OPINION | India’s New Nuclear Gossip : From NFU to NUI?
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OPINION | India’s New Nuclear Gossip : From NFU to NUI?

By Dr. Sitakanta Mishra
Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, India

Image Attribute: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar inspecting Ceremonial Guard at INS Rajali, Arakkonam in 2015, Source: Indian Navy, Ministry of Defence, India, via Wikimedia Commons

India’s nuclear weapons discourse has been prudently protracted. The recent remark of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at a book release function in New Delhi only reinforces the same. Many interpret his idea of “Not-Use-Irresponsibly” (NUI) nuclear weapons against “No-First-Use” (NFU) posture to indicate a revisit of India’s nuclear doctrine that NDA election Manifest had pledged in 2014. Parrikar’s remark, though promptly clarified by Ministry of Defence (MoD) as his “personal”, is certainly a reiteration of BJP’s stand on a nuclear weapon for India as “an imperative”, almost in line with the Congress Party’s stand on the same as “a compulsion”.   

Unfortunately, the timing of Defence Minister’s remark will raise many eyebrows. Firstly, Prime Minister Modi is on a crucial visit to, possibly sign a civil nuclear agreement with, Japan which is very sensitive on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issue, and India had to work hard during the last few years to convince it on its genuineness and peaceful credentials. It would be embarrassing for Prime Minister Modi to vouch strongly on a peaceful nuclear deal when his defense minister is opining for a second-thought on India’s nuclear weapons use options.   

Secondly, the plenary session of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is starting on 11 November (Friday) in Vienna which likely to flag India’s candidature. Parrikar’s remarks will certainly reverberate there, and the Sino-Pakistan axis would use this to leverage their anti-India propaganda. The sympathetic countries will be forced to ponder afresh New Delhi’s behavior and may turn their back on India’s application.  Reportedly, the prompt clarification from MoD that this is “…his personal opinion and not official position” is not likely to silence all detractors; rather it is likely to be perceived as a symptom of India’s unwarranted overconfidence post-surgical strike. The MoD statement further clarifies on what “he said was that India being a responsible power should not get into first use debate" which seems a contrast to his language and tone of argument in the short video.

To douse all speculations, Prime Minister Modi’s would reiterate India’s unambiguous NFU stand, may be in a joint statement with his Japanese counterpart. But he needs to strongly caution the Cabinet members not to resort to sweeping remarks, especially on India’s nuclear policy which has the wide audience and far-reaching consequences. More importantly, what motivation India would convey to Pakistan by trumpeting for itself a more aggressive nuclear posture? Nuclear weapons are essentially political and defensive weapons, and have their value only for maintaining deterrence, no matter with what warheads and which posture. Essentially, effective deterrence rests on unambiguous signaling of one’s resolve to unleash unacceptable damage to the adversary in the case of misadventure. It is inconclusive whether the First-Use posture will strengthen the deterrence comparatively better. The NFU of nuclear weapons is the most “responsible use” posture for India, which Parrikar prescribes largely. As a matter of fact, the Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendra Modi in April 2014 had said in response to the uproar over nuclear doctrine review pledge in the Manifesto that "No first use was a great initiative of Atal Bihari Vajpayee - there is no compromise on that. We are very clear. No first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance."  

The Defence Minister was also bloviating on Pakistan’s impending nuclear saber-rattling post-surgical strike. It would be prudent for India not to draw conclusions so early. In fact, Pakistan suffers from the India-parity-syndrome. As Jaswant Singh says, in his book Jinnah (Rupa & Co, 2009), “Pakistan has remained a conceptual orphan”, as “the result of a somewhat barren attainment”. Generally, a deprived orphan tends to have a suicidal tendency and can take anybody along, who comes on the way.   

However, it is not that India cannot decisively act against any nuisance by Pakistan. While putting all the options in the quiver calmly, it is prudent for Modi’s India to remain aware of the Napoleonic strategic policy-making philosophy: every policy decision and pronouncement is “two-thirds analysis, and one-third leap in the dark”, which warrants leaders to ensure that any leap should not land the country in dark. So far, all Indian political leaders have been cautious enough on nuclear policy matters, thereby making India’s nuclear weapons trajectory a wider spectrum and protracted. It is expected that the NDA government with Modi’s leadership will maintain this prudence to its best. 

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NEWS | India’s New Nuclear Gossip : From NFU to NUI?