Posted on August 22, 2019
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently reaffirmed a long-standing tenet of India’s nuclear weapons doctrine: that it would not be the first to use the devastating weapons in a conflict. But he subsequently questioned how much longer that commitment would remain. He told the media that while India had “strictly adhered to” the doctrine thus far “what happens in future depends on the circumstances”.
He was signalling that India’s “no first use” commitment is neither absolute nor permanent, and implying that in a conflict, nothing would compel India to abide by it. His statement came after India revoked the special constitutional status of the part of Kashmir it controls – prompting a furious reaction from Pakistan, which, like India, claims the entire territory.
These were not off-the-cuff remarks. Mr Singh was speaking at Pokhran, the site of India’s nuclear weapons tests in the late 1990s. He tweeted the seemingly scripted remark from his official account and the government’s Press Information Bureau put out a press release quoting the statement.
As such, it was the most official signal to date that India’s “no first use” doctrine might give way to something more ambiguous. The implication was that one day India might decide that it would have to use nuclear weapons first to safeguard its security.