obtain both civil nuclear technology and fuel from other countries.”

According to the former Brigadier, “every nation has a right to reach its full potential. It’s the responsibility of the nation’s leadership to take firm steps and ensure the nation moves forward for a tryst with its destiny. Indians have powered the growth of many global corporates and there is no reason why this country should have languished. The 1998 tests, jolted the world, led to a re-evaluation of India’s potential. It’s earned the country a place in the exclusive club of nuclear powers, and raised its stature regionally and globally.”

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