Indian approach to nuclear weapons is rooted in its history of having been an object of external aggression time and again despite India remaining non-aggressive. Ever since it resumed its sovereignty in 1947, the Indians are  determined that never again should we fall prey to external threats due to military weakness. Nuclear capability is part and parcel of this larger thinking. India thus at best is a ‘reluctant’ nuclear power.     

At a meeting in Seoul India's Foreign Minister, Shri Natwar Singh, while attempting to caution the two Koreas about the pitfalls of pursuing their nuclear program, confessed that India's nuclear program might be an occasion for some regret.  He thereby displayed an astonishing historical amnesia.  All Prime ministers from Nehru onwards have followed a consistent Indian nuclear policy and sought to keep India's nuclear options open. However, some may agree with the Foreign Minister that there is confusion about this issue.  A review of what how this policy has evolved from 1975 onwards may help to explain why the confusion prevails in some circles.

The elimination of nuclear weapons [NW] has been the stated aim of the international community and the UN from the very beginning of its existence.  At that time, when the US enjoyed a NW monopoly, it proposed that a world authority be formed to control them.  The emergence of the Soviet Union as a NW power and the Cold War prevented the adoption of the US proposal.

India's approach to nuclear power, from the very first day of its independence has been clear.   It opposed NW as these were a threat to the survival of mankind. However, this did not stop India from creating a national organisation to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  India's earliest parliamentary enactment was to establish the Atomic  Energy Commission [AEC] which led to the formation of the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre [BARC].  In 1950, Asia's first atomic reactor was established in India.  Thereafter a vast infrastructure came into being.

India's nuclear policy and disarmament diplomacy worked in tandem from the very beginning.  Nehru's appeal in 1954 for a nuclear test moratorium was designed as a disarmament measure.  There were then only three NW powers: the US, the Soviet Union and Great Britain.  If India's proposal had then been accepted, the world would have been spared the dangers that huge NW stockpiles pose today.  In 1964, Nehru died.  In the same year China joined the nuclear club. With the emergence of China as a regional NW power and its close ties with Pakistan, Indians grew alarmed as they found themselves in a nuclear neighbourhood.

 At that time, Dr Homi Bhabha Chairman of the AEC assured the public that Indian scientists could explode an atomic device within 18 months of a political decision being taken.  His confident assessment was based upon a series of earlier decisions taken during the Nehruvian era.  These included the commissioning of a reprocessing plant at a time when only the Soviet Union, Britain, France and US had such technology.  It was this decision, coupled with controlled development of nuclear installations insulated from external intrusions that clearly offered the NW option.  A unique feature of this option was that it emerged from an extension of India's civil nuclear enterprise.  In contrast, the other nuclear powers initially produced fissile material for nuclear installations dedicated to military pursuits.

By 1970 there were five NW states.  All members of the UN were advised to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], which decreed that only these five permanent UN members [P5] can legally possess NW.  In due course of time, the whole world other than India, Pakistan and Israel had signed the NPT.  India opposed the NPT on the grounds that this was discriminatory.

By now the Indian Space Research Organisation had been established.  A network of allied installations was slowly built up to ensure a maximum degree of self reliance in the production of rockets and satellites.  In 1975, with Russian assistance, India launched its first satellite from a base in the Soviet Union.  The application of radio-active atoms for peaceful purposes was now in wide use for the creation of electric power, radio therapy, food preservation and agricultural production.

In 1971 Pakistan's Prime Minister Bhutto announced that his country was developing NW.  Along with this there was evidence that Pakistan and China were exchanging nuclear information.  India's Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, gave the green signal for a project for a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion [PNE].  Indian scientists and engineers demonstrated their competence by carrying out a nuclear fission explosion in May 1974 at Pokhran.  The Prime Minister proclaimed that India supported the global ban on NW.  She added that India would keep its nuclear options open in the even of its national interests being threatened.  India would not sign the NPT as this was discriminatory and divided the world into "haves" and "have nots".

Apart from this initial announcement, the Prime Minister refrained from speaking about India's nuclear doctrine. In 1983, Indira Gandhi instituted a guided missile development program.   Till then, no formal strategic or security institutions had been set up to debate or analyze the twin issues of NW and missile technology, which remained under the Prime Minster's personal charge.  There appears to have been no formal record of decisions taken

 Following the Prime Minister's assassination the Government seemed uncertain about the late Prime Minister's nuclear policies and India's long term nuclear strategy.  In the absence of an official government statement, the Director of the Delhi-based Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies [IDSA] became the self-appointed spokesman for India's nuclear strategy.  He began to refer to this as an "Ambiguous Strategy".  Around the IDSA grew a privileged group, which monopolised every national and international debate on security.    They had exclusive access to the editorial pages of leading national newspapers and journals.  They claimed that India's technical capability enabled it to produce NW with a delivery system, and adopt a minimum nuclear deterrent strategy whenever so desired.

Over the years, several non-government organisations grew in India and began studying security issues and questioning the IDSA viewpoint..  Prominent among these was the Pune-based Initiative for Peace Arms Control and Disarmament [INPAD], which began publishing papers critical of the Monopolists line.  INPAD claimed that Indira Gandhi had spoken in the context of the NPT when she had said that India must keep its options open and would exercise this if Indian interests [options] were threatened.  INPAD blamed the Monopolists for making confused and misleading statements that India's nuclear strategy was ambiguous.   Ambiguity made no strategic sense as nuclear power and doctrine has to be transparent for it to deter.

INPAD stressed that unlike conventional warfare, which kept operational plans secret, there should be nothing ambiguous or secret about a nuclear strategy except the location of missile sites and the time of launch.  In fact, the more the publicity about a nation's nuclear capabilities and plans the better the effect so that a prospective aggressor is deterred or dissuaded and miscalculations and accidents are avoided.  An ambiguous strategy is dangerous, as it fosters doubt and miscalculation in the minds of potential adversaries and perplexity among friends and neutrals.

INPAD urged that India use internationally recognised terminology so that others understand what we mean. At Pokhran, India had displayed its ability to manufacture a fission-type NW.  There is a qualitative difference between this and a thermonuclear NW.  It is only the latter which possesses a degree of potential power that can produce assured deterrence.  If India confined itself to fission-type NW its doctrine should be described as "dissuasion" and not deterrence. The Government continued to be silent on India's nuclear strategy.  However, it was now evident that INPAD's persistent and rational criticism of the Monopolists' was attracting attention in official circles. 

The end of the Cold War raised hopes of a NW-free world.  The UN articulated a global long-term plan to eventually ban NW in three stages: to cap, reduce and then eliminate NW.  The "cap" stage entailed stopping the spread of NW.  The "reduce" stage entailed a progressive reduction of NW stockpiles by the P5 to the bare minimum.  The last stage visualised the placing of the residual stocks of NW under  UN authority.

By the early 90s there was global support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT], which like the NPT is a cappping measure. It was then evident that irrespective of whether India signed the CTBT or not, a time would come when it would be difficult for any country to defy world opinion and carry out a test explosion, even if it had not signed the CTBT.  It was therefore imperative for India to make up its mind and carry out a minimum number of test explosions now or else sign the CTBT and rely on the assurances of its scientists that this would not close its future ability to manufacture a thermonuclear NW without testing.

Anticipating global acceptance of the CTBT, France and China began carrying out a series of underground nuclear tests.  INPAD urged that India do the same because it would be violating no treaty obligation.  It could thus project India's assured thermonuclear NW capability.  The Monopolists took an opposite line.  They were confident that by stalling the signing of the CTBT, India could continue it Ambiguous Strategy and leave its NW options open.  This advice by Monopolists provided the politician with a solution to match his indecisiveness,

India had still no formal security institution to ensure professional analysis and institutional continuity.  The PM's office evolved its own ad hoc concepts to suit each occasion.  When a Conference on Disarmament [CD] was called in Geneva to discuss the signing of the CTBT, the Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] was made responsible for projecting India's viewpoint. The MEA representative who was earmarked to go to Geneva was totally new to the subject. . The Indian delegate was under instructions to stall the signing of the CTBT at any cost. 

During the debate at Geneva, India put forward several proposals, all of which were rejected unanimously.  Thereupon the Indian delegate refused to sign the CTBT. Prevailing rules and procedures stated that every CD decision has to be unanimous for it to be accepted. By refusing to sign the Treaty .the delegate was therefore confident that it had been successfully stalled.  However, other delegates were frustrated and angry by what India had done.  They took the issue directly to the UN General Assembly.  In the debate, which followed at New York, despite India's strident objections, member nations voted overwhelmingly for acceptance of the CTBT.  Although this vote was not binding on members of the CD, it clearly indicated that India was internationally isolated and had lost its moral credibility as a supporter for a ban of NW in the eyes of the have-nots












When the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]-led coalition government came into power in 1998, it asserted that it would, if necessary, exercise the nuclear option.  Mr. Jaswant Singh explained the government's stand  by stating, "The problem faced by public men in India is how to reconcile the over-riding national security concerns with the valid and just international concerns about weapons of mass destruction [WMD]…. We recognise that WMD are not really usable….the fact that these weapons do have a deterrent value and yet the world must be free of them, is the principal obstacle in total nuclear disarmament."

In the first week of May 1998, the Indian Defence Minister, at a public gathering began referring to China as the main threat to Indian security.  On 11 May, three underground nuclear detonations took place at Pokhran.  This was followed on 13 May by another two detonations.  These tests confirmed that India could manufacture thermonuclear warheads and carry out sub-critical computer controlled nuclear testing. Headlines in newspapers read "Explosions of Self-esteem", "Road to Resurgence", "Moment of Pride". There was worldwide consternation over the tests and the US imposed mandatory sanctions on India.

The PM announced a unilateral ban on further testing in India.  Meanwhile satellite pictures indicated that Pakistan was preparing for a nuclear detonation in Baluchistan.  On 28 May it detonated five nuclear devices.  On 30 May one more detonation took place.  These were all fission type explosions.  The US imposed mandatory sanctions on Pakistan.  There were customary words of condemnation from all over the world but this was relatively subdued.  The world considered India the prime culprit for upsetting the nuclear status quo in South Asia.

The world awaited an official Indian statement.  It appeared that the government had no coherent policy. BJP leaders, scientists and civil servants began making conflicting and contradictory statements.  The Monopolists and some scientists had lulled the nation with the magic words "keep the nuclear options open".  For 25 years a vague Ambiguous Strategy had been repeated like a mantra.  Now India faced its moment of truth.  The critical issue was not Pokhran 2 or the CTBT but India's approach to the widely accepted immoral concept of nuclear deterrence.  Deterrence is to nuclear disarmament as slavery is to human rights.   One must always oppose slavery regardless of what others have done or do.  Deterrence is irredeemably immoral and seeks to attain security by threatening millions with instant extinction.  It is indiscriminate violence. Pokhran 2 had broken no laws.  It had merely demonstrated India's nuclear capability. But five detonations do not constitute a nuclear strategy. The nation awaited an announcement of a firm nuclear policy.

A debate on this issue in the Lok Sabha was diffused.  Opponents of a deterrence strategy knew that the renunciation of NW would imply that India would sign the NPT, CTBT, dismantle all NW warheads and agree to UN International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] inspections.  Politicians knew that this would be unacceptable to the mass of the public.  However, not a single opposition member was able to confront the ruling party and enunciate an alternative rational strategy.  In the absence of any political guidance by the opposition parties, a weaponisation strategy was presumed to be the only alternative for India. Supporters of this policy while arguing questions of costs admitted the morality of the view that India should not waste its resources on NW before removing poverty, illiteracy and hunger of the masses. A few MPs expressed the view that "areas of China are under the poverty line but this has not stopped China in the race for super power status.  Can India afford to stay out that race?" 

It was appreciated that 'omnipotent deterrence' to all aspects of war does not exist; the USA could not deter conventionally armed North Vietnam, nor could the USSR deter Afghan guerrillas.  Thus, an Indian nuclear deterrent would not stop Pakistan from sponsoring cross border terrorism in J & K. It was also realised that a nuclear doctrine by India could give rise to the fear of global nuclear anarchy in South Asia and provoke P5 intervention in the region.

By 1999 the government gave formal shape to the institutions made responsible for dealing with national security and ensured that all decisions were to be recorded. The Cabinet Committee on Security functioned at the apex level. Below this functioned a Security Advisory Board [SAB].   In August the newly constituted SAB released a draft "India Nuclear Doctrine" which called for a minimum nuclear deterrent strategy based on a delivery triad: aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets.  The government later clarified that this was merely a wish list and could not be the government's policy because of the cost factor.  Meanwhile, the debate continued on two questions "should India weaponise or renunciate  NW?". It was also evident that whereas India's stand on refusing to sign the NPT enjoyed wide public support, a decision to weaponise divided the nation.

During the debate on nuclear doctrine, INPAD emphasised that there are three security challenges facing India.  Firstly, internal stability which was being aggravated by external powers who want to fragment the polity.  Secondly, Pakistan's renunciation of its South Asian identity and its self-perception as the sword arm of Islam.  This motivates it so sponsor hostility against India.  Lastly, the presence of Chinese military forces in Tibet and its long term plans to establish a naval presence in the Indian Ocean

INPAD argued against the misconception that there are only two options facing India. It put forward a Resistance Strategy as India's third option. This was also referred to as the Satyagraha [insistence on truth] Approach.  It is based on an insistence of two cardinal truths: that all NW threaten the survival of mankind and NW cannot address India's security concerns. 

In simplistic terms a Resistance Strategy, takes the "middle path".  It avoids weaponisation, which violates two central truths and cannot address India's main security challenges, which is offensive to global public opinion and would result in India becoming an international outcaste.  Moreover, it avoids the heavy expenditure of weaponisation, which would undermine India's socio-economic plans.  A Resistance Strategy also avoids renunciation, which is not acceptable to a majority, who believe that India's security should not be jeopardised on moral grounds.  A Resistance Strategy is a defensive strategy and is so named because it resists pressure by domestic hawks to weaponise and at the same time reassures the public that this does not leave India more vulnerable than a doctrine based on weaponisation and a minimum deterrent strategy.  A Resistance Strategy also resists pressure by P5 who want India to sign the NPT and renounce NW.

A Resistance Strategy admits that India has nuclear warheads but that it will not weaponise, that is to say, it will not attach these warheads to missiles or to air delivery bombs or distribute these to military units. At the same time, India warns P5 that it will continue to develop and overtly display its nuclear and missile technology. This strategy is a transparent one.  Apart from displaying its technological potential, India will also develop its managerial potential.  With this in mind the Government has appointed a senior military officer in charge of  a newly created Strategic Command. His task will be to will overtly organise and prepare the requirements of a fully developed NW system.  This would imply the supervision of conventional naval, air force and army units earmarked for weaponisation.  He would plan  that these units are located so as to survive a first strike.  He would ensure the production of delivery systems able to reach likely targets, the incorporation of safeguards against accidents, theft or unauthorised usage, the establishment of reliable intelligence systems and communications able to offer a number of response options and so on.

Cynics may say that India's Resistance Strategy is a ploy to cover up its long term aim of becoming NW power.  For any P5 nation, which has enough NW to obliterate the earth twice over, to express such anxiety is the height of impertinence.  However, this is a fear that  Pakistan may legitimately voice.  This fear can only be countered by transparent confidence building measures.  India should make Pakistan an "open house" offer, on the same lines as the "open skies" offer, which the US made to the USSR in the 70s.  Pakistani scientists and military officers should be invited to visit any site, military unit or facility of their choice to convince themselves that India is not clandestinely weaponising.      

Domestic critics may object to the Resistance Strategy because it merely displays potential and does not weaponise.  This would leave India vulnerable to a surprise Pakistani nuclear first strike.  It is admitted that the Resistance Strategy obviously implies no-first-use, which anyway is the Government's stated nuclear doctrine.     If Pakistan or any other power was to opt for a surprise nuclear attack, there is little that any prospective victim can do about it, even if it possessed NW.  India would be no worse off than if she had weaponised and adopted a deterrent strategy with a no-first-use doctrine.  Thus a Resistance Strategy must plan on ensuring that a minimum required security element survives the first strike.  Thus the need to also continue developing potential and ensuring that our neighbours understand the potential power of India's response in the likelihood of a surprise attack.

Three nations have not signed the NPT.  Israel, which is believed to have NW but has never tested these nor issued any statement about its status.  Pakistan which has NW and refuses to adopt a 'no-first-use" doctrine.  India, which has nuclear warheads but has never clearly defined its nuclear status. All the indications are that India had adopted a Resistance Strategy. It is time that India states this in clear terms, explaining what this means to the politician, bureaucracy and the people through the Lok Sabha and the media, and then to the world.

A Resistance Strategy reasserts that India will not sign the NPT not only because it is discriminatory but also because the Treaty emphasises a nuclear status quo and is therefore not pro-disarmament. .  India has already imposed a self-regulatory ban on testing further NW.  It should now be prepared to sign the CTBT if others did so. [The CTBT, unlike the NPT is not a discriminatory treaty.]  India should support the UN plan for the universal capping and reduction of NW and the eventual control by a UN Agency of all residual NW and weapon grade fissile material.  India is willing that its war heads and weapon grade fissile material be treated at par with the assets held by the P5 and others.  But until serious disarmament measures commence, India must continue the overt development of next generation force projections and delivery technology, cruise missiles and a missile defence shield.  It will display this potential but will not weaponise.

It has now become obvious to the world that the safeguards envisaged in the NPT have failed to stop nations who have signed the treaty from defying the regime and acquiring NW.  China made a mockery of the Treaty by passing on NW  "know how" to Pakistan. Pakistan in turn became a proliferator and aided North Korea and Iran to turn nuclear.  These violations by China and Pakistan attracted no penalties.  Today the risk of  terrorists and non-state actors getting their hands on enriched fuel and manufacturing a crude nuclear explosive device cannot be ruled out.  India does not want to be called or treated as a NW power.  It is a responsible potential NW power and is prepared to support the UN's capping and reduction policies.  India has joined a US-led Container Survey Scheme and has made it clear that it is willing to join the international community in stopping the spread of NW technology. 

However surrounded by ‘renegade states’ with unstable societies India also needs to be prepared to defend itself against irrational or terrorist use. This has necessitated India opting for missile defence shield. As a territorial status quo power this is a defensive measure and NOT a means to initiate conflict at conventional level. But if the missile proliferation in our neghbourhood continues unabated, India may well be forced to modify its ‘no first use’ pledge to ‘no first offensive use’ thus reserving to itself the right to USE nuclear weapons in purely defensive role.