NEW YORK - India’s 1998 pledge that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict has become so absurd following the policy’s dilution over the years that it should be scrapped, an Indian security expert says.
“Although the ‘no first use’ doctrine, known as N.F.U., may seem prudent in theory, India has diluted the concept to the point of absurdity, with dangerous consequences: a buildup of its conventional forces, which has caused Pakistan to harden its nuclear stance,” Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a programme coordinator at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, wrote in an opinion piece published by the New York Times on Monday.
The Indian government, he wrote, started backpedaling almost immediately, presumably because it realized that the N.F.U. pledge undermined the rationale for conducting the tests in the first place: to deter an attack from China.
“By 2003, when India issued an official nuclear doctrine, its N.F.U. pledge had been watered down to authorize a nuclear retaliation after a chemical or biological strike. Then, on Oct. 21, 2010, Shivshankar Menon, the national security adviser, stated that India would apply N.F.U. only with respect to non-nuclear weapons states,” Iyer-Mitra said.
“But even as India’s civilian authorities have, in effect, authorized a nuclear first strike against nuclear states like China and Pakistan, they have not given the military control of operational nuclear weapons,” the Indian expert said, noting that in established nuclear states, the weapons are in the hands of the military, subject to civilian oversight, and launch codes remain with the government.
He also pointed out that India’s military does not appear to have conducted war games simulating the first use of nuclear weapons.
Instead, he said, the government has authorized a massive increase in its conventional forces, citing Time magazine as saying that India would spend $80 billion on “military modernization” over the following three years. The navy plans to expand its current fleet of more than 130 vessels to about 200, including submarines and aircraft carriers, over the next decade. During the same period, the army expects to supplement its 1.1 million strong force with another 100,000 troops, and the air force will acquire some 350-odd fighter jets.
“These efforts are intended to deter China. But China seems basically unfazed, and has responded simply by expanding roads, railways and airfields in Tibet.”
The Indian expert wrote, “A 2011 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists projected that within a decade Pakistan would have enough fissile material to make between 160 and 240 nuclear bombs, more than double the expected capacity of India and possibly more even than that of Britain. Pakistan has started deploying tactical nuclear devices on short-range rockets along its border with India. Brigadier Feroz Khan, the former director of Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs in the Strategic Plans Division, the ultimate overseer of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and activities, has argued that this move makes sense only if launch authority is pre-delegated to field commanders - suggesting that it has been.
“In short, India’s diluted version of the N.F.U. doctrine makes an already dangerous security situation in South Asia more dangerous still. Everyone would be better off if the government did away with it,” the Indian expert added.
“The civilian authorities came up with the N.F.U. without consulting the military, and when they realized it was a blunder, they diluted it, again without consulting the military. Why? Because they distrusted the military,” Iyer-Mitra wrote. “The only way to rationalize India’s untenable interpretation of N.F.U. now would be to give the military more control over nuclear weapons - but the government can’t do that because it still distrusts the military. And so however self-defeating India’s current nuclear posture, it is likely to endure, regardless of who wins the election this month.”