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How will the Narendra Modi government change India's nuclear policy?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 - 4:45pm IST | Agency: dna

  • nuclear-testing Image for representational purposes only. Getty Images

Nuclear posture is part of a country’s policy on what it does with nuclear weapons, if it is attacked. In simple words, it is the country’s stand and stance on its nuclear weapons, if it is attacked by other nuclear country. 

India, as a country, too has a particular stance on its nuclear weapons since 1998, when it conducted nuclear tests. After the tests, India declared a nuclear no-first-use policy, and is in the process of developing a nuclear doctrine based on “credible minimum deterrence” as part of its nuclear weapons use policy. It is meant to maintain an arsenal which can help it in retaliating strongly if attacked by an enemy. In August 1999, the Indian government released a draft of the doctrine, which asserts that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of “retaliation only”. The document also maintains that India “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear first strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail” and that decisions to authorise the use of nuclear weapons would be made by the prime minister. 

The new Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre may likely think to modify India’s existing nuclear posture. The issue of command and control of the nuclear weapons was debated and discussed at the very onset. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto with regard to the established nuclear doctrine was different from the existing nuclear doctrine, and the party promised the people of the country to revise and update the present nuclear policy.

The BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election affirms the following important changes in India’s current nuclear policy:

1. Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it to make it relevant to the challenges of current times
2. Maintain a credible minimum deterrence that is in tune with changing geostatic realities

It needs to be understood why the BJP wants to make constantly review and fine tune India’s nuclear doctrine. Does this mean the existing doctrine is defective and outdated? Does it mean the Congress has historically been more defensive with it comes to the policy of nuclear weapons? Does it mean it is the BJP’s responsibility to deal with the country’s nuclear policy? Is the BJP more aggressive in its approach on national security? There are several questions with regard to the stance the NDA may likely take by revising and updating the current nuclear doctrine.

One may also like to understand the factors which that the BJP to behave the way it did when it promised the people of India it would revise and update the nuclear doctrine. There are several factors:

1. the BJP wants to adopt a rigid approach on the internal as well as the external security of the country, so that no one dares to even threaten India
2. Modi made a promise to act with regard to the three important problems India faces from its neighbours in Southeast Asia: terrorism from Pakistan, incursion from China, and the predicament of refugees from Bangladesh. Modi promised Indians he would give the country relief from these problems. He promised to take a tougher stand to contain any illegal migration into India and stern action against those who may dispatch terrorists on to Indian soil or against those who will dare to intrude into Indian territory. 
3. Pakistan has been an important factor for the BJP to ponder the revision of India’s nuclear doctrine, as Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is currently larger than India’s and the availability of tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of Pakistan is an important factor to push for a change in the nuclear policy. Pakistan has a ‘no first use’ policy as well. Historically, India-Pakistan relations have mostly been conflictive in nature. Both countries claim sovereignty over the former Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir since the British departure from the subcontinent in 1947. Their dispute over the Muslim-majority territory was the root cause of two Indo-Pakistan wars: in 1947-48 and 1965. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the first war. Neither country has been willing to compromise over the issue, partly for strategic reasons, but mainly because this would threaten the legitimating ideology on which each modern state was founded. Therefore, since Partition in 1947, the two nations have been arch rivals. So far, they have fought four wars: in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999. 1999 saw the limited war in Kashmir’s Kargil region. In 2001-2002, both the countries were on the verge of a nuclear war after the attack on the Indian Parliament, which triggered a ten-month crisis between the two, and in turn caused apprehensions about nuclear escalation in South Asia.

There are some of the factors which may force the new government to rethink India’s nuclear policy. The new government may likely adopt an aggressive approach in the up-gradation and modernisation of nuclear weapons. However, any change to the Indian nuclear doctrine may give a bad image of India to the world. India has almost been recognised as a de facto nuclear power. It is known as a responsible and accountable nuclear power. The primary reason for such recognition is its existing nuclear policy. Therefore, the new government will have to think seriously before making any revision or modification in India’s nuclear policy.


Khurshid Ahmad Mir is doctorate candidate in the International Politics Division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

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