New Delhi: Although India has strictly followed its ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine, “circumstances” will determine what happens to this policy in the future, defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Friday.
Speaking at an event in Pokhran, the site of India’s first nuclear tests 21 years ago, Singh said: “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no first use’. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”
Singh later followed it up with a tweet: “Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal Ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power, and yet, remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”
The comments come amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganized the erstwhile state into two Union territories. Pakistan has condemned the move.
In February, India called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff by conducting an aerial raid on a terrorist training camp inside Pakistani territory after the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack.
Singh visited Pokhran on Friday to pay his respects to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his first death anniversary.
It was during Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister that India conducted five nuclear tests and became a nuclear weapons state in 1998. Pakistan, in response, conducted six tests, breaking out of the nuclear closet.
India brought out its nuclear doctrine in 1999, declaring a no first use policy—that is, it would not be the first to launch a nuclear weapon, but retained the right to retaliate in response to an atomic strike.
“The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India, and its forces. India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail,” the 1999 doctrine states.
Pakistan, on its part, has not espoused a ‘no first use’ policy, citing India’s conventional warfare superiority.
“India is the world’s only country wedged between two nuclear-armed allies. Adding flexibility to its unconditional NFU nuclear posture can help underpin deterrence,” said security analyst Brahma Chellaney.
In 2016, the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s comments questioning why India should bind itself to a no first use policy, had fuelled speculation on whether the National Democratic Alliance government was considering a shift in the doctrine.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for the 2014 elections included a pledge to “revise and update India’s nuclear doctrine”. But the 2019 manifesto made no mention of it, though it promised to take all steps to secure India.
Singh’s comments come ahead of the UN Security Council’s scheduled “informal closed-door consultations” on the situation in Kashmir. Islamabad had sought an open and formal meeting, besides the right to address it. The last time Kashmir figured on the Security Council’s agenda was in 1965 and the UN body last discussed India-Pakistan in 1971.
The scheduled Security Council consultations also figured in a meeting between foreign minister S. Jaishankar, US deputy secretary of state John Sullivan and acting assistant secretary of state Alice Wells on Friday, two people familiar with the matter said.
Earlier in the day, the chief secretary of Jammu and Kashmir had said that New Delhi is taking steps to ensure normalcy was returning to Kashmir. This was cited in a briefing to reporters by India’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, in New York, Friday.
Last week, Pakistan wrote to Poland, the Security Council President for August, requesting a UNSC meeting, PTI quoted a UN diplomat as saying.
Although a majority of the UNSC seemed disinclined, China, Pakistan’s all-weather ally, backed the move.
“China asked for closed consultations on the Security Council agenda item ‘India Pakistan Question’. The request was in reference to the Pakistani letter to Security Council President,” the diplomat was quoted as saying.
Rajnath Singh sparks debate on no-first-use nuclear doctrine – Livemint