In an apparent shift in its ‘no first use of nuclear option’ doctrine, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Friday (August 16) that while India has strictly adhered to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) of nuclear weapons, “what happens in future depends on the circumstances”.
In a visit to Pokhran in western India, the site of the 1998 nuclear tests, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh paid tribute to late former prime minister and revered leader of the ruling Hindu nationalists, Atal Behari Vajpayee, for making India into a nuclear power.
“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 tweeted.
India had declared itself a nuclear power after conducting underground tests in 1998 and Pakistan responded with its own tests shortly afterwards. Since then, nuclear experts say the rivals have been developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.
Tensions between the two countries have increased following India’s move to revoke autonomy in the disputed region of Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars. In February, Indian and Pakistani fighter jets clashed over the territory.
Pakistani foreign minister: India’s statement is irresponsible
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday termed the Indian defense minister’s statement on a possible change in its ‘no first use’ policy of nuclear weapons as “shocking and irresponsible.”
He also read out a response by the Foreign Office, which he said he was doing so that “no verbal statement of his own can be misconstrued”.
“The substance and timing of the Indian defence minister’s statement is highly unfortunate and reflective of India’s irresponsible and belligerent behaviour. It further exposes the pretense of their no firs-use policy to which we have never accorded any credence,” he said.
“‘No first use’ pledge is non verfiable and cannot be taken at first value. Especially when development of offensive capabilities and force postures belie such claims.
“Pakistan has always proposed measures relating to nuclear restraint in South Asia and has eschewed measures that are offensive in nature. Pakistan will continue to maintain a credible minimum deterrence posture,” he said in conclusion.
What experts say?
Reuters quoted Shekhar Gupta, a political commentator and defense expert, as saying the government appeared to have an open mind on the issue of ‘no first use’ of nuclear arms and the comments could be aimed at Pakistan, which has said previously it needed to develop small nuclear weapons to deter a sudden attack by India.
“Rajnath Singh is measured and not given to loose talk or bluster. He isn’t signaling a shift, but an open mind on the NFU (No First Use) inherited from Vajpayees Nuclear Doctrine,” he said on Twitter.
Reuters also quoted Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at MIT in the United States, as saying that Singh’s comments were a sign the policy on ‘no first use’ could change in the future.
“Make no mistake: this is by far the highest official statement from the Raksha Mantri’s (Defense Minister) mouth directly that India may not be forever bound by No First Use,” Narang said on Twitter.
Earlier in 2016, just two years after PM Modi coming to power, then Defense Minister Manohar Parrika made a similar statement and said that why does India need a “no first use policy” at all. Parrikar had courted controversy with his statement when he said, “Why should I bind myself? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my (personal) thinking.”
BJP’s election manifesto promised to revise the nuclear option doctrine
While successive governments that followed Vajpayee’s have directly or indirectly reaffirmed their commitment to NFU, the doctrine has been questioned at various times by strategic experts in domestic policy debates, and the idea that India should revisit this position has been put forward at various high-level fora.
In April 2014, the Bhartia Janta Party’s election manifesto promised to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”. However, soon afterward, Narendra Modi, then the NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate, was reported as having told ANI that “no first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance”.
In 2016, then Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar expressed his opinion on the NFU, which questioned the nuclear option doctrine.
“Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy. Why should I bind myself to a… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking,” Parrikar said.
“Some of them may immediately tomorrow flash that Parrikar says that nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy but my concept, I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t decide that you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off.”
Dr. Shahid Masood
Political analyst Dr. Shahid Masood of Pakistan says there is an unprecedented real danger of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. He said there is no such thing as a limited war. “Some so-called experts in some capitals argue that there is possibility of a limited 10 days war between India and Pakistan. But nuclear war is never limited.”
In his TV program “Live with Dr. Shahid Masood” on GNN TV channel, he said that India and Pakistan are the only two nuclear powers who are neighbors and it will take 4 minutes or less to hit targets in India or Pakistan by a nuclear device. “It is not like that, if Russia launches a nuclear device against USA which detects it on Radar. The US has time to launch anti-missile to destroy the Russian device. In the case of India and Pakistan there will be no time to destroy each other’s nuclear device.”
Dr. Shahid Masood went on to say that this region is thickly populated and in the major towns of India and Pakistan – Calcutta, Bombay, Karachi and Lahore – population density per square kilometer is 45,000. “In the case of a nuclear war about two billion people will perish if 10 or more 15 kiloton devices are used as both countries have between 150 to 200 nuclear arsenals.”
Dr. Shahid Masood said that a nuclear war will damage the ozone layer and its radiation will spread around the world.
If India and Pakistan have a ‘limited’ nuclear war, scientists say it could wreck Earth’s climate and trigger global famine
Climate scientists simulated the effects of limited regional nuclear war between the two countries and found that nuclear explosions could start firestorms that send millions of tons of smoke into the atmosphere. That could cripple the ozone layer, cause global cooling, and trigger food shortages.
The newest simulations showed that the effects could be “about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” one researcher said.
A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”
“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”
Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.
The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.
The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20% to 50% of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years.
The bombs in the researchers’ scenario are about as powerful as the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, enough to devastate a city. But that’s far weaker than many weapons that exist today. The latest device North Korea tested was estimated to be about 10 times as powerful as Little Boy. The US and Russia each possess weapons 1,000 times as powerful.
Russian TV news
The timing of the veiled threat comes particularly on the heels of spiraling tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Their decades-long animosity took a new turn in August after New Delhi stripped the Jammu and Kashmir state of its special autonomy status.
The move sparked outrage in Pakistan, and has led to sporadic clashes along the Line of Control in recent days.
Earlier this year, the simmering confrontation over Kashmir risked snowballing into an open military conflict when a Pakistan-based militant group allegedly attacked Indian security troops, killing over 40 soldiers. India retaliated by ordering cross-border airstrikes to which Pakistan responded by scrambling fighter jets and shooting at least one intruding aircraft.
India has a sizeable strategic force with short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles able to hit any location in Pakistan. Likewise, the Pakistani military has an array of similar-class rockets enabling retaliatory strikes if all-out war breaks out.