ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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No First Use Nuclear Policy

An Existential Crisis Ahead

No First Use Nuclear Policy

That India's No First Use policy is under threat of the axe in any future review of the nuclear doctrine is apparent from the election time controversy over the mention of a nuclear doctrinal review in the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The reference - subsequently toned down - was possibly an attempt by the conservative party to live up to its image as a strategically assertive replacement of the Congress Party.

No First Use (NFU) is taken as among the cardinal principles of India’s nuclear doctrine; the o­thers being “credible” and “minimum”.1 Even as developments in India’s deterrent posture, specifically, in the number of warheads, its variegated missile capability and operationalisation of the deterrent, have led to the “credible” potentially superseding the “minimum”, the NFU is also seemingly under threat of eclipse. This is best evidenced by the recent controversy that attended the release of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto promising to “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine. While the manifesto did not anticipate which pillars of the doctrine would face the axe, the very mention led alert nuclear commentators to pre-emptively pitch for continuation of I­ndia’s NFU.2

The reaction was prompted by BJP functionaries initially alluding to the NFU as a prospective area of change.3 The BJP probably was reacting to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call at a Pugwash-Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) conference in New Delhi for adoption of NFU as a new “global no-first-use norm”.4 Since the speech was the government’s swan song on nuclear matters, it is possible that the BJP was reluctant to have its strategic space tied down by the Congress-led administration’s last minute initiative. In the event, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, seemingly in response to the criticism in strategic circles,5 put a lid on the topic by maintaining that he would give NFU credence since it had the imprint of the BJP stalwart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose moder­ate image he, Modi, was emulating during the electoral campaign under way.6

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