India and the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons

Kumar Sundaram and M. V. Ramana

Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament

February 22, 2018

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One of the cornerstones of India’s official nuclear policy is No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, which has a long history in Indian nuclear debates and discussions. The country’s stated doctrine from January 2003 includes a pledge not to use nuclear weapons first but with a significant caveat, that nuclear weapons could be used if Indian forces are attacked with biological or chemical weapons. The NFU policy has often been held up by Indian diplomats, government spokespeople, and various strategists as proof of India’s status as a responsible nuclear power. At the same time, there is also a history of strategists, military leaders, and, more recently, government officials questioning, or calling for the abandonment of, the NFU commitment. Statements by various policy makers and officials suggest that their understanding of how nuclear weapons should be used does not fit the strict interpretation of a NFU policy, and that India might well be the first to initiate a nuclear attack during a military crisis. The development and deployment of nuclear warheads mated to missiles would create the material grounds for first use of nuclear weapons and create risks of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war.