Highlighting the salient features of India, Pakistan Nuclear Doctrine


Strategic culture of South Asia is comprise of hostility between India and Pakistan. Conventional war, territorial issues, arms race, rising insecurities eventually led to the acquisition of nuclear weapons.India and Pakistan became nuclear weapons states in mid-1998. A debate emerged at international level about the nuclear doctrine for the region. Nuclear doctrine is “the set of principles or rules governing the employment of a capability”. The basic use of this concept is primarily in political, military and strategic sides. If we see doctrine specifically in military terms it contain those rules and principles in which military forces maneuvers. In nuclear doctrine state mainly address two main objective first management of the nuclear weapons and second operational positioning. To avoid all type of issues related to nuclear weapons states needs to develop rules and principles to determine in which conditions these weapons will be used. Nuclear doctrine is an important piece of paper for policy maker in war like situation or in unstable situation. There are mainly two types of nuclear doctrine offensive and defensive.

India and Pakistan both states are nuclear weapon states and play a significant role in peace of South Asia. India developed its nuclear weapon in 1974 and named it as peaceful nuclear explosion. Nuclear doctrine was drafted in 1999 by National Security Advisory Board but that was never approved. In 2003 Indian government spelled out its nuclear doctrine. India opted NFU and declared its nuclear weapon program as only for deterrence purposes. NFU but retaliation is must in response to an attack on India and Indian forces anywhere. Credible minimum deterrence is there to attack aggressor with punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons. No weapons against non-nuclear weapons states or not align with nuclear power. India will retain the option of using nuclear weapons in response to any attack of chemical and biological weapons. Using of nuclear weapons against any aggressor will be in hands of elected people .e.g. Prime Minster. Lastly India will promote nuclear free world without any discrimination.

So every nuclear or conventional doctrine have some controversies which are difficult to explain and implement. No first Use is the most controversial part of Indian nuclear doctrine. Indian NFU is conditional and number of times its officials declared that they will reverse it as per the condition. It clearly means that their No First Use posture is not credible enough with regard to their adversaries. Numerous strategist and Indian officials brought Indian NFU in spotlight to evaluate its credibility. Some of them are entirely against this posture. Indian defence minister said that India should not bind itself with No First Use and say that India will react responsibly. There were number of calls during past year to revise the No First Use posture. Bharatiya Janata Party included this in its election manifesto but because of public pressure they later declared that there wouldn’t be any reversal in nuclear doctrine. It’s important to know what are the pros and cons of NFU to evaluate why NFU is so much controversial in Indian case. Those who are in favor of NFU claim that it will represent India as responsible nuclear weapon states. As late K. Subrahmanyam pointed said, as far as deterrence is concerned perception matters instead of number. So having NFU as nuclear doctrine wouldn’t matter. On the other side those who are against NFU claim that NFU is “not so much a strategic choice, but a cultural one”. They claim that if India found advantage in attacking first in any crisis, it will bring serious consequences as having No first Use posture.Bharat Karnad says that NFU is for peace time and it is not suitable for India.

Another point which is a question over Credible Minimum Deterrence, India is spending huge amount of money on military modernization and initiating arms race in the Region and at the same time they claim that they have credible minimum deterrence posture. Number of Indian strategist says that Indian Nuclear doctrine lack clarity which can lead to any situation in future.

Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons for security purposes to create a strong deterrence against India. Initially Pakistan was stick to peaceful use of nuclear technology but Indian certain actions over time provoked Pakistan to go nuclear. So Pakistan did managed to get nuclear capability. Later these elements became the foundation of Pakistan Nuclear doctrine. Pakistan nuclear posture is truly Indian centric. Pakistan has no official nuclear doctrine but official statements from military and political leadership clearly define the agendas which are part of Pakistan nuclear policy. There are some salient elements in Pakistani nuclear doctrinefirst nuclear weapons are for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Main purpose of Pakistani nuclear weapons are to counter Indian aggression. Pakistan nuclear doctrine is consist of few main elements, first Pakistan will maintain Credible Minimum Deterrence, Secondly Pakistan will avoid any type of strategic arms race with India. Thirdly Pakistan will stop testing but it is subjected to Indian actions. Pakistani command and control structure is part of it as well. Lastly Pakistan doesn’t have No first Use policy. Pakistan put certain conditions for using nuclear weapons first.

As Pakistani nuclear capability is Indian centric so Indian further actions provoked Pakistan to bring some sort of change to counter Indian hostile and belligerent policies. Pakistan moved from Credible Minimum Deterrence to Full Spectrum Deterrence. India is modernizing its conventional forces. Developing Cold Start Doctrine type of policies which is a huge threat to stability of south Asia. So Pakistan is taking certain actions to balance Indian actions.

Pakistani Nuclear doctrine which is ambiguous and unwritten and there is only one source of information which is official statements. Inside Pakistan there is no clash over Pakistan nuclear policy. Both Military and political leadership are on the same page. Nuclear doctrines mainly serve two purposes first it play a great role of signaling to your adversary intentionally or unintentionally. Second it clarify the role of Nuclear weapons and identify the threshold. Nuclear weapons states adopted mix sort of approach, few have declared nuclear doctrine and few remained ambiguous and Pakistan is one of them.

Having an explicit nuclear doctrine can benefit a state because it clearly indicate threshold. Ambiguous and unwritten nuclear doctrine can be harmful in case your adversary imagined the threshold very low and took certain action which is intolerable. Secondly clear nuclear doctrine will help the states to gain the support of International community not only in peacetime but in crisis time as well. So in my opinion if Pakistan declare its nuclear doctrine it would help Pakistan to gain the status of responsible nuclear weapon state and it will stop India taking further actions like Balakot and claiming false surgical strikes.

As Pakistani nuclear program and doctrine is Indian centric, so the threat perception remained in India. Pakistani included no to arms race in its unofficial doctrine but on the other hand Indian military modernization is pushing Pakistan to increase its capabilities and declare its involvement in arms race as well.

Pakistan kept the option of first use as it didn’t deny it as such. But the problem lies with practicality of this concept. First use require high degree of military intelligence, early warning system and high degree of proficiency. All these concepts are debatable in context of Pakistan.

Lastly Pakistan Full Spectrum Deterrence is more or less related to NATO’s Flexible response and to keep that intact, continues up gradation in military strategy and weapons is necessary. Current economic situation and after effects of COVID-19 would create serious challenges for Pakistan to maintain FSD in future. 

Both states are nuclear weapon states and play a crucial role maintaining peace in South Asia. India had declared its nuclear doctrine but Pakistan remained it ambiguous by not declaring it officially. Both have some sort of controversies in their nuclear doctrine which can lead to any misadventure by both side. Credibility of nuclear doctrines can serve the purpose of peace well.  

Aamira Bibi
Aamira Bibi
Aamira Bibi is an M.Phil. scholar of Nuclear and Strategic Studies at National Defence University. She received her education at National Defence University with a Graduation in International Relations. She is an avid researcher and her work has been published in Daily Times. The area of her research is Geopolitics of South Asia, more specifically relationship between India and Pakistan and its impacts on regional security and stability.


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