Minimum credible deterrence with no first use policy : India’s Nuclear Doctrine

India’s indigenous efforts in nuclear science and technology were established remarkably early. The first steps were taken in 1945 when the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) was founded with Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha as its first Director. After gaining Independence, the new government of India passed theAtomic Energy Act, on 15 April 1948, leading to the establishment of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).

India was heavily involved in the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (opened for signature in 1968), but ultimately opted not to sign it (much later). The three pillars on which NPT is based are non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. India argues that the NPT creates a club of “nuclear haves” and a larger group of “nuclear have-nots” by restricting the legal possession of nuclear weapons to those states that tested them before 1967, but the treaty never explains on what ethical grounds such a distinction is valid. Basically, India felt that the NPT created a “nuclear club” that is divisive, highly discriminatory and unethical.

All along, Dr. Bhabha and the Jana Sangh party (which later became the BJP one rising leader of the party who captured attention was Atal Behari Vajpayee) had pushed along the need for a nuclear weapon. Though he had to face three Prime Ministers – Nehru, Shastri (a staunch Gandhian) and Indira Gandhi, he was successful in convincing them of the need for a nuclear test. The civilian program had taken a back seat all along. He’d, under the guise of a PNE (Peaceful Nuclear Explosion – nuclear explosions conducted for non military purposes such as activities related to economic development including the creation of canals), set up a team of scientists who were working overtime on the project. Based on Soviet design, the team built the PURNIMA reactor ( became critical in 1972) – a pulsed fast reactor which could be used to study the fission bomb behaviour. These developments culminated in the Smiling Buddha test of 1974 (test site shown above after the test). Most believe that the material for this bomb came from the Canadian supplied CIRUS reactor (using American Heavy Water) which was mentioned earlier. Note that this test did not establish India as a nuclear weapons state as it was called a PNE and there have also been various debates about the yield. Possessing nuclear capability is not enough. This capability should be shown to the world for it to actually serve as a credible deterrent.

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India currently has a stockpile of around 110 weapons and the reactors of the military program will not be under the IAEA ambit. By using the imported Uranium for power generation, we can free upthe indigenous Uranium for military usage if needed (currently our policy is about having a minimum credible deterrent with no first use and this means that there is no need for stockpiling) India is almost a nuclear triad and will become one when theINS Arihant (an SSBN equipped with the Sagarika missiles whose reactor was built withRussian assistance) is commissioned (landballistic missiles like the Agni V and Prithvi – and air strikenuclear capable fighter aircraft like the Mirage, Sukhoi Su 30, MiG 29, Jaguar – capabilities are already under the control of the Strategic Forces Command) We are not obliged to sign the MCTR as far as the N deal is concerned. The N deal does not place any restrictions on further Indian nuclear tests, though all ties would be cut if such a test does take place. This would have been the case even if there had been no deal.





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