Shift in India’s nuclear policy?

  • World View

Apr 4, 2017-

A recently released memoir by former Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and comments by an MIT academic suggest that India’s nuclear ‘no first use’ policy is moving away from its explicit policy of not using nuclear weapons first in a conflict with Pakistan and towards a policy of so-called preemption. The effect of that change can be twofold: a continuing nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan; and perhaps a lowering of the nuclear threshold. 

No first use was always a political statement by India that could change in wartime and it has never been a policy on which Pakistan could base its own nuclear strategy. In the realm of nuclear weapons there is only strategy based on the other’s capabilities. The Indian and western explanations for the shift are rooted in the perceived threat of a terrorist attack emanating from Pakistan. That was the justification for the destabilising Cold Start doctrine that led Pakistan to venture towards tactical nuclear weapons. Now, India is flirting with the idea of a preemptive nuclear attack on Pakistan to ostensibly deter it from considering using tactical nuclear weapons. Indian and western explanations take for granted that India is a benign power that will only act defensively. For Pakistan, military strategy must be based on the possibility that India will not always have benign intentions. It is an affront to Pakistan to suggest that Indian policy is necessarily and always will be benign towards it. The urgency for dialogue between the two countries is greater than ever. In the cause-and-effect security dynamic between them, the only reality thus far has been an ever more armed region with an ever greater array of dangerous weapons. Pakistan and India should take heed before it is too late to pull back from a race to mutual destruction.

Published: 04-04-2017 07:58

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