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India’s nuclear indecision: Why it would be unwise to revert the ‘No First Use’ policy? via india.com

The recent brouhaha over the alleged reconsideration of India’s nuclear no first use (NFU) policy by a potential Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was disappointing.

One, it was unnerving to watch how paranoid politicians are of even a mischievous, unsubstantiated rumour. Two, it was distressing to realise that something as serious as a country’s nuclear posture could be so profoundly influenced—the prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi himself denied the rumours and swept NFU off the table—by a handful of editorials from those not acquainted with the details of India’s nuclear capabilities and threat matrix. And three, the country’s stated policy remains woefully ill-conceived and inadequate to counter the stated nuclear postures of its neighbours.

Modi’s promise to retain the nuclear NFU policy was not, all things considered, a bad decision even if his ostensible reason was. Though abandoning NFU might have given India’s strategic planners greater operational flexibility, there was little advantage to be gained by doing so either. India’s conventional superiority in the west and the untraversable terrain in the east provide enough of a buffer for Delhi to eschew nuclear first strike. The only advantage of an NFU, which Modi inadvertently secured, was the diplomatic and public relations benefit of India being viewed as a mature and restrained nuclear power. The BJP’s resolution to reconsider the country’s nuclear doctrine, however, could not be more welcome.

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The catch-22 of the nuclear debate is that strategic nuclear weapons are considered unusable in war and tactical nuclear weapons run the risk of escalation and yet one sees few nuclear powers rushing to disarm. An arsenal that is composed more of tactical weapons and few strategic weapons offers greater flexibility in battle, gives some chance to avoid an all or nothing nuclear exchange, and reduces the possibility of senseless targeting of non-combatants.

Developing an entirely tactical arsenal – nothing stops one from lobbing several sub-kiloton warheads at a megapolis in a crunch—does not mean that control of nuclear weapons will be released to field commanders the moment full-scale conventional war breaks out. A system can be implemented wherein release of each warhead is sanctioned by a central command that has the advantage of real-time satellite imagery and fuller knowledge of the entire theatre of war.

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