Debates on Nuclear Doctrine

Nuclear Retaliation Options

The debate on nuclear retaliation options has been hijacked by realists, with even the liberal security perspective marginalised. Engagement with the issue by nuclear abolitionists is called for, lest the impression of a consensus develops around the realist offering of "unacceptable damage" that promises nothing but genocide, a global environmental disaster and national suicide in its wake.

The last thrust for the revision of India’s nuclear doctrine was in the run-up to the national elections of 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto stated that the party intended to “[s]tudy in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times” (BJP 2014: 39). The latest impulse towards reviewing the nuclear doctrine was in April at a seminar of the Indian Pugwash Society (2016), incongruously organised at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi (Indian Pugwash Society 2016).

In discussions on India’s nuclear doctrine, there is a consensus on the need for periodic review. While on this count most agree that a review of the current doctrine adopted in January 2003 by the Cabinet Committee on Security (Prime Minister’s Office 2003) is long overdue, disagreement is over two issues. First, whether the no first use (NFU) posture should be retained, and second, if NFU stays, what is the best manner of retaliation, not only to deter, but also to follow through in case deterrence fails to work. While agreeing on the need for review and for continuing with “retaliation only” doctrine of the National Security Advisory Board (Ministry of External Affairs 1999), this article questions the nuclear retaliation options under discussion.

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