OPINION | Indian NFU dilemma and its Connotation
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OPINION | Indian NFU dilemma and its Connotation

By Beenish Altaf

OPINION | Indian NFU dilemma and its Connotation

Image Attribute: India's Agni V Ballistic Missile Launch, / Source: Ministry of Defence, India

MIT Professor Vipin Narang’s comments caught up as a startling claim for Indian strategists and policy makers but not a surprise for Pakistan at all. Given the fact that his presentation was sourced on the statements by Indian officials, he needs to be taken perilously. He opined that India might launch a preemptive disarming strike in response to an “imminent” risk of a nuclear attack to curb Pakistan’s ability to launch a nuclear attack against India.

The evidence Narang lined up to support this incredible claim is centered on a couple of paragraphs from a book by a former Indian national security advisor Shivshankar Menon. Narang quoted him that “there is a political grey area as to when India could use nuclear weapons first against a nuclear weapon State” and that “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”. ‘It that capacity, Menon was a member of the executive council of the Nuclear Command Authority, the highest non-political body that supervises India’s nuclear weapons and their potential deployment. As such, he must have been privy to India’s choice of second-use targets should deterrence fail.

As before, there is a constant assumption that India might be reinterpreting its nuclear doctrine of no-first-use by replacing it with the pre-emptive nuclear doctrine. But the Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that “India cannot substitute for verifiable arms control and restraint measures.” So its declaration was unverifiable. He was of the view that while taking appropriate security measures; Pakistan has to consider capabilities and not intentions which can change anytime.

However, in an inadvertent and implicit acknowledgment of Pakistan’s deterrence capabilities, Narang admits that India cannot yet implement such a strategy. This is because India does not have “a good fix on all the locations of Pakistan’s strategic forces” since these are deliberately dispersed and not kept in static locations.

Conceptually and operationally, it is not possible to go for a decapitation strike because it requires a high level of intelligence and accuracy. Narang has only validated Pakistan’s deterrence policy. But India’s current nuclear arsenals like submarine-launched ballistic missiles and its ambitious ballistic missile defense program reflect its aggressive nuclear posture.

Undoubtedly, India has a declaratory NFU doctrine for showing its strong and responsible nuclear bona fides (credentials) to the world but the shift to decapitation would make it a prospective nuclear belligerent. Similarly, India announced extending the range of its Brahmos missiles up to 600 km.

Although it is authorized in the MTCR guidelines but it could be taken as a shrewd step of India within a few days of its MTCR membership. Such actions are a cause for concern, and call India’s intentions into question—especially with respect to NSG membership. Would NSG membership mean India may enhance its uranium reserves for military usage or a thermonuclear weapons test?

Candidly, it was India’s unrestrained behavior, after which it became necessary for Pakistan to take a step forward towards a sea-based deterrent and launched Babur-III missile, a sea-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile (SLCM). After which Pakistan is now capable of delivering various types of payloads and will provide the country with a credible second strike capability, augmenting deterrence.So it is in actual, Indian actions that have raised concern in Pakistan, been perceived as destabilizing, prompting them to develop their own capabilities.

Shivshankar Menon writes in his book, “there would be little incentive, once Pakistan had taken hostilities to the nuclear level, for India to limit its response since that would only invite further escalation by Pakistan. India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response to Pakistan using tactical nuclear weapons. In other words, India would be free to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan (under its cold start doctrine).”

In any case, India’s no-first-use of nuclear weapons assertion was nothing but a hollow political gimmick. By all means, it will adversely impact fragile strategic balance because it replaces existing ambiguity with confusion. Given the already challenging security environment and the absence of escalation control mechanisms, such developments will only increase the risk of an unintended crisis. As Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar once said that India should say it will use its nuclear powers “responsibly” instead of stressing on “no-first-use (NFU).” “Taking the statement in that context, the matter about pre-emption in a nuclearized South Asia is highly irresponsible and dangerous and will not help the cause of promoting strategic restraint and stability in the region.”

So it is worth keeping into an account that India’s existing doctrine can absorb the consequences of future Pakistan-related eventualities without any major changes. Meaning thereby, India’s doctrine already permits substantial and considerable space for transformation.

About the Author:

The writer is a senior research associate from strategic vision institute, Islamabad and can be reached at beenishaltaf7@gmail.com

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IndraStra Global.