India’s nuclear policy reflects past ideology
GS 2,3; Govt Policies and Interventions, Nuclear Technology, Effect of Policies and Politics of Countries on India’s Interests.
According to the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), India’s nuclear programme is an expression of its historical philosophy. He stated that the world was currently facing the prospect of devastating weapons, the use of which benefited only the weapon’s producers.


  • Since 1998, the existence of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, and, of course, China has been an unsettling reality. The relative improvement made in India-Pakistan relations should not be overlooked, since two confrontations in 1999 and 2001 might have easily developed into a nuclear clash.
  • India began a civilian nuclear programme soon after gaining independence, but the “weapon option” has always existed.
  • The nuclear tests improved India’s international recognition.
  • The Missile Technology Control Regime, The Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group are all international export control regimes that India is a part of.
  • India’s Nuclear Policy, often known as the nuclear doctrine, describes how a government possessing a nuclear weapon uses the weapon in both peace and war. Homi Jehangir Bhabha founded India’s nuclear programme in March 1944, and its three-stage technological efforts were developed when he built the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, a nuclear research centre.

India’s Nuclear History:

  • Since the country’s independence, Indian politicians, notably Jawaharlal Nehru, have been vocal opponents of nuclear weapons. However, as a modernist, Nehru saw nuclear technology as having a role in national growth.
  • He also considered that if nuclear disarmament efforts failed, nuclear weapons technology may play a role in national defence.
  • India’s loss by China in a short Himalayan border conflict in October 1962 motivated the Indian government to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrence to potential Chinese strikes.
  • By 1964, India had advanced to the stage where it could manufacture nuclear weapons.
  • Under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India conducted the first nuclear test (code-named “Smiling Buddha”) in 1974, which was billed as a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”
  • The Pokhran-II test was then one of five nuclear tests conducted in the Pokhran test range between May 11 and 13, 1998.
  • In 1999, India adopted a formal nuclear doctrine, which said, among other things, that it would never carry out a nuclear first strike, sometimes known as the No First Use policy (NFU).
  • This strategy stressed “minimum deterrence, no first use, and non-use against non-nuclear-weapon nations,” according to former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon.
  • As a result, the NFU promise came with a Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD).
  • India has proposed a yearly resolution to the United Nations General Assembly on the subject of “Reducing Nuclear Danger” since 1998. The annual resolution calls for quick and urgent actions to reduce the dangers of nuclear weapons being deployed inadvertently or accidently, such as de-alerting and de-targeting.

The Nuclear Doctrine of India:

The Nuclear Doctrine of India is based on the premise that it will only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for another country’s attempt to use nuclear weapons against India, its states, or its army. Without joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty, India became the first country to develop nuclear power. The Doctrine Treaty of India is built on the following pillars:

  • Establishing and sustaining a credible minimum deterrent.
  • A “No First Use” nuclear posture means that nuclear weapons will only be deployed in response for a nuclear strike on Indian territory or Indian forces elsewhere;
  • Nuclear response for a first strike will be huge and aimed to do irreparable harm.
  • Only the civilian political leadership, through the Nuclear Command Authority, may sanction nuclear retaliation attacks.
  • Non-use of nuclear weapons against governments that do not possess nuclear weapons;
  • However, in the case of a massive biological or chemical assault on India or Indian forces anywhere, India will maintain the option of retaliating using nuclear weapons.
  • The continuation of rigorous limits on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty discussions, and adherence to the nuclear test moratorium.
  • Persistence in the pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world through comprehensive, verifiable, and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.
  • Nuclear Command Authority (NCA)- On January 4, 2003, India formed a three-tier Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) to manage its nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Command Authority (NCA):

The formation of the NCA provide legitimacy to India’s nuclear position. The NCA is notable for its consistent commitment to nuclear deterrence through civilian nuclear weapon control.

The NCA is made up of the following individuals:

  • Political Advisory Council- led by the Prime Minister. It is the body that authorises the use of nuclear weapons.

The Prime Minister can make an attack decision after consulting with the following people/teams:

  • Security Affairs Cabinet Committee
  • National Security Advisor
  • Chairman of Chief Staff Committee
  • The Executive Council- led by the prime minister’s National Security Adviser. Its role is to give input to the NCA’s decision-making process and to carry out the orders of the political council.
  • Strategic Forces Command- would be in charge of nuclear force management as well as nuclear weapon fire.

India And, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, And International Atomic Energy Agency:

There are two major international treaties concerning the nuclear issue:

  • The first is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and
  • The second is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy while opposing its use for military reasons.

While India has yet to join both the NPT and the CTBT, it is an IAEA member.

Non-Proliferation Treaty:

  • The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, aims to promote nuclear non-proliferation.
  • The pact is built on three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy.
  • These pillars are in a vertical connection, which means that the peaceful use of nuclear energy is dependent on the attainment of the first two pillars, but disarmament has been a contentious topic among member nations since the inception.
  • The United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and China were the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in 1970. Israel had most likely already obtained nuclear weapons at the time, but has thus far refused to acknowledge this reality or sign the pact.
  • After China conducted nuclear tests in October 1964, the five nuclear weapon countries – the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China (Taiwan at the time) – sought to impose the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the rest of the world in 1968.
  • The pact’s three main aims are non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to utilise nuclear technology peacefully.
  • India, along with Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan, is one of only five nations that either did not sign the NPT or signed but later withdrew.
  • India has traditionally seen the NPT as discriminatory, and has refused to sign it.
  • India has opposed international non-proliferation treaties because they apply selectively to non-nuclear countries and legitimize the nuclear-armed states’ monopoly.
  • At the time, India’s first nuclear test was labelled a “peaceful explosion.” India stated that it was committed to using nuclear energy solely for peaceful reasons.
  • In 1995, India refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty also it opposed the NPT’s indefinite renewal (CTBT).
  • India conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998 to show its ability to harness nuclear energy for military use.

Need of No First Use Policy:

  • The NFU plan permits a small nuclear weapons development without tactical weapons or a complicated command and control structure.
  • The approach decreases the danger of nuclear conflict by delaying the deployment of weapons on high alert and preventing an arms race.
  • The doctrine also reduces the possibility of unnecessary disruption by placing the burden of evidence on the adversary to determine whether or not to intensify a nuclear assault.
  • Strict commitment to the idea can help India’s goals to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Arguments opposing the No First Use Policy approach include:

  • Some nuclear weapon nations have rejected the notion of no-first-use (NFU), while most, if not all, others have just declared support for it.
  • Nuclear weapons are commonly regarded as a panacea for conventional inferiority, with the weaker side threatening a nuclear response to deter a conventional attack.
  • The superior state’s nuclear doctrine adds a nuclear risk factor to each conflict it considers, as it is harder for a potential attacker to confidently calculate that it can win at an acceptable cost when nuclear escalation is a possibility.
  • The NFU doctrine has been called into question in India since it allows Pakistan to take the lead while restricting India’s military choices and placing India at a disadvantage.
  • Pakistan’s low nuclear thresholds and policy of deploying its nuclear umbrella to incite sub-conventional conflict in India are the key reasons for the debate over India’s “no first use” policy.

Consequences of India abandoning its NFU policy:

  • The abandonment of the NFU policy, as well as a proclamation to that effect, might harm India’s reputation as a responsible nuclear country.
  • Such a move would risk India’s commitment to the universal goal of nuclear disarmament and upend the regional balance of the subcontinent.
  • Reversing the strategy would also indicate India’s determination to deploy nuclear weapons first, limiting the room for conventional combat below the nuclear threshold. This might limit India’s capacity to impose conventional constraints on Pakistan’s offensive tactics and policies.
  • Furthermore, although amending the doctrine would not deter China’s expansionist goals, discarding it will send a deliberate signal of provocation to China.
  • Nuclear pre-emption is a costly doctrine since it involves significant investments not just in weapons and delivery systems, but also in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) infrastructure.
  • India would require a considerably greater stockpile of nuclear weapons, particularly since neutralising adversaries’ nuclear capabilities would demand a multi-warhead strike against India’s nuclear assets.
  • India has not incorporated Multiple Re-entry Vehicle (MRV) technology into its missiles, which is critical for eliminating fortified nuclear targets.
  • The transfer of nuclear weapons control from the scientific enclave to the military for final deployment will also be required under first-use policy.
  • Furthermore, depending on the magnitude of nuclear explosions, radioactive fallout might pose grave threats to society.

Examples of Land Based Ballistic Missiles:

  • Prithvi-I – Short-range ballistic missile
  • Prithvi-II – Short-range ballistic missile
  • Prithvi-III – Short-range ballistic missile
  • Agni-I – Medium range ballistic missile
  • Shaurya- Medium range ballistic missile
  • Agni-P- Medium range ballistic missile
  • Agni-II- Medium range ballistic missile
  • Agni-III- Intermediate-range ballistic missile
  • Agni-IV- Intermediate-range ballistic missile
  • Agni-V- Intercontinental ballistic missile
  • Agni-VI- Intercontinental ballistic missile & MIRV capable

Examples of Ballistic Missiles Based at Sea:

  • Dhanush- Short-range ballistic missile
  • Sagarika (K-15)- Submarine-launched ballistic missile
  • K-4- Submarine-launched ballistic missile
  • K-5- Submarine-launched ballistic missile
  • K-6- Submarine-launched ballistic missile

Way Forward:

  • As New Delhi tries to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and rebalance its deterrent vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, discussions regarding India’s future as a nuclear state persist.
  • Shiv Shankar Menon, wherein he writes: “There is a potential grey area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against another NWS (nuclear weapons state). Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.”
  • India’s Nuclear Doctrine is not intended to threaten or attack any nation, but rather to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and borders.
  • Some claim that India is undergoing a fundamental doctrinal change in which New Delhi may forsake its NFU nuclear strategy and undertake a pre-emptive attack against Pakistan if it believes Islamabad would use the weapons first.
  • Many in the West see this as a seismic change in India’s nuclear stance, with substantial implications for South Asian strategic stability.


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