Monday, January 9, 2017

NFU Doctrine and India’s Civil Nuclear Program

 -- Dr. B. B. Singh* --

On 12 th October 2016 during a meeting organized in Mumbai by a NGO (Forum for

Integrated National Security} for “Dialogue with Raksha Mantri”, this writer reminded

the Minister that in Lok Sabha 2014 pre-election manifesto the BJP promised “to study

afresh India's nuclear doctrine, revise and update it to evolve an independent Strategic

Nuclear Program, relevant to the challenges of current times-- -- “ but there has been no

attempt in this direction despite the western neighbor repeatedly threatening us with

tactical nuclear weapons. On the contrary, we have been enthusiastically following the

UPA-I & II lay-out of No-First- Use (NFU) of our nuclear weapons. In response to the

comment, the Hon’ble Defense Minister assured the public that it is only 2 years since

BJP came to power. There are still 3 more years ahead. A month later on November 10 at

the release function of Brig. (Retd.) Kanwal’s book “The New Arthashastra - A Security

Strategy of India,” the Defense Minister referring to No First Use (NFU) policy of the

country, said “we are a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly”.

“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,” Even the personal views of the

Defense Minister ought to be meaningfully pregnant. It is true that his views are in

contrast with the existing views of our Prime Minster and the Home Minister as well as

that of Foreign Ministry. However such views are subject to revision as the present

circumstances are now demanding. The Defense Minister’s views have been well

appreciated by the Prime Minister since 2 days later speaking in Goa on November 12,

the Prime Minister Narendra Modi complemented the Defense Minister Mr. Parrikar

calling him as one of the jewels in his team.

It is also being opined by some experts that a shift in India’s NFU policy would affect

country’s civil nuclear program since the NSG waiver granted to India in 2008 may be

withdrawn. It could also block India’s entry into this elite club. Additionally it would

further adversely affect India’s relations with Pakistan and China. These are unfounded,

imaginary and ill-conceived fears.

India’s civil nuclear activities relate largely to power generation which is heavily dependent on

the NSG waiver granted to India in 2008 as it permits India to trade in nuclear materials and

technologies. India has already entered into bilateral agreements with more than 12 countries

including US, UK, Australia, Kazakhstan and Japan-being the latest addition. All of these

agreements are formulated only for civil nuclear cooperation and are silent on NFU. The NSG

waiver is likewise also silent on this issue. It emphasizes non-testing of nuclear devices and

stipulates that, among other conditions, India to “continuing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear

testing and its readiness to work with others towards the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile

Material Cutoff Treaty”. India’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing has become a binding

under NSG waiver. However “zero-yield” tests would be necessary and also permissible if India

intends to modernize its arsenal. It is significant to recall that under section 110(10) of The Hyde

Act 2006 which enabled the US President to enter into the Indo-US Nuclear agreement, India

may conduct nuclear tests below certain level of explosion defined as "any device designed to

produce an instantaneous release of an amount of nuclear energy from special nuclear

material that is greater than the amount of energy that would be released from the

detonation of one pound of TNT.” This value is not non-negotiable considering that

under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) United States has favoured for itself

accepting a measure of 4 lbs or 1.8 kg TNT yield as "zero". The United Kingdom would

favour a "zero" yield at 100 lbs TNT while Russia wants a level of 10 tons and France

between 100 and 200 tons TNT. China seems to favour PNEs for the same reason. It is

known that such sub-critical tests are already being secretly conducted by the US since 1997

and its last underground sub-critical test 27 th in series named "Pollux" was conducted on

5 th December 2012 at Nevada National Security Site. The Russians are also known to

have been conducting sub-critical tests at Novaya Zemlya Test Site.

NFU is India’s self imposed condition. No other nuclear weapon State except China has

declared No-First Use policy. All those nations have left their options open to use the

nuclear weapons judiciously and responsibly in the interest of their country. India’s

Nuclear Doctrine 2003 in art. 2.4 states “-India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear

strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Under its art. 2.3(b) it

further clarifies that “Any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive

retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor.” Silently

ingrained in “damage unacceptable to the aggressor” is a message of “a massive retaliatory

damage” engulfing also civilian population. It would be unethical and politically unadvisable

particularly in case of Pakistan where civilian population has relatives in India. This may also be

difficult to implement since the international political pressure may build against any such action

during the intervening period. Present Indian nuclear strategy based only on NFU and massive

retaliation therefore needs rethinking.

* The author is a practicing lawyer and a retired scientist formerly with Department of Atomic

Energy (B.A.R.C.), Mumbai and International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna

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