India’s journey to become a nuclear state

Ahead of the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May 2023, Japan’s Prime Minister spoke of his desire to use the meeting to “send out a strong message” about the need for a world without nuclear weapons.
  • After the USA’s successful Trinity Test, the cold war between US and USSR started for becoming a Nuclear power and thus led India in the same journey to emerge as one of the Nuclear powers amongst the other countries.
Tracing the History of Nuclear Policy:
  • In the years after Independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru followed a dual intent strategy on “nuclear power”. He made it clear in 1950 that while he was against the atom bomb, the call for a nuclear-free world must come from a position of strength, not weakness.
  • Later on, Dr Homi J Bhabha was entrusted to lead India’s nuclear programme — to develop the capability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but to retain the capacity to develop a weapon if the need arose.
  • India’s first nuclear test in 1974, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, demonstrated its capability to produce nuclear weapons, but international opprobrium and resistance from within led to a slowing of the process to build and deploy a full nuclear arsenal.
  • Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee saw the nuclear tests of 1998, codenamed Operation Shakti, as the “beginning of the rise of a strong and self-confident India”.
  • The tests were a response to the threat posed by China.
  • When Communist China conducted the nuclear tests in October 1964, the five nuclear powers (US, USSR, UK, France, and China) also the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council had tried to impose the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 on the rest of the world.
  • In the year 1999, India adopted a draft nuclear doctrine based on “NO FIRST USE” (NFU) policy.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):
  • Signed in 1968, the treaty entered into force in 1970, now has 190 member states. It requires countries to give up any present or future plans to build nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
  • Three main objectives of the treaty are non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
  • India is one of the only five countries that either did not sign the NPT or signed but withdrew, thus becoming part of a list that includes Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan.
India’s nuclear doctrine:
  • Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent;
  • 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 retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.
  • Nuclear retaliatory attacks can only be authorised by the civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
  • 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 export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations, and continued 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.

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