Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recently articulated “personal” view that is contrary to India’s No First Use (NFU) nuclear doctrine has come in for adverse comments from many strategists. But the current mood due Pakistan’s aid to anti-India terrorists has led to many supporting the minister. This view is debatable because the NFU, as an enunciation of the country’s nuclear intent, is beneficial in many ways.
The advantages of an NFU policy are many. First, a hair-trigger alert, to ensure that the other side does not get a chance to strike first, does not have to be maintained and so forces and equipment can be in a relaxed posture; nuclear forces can be maintained in a de-mated condition waiting for orders from higher echelons to go to a higher alert status, thus ensuring that command and control stays firmly with the civilian political leadership, which is a very important aim. Second, since there is no first use alert requirement, the chances of reacting to a false alarm are nullified. Third, the onus of taking the decision to escalate to a nuclear use lies on the adversary and not on the party having an NFU doctrine. Fourth, a first use would result in international opprobrium and weigh heavily on a country with a first use posture. Fifth, a first use posture still requires a country to have survivable second strike capability as there is nothing such as a “splendid” first strike implying 100% decapitation of the adversary’s assets and leadership. And last, a NFU doctrine is cheaper to implement; for India, which has many economic targets to achieve, this is a very important factor.
The questioning of India’s NFU doctrine has been born out of the exasperation that has come about due to Pakistan’s use of sub-conventional methods under the overhang of its nuclear weapons. However, Pakistan knows that it cannot afford to use any nuclear weapons in a war, including its tactical nuclear weapons, as India would respond with massive nuclear retaliation as per its doctrine. Additionally, with China heavily invested in Pakistan, it would be in Beijing’s interest to ensure that the leadership of its geopolitical “outpost” does not take any rash decision of initiating a nuclear exchange.
As Parrikar said, India is a responsible nation; hence, India’s nuclear capability and resolve of its leadership should be the signals that convey India’s nuclear posture through its NFU doctrine. The avoidance of nuclear blackmail can be achieved by India demonstrating its readiness to accept risks that are not less than that of Pakistan. This is already happening through the element of signalling in the conventional exchanges between the two armies across the LoC in J&K. The NFU policy is just right for India as it ensures security for the nation and does not detract it from its march towards better prosperity for its people.
Manmohan Bahadur is retired Air Vice Marshal and distinguished fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal