Since India has ‘no first use policy’, hence it should have a robust second-strike capability.
India had no option left but to go nuclear and conduct a number of nuclear tests including thermonuclear device on 11 and 13 May 1998—the so called Pokharan II. There is no denying the fact that it was a geopolitical necessity because of growing Sino-Pakistan nexus and the lack of genuine commitment shown by acknowledged nuclear weapons states towards achieving a nuclear weapons free world. India understands it very well that its national security interests would be best served in a nuclear weapons free world. But there is a lack of consistency between the rhetoric and action on part of the acknowledged nuclear weapons states (US, Russia, UK, France and China) in adhering to the commitments made in Article VI of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Instead of getting the role of nuclear weapons de-emphasised, the salience of the nuclear weapons got increased especially when one does the assessment on the nuclear strategy of nuclear weapons states. On the one hand these nuclear weapons states, more particularly the United States and Russia, tell the world that they are moving on the path of reducing their nuclear warheads, but in reality these two countries have been showing signs of putting more reliance on nuclear weapons—hence, nuclear weapons are here to stay. Even though the Cold War got over and the world witnessed the demise of the Soviet Union, the nuclear weapons which were deployed during the Cold War years are still on hair-trigger alert.
In practical sense, India had become frustrated because its voice was not heard at the United Nations whenever India proposed the means to achieve nuclear disarmament. India’s contributions in terms of ideas, resolutions and action plans to achieve a nuclear weapons free world at the United Nations was not given due attention by the United States and Russia in particular. They became the champion of vertical proliferation. China became a pioneer of horizontal proliferation by providing nuclear technology to Pakistan. India’s credentials remain very high because it has neither promoted vertical nor horizontal proliferation. Despite being a non-signatory to the NPT, it has followed all the provisions of the treaty guidelines.
India never defied any international law and principles and found the nuclear tests a good bet for conveying message to its adversaries. India also understood the predicament of the regional security environment. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by India is purely for the purpose of deterrence. India is the only country across the globe which had put its nuclear doctrine in draft form for public debate and discussion. The response from the West in general and the US in particular on India’s draft nuclear doctrine was highly critical although very interesting.
India stated in clear terms about its “no first use” intent where it articulated that it would not be the first one to use nuclear weapons against nuclear weapons states (NWS) and the non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS). The perception built by the NWS about the status of India whether it is an NWS or NNWS was dictated by the NPT definition that those countries which have tested their nuclear device after 1 January 1967 are only acknowledged de jure NWS. China, somehow, has taken this very seriously and still puts India as NNWS despite for all practical purposes it is an NWS. The US understood India’s potential and openly recognised it as a responsible nuclear player because it has not proliferated. The notion of India as a responsible nuclear power led the US to accept India as a de facto nuclear weapons state. The US accepted India’s Separation Plan where India has segregated both its civil nuclear and military facilities. This unique recognition of India by the US has elevated India’s position across the spectrum.
India has also stated that it will have a “minimum credible nuclear deterrent capability”. It has obviously left to speculation as to how much minimum would be minimum. It must be emphasised here that the minimum number of nuclear warheads required for India would be relative. India requires to deal with two of the nuclear weapons states in its immediate neighbourhood. The West and the US have been trying their best to find the numbers. No sensible country will ever divulge the details of numbers required when they have limited capability. Both the US and Russia shrouded everything in secrecy about their numbers and when they achieved everything in plenty, they slowly and steadily started giving the information in public domain. India will have to be guarded on this and at the same time it has conveyed the message to the rest of the world that it is not interested in any nuclear arms race. It will keep its inventory at the minimum level. India has committed itself to retaliate in much greater force in the event of an attack by an adversary. India’s notion of massive retaliation is to inflict sufficient damage to its adversary so that the question of a third strike does not arise.
India has also articulated that it will have a “triad” capability, which means it will have sufficient land-based, air-based and sea-based assets. The emphasis given on the acquisition of nuclear powered submarine tipped with sea launched ballistic missile all these years has boosted India’s nuclear deterrent capability. Since India has “no first use policy”, hence it should have a robust second-strike capability. In case of any eventuality, both land-based and air-based assets remain highly vulnerable and hence it is perhaps the sea-based assets which could complement India’s no first use policy. The integration of “Arihant” with “K-15 Sagarika” is a sign of reflecting its preparedness in the case of any attack by its adversary.
India’s nuclear doctrine has also spoken about a robust “command and control” system, which perhaps remains the key and will always remain under civilian control. Even in the nuclear doctrine, India has argued the need to have complete elimination of nuclear weapons from the world. India has shown its commitment to nuclear disarmament.
India’s nuclear doctrine since its formalisation in 2003 has not changed any of its stated position except that it added that India will retaliate with the use of nuclear weapons if it is attacked by chemical or biological weapons. It remains largely rhetoric because it would be too difficult for India to find the origin of attack in case these chemical or biological weapons are used. Right now, India is, undoubtedly, a victim of biological warfare. The pandemic has been continuing with dire consequences for India. There is an urgent need to figure out the origin of the use of biological weapons and obviously take stern measure to deal with its adversary.
It would be in India’s interest to review and revisit its nuclear doctrine and see how there can be changes in some of the stipulations made. From time to time, the discussion on changing its “no-first use” stance to “first use” of nuclear weapons have taken place, but it seems that “no-first use” in the context of India has given more dividends. Nuclear weapons for India will strictly remain for deterrent purposes. India will not get influenced by the changes occurring among the NWS about their intentions, motivation, fundamental goals and how they keep relying on the role of nuclear weapons in their strategy.
Arvind Kumar is Professor at School of International Studies (SIS) and Chairman of the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, SIS, JNU, New Delhi. Monish Tourangbam teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal.