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Doctrine of No First Use Vis-a-Vis Indo-Pak relations
Prof. Nisar Ul Haq
2016-08-03
Region : AsiaSouthAsia/IndiaPakistan,
Issue : Nuclear Issues,
In the decade since the nuclear doctrine was divulged by the government, several organisations and individuals have commented on it. Some of them have been critical of the no-first-use (NFU); posture. Among them, Bharat Karnad (author of Nuclear Weapons and India’s Security [Macmilan, 2004] has unfailingly questioned the NFU posture. He has written: ‘NFU may be useful as political rhetoric and make for stability in situations short of war. But as a serious war-planning predicate, it is a liability. NFU is not in the least credible, because it requires India to first absorb a nuclear attack before responding in kind.’
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking at the Institute for Defence Studies and analyses, New Delhi, on April 2, 2014, called for a global ‘no-first-use ‘norm. He said, ‘states possessing nuclear weapons…(must) quickly move to the establishment of a global no-first-use norm….’ This was followed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) promising in its election manifesto to study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times….and to maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostrategic realities.
The nuclear doctrine has been criticised for various reasons of prime significance: NFU may result in inadmissible high initial fatalities and excessive vandalisation to Indian population , cities, and infrastructure; ‘massive’ recrimination is not credible, especially against a tactical nuclear strike on Indian forces on the adversary’s own territory; nuclear reprisal for chemical or biological attack would be illogical, especially as the attack may be by non-state actors; and it would be difficult to determine what constitutes a ‘major’ chemical or biological strike.
Most recently, Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal (Ret), former commander in chief, Strategic Forces Command, and later head of the Strategic Planning Staff at the National Security Council Secretariat, has questioned the efficacy of the NFU doctrine. According to him, ‘it is time to review our policy of NFU…(the) choices are ambiguity or first use.’ He gives six main reasons for seeking a change: NFU implies acceptance of large-scale destruction in a first strike; the Indian public is not in sync with the government’s NFU policy and the nation is not psychologically prepared; it would be morally wrong- the leadership has no right to place the population ‘in peril’. The acid test of whether or not the NFU posture is justified should be to test it against the paradigm of military operations during war. The likely situation in which first use may be considered pertinent by its advocates and the counter arguments of its proponents are discussed briefly below.
The most common scenarios include first use by way of pre-emption based on intelligence warning or during launch on warning or launch through attack. In all of these, there are no easy answers to some obvious questions: What if intelligence regarding an imminent first strike is wrong? The non-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is a good example. Which targets will be hit in a first strike? Counter value or counter force or both? Is the destruction of the adversary cities justified on suspicion of imminent launch? In either case, the adversary’s surviving nuclear weapons will be employed to successfully target major Indian cities. Would it be worthwhile risking the destruction of Delhi, Mumbai and other cities. Major military reverses are also said to justify the first use of nuclear weapons. In the land battle, the worst-case scenarios include the cutting off of the Pathankot-Jammu national highway NH-1A somewhere near Samba; an ingress by the Pakistan army over the forward obstacle system in Punjab or Rajasthan; and a major obstruction into the Thar Desert. In none of these scenarios is the situation likely to become so critical as to justify escalation to nuclear levels by way of a first strike, as adequate reserves are available to restore an adverse situation. Similarly, if an aircraft carrier and one submarine are destroyed or an important airbase with nuclear-capable aircraft is severely damaged, a first strike would not be justified. Hence, it emerges quite clearly that India’s NFU posture was justified when it was first announced and remains appropriate even today.
Deterrence is ultimately a mind game. The essence of deterrence is that it must not be allowed to break down. India’s nuclear doctrine must augment and not undermine nuclear deterrence. The NFU posture remains feasible for India’s nuclear doctrine. However, the word ‘massive ‘in the government statement should be substituted with ‘punitive’ as massive is not credible and limits retaliatory options. The threat of nuclear retaliation against chemical and biological attack should be dropped from the doctrine needs to be substantially aggrandised through skilfully drawn signalling plan.
( Prof. Nisar-ul-Haq is a professor at JMI, university)
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FORE INDIA.
(this article already published in edited book " Emerging India in the New World Order)

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