–India’s defence minister says ‘India has strictly adhered to ‘no first use’ doctrine but what happens in future depends on circumstances’
NEW DELHI: India has stuck to its commitment of ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons but future policy will depend on the situation, the defence minister said on Friday, which analysts said introduced a level of ambiguity in a core national security doctrine.
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.
In a visit to Pokhran in western India, the site of the nuclear tests, Defence 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.”
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 (@rajnathsingh) August 16, 2019
At the time of the tests, India said it needed a deterrent against nuclear-armed China but it has also long been concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.
Shekhar Gupta, a political commentator and defence expert, said 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 signalling a shift, but an open mind on the NFU (No First Use) inherited from Vajpayees Nuclear Doctrine,” he said on Twitter.
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.
Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at MIT in the United States, said 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 (Defence 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 Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar 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.”
The statement comes as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) said it will hold a session to discuss the situation in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir on Friday.
China on Wednesday backed Pakistan’s request for the UNSC to discuss India’s decision to revoke the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, asking for the body to meet “behind closed doors” on Friday, diplomats said.
The August 5 decision by India blocks the right of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to frame its own laws and allows non-residents to buy property there. Telephone lines, internet, and television networks have been blocked and there are restrictions on movement and assembly.
Earlier, Pakistan drew the attention of the UNSC presidency to the grave threat to peace and security in the region after India annexed occupied Kashmir and called for summoning an emergency meeting of the council to discuss the rapidly aggravating situation.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on India and Pakistan to refrain from any steps that could affect the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Guterres also said he was concerned about reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir.
The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions in 1948 and in the 1950s on the dispute between India and Pakistan over the region, including one which says a plebiscite should be held to determine the future of the mostly Muslim Kashmir.
Another resolution also calls upon both sides to “refrain from making any statements and from doing or causing to be done or permitting any acts which might aggravate the situation.”
UN peacekeepers have been deployed since 1949 to observe a ceasefire between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir.