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India's Nuclear Doctrine (17 October 2020)

India's Nuclear Doctrine (17 October 2020)

Why in News:

India has said that it is committed to no first use of strategic weapons under its nuclear doctrine.


Speaking at the Conference on Disarmament, at 75th Session of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, India said that its nuclear weapons are meant to maintain a posture of minimum deterrence. Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said nuclear disarmament can be achieved through an agreed multilateral framework.


It was in late 1940s that Nuclear programme of India was initiated under the guidance of Homi J. Bhabha.Indiaundertaken its first nuclear explosionin May 1974.India made it clear that it was committed to the policy of using nuclear power only for peaceful purposes.

In 1995,India opposed the indefinite extension of the NPT and also refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

India conducted a series of nuclear tests in May 1998, demonstrating its capacity to use nuclear energy for military purposes.India enunciated a doctrine of 'No First Use’ (NFU) of nuclear weapons after the 1998 nuclear test.

The doctrine was formally adopted in January, 2003, and says that nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere.

Summary of the Debate

Nuclear Doctrine:

  • A nuclear doctrine states how a nuclear weapon state would employ its nuclear weapons both during peace and war.
  • Through the nuclear doctrine a state can communicate its intention and resolve to the enemy.
  • The doctrine also guides the state’s response during war.

Nuclear Doctrine of India:

  • India’s nuclear doctrine came out in 2003 and it has been quite consistent and has not changed at all despite a lot of debate that whether the no first use should be changed or not.
  • The basic principle of India's nuclear doctrine is "No First Use".
  • Under this policy, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on the Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.
  • India needs to build and maintain a Credible Minimum Deterrent. It means that the number and capabilities of India’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems should merely be sufficient to ensure intolerable retaliation, also keeping in mind first-strike survival of its relatively meagre arsenal.
  • If a country invades India by a nuclear missile, India’s response will be massive, to cause unacceptable damage.
  • The doctrine clearly state that Nuclear weapons will not be used against non-nuclear states.
  • The right to take nuclear action against the enemy will only be taken by the elected representatives of the people.
  • India will continue to support the global initiative to create a nuclear-free world.

Non-Proliferation Treaty:

  • The NPT isan international treaty signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970.


  • To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.
  • To promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
  • To further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
  • Under the NPT terms, China became recognised as one of the world’s five ‘weapon states’, and India was excluded from such status.
  • India is one of the only five countries that either did not sign the NPT or signed but withdrew, thus becoming part of a list that includes Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan.


  • The two adversaries that flank India on the border and that are on two sides of India's main threat perception, they are putting a lot of pressure and they have traditionally also put in the past as well a lot of pressure on global nuclear arms control architecture.
  • For India, as a responsible stakeholder in the global nuclear architecture, it has always been the case that it would represent its case with a modicum of sobriety, with a modicum of one that propels stability in South Asia.
  • The challenge is very huge that how do you convince other stakeholders that this is the paradigm that can continue.
  • The nuclear environment itself is changing very rapidly. At one situation, the Pakistan was only problem to India but what China is doing for example rapidly modernizing and ramping up its nuclear base and the bilateral nuclear arms control between Russia and America are no longer exist and China is not part of that architecture in any case.
  • China is looking to America and trying to ramp up its modernization process and at the same time India is trying to counter China along a convention spectrum which is becoming very difficult to sustain.
  • The challenge for International community is putting pressure on major powers.

Way Forward:

  • This is the right time for India to build a discourse on a new multilateralism and there India need to bring new ideas on the table.
  • Indian government should talk to the public, the public has a different reading on nuclear issues and global security issues than the government normally have.
  • India need to educate the new generation. There is a bit of complacence about the effect of nuclear weapons used. It needs to be borne out by two different generation of people that it is still as horrendous as it was in 1945 when it was used against Hiroshima.
  • There is no diminution in the risk and the danger posed by the nuclear weapons and the whole generation should realize this, because from their arrivals, the need to move towards removing and reducing these weapons rather than worshiping them as some kind of a panacea for security which is a complete falling.
  • For a country like India which views nuclear weapons not as an instrument for war fighting but as a political instrument for deterrence, it is imperative that the dialogue on nuclear disarmament and that multilateral discussions get on board.

Important points made by the Guests

Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda India Foundation  

  • The government has considered all the pros and cons and feels that no first use doctrine which is really the faith in our deterrence capabilities and second strike is very much intact.
  • The nuclear environment and security environment in the world have changed quite dramatically and is becoming worse but the government would have considered all the factors and reiterated the faith in no first use.
  • Nuclear doctrine had a provision for reassessment, so one should assume that the government is constantly reassessing the security environment and doing whatever needs to be done. That is why this is important that in the occasion of the 75 years of the UN, the government has decided it fit to reiterate its faith in the 'No First Use' and 'Credible Minimum Deterrence'.
  • The best course of action would be to make sure that your deterrent is in place, that is very important for India.
  • India have abiding faith in universal, comprehensive, non-discriminatory, verifiable disarmament. That dialogue should also come back and India by its stature, by its faith in nuclear disarmament should continue to press for the global discourse on a nuclear weapon convention, global no first use and many other initiatives and suggestions that India made over the years.
  • It is an issue of multilateralism and global governance and today, India is at an inflection point when multilateralism itself is under stress and all the structure that India has built earlier including on the non-proliferation, they are also now breaking down.

 Sheel Kant Sharma, Former Ambassador 

  • When India transit to being a nuclear weapon state that was actually meant to deal with threats of coercion on blackmail and we made sure that we are a nuclear weapon state and we can assure retaliation.
  • This doctrine is a defensive doctrine but it assures of a credibility of retaliation.
  • In nuclear age, the only stability which can come, will come from a defensive posture. Anything which is aggressive leads to counter reactions, it does not lead to stability.
  • The statement made by the foreign secretary actually recalls the 1978 special session of general assembly on disarmament. It is a landmark session where there was a consensus to move towards elimination of nuclear weapons and for prevention of nuclear war.
  • The final document of SSOD-1 is a landmark document and India again reiterated commitment to that document, the important thing that is before the multilateral system today is that those who believe that they can somehow the other manage the nuclear age, they are now coming to naught because the arms control structure which they tried to create has foundered now and both Russia and USA are walking back from it, the only thing which is remaining is the new start treaty.

Prof. Harsh V. Pat, Head, Strategic Studies, Observer Research Foundation

  • The larger reality remains as a responsible global stakeholder, for India, it is also very important to reassure the world that it will continue down a path that it has started for itself and it has no intention of rocking the boat unless others force us to do that.
  • The two issues the universal disarmament and the non-proliferation issue are also interlinked. So, what seems to be happening is that increasingly the geopolitical contestation increasing among major powers.
  • The appetite for any kind of strict non-proliferation or arms control measures or even the idea that non-proliferation needs to be looked at as a multilateral problem that seems to be diminishing.
  • The dimensions that US-China relationship has taken recently, take them in a direction that is almost like the cold war, then the challenge for non-proliferation and arms control would be very similar to what it was during the cold war.


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