1. Define/ briefly explain what NFU is
2. List down how it benefited India
3. Debate for and against India abrogating NFU
No First Use doctrine is a commitment to not be the first to use a nuclear weapon in a conflict i.e. nuclear weapons to be used only in case of any nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere, which has long been India’s stated policy.
India’s political discourse on revisiting its nuclear doctrine has once again attracted transnational debate on the efficacy of no first use policies, despite the fact that India has repeatedly recapitulated that it is amenable to negotiate no first use treaties.
Advantages of NFU
The NFU policy facilitates restrained nuclear weapons programme without tactical weapons and a complicated command and control system.
The doctrine minimises the probability of nuclear use by avoiding the deployment of weapons on hair-trigger alert and keeping an arms-race in check.
The doctrine also reduces the chances of unnecessary chaos as the onus of taking the decision to escalate a nuclear use lies on the adversary.
Strict adherence to the doctrine can strengthen India’s efforts to gain membership in Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Arguments Against NFU
The idea of no-first-use (NFU) of nuclear weapons has been rejected by some nuclear weapons states and accepted only at the declaratory level by most, if not by all of the others.
Nuclear weapons are often seen as an antidote to conventional inferiority as the inferior party will seek to deter conventional attack by threatening a nuclear response.
The first-use nuclear doctrine introduces an element of nuclear risk to any war contemplated by the superior state as it is hard for the potential attacker to confidently calculate that it can achieve victory at an acceptable cost when there is a possibility of nuclear escalation.
In India the NFU policy has been called into question on the grounds that it allows Pakistan to take the initiative while restricting India’s options militarily and puts India in a disadvantageous position.
Pakistan’s low nuclear thresholds and its policy of using its nuclear umbrella to foment sub-conventional conflict in India is the principal reason behind the debate around India’s ‘no first use’ policy.
Implications on India if it adopts an aggressive nuclear posture-
Withdrawing the NFU policy and making a declaration to that effect can affect India’s status as a responsible nuclear power.
Such a step will abrogate India’s commitment to the universal goal of nuclear disarmament and upset the regional balance in the sub-continent.
Further, abrogating the doctrine would signal a first use posture by India, thus reducing the space for conventional warfare below the nuclear threshold. This could also severely corrode India’s ability to limit Pakistan’s offensive tactics and policies at the conventional level.
Moreover, China’s expansionist policies cannot be deterred by revising the doctrine, the decision to abandon the doctrine can send a deliberate signal of provocation to China.
Nuclear preemption is a costly policy as it requires massive investment not only in weapons and delivery systems but also intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) infrastructure.
India would require a far bigger inventory of nuclear weapons particularly as eliminating adversaries’ nuclear capabilities would require targeting of its nuclear assets involving multiple warheads.
India is yet to induct the Multiple Reentry Vehicle (MRV) technology in its missiles, which is fundamental to eliminating hardened nuclear targets.
First use doctrine will also require to devolves control of nuclear weapons from the scientific enclave to the military for their eventual use.
Moreover, the after effects of the nuclear fallout, depending on the magnitude of nuclear explosions, could pose existential threats to humanity itself.
As security is a dynamic concept and all doctrines needs periodic reviews. Same is the case with India.
If Indian policymakers feel a need to review the nation’s nuclear doctrine, they should be cognizant of the costs involved in doing so.
A sound policy debate can only ensue if the costs and benefits of a purported policy shift are discussed and debated widely.
Also, India must gradually revise its posture of ‘active deterrence’ to ‘dissuasive deterrence’ by building up its infrastructure along the border and improving the surveillance and warning capabilities among other things.
Like India, China too has an NFU policy so it provides an opportunity to work jointly towards a global no first use nuclear order.
All doctrines need periodic reviews and India’s case is no exception. Given how rapidly India’s strategic environment is evolving, it is imperative to think clearly about all matters strategic. But if Indian policymakers do indeed feel the need to review the nation’s nuclear doctrine, they should be cognizant of the costs involved in so doing. A sound policy debate can only ensue if the costs and benefits of a purported policy shift are discussed and debated widely.