The BJP Manifesto and India’s NFU

The news-piece carried by Reuters India titled “BJP puts ‘no first use’ nuclear policy in doubt” has caused murmurs about dramatic changes that could be introduced in the Indian nuclear weapons policy with serious consequences on South Asia’s strategic stability, if a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government comes to power in 2014. The source of concern for Reuters’ reporters was the BJP’s much-awaited election manifesto that was released on Monday, 7 April 2014, which was also the first day of elections to India’s Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament). Op-eds and statements from India’s nuclear strategic community have already shown up, attempting to douse a possible fire or to nip in the bud a latent controversy.

The 52-page manifesto has been identified as Modi-esque because its bears familiarity with the hard-hitting ‘vision’ of the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Where foreign policy and national security are concerned, the BJP’s manifesto stands out from those of the other major national-level political parties of India at the 2014 elections, particularly the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Indian National Congress (INC). It talks in relatively greater detail about the steps that the party’s government envisions to achieve India’s ‘comprehensive’ national security interests in the 21st century. Distinctive from the other party manifestos, a sub-section in the BJP’s document is dedicated to the goal of building an independent strategic nuclear programme. It undertakes to ‘study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times, (to) maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostatic realities’ and to ‘invest in India’s indigenous Thorium Technology Programme’.

If one reads these objectives in the same context as the Reuters article read it, the easiest assumption would be that the BJP is suggesting a revision to the Indian No First Use (NFU) policy. Three reasons support such an assumption. First, India has failed to push Pakistan to adopt a no first use pledge (from its current first use policy) which would reduce, in India’s view, possibilities of nuclear aggression between the two countries. Even the Chinese defence white paper of 2013 abstains from explicitly using the phrase ‘no first use of nuclear weapons’. Second, in 2011, Jaswant Singh, senior leader from the BJP and the external affairs minister in the NDA government which brought out the draft report on the Indian nuclear doctrine in 1999, called for the Indian NFU policy to be revised in light of the changed security situations. Although Singh confirmed that this was his individual opinion, it laid a precedent that such demands have already been voiced from the BJP’s leadership. Third, since 2003 when the Cabinet Committee on Security officially approved the Indian nuclear doctrine, the chemical and biological weapons caveat to the NFU pledge and the doctrine of massive retaliation have come under extensive debate within the country’s strategic community. A substantial section of scholars and strategists have insisted a revision to the two features of Indian nuclear doctrine.

Although the BJP manifesto does not stipulate specifically on any change to the NFU pledge, an unprovoked reversal of the NFU by any Government of India in the present strategic environment is thought to be unlikely. The NFU is one of the core principles of India’s nuclear policy and supports other doctrinal elements like minimum deterrence, second strike capability, assured retaliation and even guides new technological developments like the ballistic missile defence. The NFU has been the constant subtext for India’s possession of nuclear weapons. Far from being a sign of strength and firmness, giving up the NFU does not only change the rationale for the Indian nuclear weapons programme but is too risqué because a First Use policy cannot be credibly exercised. Besides, fundamental changes to nuclear doctrines are not mandated by election manifestos of political parties. That the Indian nuclear weapons policy should be revisited and updated to incorporate the changes in India’s security environment and to respond to the emergence of new doctrines and technologies that have come up in South Asia’s nuclear strategic balance can be seen as a welcome call. In fact, the need for studying India’s nuclear weapons policy should have been a part of the national manifestos of the other political parties to reassure the international as well as domestic audiences that the Indian political leadership across parties is both, aware and actively engaged in deliberating on the country’s nuclear policy.


Image: Kevin Frayer-Getty Images News, Getty

Posted in , Defence, Deterrence, Doctrine, Elections, India, No First Use, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Politics

Tanvi Kulkarni

Tanvi Kulkarni teaches Defence and Strategic Studies at the Savitribai Phule Pune University in India. She has a PhD in Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her thesis examines why states in a nuclear dyad negotiate nuclear confidence-building measures (NCBMs). Tanvi completed her M.Phil in Diplomacy and Disarmament in August 2014, and for her dissertation, she worked on tracing the evolution of the ideas of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use in India's nuclear doctrine and policy. She researches and writes on nuclear politics, national security, and strategic issues. She was a South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow in 2015. Tanvi has previously worked with the the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi and the Chaophraya Track II Dialogue.

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4 thoughts on “The BJP Manifesto and India’s NFU

  1. excellent piece, Tanvi.
    In my view, revisions in nuclear doctrine would not come as a surprise. An adoption of First Use would.

  2. Everything including Nuclear Policy can be reviewed by the new Indian Government but there is no need to change “no first use” policy. Just because US, France, Britain or Russia have not committed to such a policy, does not mean India has to follow their example. There will be no additional benefits from adopting such a hawkish policy other than reflecting weakness and insecurity. There are more effective, cheaper and better ways of neutralizing threats. No, I do not subscribe to the morally reprehensible and intellectually bankrupt policy of using terror as a weapon. India’s strength and achievements over thousands of years did not come from weapons but from its great thinkers, philosophers, spiritual masters and scientists. Harnessing the powers of the human mind is what set India apart from the rest, cultivating and exploiting this resource will help it overcome every obstacle.

  3. @MK: Thank You!
    Hopefully, a strategic defence review will precede any revision to the doctrine.

  4. I would agree with Tanvi! The possible revision in my opinion might re-evaluate the massive retaliation clause. This is what I wrote few days ago:

    Dangerous Trends in Nuclear South Asia
    Forecasts about the Indian elections also present a gloomy scenario for Pakistan, with the hardliner Hindu chauvinistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi predicted to win the elections.
    Modi’s enmity towards Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular is no secret. In recent years, the Hindu extremists have staged numerous terrorist attacks in India, thus putting blame on Pakistani intelligence agencies and causing tensions between the nuclear rivals.
    Recently, some analysts argued that the BJP has implicitly hinted at revoking the ‘no first use’ clause in the Indian nuclear doctrine, a claim which was later refuted by the BJP. Although the Indian nuclear no first use restraint is not valid against nuclear states like Pakistan, any such revision would erode psychological barriers restraining the possible use of nuclear weapons.
    There are other voices postulating to revisit the massive retaliatory option in Indian nuclear doctrine thus subsequently replacing it with proportionate or graduated response as recently suggested by strategic analyst Raja Menon.
    Menon’s logic is simple; the destruction of several Pakistani cities after a massive Indian nuclear retaliatory strike in response to a low yield Pakistani nuclear warhead, thus destroying few dozen tanks, is not justifiable. The same logic has been articulated by Michael Krepon in an article on the Arms Control Wonk – that nuclear doctrines are conceived in vacuity and might appear absurd in actual scenarios.
    War indeed is an ugly reality. It is even more dangerous once the opposing sides are armed with nuclear weapons.
    Although nuclear weapons have an extremely important role in maintaining strategic equilibrium and deterrence stability, the doctrinal imbalances and unresolved conflicts increases the risks of miscalculation and misperception resulting in unintended consequences.
    For example, would India be willing to test the pro-active cold start strategy while Pakistan has so called Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) on its inventory? Would Pakistan be willing to invoke Indian doctrine of massive retaliation by using a small nuclear warhead, although on its own territory, against Indian marching mechanized formations?
    Nuclear doctrines are well thought out conceptual frameworks providing broad theoretical guidelines under extreme situations where employment of nuclear weapons appears plausible. Doctrines should not be reactionary in nature but rather should cover wide range of possibilities thus discouraging adversary from committing aggression, or else these risk becoming a recipe for miscalculation and misjudgment leading to employment of nuclear forces in an action reaction syndrome.
    Reactionary trends in South Asia thus threaten the deterrence stability which rests on the nuclear equation. As per logic given by Krepon, Pakistani policy makers may opt to call the Indian massive retaliation clause a bluff in an actual war like situation.
    This obviously would put the Indian leadership in a dilemma of whether to scrap the doctrinal clause premised on massive retaliation and go for proportionate reprisal or stick with the promise? Therefore, Menon and Krepon have rightly pointed out that Indian nuclear doctrine is inconsistent with the changing nature of trends in South Asian strategic paradigm, especially after the introduction of low-yield short-range nuclear warheads (TNWs).
    At the same time, apparently, TNWs are also inconsistent with the Pakistani nuclear doctrine which is premised on the ‘first use but last resort’. The Indian military command promises limited retaliation in response to a terrorist attack, without crossing the presumed Pakistani nuclear thresholds, regardless whether attacks are orchestrated by militant groups operating from Pakistan or purported by Hindu zealots.
    Pakistan, so far has not changed its position on the last resort proclamation, which thus appears to be at odds with its unwritten nuclear doctrine. Although Pakistan has reiterated that it would stick with the assertive nuclear command and control model, this raises some new questions with regards to actual deployment of these weapon systems.
    Introduction of new nuclear weapon systems and voices for doctrinal changes in South Asia indicates of a dangerous trend in nuclear thinking. These weapon systems once acquired for the purpose of deterrence are now gradually being considered for a new role of nuclear war-fighting.
    Although paradoxically, the nuclear war fighting assumes a critical role in reinforcing deterrence, but apparently this is not what the new role of nuclear weapons is being explored for in South Asia. The belief in nuclear weapons as instrument of war fighting is an extremely dangerous trend.
    The overall situation in South Asia reminds of an important lesson highlighted by Andre Beaufre regarding nuclear doctrine and strategy. As per Beaufre, nuclear strategy is seemingly thought as to be a set of homogeneous all time solutions which can be applied to different types of complex problems, whereas in reality it is set of varying, and at times contradictory equations developed under the mist of fear and confusion from time to time pivoting around evolutionary trends in adversary’s nuclear weapon systems.
    Thus, in situations where gap exist in perceptions and enmity prevails over ideological issues, nascent and rudimentary doctrines could prove disastrous.
    Therefore, to achieve peace India and Pakistan necessarily doesn’t need to develop new weapon systems or modify their nuclear doctrines but rather strengthen confidence building measures and resolve the lingering disputes which threaten regional stability.
    Kashmir is one such issue which if remains unresolved, would continue to be a motivational source for militancy. This reminds of a very thought provoking quote: ‘One has to choose between peace and injustice, we can’t have both’.

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