India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Misleading Document – OpEd


If one has to define “doctrines” in simplest forms they are beliefs or cluster of beliefs on certain issue of importance. On level of nation states doctrines serves as “stated principle by any government authority” which can also be used to govern the capability and capability can be of any nature (theological, ideological, political and military).nuclear doctrines are part of larger dimension of “military doctrines”, in general military doctrines provide the guidelines to forces that in which environment they might have to operate and which kind of capability the military forces could use against the adversary.

Moreover, military doctrines are drafted in a way that they try to maximize the capabilities of forces in service of attaining the national interests of the nation. These doctrines prioritize the threats for a state, at operational level all military forces (land, air and sea) have their own service doctrines which emanates from the larger military doctrine of the state. With the invention of the nuclear weapons and after witnessing their massive destruction and continuous development in technology it became imperative for states to devise a set of principles that could provide guide the development, employment and deployment of its nuclear forces. Moreover, as nuclear weapons change the nature of warfare, previously doctrines guides state how to fight war now with the invention of nuclear weapons they have to be developed to “stop the war”. Although, the purpose of the one of the major component of the military doctrine was changed but even than nuclear doctrines of any state must have the ability to reflect the intention of “actual use of force” to dissuade the adversary from any misadventure. The credibility of a nuclear doctrine is nullified, if there is a huge gap in the capability of a state and the threat it is issuing to its adversary through its nuclear doctrine.  

In case of South Asia, Pakistan and India are two hostile nuclear neighbors, where India has a declared nuclear doctrine. On the other hand side, Pakistan does not have a declared nuclear doctrine and has adopted a “bit by bit approach”, which is gradual declaration of its policies, threshold, and development and deployment capabilities of its nuclear weapons to remain dynamic in response to Indian hegemonic actions.

It is true that there was no “formal” or “explicit” nuclear doctrine by the Indian forces before August 1999, but there were indirect/unspoken options and policy for the use of nuclear weapons. In 1990s committees were formulated to examine nuclear weapon issues and advised the Prime Minister on these issues. One of the committee assessed the “cost of a nuclear deterrent” in 1985 and reported it to the PM Rajiv Gandhi. Another committee presented the guideline to “formulate procedures for effective control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and other issues related to nuclearisation” and report was presented to the P. V. Narasimha government. These developments indicate that India was working on some of the very important tenants of its nuclear policy before the tests of May 1998. Right after the over nuclearization, India’s than national security advisor Brajesh Mishra presented the document commonly known as “Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) as a guiding principles for India’s nuclear capability. Indian government never approved the DND but for many coming years the DND was referred to as the parameter of India’s strategic thinking, which was misleading because when 2003 India actually operationalized its military doctrine there were many important tenants which were not present that were previously part of the DND.

After a decade or so of issuance of Indian nuclear doctrine BJP’s election manifesto before 2014 election, statements from retired NSA Shivsnakar Menon, former defence minister Manoher Parikar comments and former Strategic Forces Commander Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal views started a new wave of debate in International media and academia. Cornerstone of this debate is that India would consider a nuclear first use as a preemptive counterforce attack against Pakistan and that India has already relinquished the policy of NFU.

Advocates of changing Indian nuclear doctrine in Indian policy making circles are of the view that as India’s security environment is changing, its nuclear doctrine should also change to add element of “credibility” and “transparency” to India’s nuclear policy, posture and review. The debate on Indian nuclear doctrine reflects India has started about taking actual measures to change its nuclear doctrine. However, in reality Indian nuclear doctrine has always been an open ended document with a lot of lacunas and jargons, which gave Indian policy makers a huge space to stir the policy in any direction that seems favorable to them.

In present times there are very little chances that India might actually change its nuclear doctrine document because its current doctrine is full of ambiguities and lingual lacunas that do not commit India to any singular policy and allows it to pursue offensive capabilities. Scholars argue that it is not necessary for India to go for explicit change in policy of NFU because internally India could contemplate and plan for nuclear weapons use without diplomatically acknowledging it.

Moreover on the basis of this diplomatic image of restrain through NFU, India is building its case in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and is trying to be accepted in global nuclear mainstream. Thus, explicit change in Indian nuclear doctrine would damage this objective of India. However, new offensive military capabilities and clash with China on border are putting evident strain on India’s claim of NFU, wherein international commentators consider India’s military build-up contrary to its NFU pledge and domestic commentators argue in favor of ending NFU pledge amid conflicts with India. 

With reference to South Asian strategic stability, Pakistan never considered Indian nuclear doctrine as India’s actual policy intentions because of the contradictory statements in the document and differences in actual capabilities pursuit by India from the one required by India, if doctrine is to be followed. However, this lack of clarity in Indian policy circles of issues of NFU, CMD and massive retaliation is issue for Pakistan in case of crisis and peace. In crisis, this lack of clarity fuels “uncertainty” and “higher alert” and in case of peace, it is fueling “arms race” as India under the pressure of its industrial complex is accumulating, building and acquiring modern technologies.  

*Ahyousha Khan is a Research Associate, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.

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