Nuclear policy of india

  • Important points of india’s nuclear policy are as follows:
  • Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent.
  • nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces elsewhere.
  • Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
  • Nuclear retaliatory attack can be authorized by a certain political leadership only through NCA ( nuclear command authority) .
  • No-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon state.
  • In the event of a major attack against India or Indian forces anywhere by biological or chemical weapons. India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.
  • Continuance of strict control on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technology, participation in the fissile material cut off treaty negotiations and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
  • Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear-free world through global verifiable and no discriminatory nuclear disarmament.


India’s “minimum credible nuclear deterrence” doctrine and “no first use” policy are based on the concept of deterrence by denial, rather than deterrence by punishment. Should deterrence ever break down, India will have to pay an enormous price for a nuclear first strike by an adversary before launching massive punitive retaliation. Nuclear doctrine has to be ultimately tested in the crucible of operational reality. Across the entire spectrum of conventional conflict, the first use of nuclear weapons by India does not make sound strategic sense. The real distinguishing feature of India’s nuclear doctrine is that it is anchored in India’s continued commitment to global, verifiable and non-discriminating nuclear disarmament.

The concept of deterrence by denial, rather than deterrence by punishment, is central to Indian strategic thinking. However, by voluntarily renouncing its sovereign right of the first use of nuclear weapons to defeat nuclear threats and to prevent nuclear blackmail, India has made an immense strategic sacrifice and imposed a heavy burden upon itself. The government and key decision-makers recognise that should deterrence ever break down, India will have to pay an enormous price for a nuclear first strike by an adversary before retaliating in kind. Hundreds of thousands of Indian lives will be lost and more than one city may be turned into rubble. Hence, India’s no first use doctrine demands a robust, infallible and potentially insuperable nuclear deterrent capability to ensure that India never has to suffer a nuclear strike.

The government also affirmed that India’s nuclear threat perceptions were not country specific. On December 15, 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee spelt out the principal elements of India’s nuclear policy in a statement in Parliament. India’s resolve to preserve its nuclear independence, minimum nuclear deterrence, no first use, non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers, and a firm commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister also reiterated India’s willingness to sign the CTBT and re-stated India’s readiness to work towards the successful conclusion of the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). At the Non-Aligned Summit in Durban in 1998, the Movement accepted India’s proposal for an international conference to arrive at an agreement on a phased programme for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons. At the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in September 2000, the Indian Prime Minister asserted that India’s policy is based on “responsibility and restraint” and that India would continue to press for universal, verifiable nuclear disarmament with undiminished commitment, even while safeguarding “our strategic space and autonomy in decision-making. International peace cannot be divorced from the need for equal and legitimate security for all.

New trends in india’s nuclear policy

More than a decade since the nuclear doctrine was unveiled by the government, several organizations and individuals have commented on it. Some of them have been critical of the no-first-use doctrine. Experts says no first use is not the least credible, because it requires India to first absorb a nuclear attack before responding to enemy’s attack.

In 2011, BJP leader Jaswant Singh had asked for abandonment of the no first use policy but the UPA government decided to maintain status quo. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, on April 2, 2014, called for a global “no-first-use” norm. He said, “States possessing nuclear weapons must quickly move to the establishment of a global no-first-use norm. This was followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promising in its election manifesto to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times…” and to “maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostrategic realities.

Criticism of the nuclear doctrine has mainly been centered on a few key issues: No first use may result in unacceptably high initial casualties and damage to Indian population, cities, and infrastructure, massive retaliation is not credible, especially against a tactical nuclear strike on Indian forces on the adversary’s own territory; nuclear retaliation for chemical or biological attack would be illogical, especially as the attack may be by nonstate actors; and it would be difficult to determine what constitutes a “major” chemical or biological strike.

Most recently, Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal (Ret.), former commander in chief, Strategic Forces Command, and later head of the Strategic Planning Staff at the National Security Council Secretariat, has questioned the efficacy of the NFU doctrine. According to him, “It is time to review our policy of no first use. The choices are ambiguity or first use.” He gives six main reasons for seeking a change: no first use implies acceptance of large-scale destruction in a first strike, the Indian public is not in sync with the government’s no first use policy and the nation is not psychologically prepared, it would be morally wrong, the leadership has no right to place the population in peril. No first use allows the adversary’s nuclear forces to escape punishment as retaliatory strikes will have to be counter value in nature, an elaborate and costly ballistic missile defense system would be required to defend against a first strike; and escalation control is not possible once nuclear exchanges begin.

Recently india’s Defence minister Manohar parrikar questioned no first use policy . Speaking in New Delhi at the launch of Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal’s book The New Arthashastra, Parrikar said: “Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy. Why should I bind myself . I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking. However later he clarified this was his individual thinking.

There has again been speculation recently about India’s nuclear doctrine and the value of its no first-use-posture. The reason for the kerfuffle this time are a couple of sentences in former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon’s book, Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy. Menon 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.

​​The core principles of the Indian nuclear policy have remained unchanged, as has its commitment to a world free from nuclear weapons. Gradually, India has been integrating itself with the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, India has joined a number of non-proliferation mechanisms of which it was skeptical before. India is now formally the 35th member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — an association of countries that share the goals of non-proliferation of delivery systems for nuclear weapons. India is also actively seeking membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The twenty first century is watching remarkable changes in India’s nuclear policy but for now core of India’s nuclear policy is still the same.


The NPT is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. On 11 May 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely.  A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the Treaty’s significance.

Silent provisions of non-proliferation treaty are as follows:

Each nuclear weapon state party to this treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever, nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

Each non-nuclear weapon state party to this treaty undertakes not to receive as transfer from any power whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons, explosives, directly or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.

This treaty shall enter into force after its ratification by all nuclear-weapons states signatory to this treaty and by other states signatory to this treaty, after the deposit of their instrument of ratification. For the purpose of this treaty, a nuclear weapons state is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1st January, 1967.

Each party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from the treaty if it decided that extra-ordinary events, related to the subject-matter of this treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other parties to the treaty and the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such a notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.

India and criticism of NPT

  • India thinks NPT is discriminatory. There are two types of members in the NPT – Nuclear Weapons State and Non-Nuclear Weapons State. Only five countries (including China) who had fired a nuclear device before 1970 were given the status of Nuclear Weapons State. Any other nation who wished to sign the NPT, had to do so as a Non-Nuclear Weapons State. India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974 – this implies that the only option by which India could sign the NPT is being a Non-Nuclear Weapons State.
  • India needs a minimum nuclear deterrant. If India signs the NPT as a Non-Nuclear Weapons State, India cannot even keep a minimal nuclear deterrant. In the light of the wars waged with neighbours China and Pakistan, this option seems suicidal, given China and Pakistan themselves have nuclear weapons. Therefore even popular political support, across the political spectrum, has been towards nuclear weapons program, rather than signing the NPT.
  • NPT unduly tried to legitimize the power gap between nuclear and non-clear nations.
  • It did not provide for either disarmament or arms control in international relations.
  • It failed to check the N-programmes of France and China which, in violation of the Moscow Partial Test Ban Treaty, continued the policy of conducting nuclear tests.

On the basis of these arguments, critics asserted that NPT failed to solve the problem of nuclear weapons in international relations. It failed to provide any scheme or plan for nuclear disarmament or arms control. Its first review was done in 1975, the second in 1980 and the third in October 1985, but these three reviews failed to secure or improve the realization of the provisions of this treaty

India’s former External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said during a visit to Tokyo in 2007: “If India did not sign the NPT, it is not because of its lack of commitment for non-proliferation, but because we consider NPT as a flawed treaty and it did not recognize the need for universal, non-discriminatory verification and treatment.”

Comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty ( CTBT )

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions – everywhere, by everyone. The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

The Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996. It opened for signature in New York on 24 September 1996, when it was signed by 71 States, including five of the eight then nuclear-capable states. As of October 2016, 166 states have ratified the CTBT and another 17 states have signed but not ratified it.

The treaty will enter into force 180 days after the 44 states listed in Annex 2 of the treaty have ratified it. These “Annex 2 states” are states that participated in the CTBT’s negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time. As of 2016, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.

Silent features of CTBT are as follows:

  • The Treaty banned every kind of nuclear weapons test or nuclear explosion.
  • An international monitoring system was to be set up for checking violations of CTBT.
  • Any underground, atmospheric or underwater explosions more powerful than the equivalent of 1,000 tones of conventional explosive was to be detected by a network of 20 stations.
  • Further, based on information collected by the international monitoring system or through surveillance by individual countries (but not through spying activities), any country could request an inspection to see whether an explosion had been carried out or not. A request for an inspection was to require 30 votes in the 51-member Executive Council.

India and criticism of CTBT

In May 1998, India and Pakistan conducted a series of nuclear tests. Not only did this jolt the nonproliferation regime, the tests also broke a global moratorium on nuclear testing that had been in existence since July 1996, a moratorium that had been reinforced by the adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996. For India, the tests were the culmination of a major turnaround in policy. When the negotiations that led to the CTBT commenced in 1994, India in fact displayed enthusiasm for the treaty. However, by the time negotiations concluded in 1996, India had emerged as the treaty’s strongest opponent. On June 20, 1996, India declared its unwillingness to sign the CTBT, stating that because the treaty “is not conceived as a measure towards universal nuclear disarmament. India cannot subscribe to it in its present form.”2 On September 10, 1996, when the CTBT was adopted at the United Nations, India stated that it would “never sign this unequal Treaty, not now, nor later.

India’s interest in a test ban was first outlined in an April 1954 speech to the Indian Parliament, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called for an end to nuclear testing as a stepping stone towards nuclear disarmament. Nehru stated that, “Pending progress towards some solution, full or partial, in respect of the prohibition and elimination of these weapons of mass destruction, the Government of India would consider, some sort of what may be called a standstill agreement” on ending nuclear testing. In the following decades, New Delhi remained enthusiastic about disarmament. But it simultaneously opposed the NPT and CTBT for ideological and security reasons. India’s rationale behind its stand are as follows:

India felt that the CTBT was inadequate in terms of securing disarmament commitments from the nuclear weapon states under declared deadlines. It saw this as a discriminatory replication of the imbalance inherent in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, in which nuclear weapon states are weakly obligated to disarm and non-nuclear weapon states are strongly obligated to remain non-nuclear. The lack of commitments by the nuclear weapon states to eliminate their nuclear weapons under a declared time frame also compelled India to oppose Article XIV of the NPT, which stipulates the CTBT’s entry into force after 44 “Annex 2″ countries sign and ratify it.

India’s argument is that his  strategic program needs to be safeguarded until a credible disarmament process begins. On a sublime note, some in India will contend that the CTBT remains improvident until the nuclear weapon states commit to a time-bound disarmament framework. Yet to get the ball rolling on eliminating nuclear weapons, India passes the responsibility to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council (the five nuclear weapon states recognized under the NPT). India cannot accept any restraints on its capability if other countries remain unwilling to accept the obligation to eliminate their nuclear weapons.”

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