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Should India adhere to 'No First Use' policy given rising threat of Pakistan’s Tactical Nukes


New Delhi, Aug 19: Nuclear weapons are primarily developed to serve as deterrents. These weapons are made and stockpiled for what is called as 'assured secondary strike capability' which prevents the adversary from resorting to a nuclear attack.

India’s ‘No First Use’ policy and increasing threat of Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons

India is considered as a responsible Nuclear Power and adopted a "No first use" (NFU) policy after its second nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998. India has taken a clear stand that its nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence. In case it comes to using nukes, it would be for "retaliation only". Retaliation to a nuclear attack on its territory.

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In this context, what Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on August 16, 2019, assumes significance. The Defence Minister's tweet, on one hand, reiterates India's firm commitment to the NFU doctrine, but on the other, it creates doubts, provokes adversaries to debate whether New Delhi is considering to junk/make changes in its 'no first use' (NFU) doctrine.

Singh's tweet says "India firmly committed to the doctrine of NFU", but in the very next sentence, the Defence minister writes "What happens in future depends on the circumstances."

This is bound to send a strong signal to both China and Pakistan. May be the main pupose of the tweet was meant to send such signal. There is a belief that by creating doubts about NFU, the deterrence is strengthened. One must also consider India's nuclear threat environment. Both China and Pakistan are nuclear powers with vastly different nuclear postures. Army Chief has from time to time stressed that India must be prepared to fight a two-front war. In this context, it can be deduced that Singh's remark was not a casual comment but a highly calculated strategic statement.

Pakistan's Tactical Nuke threats:

Time and again Pakistan keeps talking about the use of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) against the Indian forces if any attempt is made to enter its territory. These threats are also part of the strategy to increase the deterrence level. Pakistan knows it very well that it cannot match India in conventional warfare, so it uses Tactical Nuke threat to deter India.

A tactical nuclear weapon (TNW), also called non-strategic nuclear weapon, is a weapon that is generally smaller in its explosive power. It is designed to be used in battlefield situations, in contrast to strategic nuclear weapons which are designed to be mostly targeted in the enemy interior away from the war front. Tactical nuclear weapons are of the range of 20-60 km with a blast radius of 3-5 kms. These are developed to be used as deterrent against aggression on the border and not for a full-fledged war.

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But, would the use of tactical nuclear weapons be considered as a nuclear attack which can give India enough reason to strike back with strategic nuclear assets? There is ambiguity here.

Suppose Indian forces cross the border and are attacked with Tactical Nukes, can New Delhi then order nuclear attack on Pakistan in response to 'tactical' nuclear attack on military forces in Pakistani territory?

This is something that India's Strategic Forces Command (SFC) will have to consider when such a situation arises. Therefore, by saying that adherence to NFU would "depend on the circumstances", the Defence Minister probably means that any use of nukes- tactical or strategic - against Indian forces, the retaliation would be swift, severe and devastating.

It may be recalled that in July 2016, Manohar Parrikar had categorically stated that personally, he did not believe that India should adhere to NFU. Also, China too has an NFU policy and Beijing keeps reiterating that it would never use nuclear weapons unless used against it. Pakistan has never made such a commitment.

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