Sixteen years after the Vajpayee government carried out the Pokhran-II tests, the BJP on Monday said it intended to “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine, including the ‘no first use’ (NFU) policy, if it came to power.
The nuclear doctrine was formulated by the BJP-led NDA a year after the 1998 nuclear tests, with no first use and non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states as its pillars. India also announced a unilateral moratorium on further testing.
The draft doctrine, framed under the leadership of strategic affairs analyst K Subrahmanyam and Vajpayee’s National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, was released in August 1999, and finally adopted in January 2003.
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Monday’s announcement by the BJP came days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed an international no first use convention among nuclear weapons states.
Sheshadri Chari, convener of the BJP’s foreign affairs cell and a member of the group that formulated this section of the party’s manifesto, said: “Why should we tie our hands into accepting a global no first use policy, as has been proposed by the Prime Minister recently?”
The BJP has seemingly leaned towards a growing view in strategic circles that India needs to revisit its NFU doctrine in the light of Pakistan’s reported effort to increase stocks of tactical nuclear weapons. The other fear is of Pakistan-based jehadi groups or rogue generals getting their hands on a nuclear weapon and using it against India, experts say.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, now dean of the Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy at Delhi’s Vivekananda International Foundation, said, “If India reconsiders its no first use policy, it would be a useful lever to push Pakistan towards a no first use policy.”
Under India’s existing nuclear doctrine, “the fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state or entity against India and its forces”.
India, it says, “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with massive retaliation should deterrence fail. India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against states which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapons powers”.
Under the head “Independent strategic nuclear programme”, the BJP’s manifesto released on Monday says that it would “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”.
It also says that the party would “maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostatic realities”.
The BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, a key member of the manifesto drafting group, said that “without whittling down” the legacy of the Vajpayee-led government, the party would like to “revisit and review in the context of present challenges”.
Chari told The Indian Express that India needed to re-consider the no first use policy, keeping in view changes in strategic realities and threat perceptions. “We are at liberty to do it,” he said.
Nirmala Sitharaman, also a member of the BJP foreign policy working group, told The Indian Express, “It will be a comprehensive re-look at the nuclear doctrine with an open mind.” She did not rule out the possibility of looking afresh at the NFU as well.
Lalit Mansingh, who was foreign secretary in 1999-2000 when the nuclear doctrine was being framed, said Pakistan was now developing tactical weapons, but the only response New Delhi planned, as per the doctrine, was “massive nuclear retaliation”.
“There is a feeling within nuclear experts that because of this changed scenario, we need to rethink our response as well,” Mansingh said.
Arundhati Ghosh, a retired diplomat who was part of the 3-member task force headed by Subrahmanyam which formulated a uniform opinion on nuclear issues after the India-US nuclear deal, said “military” strategic experts had been “debating” the need to re-examine the NFU for more than 10 years.