Need To Revisit Our Nuclear Doctrine

Seshadri Chari

india_armySecurity and strategic architecture of any country is always expected to be dynamic, flexible and least static. This is all the more important in a region whose balance of power is forever in a state of flux. Any deferment will seriously affect our national security preparedness perhaps in due course if not immediately. Review out of obstinacy may be counterproductive but policy paralysis and doctrinal stagnation are even more perilous. It is in this background that the BJP in its manifesto has averred that it will ‘study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine and revise and update it to make it relevant to challenges of current times’. Needless to say, any review and revision will have to be preceded by extensive debate and wider consultations, which in a way, has already begun.

The nuclear doctrine itself mandates that it “shall be revisited every five years” (7.2) and specifies the areas that need review. We are expected to continue research on developing both delivery systems and warheads in the light of global technological advancements. In the light of international nuclear regimes, the nuclear document says we shall cooperate with other nations in strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, and work towards democratising their structures. We are also committed to maintain strict controls on the export of nuclear and missile related equipment, materials and technologies, and these lists shall be revised from time to time.

A large section of the strategic community is in concurrence with the BJP’s view of a need to revisit India’s nuclear doctrine as they feel that the circumstances that prevailed in 1999-2003 have changed. Politico-Social changes, technological and military improvements and shifts in power equations have introduced new aspects in the security and political environment within the country and outside over the last decade. The radicalisation of the army and the increasing and unrestrained role of non-state actors in our neighbourhood add urgency to the task of strengthening our security preparedness and response mechanism.

Military and strategic experts will agree that there is always a need to constantly assess the prevailing security environment and re-examine our doctrines in the context of the existing nuclear doctrine. Our nuclear doctrine itself warrants us to be prepared to meet new challenges in ballistic missile defence, chemical, biological and radiological weapons that may have a bearing on its nuclear doctrine (7.1).

Again, our nuclear doctrine clearly lays down the need to examine the fundamental assumptions underlying the country’s position on nuclear deterrence at any given time. This is also necessary to explore relevant doctrinal ideas to safeguard Indian interests in a changing security environment.

The rapidly changing regional security environment extends many a lessons for our own security architecture. The Indo-US nuclear deal and the change in the outlook of many NSG members have opened up a number of opportunities as well as challenges for our nuclear, defence and security parameters. The increasing belligerence on the part of Islamabad’s ruling establishment, ISI controlled radicalised sections of the army and the non-state actors should be a cause of ample concern to our security establishment. Though China is learned to be readying its olive branches to the new political set up in India, New Delhi will be well advised to study the effects of Sino-US relations, fulminations against India’s legitimate economic engagements in South China Sea area and the growing China-Pakistan nexus in the PoK and other clandestine nuclear collusions.

India and China has put in place a strong mechanism to deal with issues in the border and conflict resolution systems. Long after 1962, both the countries have behaved in a responsible manner, even cooperated on a number of international issues like climate change. This has allowed both the Asian giants to sit back and relax on nuclear standoff worries and attend to more urgent matters such as health care and standard of living.

But the relation with Pakistan is on entirely different keel. Pakistan’s existential dilemma continues to plague its national discourse making it essential to treat India as a permanent enemy. Forces swooping down on Islamabad would never want a normalised India Pakistan relationship. Before and after every attempt at peace, trade, commerce and industry talks, there will necessarily be terror strikes followed by vehement denials by the political establishment and the civil society. What are the options available to India in the event of another major terrorist strike, however much we may not want it? The clichéd argument that both are nuclear powers has no meaning as long as our nuclear capability has no deterrence teeth. Has not New Delhi experienced this predicament during attack on Indian Parliament and Mumbai attack?

The priority for the new government would be to strengthen our national security establishment, regain the strategic space lost in the past decade and reinforce a credible response mechanism through radical systemic changes against any misadventure by anyone wanting to endanger our national security and integrity.

(The author is the national convener of Foreign Affairs Policy Cell of the BJP)