Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS & UPPSC Mains Exam: Paper - III (General Studies – II) - 29 August 2019

Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam

Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS & UPPSC Mains Exam

UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-III: General Studies -II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Q. Does India need to reconsider its 'No First Use' policy? What would be the possible consequences, if India changes its policy of 'no first use' to 'use in first instance'?

Model Answer:

  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • Components of India’s Nuclear Policy
  • Is there a need to reconsider India’s No first use policy
  • Possible impact of changes in the policy of No First Use
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

Recently, the Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh said that the future of India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy on nuclear weapons depended on “circumstances”. He also raised apprehensions on the likely revision of India’s NFU policy and nuclear doctrine.


India embarked on the path of nuclear weapons development after its war with China in 1962. In 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test, Pokhran-I which was dubbed as a “peaceful nuclear explosion”. It was conducted under Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. India carried out a second nuclear test, Pokhran-II in May 1998. In 1999, India came out with an explicit nuclear doctrine that was committed, among other things, to NFU — that is it would never carry out a nuclear first-strike.

Components of India’s Nuclear Policy:

India’s official doctrine of NFU is codified in a 2003 document, which takes cues from the 1999 draft doctrine. Since 2003, India’s nuclear doctrine has 3 main components. They are:

  • No First Use: India will only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or Indian forces. A warning is made about their possible use in response to a chemical or biological weapon attack.
  • Massive Retaliation: India’s response to a first strike will be massive, to cause ‘unacceptable damage’.
  • Credible Minimum Deterrence: This implies that in the event of another nation carrying out a first nuclear strike of any magnitude against India, India’s nuclear forces shall be so deployed as to ensure survivability of the attack and the capability to carry out a massive, punitive nuclear retaliation aimed at inflicting damage that the aggressor will find “unacceptable”.

Is there a need to reconsider India’s No First Use policy?

The sanctity of 'No First Use' has been called into question not only by strategic analysts but also high-ranking government officials.

  • In 2016, the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, raised doubts on India’s adherence to the policy of 'no first use'. He opined that New Delhi should not bind itself to 'no first use' for eternity.
  • Gen. BS Nagal, a former strategic forces commander, has been consistently arguing for revocation of the NFU pledge on the grounds that it puts India at a disadvantaged position.
  • Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Advisor, wrote that that India may have to resort to first use in case it has definitive information on Pakistan’s intent to launch first.

It has been stressed that "India attaining the status of a responsible nuclear nation is a matter of national pride". Along with it, the emergence of the authoritative voices in India justifies India’s change in the no first use policy. 

We can also highlight the presence of some other reasons supporting the change in India’s No First Use Policy. They are:

  • Regional geopolitical realities have a significant bearing upon India’s NFU commitment, to the extent that the CMD is what the “enemy” believes deterrence to be, and their belief is manifested in their actions.
  • India may have more to gain by pre-emptive action. Such a strategy would be consistent with India’s doctrine of massive retaliation — massive retaliation strategies need not be counter value — while avoiding the credibility issues associated with a counter value targeting strategy following Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
  • Additionally, India has invested in developing indigenous ballistic missile defences and acquiring expensive Russian and Israeli origin missile defence systems, which could theoretically be used to intercept any "residual" forces that the pre-emptive first strike failed to destroy.

It is no longer impossible to imagine the ability of India to pre-empt the first strike as well as meaningfully limit the damage on the Indian cities by doing so.

Possible impact of changes in the policy of No First Use:

  • Revoking the pledge of No First Use would harm India’s nuclear image worldwide. Nuclear restraint has allowed India to get accepted in the global mainstream. Due to its nuclear responsible credentials, India has been awarded memberships to various technology denial regimes such as the Missile Technology Control regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement. It is also actively pursuing full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • Parting away with NFU would also be costly. Nuclear preemption is a costly policy as it requires massive investment not only in weapons and delivery systems but also intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) infrastructure.
  • If India does opt for first use of nuclear weapons and given that it has two nuclear adversaries, it would require a far bigger inventory of nuclear weapons particularly as eliminating adversaries’ nuclear capabilities would require targeting of its nuclear assets involving multiple warheads. The controversy around the supposed low yield of its Hydrogen weapon test in 1998 further complicates this already precarious calculation.
  • Similarly, first use of nuclear weapons would require a massive increase in India’s nuclear delivery capabilities. There is yet no evidence suggesting that India’s missile production has increased dramatically in recent times.
  • Moreover, India is yet to induct the Multiple Reentry Vehicle (MRV) technology in its missiles, which is fundamental to eliminating hardened nuclear targets.


There is a need for periodic reviews for every doctrine followed across the world, in order to adopt the changes taking place worldwide. India’s case is no exception. India’s strategic environment is evolving very rapidly, it is imperative to think clearly about all matters. A sound policy debate can only ensue if the costs and benefits of a purported policy shift are discussed and debated widely.

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