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‘No First Use’(NFU) Nuclear Weapon P

  Jun 11, 2020

‘No First Use’(NFU) Nuclear Weapon Policy

Why are we talking about it?

Recently, India’s defence minister commented that India’s no first use policy of nuclear weapons is subject to ‘circumstances’.

What is the ‘No First Use’ Policy?

  • No first use (NFU) refers to a pledge or a policy by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons. Earlier, the concept had also been applied to chemical and biological warfare.
  • China is the first country to make ‘No First Use’ pledge in 1964 and has successfully maintained this policy since then. 
  • India had adopted this doctrine in 1998 after the successful nuclear testing in 1998. China and India are the only two nuclear powered countries which pledge to this doctrine currently.
  • NATO has repeatedly rejected calls for adopting NFU policy, arguing that pre-emptive nuclear strike is a key option, in order to have a credible deterrent that could compensate for the overwhelming conventional weapon superiority enjoyed by the Soviet Army in the Eurasian land mass.
  •  In 1993, Russia dropped a pledge against first use. Russian military doctrine stated that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons "in response to a large-scale conventional aggression". 

What is India’s position on NFU?

  • A draft issued by the Indian Government in 1999 asserts that India will use its nuclear arsenal only for retaliation in the case of being first attacked by a nuclear weapon by its adversary. 
  • India’s nuclear policy is based on the doctrine of ‘Credible minimum deterrence’ which underscores no first use and an assured minimum deterrence capability. The policy establishes India as a responsible nuclear power in the world. 
  • The policy specified initially that India would not use nuclear weapons only against a nuclear powered state. 
  • However, India modified the doctrine to say that If Indians are attacked either in India or outside by biological or chemical weapons, India reserves the right to retaliate with nuclear weapons. 

Are there question marks over the relevance of NFU for India?

  • India’s ‘no first use’ policy serves as a diplomatic tool in portraying India as a responsible country. The policy constructs the image of India in international forums as a ‘moderate’ power which is in sharp contrast with Pakistan.
  • It earned India a waiver by the NSG because we are a responsible nuclear weapon country
  • India's strategic restraint posture has provided major gains internationally, including the lifting of economic sanctions, Membership of export control groups like Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.
  • Abdicating the no first use’ policy will provide Beijing an opportunity to revise China’s own ‘no first use’ policy and to shift blame on India for that. China can excuse itself for adopting a first strike policy against the United States and Russia as well.
  • Also, it is India’s no first use doctrine that has enabled both Pakistan and India to keep their nuclear arsenal in a de-mated posture rather than a ready deterrent posture. This means nuclear warheads are not mated with the delivery systems. This reduces the chances of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan and also reduces the likelihood of an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon

 What are the strategic and financial costs of of NFU in Nuclear Doctrine?

  • NFU may result in unacceptably high initial casualties and damage to Indian population, cities, and infrastructure
  • An elaborate and costly ballistic missile defense (BMD) system would be required to defend against a first strike.
  • "Massive" retaliation is not credible, especially against a tactical nuclear strike on Indian forces on the adversary's own territory

What is India’s Nuclear doctrine?

India’s nuclear doctrine can be summarized as follows:

  1. Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;
  2. A posture of "No First Use”: nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere;
  3. Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
  4. Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
  5. Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states;
  6. However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons;
  7. A continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
  8. Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.