A statement made by the current defense minister on the first death anniversary of former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Bajpayee has made India’s nuclear policy a topic of discussion again. It is noteworthy that the nuclear policy was first implemented in the year 2003 in the Bajpai government itself. According to the Defense Minister, India has well adhered to the No First Use Nuclear Policy (No First Use-NFU), but what changes in this policy in the future will depend on the circumstances. It is worth noting that India’s nuclear policy was in the discussion in the 2014 general election, although no changes have been made in this policy so far.
India’s nuclear policy
After the second nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998, India declared itself a nuclear-powered country, with the need for a nuclear policy. In 1999, a draft nuclear policy was presented and more than three years later, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) announced the nuclear policy. This policy calls for the development of minimum nuclear capacity for safety. The basis of India’s nuclear policy has not been to use ‘no first use’ i.e. nuclear weapons first, but in the event of an attack, a strong response will be given. There is no complete clarity about when India will use its nuclear weapons for the first time against any other nuclear-powered nation.
India’s nuclear program
A nuclear program under the leadership of Homi Jahangir Bhabha was launched in India on the eve of independence. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was not in favor of military use of nuclear, so initially the nuclear program was limited to civilian use only. After World War II, gradually America, Britain, Russia and France acquired nuclear power. After the war with China in 1962, nuclear test by China in 1964 and war with Pakistan in 1965, India was forced to change its policy. With this policy change, India conducted the first nuclear test in Pokhran in 1974. This test was also necessary because after the year 1965, barring countries that were nuclear power, barring anyone from acquiring nuclear capability was banned. This discriminatory policy was opposed by India because only a few powerful countries were considered worthy of nuclear capability and imposition of disabilities on other countries. India believed that this discrimination should end and the world should move towards disarmament. But Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was imposed on various countries in 1968, although India has not yet signed the treaty.
India’s Atomic Energy Program
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 shows that India ranks third in the world in terms of the number of nuclear reactors installed. India will generate 14.6 GW of electricity by 2024 under its nuclear power program, while by 2032 this capacity will be 63 GW. At present there are 21 nuclear reactors operating in India, generating about 7 thousand MW of electricity. Apart from these, work on 11 other reactors is going on in different stages and after these are activated 8000 MW additional power will be generated. Since India is not involved in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because of its weapons program. Hence, the trade of its nuclear plants or materials was banned for 34 years, due to which it could not develop its civil nuclear energy until the year 2009. In the absence of previous trade restrictions and indigenous uranium, India is developing a nuclear fuel cycle to benefit from thorium deposits. India’s primary energy consumption doubled from the year 1990 to the year 2011.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
- This treaty was signed in the year 1968 and came into effect in the year 1970. It currently has 190 signatory members. According to this treaty, no country will manufacture nuclear weapons either currently or in the future. However member countries will be allowed peaceful use of nuclear energy.
- The treaty has three major goals: to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, encourage disarmament and ensure the right to peaceful use of nuclear technology.
- India is one of the five countries that either have not signed the treaty or have since exited the treaty. Apart from India, it includes Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.
- India is of the view that NPT treaty is discriminatory and hence it is not appropriate to join it. India argues that this treaty gives the monopoly of nuclear capability to only five powers (America, Russia, China, Britain and France) and only applies to other countries which are not nuclear power.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT treaty prohibits the testing and use of all types of nuclear weapons. The treaty came to light after the Conference on Disarmament of Geneva. This treaty was signed in the year 1996. So far 184 countries have signed the treaty.
Relevance of No First Use Doctrine
After nuclear testing, China first announced a policy of no first use in the world. After this, India announced a similar policy in the year 2003. Apart from India and China, no nuclear-rich country adopted this policy. However, Russia and America have been talking about its use for security.
Opposing this policy, it is argued that this will increase the traditional war and arms race. Also, if a country whose policy is not NFU strikes, then there is no guarantee that other countries are in a position to respond to the attack. Therefore, this policy cannot be considered practical. At the same time, the supporters of this policy believe that the policy of First Use accelerates the nuclear arms race and can increase the mistrust between different countries. Also, the policy of first use cannot be effective for such countries which are not fully capable of first strike. Additionally, First Use’s policy increases spending on building nuclear weapons as well as other types of capabilities.
Benefits of No First Use Policy
Nuclear tests were conducted by India in the year 1974 and 1998. After these trials, India faced extreme criticism and sanctions. But India adopted the policy of No First Use in the year 2003 and also followed this policy on various occasions. In the Kargil War, it was being speculated that this war would turn into a nuclear conflict, but India showed a restraint and won the war in the traditional way. Currently, India’s image has become a responsible nation for nuclear weapons and India has become part of the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group without signing NTP. Apart from this, India is also trying for membership of NSG (Nuclear Supplier Group). Membership of the NSG group can be granted only to those nations who are signatories to the NPT. On this basis, China is becoming an obstacle in India’s membership, however, with the support of other countries, India’s favor is strong for membership. The group controls the supply of uranium in the world but NSG has given India an exemption to import uranium so that India can ensure the procurement of uranium for its civilian use.
Issues related to change in India’s policy
After the statement of the Defense Minister of India, it is being speculated that there may be a change in India’s nuclear policy in the coming time. The NFU policy so far has proved useful in the context of India. If India changes this policy, if other global equations are left out for some time, then the problems at the domestic level can present a challenge. Countries like the US follow the policy of first use but the US has weapons that can strike efficiently but India is yet to build such equipment and infrastructure. It is worth noting that technology related to defense sector is very expensive and no country wants to give such technology to anyone. In such a situation, the construction of such infrastructure and state-of-the-art equipment is not economically viable given India’s budgetary potential.
Several reports have revealed that Pakistan is continuously increasing its nuclear capability and currently has more nuclear weapons than India. On the other hand, India’s second neighbor China is also nuclear power. In such a situation, changes in India’s policy will intensify the nuclear arms race in the region.
India and Pakistan are already going through a bit of bitterness in the matter of mutual relations and India’s relations with China have been fluctuating. Along with this, India has a history of war with these countries. In such a situation, a change in India’s nuclear policy will further increase the lack of confidence already present at the time of war and military conflict, and it is also possible that this type of military conflict can turn into nuclear war.
China has always been an impediment in India’s affairs on international forums. China is already opposing Indian membership in the NSG due to India’s not joining the NPT. India has been demanding permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. If India changes its nuclear policy, this situation will be an opportunity for China to use it to oppose India’s permanent membership of UNSC.
One year ago, India’s ballistic missile capability nuclear submarine INS Arihant completed its first mission. With the completion of this campaign, India joined the line of countries that have nuclear tridents. On this occasion, the Prime Minister of India reiterated his nuclear commitment, saying that no first use is an integral part of India’s nuclear policy. But the defense minister’s statement given some time ago has sparked a debate again on nuclear policy. The nuclear policy was formulated only after several years of analysis and evaluation. In such a situation, if the government wants to make any changes in this policy, then before evaluating the policy, a thorough evaluation of its effects and consequences is necessary. Also, the government should clarify the policy after the above statement, because ambiguity in international relations can sometimes lead to serious consequences.
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