India’s nuke policy depends on future: Rajnath Singh

Photo: India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh paying homage to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Pokhran, site of the 1998 nuclear tests, today.

Pokhran (Rajasthan): India today hinted that its nuclear weapons doctrine of ‘no first use’ against a rival could change based on future circumstances.

Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, after paying homage to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajyapee at the nuclear weapons testing site here, told reporters that India has remained steadfast it is nuke policy for long. The Indian government’s Press Information Bureau also put out a statement, quoting Rajnath Singh in this regard.

“Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power and yet remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances,” Rajnath Singh said, which also got tweeted from his personal handle.

“India attaining the status of a responsible nuclear nation is a matter of national pride for every citizen of the country and the nation will remain indebted to the greatness of Atal ji,” the minister said.

Rajnath Singh was earlier at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan to partipate in an Indian Army hosted International Army Scout Masters Competition. After completing his visit to Jaisalmer, the minister headed to Pokhran, where he paid homage to Vajpayee, to mark the latter’s first death anniversary.

India is currently engaged in ongoing tensions with its nuclear rival and neighbour, Pakistan, over Prime MinisterNarendra Modi‘s decision to revoke the provisions of autonomy from the Indian Constitution in a one-swoop parliamentary approval earlier this month.

Since India carried out a series of nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998, India voluntarily declared a moratorium on further tests and adopted a nuclear weapons doctrine in 2003.

Under the doctrine, India declared its intent not to use a nuclear weapon first on any of its rivals, but would be ready to retaliate massively if its deterrence fails. Unlike Pakistan, India’s northern neighbour, China, too follows a similar ‘No First Use’ nuclear weapons policy.

Rajnath Singh is not the first leader under Modi’s prime ministership to have talked about likely amendments to India’s declared nuclear doctrine. In November 2016, the then defence minister, (late) Manohar Parrikar, had asked, why India should bind itself to ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine, while speaking at a book release event in New Delhi.

During the Manmohan Singh‘s prime ministership, his National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon had said during a lecture at the National Defence College in New Delhi in October 2010: “The Indian nuclear doctrine also reflects this strategic culture, with its emphasis on minimal deterrence, no first use especially against non-nuclear weapon states and its direct linkage to nuclear disarmament.” (emphasis added)

This lecture of Shivshankar Menon, who is currently a distinguished fellow at Brookings India, tuned into a controversy, after it was noticed that the Ministry of External Affairs website did not reflect his exact quote, leading to allegations on Twitter that it had amended it.

In November 2018, Modi had clearly spelled out that India remained committed to the doctrine of ‘Credible Minimum Deterrence’ and ‘No First Use’, even as he felicitated the crew of INS Arihant, India’s first indigenous nuclear-armed submarine, following their first active deterrence patrol.

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