No revision of the nuclear doctrine
Compulsions of domestic politics encouraged the drafters of the election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last parliamentary elections to promise to revise the nuclear doctrine which in fact was enunciated by the BJP-led NDA Government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998 after the Pokhran nuclear tests. However, realpolitik forced the BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a U-turn and declare its adherence to the nuclear doctrine promulgated in 1998, before his departure for Tokyo for a historic summit with Japan, which is extremely sensitive on nuclear-related issues. Since India wanted a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan Prime Minister Modi chose the Japanese media to clarify India’s stand on nuclear doctrine.
After the Pokhran nuclear tests India had declared a no first-use policy and announced a nuclear doctrine based on credible nuclear deterrence, which means that the country will maintain an effective arsenal which will give confidence in strong retaliation if attacked by a nuclear bomb by the enemy. For this India declared that the country’s armed forces will have a second strike attack capability from land, air or sea. Though the country has acquired means of nuclear delivery from ground and air, the capability to launch a nuclear missile from the sea is yet to be achieved, though defence authorities claim that they have advanced a lot in achieving this capability.
The draft of the doctrine asserted that nuclear weapons were mainly for deterrence and if need arises India will pursue a policy of retaliation only. The doctrine also asserted that India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail. The BJP election manifesto played a different tune and said that it will be revised and updated. It specifically said, “Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it to make it relevant to the challenges of current times and will maintain a credible minimum deterrence that is in tune with changing geostatic realities.”
However, Prime Minister Modi made it a point to clarify to the Japanese media, “India’s nuclear doctrine was adopted during the previous NDA Government and has in general governed our nuclear weapons posture since then. While every government naturally takes into account the latest assessment of strategic scenarios and makes adjustments as necessary, there is a tradition of national consensus and continuity on such issues. I can tell you that currently we are not taking any initiative for a review of our nuclear doctrine.”
When specifically asked on any possibility of India acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Modi replied, “India’s position on the NPT and the CTBT is well known and needs no reiteration. There is no contradiction in our mind between being a nuclear weapon state and contributing actively to global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. India remains strongly committed to universal, nondiscriminatory, global nuclear disarmament. Our track record of non-proliferation is impeccable. We will continue to contribute to the strengthening of the global non-proliferation efforts. India’s membership of the four international export control regimes will be conducive to this. As to the CTBT, we are committed to maintaining a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.”
Observers point out that India has already committed to the leading nuclear power countries with whom it has signed civil nuclear cooperation treaties on maintaining its no first-use nuclear doctrine and moratorium on all nuclear tests. Observers are of the opinion that India may not have signed NPT or CTBT but in letter and spirit is adhering to its provisions. India has shown its commitment to non-proliferation and its record as non-proliferator has been internationally accepted as credible. On the basis of these commitments India has inked nuclear treaties with countries like the United States, UK, France, Russia, etc.
India has moved too far on the road to non-proliferation commitments and at this stageit can be reversed at the cost of its national interests. On the basis of these commitments India had entered into power reactor agreements with France and the United States. France is setting up six nuclear power plants in Jaitapur (Maharashtra) and commercial negotiations with the Westinghouse to establish two nuclear reactors are underway. If legal obstacles like the Nuclear Liability Law are clarified to the full satisfaction of the participating countries, India’s nuclear power programme can run full stream in the coming years. If all the hurdles are cleared and no ambiguity remains among the nuclear powers of the world, the country can achieve the target of generating 60,000 MW nuclear power by the end of 2030, which in all will entail an investment of more than $300 billion.
India needs energy from various sources to augment its power supply to its booming economy and if the government creates any confusion regarding its nuclear postures, this may result in backlash among nuclear powers who may renege on all nuclear cooperation agreements with India and may withdraw support to Indian nuclear power programme.
Observers also point out that only on the basis of country’s credible nuclear posture, the leading nuclear powers can whole heartedly push for India’s case in four leading nuclear clubs of the world viz., the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Countries like China have been opposing tooth and nail India’s entry into these clubs and they should not be given any excuse to veto India’s entry to these high tables of nuclear czars. India has achieved the desired level of nuclear deterrence and going beyond this by declaring to revise the nuclear doctrine would harm India’s national interest. Prime Minister Modi has thus taken a pragmatic stand by once again committing to the world community through the Japanese media that there will not be any dilution of India’s commitments to various nuclear agreements.