Doctrines are not static and are always linked to an objective. If the primary Indian objective is to have a stable nuclear South Asia, then New Delhi should consider giving up its No-First-Use doctrine (NFU), for the following three reasons.
First, the India’s NFU contradicts its other nuclear emphasis – Minimum Credible Deterrence (MCD), and has the potential to convert its deterrence into maximum and not minimum. NFU means, that India will not be first to use its nuclear weapons; this prepares India to absorb the first strike. Why would India prepare to take the first strike and how can this secure India from receiving a first strike? India’s NFU implies that to be safe and secure, and prevent any first use against it, India should have a large second strike capability. This second strike capability, should frighten the adversary to an extent, that none will consider using nuclear weapons against India in the first place.
Since, there are only two likely adversaries – Pakistan and China in India’s neighbourhood, who could consider using nuclear weapons against India, what will be the size of nuclear arsenal, that will take the first strike, and deliver the second one? To have a deterrence, that is considered ‘credible’ by India, in case if New Delhi is willing to take the first strike, will that number be minimum or maximum? From the adversaries’ perspectives, if China and Pakistan are to be frightened against using the nuclear weapons against India, what will be the size that will scare the hell out of them?
The first question is inward looking, in terms of what will make us safe and protected against the first strike. The second question is how our adversaries will feel, in terms of getting absolutely frightened, that they will dare not strike us first. The numbers may not be the same in both the cases. For example, India may consider X-1 number of weapons to have a credible deterrence with second strike against a Y-1 number of weapons with its adversaries. On the other hand, China and Pakistan may consider India to have X-2 number of weapons, if it has to be credible to avoid their first strike, with Y-2 number of weapons. The danger in this calculation is what if X-1 and X-2, and Y-1 and Y-2 are not the same numbers?
NFU is unlikely to make the situation stable in Southern Asia. It will only lead to a nuclear arms race.
A Second reason for New Delhi to give up its NFU is because it makes India’s credible deterrence no more minimum. NFU, as discussed above, means that India is willing to take the first strike. This essentially means that India not only should have sufficient second strike capability – to first, prevent the first strike, and second, to have sufficient number of nuclear weapons, that will survive the first strike. This will not only result in increasing the number of India’s nuclear arsenals, but will also take New Delhi into the dangerous path of building a triad. Second strike capability necessitates the triad, especially nuclear weapons in mobile platforms.
Second strike capability, undoubtedly an option, which India has the right to pursue. But unfortunately, such an option will not only be expensive, but also affects it deterrence numbers. In case of India wanting to have a credible deterrence with second strike, it will no more be minimum. India can have either NFU or a MCD. Both are not complimentary.
The final reason why India should give up its NFU is the Pakistan factor. No one in Pakistan believes India’s NFU. In fact, no other countries (except for China, that too with a footnote) that possess nuclear weapons have an NFU. Pakistan also believes, that in case of a crisis, it can never trust India’s NFU. In short, for Pakistan, India’s NFU is frivolous and not trustworthy. Besides, from an Indian perspective, New Delhi’s NFU is self defeating vis-à-vis Pakistan. Since India follows the NFU, it only provides Pakistan with a space to make calibrated military efforts (as in the case of Kargil) and support proxy war and militant attacks across India (as in the case of the Parliament attack, 2001 and Mumbai, 2008). Though India has proposed a limited war doctrine to undercut this strategic deficiency, Pakistan has not taken this seriously. As a result, Pakistan not only disbelieves India’s NFU, but also uses the same against New Delhi to make military and militant exercises under the nuclear umbrella.
If the presence of nuclear weapons has already dented India’s conventional superiority, its NFU has in fact given an edge to Pakistan. NFU is not in India’s interests and is only destabilizing. India should give up its NFU doctrine.