Stoking a controversy, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar Thursday questioned India’s No First Use (NFU) policy on nuclear weapons but then said that “this is my thinking” and the nuclear doctrine “has not changed” under any government.
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 to a… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking. Some of them may immediately tomorrow flash that Parrikar says that nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy but my concept, I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t decide that you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off.”
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A spokesperson for the Defence Ministry later clarified that the Minister had confirmed that this was his personal opinion.
In its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had promised to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”. No such study has been publicly announced. Nor has the BJP-led government proposed any change in the doctrine or the NFU.
India’s NFU policy is part of its nuclear doctrine. Under the doctrine, India has a policy of credible minimum deterrence based on a ‘No First Use’ posture and non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. This means that India won’t be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. In contrast, Pakistan does not have an NFU policy for its nuclear arsenal.
India has always held its commitment to NFU policy as proof of it being a responsible nuclear power. In April, when US President Barack Obama suggested that India and Pakistan reduce their nuclear arsenal, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said: “There seems to be a lack of understanding of India’s defence posture. Conventionally, India has never initiated military action against any neighbour. We also have a no-first use nuclear weapons policy.”
Critics of the NFU policy argue that the increasing stockpile of Pakistani nuclear weapons and China’s expansionist designs in the region warrant a change in the doctrine. Since it is a declaratory policy, with no binding legitimacy, Pakistani officials have claimed that India can revoke its unilateral declaration anytime if the situation so warrants.
In 2003, the then Defence Minister George Fernandes had ruled out any revision of the NFU policy. In 2011, BJP leader Jaswant Singh had asked for abandonment of the NFU policy but the UPA government decided to maintain status quo.
Responding to Parrikar’s remarks, Congress party communication in-charge Randeep Surjewala said: “Defence Minister Parrikar has no business or authority to speak in personal capacity at a public function. He reflects the thrust and intent of India’s national security policy. If India’s policy on NFU has to be changed, it must be decided after deliberation with the government and stated publicly. Casual, immature and off-the-cuff remarks by India’s Defence Minister, for which he has become famous, are not in India’s interest.”
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “This is a most irresponsible comment coming from the Defence Minister. It runs against India’s ethos of seeking a nuclear-free world. When a minister speaks, it has to be the considered opinion of the government. This statement would be taken indignantly by the rest of the world and hurt India’s interests globally.”