Good idea for India to review nuclear doctrine, it should do it every 5 years

TOI | Nov 20, 2016

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar recently created a controversy, saying that India need not bind itself to its 'no-first-use' nuclear doctrine, and only needs to say that it would use nuclear weapons 'responsibly'. It's a good idea to review the nuclear doctrine.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar recently created a controversy, saying that India need not bind itself to its ‘no-first-use’ nuclear doctrine, and only needs to say that it would use nuclear weapons ‘responsibly’. Even though the defence minister stressed that these were his personal views, they seemed to challenge India’s declared nuclear weapons policy. A promise to review India’s nuclear doctrine had also featured in BJP’s 2014 manifesto. Parrikar made his comments at the launch of ‘The New Arthashastra – A Security Strategy of India’, edited by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), who spoke to Sunday Times on the debate around India’s nuclear doctrine.
Speaking at your book launch, the defence minister seemed to challenge the official position on nuclear weapons use when he said, “Why should I bind myself ? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly.” Do you agree with him?
I agree with the defence minister. However, I’m also of the view that there is no conceivable operational contingency in which India might need to use nuclear weapons first. This is particularly so because the adversaries will have some weapons left after our first strike and can cause us horrendous damage with those. It will not be worth it.
Is it right for a defence minister to publicly express his personal views on such a sensitive topic?
Since he clarified that those were his personal views, I think he’s well within his right to express them. Even as defence minister, he did not challenge the policy, he only said that it could be put differently.
Is it time India reviewed its nuclear doctrine?
It’s a good idea to review the nuclear doctrine. It should be reviewed every five years. It has been 14 years since the government enunciated the country’s doctrine, in January 2003. We haven’t had a review since. In fact, any doctrine should be reviewed every five years. Perhaps the government felt a review was not necessary.
Much has changed since then. Pakistan has got what they call full-spectrum deterrence. There have been statements by Chinese generals that their first use is not applicable to Chinese territory, and they claim Arunachal Pradesh as their territory. So a review is definitely called for.
During the Cold War, when NATO and Warsaw Pact forces were eyeball-to-eyeball in Europe, it was established beyond doubt in military war-games that no matter how they gamed it, using nuclear weapons just wouldn’t work. How feasible is it for India to change its no-first-use policy doctrine?
No-first-use policy is credible. At the end of the Cold War, both sides came to the conclusion that nuclear exchanges cannot be kept limited. Therefore, tactical nuclear weapons (small-size for use in the battlefield, as opposed to cities) are not to be used. Our adversary across the border has introduced tactical nuclear weapons into the calculus. It’s naive on their part to think that they can use tactical nuclear weapons, keep it limited, and get away with it. India’s doctrine is massive retaliation. If Pakistanis think they can get away with tactical nuclear weapons, they are sadly mistaken.
There’s no urge for India to use nuclear weapons first. There are other elements in the doctrine that need to be reviewed. There’s a provision in the doctrine that if chemical and biological weapons are used against us, we reserve the right to retaliate with nuclear weapons. This doesn’t make sense. If at all chemical and biological weapons are used against us, that will be done by non-state actors. Then whom do we use the nuclear weapon against?
Do you think it is time to drastically reform the country’s defence?
There are many defence reforms needed. The integration of the ministry of defence and the three service headquarters is only integration in name. We still do not have a chief of defence staff or even a permanent chairman of the chief of staff committee. Defence planning is not being undertaken in the manner in which it should be.
What do you have to say about the civil and military balance?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that as a democracy, the civilian control over the military is, and has to be, supreme. That is the case in our country, but one gets the feeling that it has degenerated gradually into bureaucratic, rather than political, control over the military. This is resented within the armed forces.
What impact did the surgical strikes have on Pakistan?
We have changed the paradigm. Earlier, there was only one Indian response and that was ‘no response’. Whatever Pakistan did was by way of proxy war. Now we have introduced an element of unpredictability in our response.