Evolution of India’s nuclear policy

India’s first successful nuclear weapon test was in 1974. Due to this test conducted by India, the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) was formed in 1974 to prevent nuclear proliferation and to curb export of materials and technology that could be used to build nuclear weapons. In 1998, India further conducted a series of 5 nuclear tests and after its successful completion it declared itself a de facto nuclear weapon state.

Eventually, in the year 1999, India adopted a draft nuclear doctrine based on “NO FIRST USE” (NFU) policy. Certain key aspects of the draft were:

India would not initiate a nuclear attack on any country.India would not use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear states.

India’s nuclear arsenal was for the sole purpose of defence and would serve as a deterrent against external nuclear attacks.

India would adopt the nuclear triad model. As per this model a nuclear weapon state should have capability of launching nuclear attacks on 3 fronts i.e. land, air, and water. In this model the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) would act as the ace in the hole if the other two were to fail

However, this draft did not receive official recognition.


In 2003, India officially accepted a Nuclear Doctrine based on NFU policy. Certain key features of this are:

Nuclear weapons will only be kept as a credible minimum deterrence against nuclear attacks.

NFU policy would be followed and India would use nuclear attack only as retaliation against a nuclear attack on India or on Indian forces anywhere.

India would not launch a nuclear weapon attack against any non-nuclear state. However, in the event of a major attack on India or on Indian forces anywhere by chemical or biological weapon, India will have the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.

The retaliatory 2nd strike to a first nuclear attack would be massive and would inflict unacceptable damage on opponent

Presently India follows the 2003 Nuclear Doctrine. India’s policy is based on nuclear deterrence and 2nd strike ability plays a vital role in deterrent policy.


Do we need a change in Doctrine?

No change is necessary :

  • India’s current doctrine has helped India secure crucial international deals, such the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) waiver as part of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008.
  • More recently, India signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan, which is quite surprising as Japan is known for its staunch anti-nuclear stance and India is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • India is currently also seeking to join the NSG as a permanent member which is a doctrinal shift and is only going to give China more reason to delay India’s entry. This posture would also play into the hands of Pakistan, which has long accused India of duplicity over its no first use policy and called India’s expanding arsenal a threat to the region’s stability.
  • No First Use works well:
  • It builds stability into deterrence by credibly promising nuclear retaliation in the face of extreme provocation of a nuclear first strike by one’s adversary.


Change instance will create issues:

  • All the gains enjoyed by India in the international community by the restraint of India nuclear posture would be frittered away if there is change in stance of nuclear doctrine
  • It would enormously complicate and increase the expenditure incurred by us in regard to our command and control mechanisms which would have to be reconfigured to engage in calibrated nuclear war fighting.
  • It would weaken the possibility of our engaging in conventional warfare insulated from the nuclear overhang.
  • It would encourage the use of tactical nuclear weapons under the illusion of no massive response.
  • It would facilitate the painting of South Asia as a nuclear flashpoint and thereby encourage foreign meddling.


Change is needed 

No first use :-

Such an approach unnecessarily kept India on the back foot and on the defensive and made it axiomatic that India would have to face the consequences of a first strike before being able to respond. Moreover, it prevented India from keeping a potential adversary off balance.

Despite being party to formulating the no-first use policy in 2003, the time has come to re-examine it. It has been 15 years since we adopted the doctrine, a lot has changed since then

There is increasing evidence of Pakistan’s proclivity to use tactical nuclear weapons against India.

Emphasising this change in India’s strategic environment, the proponents of doctrinal review argue that India’s existing doctrine is ill-suited to deter Pakistan from using TNWs against India



China is also witnessing a debate between traditional advocates of a “minimum deterrence” and new arguments for a more flexible “limited deterrence”.

The latter envisages counterforce operations and supports building nuclear war-fighting capabilities, including a greater and diverse arsenal.

Advocates of a change in India’s NFU policy would like its nuclear doctrine mimic those of most of the established Nuclear Weapon States which contemplate the use of nuclear weapons even in sub nuclear conflicts.


Way forward:

Periodic statements about the nurturing and upgradation of India’s nuclear arsenal and systems including alternate command structure.

An indication that India’s nuclear arsenal will be large enough to take care of all adversaries and will have to be in the mid triple digits.

Appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff and upgradation of the NTRO as a capable apex technical organization which would in a fool proof manner provide indicators of any attack on us and ensure swift and massive nuclear retaliation inflicting unacceptable damage.

Nuclear testing:

Two things need to be done to configure and laboratory-test sophisticated thermonuclear weapons designs.

The laser inertial confinement fusion facility at the Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore, needs to be refurbished on a war-footing, and a dual-axis radiographic hydrodynamic test facility constructed.