India’s Nuclear Policy

The Evolution of India's Nuclear Policy and Factors That Shapes It

India's Nuclear Policy
India's Nuclear Policy

Defence mechanism plays a vital role be it in the human body for protection from infection or be it for a nation to protect itself from attacks of other nations. In 1942 the world entered nuclear era and eventually nuclear power in the form of nuclear weapons became a significant tool in strengthening the defence network of a nation. Presently 9 nations possess nuclear weapons- USA, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel.

India is one of the nuclear weapon states in the world. India had declared itself a defacto nuclear weapon state in the year 1998. There were a few reasons which served as a catalyst in India’s journey of becoming a nuclear armed nation. India occupies a strategic position in south-Asian region with China as its northern neighbour and Pakistan as its western neighbour. Since 1947, India shared a strained relationship with both its neighbours i.e. Pakistan and China. Both Pakistan and China had been involved in number of conventional wars with India. Further, Pakistan has always indulged in use of sub-conventional warfare techniques like sponsoring insurgency, terrorism etc against India. Also china became a nuclear power in 1964 and it further threatened India. This strained neighbourhood relations including fear of nuclear attack from China ultimately threatened India’s sovereignty and integrity. In this backdrop India went ahead with its nuclear weapons test in order to strengthen its weapons mechanism.

India’s first successful nuclear weapon test was in 1974. Due to this test conducted by India, the nuclear suppliers group (NSG) was formed in 1974 to prevent nuclear proliferation and to curb export of materials and technology that could be used to build nuclear weapons. In 1998, India further conducted a series of 5 nuclear tests and after its successful completion it declared itself a defacto nuclear weapon state.

Eventually, in the year 1999, India adopted a draft nuclear doctrine based on “NO FIRST USE” (NFU) policy. Certain key aspects of the draft were:-

  1. India would not initiate nuclear attack on any country.
  2. India would not use nuclear weapons on non nuclear states.
  3. India’s nuclear arsenal was for the sole purpose of defence and would serve as a deterrent against external nuclear attacks.
  4. India would adopt nuclear triad model. As per this model a nuclear weapon state should have capability of launching nuclear attacks on 3 fronts i.e. land, air, and water. In this model the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) would act as the ace in the hole if the other two were to fail

However this draft did not receive official recognition.

In 2003, India officially accepted a Nuclear Doctrine based on NFU policy. Certain key features of this are:-

  1. Nuclear weapons will only be kept as a credible minimum deterrent against nuclear attacks.
  2. NFU policy would be followed and India would use nuclear attack only as retaliation against a nuclear attack on India or on Indian forces anywhere.
  3. India would not launch nuclear weapon attack against any non nuclear state. However in the event of major attack on India or on Indian forces anywhere by chemical or biological weapon, India will have the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.
  4. The retaliator 2nd strike to a first nuclear attack would be massive and would inflict unacceptable damage on opponent

Presently India follows the 2003 Nuclear Doctrine. India’s policy is based on nuclear deterrence and 2nd strike ability plays a vital role in deterrent policy. In order to strengthen its 2nd strike ability, India adopted Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) program which consists of 2 interception missiles i.e. Prithivi  Air Defence Missile (2006) (PAD) for high altitude interception and Advanced Air Defence Missile (2007) (AAD) for lower altitude interception. These 2 have the ability to intercept incoming missile launched from 5000km range. Also India developed and tested Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Agni-V having a strike range of above 5000km. Further to complete its nuclear triad model and to strengthen its deterrent policy, India launched Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN).  INS Arihant in 2009 which can do strategic nuclear strike by launching ballistic missiles. Presently India has K15 tested successfully in 2015 from INS Arihant with strike range of 750km approx and K4 missiles tested successfully in 2016 from INS Arihant with strike range of 3500km approx.

India’s nuclear policy is influenced by following factors:-

  1. Geopolitical Factors: – As stated earlier, India has strained relationships with both China and Pakistan. Pakistan has always taken advantage of India’s NFU and has threatening of nuclear escalations if India attacks them. India’s nuclear policy is of nuclear deterrence and to deal with repeated misadventures of Pakistan’s threat from China, India has been strengthening its deterrence policy by adopting following methods.
  2. Improving its 2nd Strike Capability- 2nd strike is vital for the success of deterrence as this will ensure massive retaliation if its first attack is launched. To make its deterrence policy holistic, India has completed its nuclear triad by use of SSBN and SLBMs.
  3. India has developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Agni-V so that it can hit targets as far as eastern most regions of China. This also successfully promotes the idea that India can strike down important regions of Pakistan and China if they were to launch a nuclear attack on India
  4. Early warning systems are essential to plan a successful retaliation and India’s PAD, AAD have accounted for this.
  5. Further Pakistan’s plan to use tactical nuclear weapon against India was rendered fruitless as India in its policy has stated that a nuclear attack on its soldiers anywhere will also be considered as 1st strike and would call for massive retaliation.
  6. NSG Membership- In 2008, India got a waiver from NSG even though it was not a part of NPT signatory due to some reasons-
  7. In 2008, India took a written pledge never to conduct a nuclear weapon test physically.
  8. USA backed India and pointed out that though India was a non-signatory yet it had followed NPT guidelines strictly. Further India had proved to be a responsible nuclear power by displaying absolute restraint in using nuclear power even after repeated provocations.

India is allowed to do nuclear trade with nations due to the waiver but in order to gain maximum output and to expand its nuclear arsenal for safeguarding itself in case of a dual fronted war with China and Pakistan, it needs to become a member of NSG. India’s nuclear policy is directly linked to its prospects of becoming a NSG member.

  1. Availability of raw materials- Uranium is the chief raw material used in nuclear weapons. India’s domestic uranium reserves are small and cannot cope with the demand. Presently, India imports uranium from France, USA, UK, Russia, South Korea, etc. These imports are essential for India in order to achieve its aim of nuclear power expansion. The basis of the agreements with these countries is the NSG waiver which India got due to its nuclear policy of using nuclear weapons only for defence.
  2. Public Opinion- India’s nuclear policy has been seen as a weakness by Pakistan because it successfully gets away with its misadventures. This leads to division of people into lobbies having different opinions on the policy. Some people favor India’s policy, some people oppose it, some see it as a prestige and power issue and want India to give up its nuclear weapons due to its destructive nature. These differential views are used by fringe elements for war mongering and fear mongering by portraying India as incapable to defend itself against a nuclear attack due to its NFU policy.

India’s creditability was raised after Kargil war, 1999 when India displayed an absolute sense of responsibility and was successful in avoiding a nuclear escalation. Eventually nations started looking up to India as a responsible nuclear weapon state. This image of India helped it to get into nuclear trade with different nations. For example- In 2006, India and USA exerted into 123 Agreement and in 2008, USA backed India due to which it got NSG waiver and was able to get into trade with other countries like Russia, France, South Korea, etc. Due to India’s policy and clean track record in 2016 when India applied for NSG membership for the 2nd time, all countries except China agreed to India’s claim. These events show that India’s nuclear policy does affect its civil nuclear programme .

At present, India’s nuclear policy is well equipped with all tools which are needed to meet India’s aim of using nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Though the present guidelines do not need a change but the same cannot be said for future. Nuclear policy is dynamic in nature and it needs thorough review and revision regularly in order to adapt to changing circumstances. However in case of India even if changes may be needed in future the basic features of NFU and deterrent  must not be messed with as changes to these 2 basic features will have significant consequences for south Asian strategic stability.


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