What to Make of Rajnath’s Remark on India’s Nuclear Policy Change?

While Singh raised eyebrows, experts tried to decode his comments about India’s ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine.

Published16 Aug 2019, 08:58 PM IST
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India is "firmly committed" to its 'no first use' of nuclear weapons policy but future of the security doctrine will depend on the circumstances, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Friday, in remarks which came in the midst of rising tension between New Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir.

Singh made the comments after visiting Rajasthan's Pokhran – the site of India's nuclear tests in 1974 during Indira Gandhi's regime and in 1998 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.

While Singh raised eyebrows, strategic affairs experts tried to decode his comments about India’s ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine.

Singh Not a Key Player in Nuclear Decision-Making: Manoj Joshi

Distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Manoj Joshi, believes that Singh, though a member of the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) is not a principal actor when it comes to nuclear decision-making. He says the responsibility belongs to the Prime Minister. “As for articulating policy, again, it is not the Ministry of Defence that is a player, but the National Security Adviser who chairs the Executive Council of the NCA,” Joshi said.

No Change in NFU Commitment At The Moment: Uday Bhaskar

Director at Society of Policy Studies, C Uday Bhaskar, firmly stands by the opinion that Singh’s remark does not mean any change in India’s commitment to NFU at the moment. He says, “We have a new defence minister and he is trying to convey that he is cognizant of the nuclear issue and if future circumstances change, India would be willing to review its nuclear position.”

Singh’s Comment a Signal to Pakistan and China: Ajai Shukla

Strategic affairs expert and columnist, Col Ajai Shukla is of the opinion that Singh’s comment was a signal that India’s nuclear doctrine is not unchanging of circumstances. He interprets Singh’s remark in two ways, “ The benign interpretation would be that New Delhi is signalling to Pakistan and China that if they change their nuclear doctrine, then India will follow suit.”

“The other interpretation can be that India is trying to signal a commitment to NFU and also sow doubts in the minds of adversaries about whether it would actually adhere to the doctrine in times of crisis.”

Shukla suggests that it would be best to wait for government clarifications or denials to further analyse Singh’s remarks.

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