A national nuclear doctrine represents, the collective set of beliefs or principles held by the nation with regard to the utility of its nuclear weapons.

Post 1998 nuclear test, India came up with a comprehensive nuclear doctrine to clear doubts and misunderstandings prevailing around world regarding India's Nuclear weapon policy. The Cabinet Committee on Security enunciated the details in 2003. By charting out a clear and principled nuclear policy, India has not only clarified its stand (both nationally and internationally) but also has earned valuable global support and credibility by diligently following the restraints.

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Main Features of India's Nuclear Doctrine

a) Building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent.
b) A "No First Use" posture; nuclear weapons to be used only "in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere".
c) Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be "massive" and designed to inflict "unacceptable damage".
d) Nuclear retaliatory attacks to be authorized only by civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
e) Non use of nuclear weapons against non nuclear weapon states.
f) Continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies, participation in FMCT negotiations, continued moratorium on testing.
g) India to retain option of retaliating with nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack against it with biological or chemical weapons.
h) Continued commitment to goal of nuclear weapon free world, through global, verifiable and non discriminatory disarmament.


  • "Credible minimum deterrent":

It recognizes that the deterrence to be effective must be credible, which includes:
a) Sufficient and Survivable nuclear forces both in terms of warheads and means of delivery able to inflict unacceptable damage.
b) Nuclear Forces must be operationally prepared at all times.
c) Effective Intelligence and Early Warning Capabilities.
d) A Robust Command and Control System.
e) The Will to Employ Nuclear Forces.
f) Communication of Deterrence Capability.

Credible minimum deterrence along with "No first use" and "No use against non nuclear states" clearly indicates that India's nuclear capability is for defensive purpose.

  • Massive retaliation and "Unacceptable damage":

Though India takes a principled defensive stance, by ensuring massive and decisive  retaliation it makes it's intents clear to countries with an ulterior motive.

  • Robust Command & Control system:

Political Council chaired by PM will be the final authority to take decision, who will be aided by an Executive Council headed by NSA. Bestowing the decision on popularly elected political executive (in a vibrant democracy like India) earns India a lot of credibility.

  • Effective intelligence and early warning capability:

This will be critical not only to counter an attack but also to retaliate. Organizations like NTRO, RAW provide 24x7 intelligence data to the authority in this regard.

Issue over no First Use policy

Arguments against No First Use

  • Several think tanks have been critical of the no-first-use (NFU) posture, calling it a liability in serious war planning.
  • NFU may result in unacceptably high initial casualties and damage to Indian population, cities, and infrastructure.
  • "Massive" retaliation is not credible, especially against a tactical nuclear strike on Indian forces on the adversary's own territory.
  • Lt. Gen. B.S. Nagal (Ret.), former commander in chief highlighted that it would be morally wrong for the leadership to place the population "in peril".
  • An elaborate and costly ballistic missile defense (BMD) system would be required to defend against a first strike.

Arguments supporting No First Use

  • India's strategic restraint posture has provided major gains internationally, including the lifting of economic sanctions and the removal of technology denial regimes, civil nuclear cooperation agreements, and accommodation in multilateral nuclear export control regimes. Most of these will be frittered away if India opts for first use.
  • Complex command and control and sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems are necessary for a first-use posture.
  • A first-use posture will deny India the opportunity to engage in conventional warfare below the nuclear threshold.
  • It may lead to arms race and destabilization of the entire south Asia and meddling of outside powers.


Given the difficult neighbourhood and increasing threat of nuclear warfare, India's Nuclear doctrine acts as a deterrent, and plays a de-escalating role, creating space for diplomatic solution to critical issues.

While adhering to its "No first use" policy India must be prepared with a full proof ballistic missile defence system and efficient intelligence gathering network. India's principled nuclear doctrine, it's time tested credibility in peaceful nuclear use and its commitment to non discriminatory global disarmament must be leveraged to acquire membership in Global Nuclear Regime. These platforms must be used to strengthen the global nuclear architecture disincentivising nuclear states to either use or transfer nuclear know how to non state actors.


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