India’s nuclear doctrine

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Context: Amid India’s increasing bilateral tensions with Pakistan, defense minister Rajnath Singh hinted that India may abandon its No First Use policy on nuclear weapons.

“Till today, our nuclear policy is 'No First Use', What happens in the future depends on the circumstances,” the defense minister said.

This statement was made in Pokhran on the death anniversary of former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee, where India had in 1998 secretly conducted five nuclear tests.

Background- The country tested its first nuclear device in May 1974, and remains outside both the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, India has a facility-specific safeguards agreement in place with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowing it to participate in global civilian nuclear technology commerce. 


A No First Use (NFU) policy refers to a pledge by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons as a means of warfare unless first attacked by an adversary using nuclear weapons.

India had first adopted a 'No first use' policy after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. The government's stated policy till now has been that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and India will pursue a policy of “retaliation only”.


China China declared its NFU policy in 1964 and has since maintained this policy.
Russia Russia describes its entire military doctrine as defensive, and its recent doctrine in 2014 maintains the stand of using nuclear weapons only in case of aggression when the very existence of the state is threatened

US doesn't have an NFU Policy, Donald Trump has expanded the circumstances in which America might use nuclear weapons first, to include cyber-attacks on the networks that transmit presidential orders to silos, submarines, and bombers.


The UK has neither a 'first use' or 'no first use' in its nuclear weapon policy so that its adversaries would not know when the UK would launch nuclear strikes,but the parliament confirms that confirmed that the UK would use nuclear weapons in a “pre-emptive initial strike” in “the most extreme circumstances”.



Pakistan refuses to adopt a “no-first-use” doctrine, indicating that it would launch nuclear weapons even if the other side did not use such weapons first.

India’s nuclear doctrine can be summarized as follows:

  • Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent which refers to the number of nuclear forces that India needs to deter potential nuclear adversaries.
  • A posture of “No First Use” nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere;
  • Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorized by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority. The Nuclear Command Authority comprises a Political Council and an Executive Council. The Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister. It is the sole body that can authorize the use of nuclear weapons.
  • Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons;
  • A continuance of strict controls on the export of nuclear and missile-related materials and technologies continued the observance of the moratorium on nuclear tests.
  • Continued commitment to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, through global, verifiable and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament.

Advantages of No First Use:

  • It obviates the need for the expensive nuclear weapons infrastructure that is associated with a first-use doctrine.
  • The onus of escalation to nuclear war is on the adversary, without preventing India from defending itself. This prevents India from shouldering the moral responsibility of initiating a nuclear war. 
  • NFU will prevent India from acting against an imminent nuclear attack, However, a pre-emptive strike would not prevent retaliation. Also, it is always possible that an adversary might decide not to launch a nuclear attack at the very last moment but that a pre-emptive strike will force them to retaliate.

Critique of No First Use:

  • NFU posture is only possible for a country that has extreme confidence not only in the survivability of its national nuclear forces sufficient to muster a devastating retaliatory strike but also in the efficacy of its crisis management system. Crisis management is not India’s forte as seen during 26/11 attacks. The Indian bureaucratic system is yet to show the capability of handling any emergency as dire as a nuclear strike.
  • India's NFU policy frees Pakistan from fearing an Indian nuclear attack to either terrorism or limited war. Pakistan could deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons in limited theatres without fear that India might attack them with nuclear weapons.
  • NFU is a confidence-building measure among States, however, no country practically believes those that pledge NFU. China has pledged NFU yet India will not trust China's pledge and similarly, Pakistan does not believe in India's NFU pledge.

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