Rajnath hints at rethink on 'no first use' nuke policy

Rajnath hints at rethink on 'no first use' nuke policy

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. (PTI Photo)

In a departure from India’s unambiguous ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday said though India strictly adhered to the policy for two decades, what happens in the future “depends on the circumstances”.

“India is 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 defence minister said at Pokhran in Rajasthan – the site of two Indian nuclear tests.

The defence minister’s comments come amid escalating tension between India and Pakistan

While the defence minister’s comments introduce a sense of ambivalence in India’s well-established nuclear policy, announced by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the five nuclear tests in 1998, a few months ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed his government’s faith in the policy.

In November 2018, Modi batted for ‘no first use’ when he met the crew of INS Arihant – India’s first nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear tipped ballistic missile – after its first deterrent patrol.

“As a responsible nation, India has put in place a robust nuclear command and control structure, effective safety assurance architecture and strict political control, under its Nuclear Command Authority. It remains committed to the doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence and No First Use, as enshrined in the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Vajpayee on January 4, 2003,” stated a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.

Ironically, Rajnath made his statement after paying homage to Vajpayee on his first death anniversary.

The defence minister was in Jaisalmer for an army event but decided impromptu to travel to Pokhran and pay homage to the former prime minister.

“India attained the status of a responsible nuclear nation became a matter of national pride for every citizen of this country. The nation will remain indebted to the greatness of Atal ji. Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power,” he said.

This is not the first time a BJP minister has raised questions on the utility of the 'no first use' policy. Similar questions were raised by Rajnath's predecessor Manohar Parrikar, but the government quickly distanced itself from Parrikar.

At a book release function in November 2016, Parrikar had stated, “I wonder why we say that we don't use nuclear weapon first. It doesn't mean that India has to use nukes, but why rule out. This is my thinking. Some may say that Parrikar says nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy.”

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