Rethinking the Nuclear Doctrine

Modi rethinking nuclear doctrine
Narendra Modi oath taking ceremony

The BJP Manifesto promises to study afresh India’s nuclear doctrine, revise and update it to evolve an independent Strategic Nuclear Program, relevant to the challenges of current times, to maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with the changing geostatic realities. And this resolution is a reflection of the party’s boldness and courage that the NDA regime had demonstrated earlier under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998 to show the world that, India cannot be brushed aside.
It is not that the Indian scientists had built the nuclear devices overnight during May 1998. We had them with us; but our political leadership didn’t have the courage to admit and announce our possessions. Even in 1974, when Pokharan-I test was conducted under the leadership of the “Iron lady” Indira Gandhi, India preferred to say that it was a Peaceful Nuclear Experiment (PNE) meant to explore civilian uses of such devices which no one believed. As a consequence, India became an apartheid nation and lived in nuclear isolation for the next 3 decades. But this mistake was not repeated in 1998 by the NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee and, it paid very good dividends. The US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, is believed to have met Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh thirteen to fourteen times in seven countries in three continents, when, the US first attempted to reign in India and then, finally reconciled to simply contain its nuclear ambitions. The US administration that was keen to bring India into its fold even at the cost of compromising their domestic Atomic Energy Act 1954, then finally passed ‘The Hyde Act 2006’ to enable the US President to negotiate with India. Post this, India finally succumbed and agreed to sign the famous 123-Indo US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement but disregarded several of its vital interests.
An answer to why even after testing its first nuclear device in 1974 Indian political leadership did not show the courage to reveal it in open has found no explanation, even when India had the nuclear capability in 1960s and had been working consistently in this direction all along.
Other than this, the budgetary provisions made for the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has been always been under the direct control of the Prime Ministers and its budget has always been guarded in secrecy. The DAE receives funds generously from the Government irrespective of the nature of political set-up. And even though India made great strides in the use of atomic energy in many areas of science, industry, medicine and agriculture, the major justification for its budget always came from the electrical power generation from nuclear reactors which undoubtedly was, and still is badly needed for India’s industrial growth.
Dr. Homi Bhabha, the founding father of India’s atomic energy, visualised a three stage program to utilize India’s vast reserves of Thorium using the breeder technology as nuclear reactor based power generation is a clean source of energy. Since then, India has been working in this direction although many countries have had reservations about utilising the Thorium cycle to generate energy, as it appears uneconomical and involves complicated and difficult technology.
In 1962, Dr. Bhabha promised a power generation capacity from nuclear reactors going up to 20,000 MW by 1987. After his untimely death, his successor Dr. Vikram Sarabhai thought of even doubling the capacity by the year 2000. Subsequently in 1980s, Dr. Ramanna brought it down to 10,000 MW by the year 2000, but it got escalated to 20,000 MW by his successors. Dr. Anil Kakodkar has gone on record to predict that India would generate nuclear power of 50,000 MW by 2050. And it is believed they all must have predicted these figures as achievable targets with indigenous expertise, knowledge and available nuclear materials. Though except Dr. Bhabha and Dr. Sarabhai all others were well aware that from 1974 onwards India was facing nuclear isolation after the Pokharan-I experiment, over the years the enormous budgets directed in this direction have been fully utilized and the nuclear materials available in India have been mined, processed, used and exploited. And therefore none of the targets were achieved, they appear to be achievable. The question arises. What remains for the BJP now to study in detail, to revise and update the country’s nuclear doctrine?
India shall never attempt or endorse the first strike policy, but to counter countries that have nuclear weapons, India needs a reasonably large and dependable nuclear war-heads and efficient and not-so-long-range delivery systems. Unfortunately, under the 123-Indo-US Agreement of 2008, India has committed to voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing and has indirectly accepted exemption limit of its nuclear test yields of 1 pound TNT and has agreed to face the consequences of violating it as provided under Section 106 read with Section 110(10) of The Hyde Act 2006.
The limit of 1 pound TNT for India for its nuclear zero testing is to be judged on the basis of similar exemption for other countries. Under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which India has not signed, the USA favoured a limit of 4 lbs of TNT as `zero yield’. It is reported that the UK favoured a `zero’ yield at 100 lbs TNT while Russia a level of 10 tons and France a level between 100 to 200 tons of TNT. These differing values for different countries for zero level yields are dependent on their technical capabilities in verifying their computer assisted simulations of actual nuclear explosions. Under the provision of the Hyde Act 2006, the US restriction on India to a one-pound TNT limit is totally unacceptable since it would prevent India from improving its strategic nuclear devices with its presently computer technology and expertise. On August 17, 2006 in his reply to Rajya Sabha our Prime Minster had stated “Our position on this is unambiguous. The US has been intimated that in reference to the nuclear detonation in the India-US Bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, as a condition for future cooperation, is not acceptable to us. And that India is prepared to go beyond a unilateral voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing as indicated in the July Statement. The same is true of other intrusive non-proliferation benchmarks that are mentioned in the proposed US legislation (The Hyde Act 2006).  And that India’s possession and development of nuclear weapons is an integral part of our national security. This will remain so.”
It is sad that the 123-Indo-US Bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement which was signed two years later in 2008 failed to reflect the above contention.
It is here that a rethinking is warranted by the BJP. Firstly, the policy of unilateral voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing deserves to be revised and then, a cautious negotiation by India with other nations of the world, particularly the NSG countries, to define the zero yield nuclear testing limit for India. It is hard to accept that while scientists in US, UK, Russia or France would require different and much higher zero-yield limits for conducting their nuclear explosions to verify their computer simulation data, Indian scientists are restricted to managing it with only one fourth of it, which is the lowest of them!
There has always been a lack of understanding between the policy makers and the nuclear scientists/technologists in India. But such negotiations are mandatory not only to safely sail India into an equitable nuclear testing regime for establishing a deterrent nuclear arsenal with a credible second strike capacity but, it is also imperative to  achieve it without inviting the ire of other nations.

Dr. B.B.Singh holds a Masters degree in physics from Lucknow University and a doctorate from Royal Military College of Science U.K. Amongst various other honours he is recipient of Swatantryaveer Savarkar Science Award, Jack Goldberg Award of the Oregon Health Sciences University, USA and Indian Society for Cancer Research & Communication Award. He also holds LL.M. degree from Mumbai University specializing in Intellectual Properties Law. He has actively written and debated for protecting country’s interests during the formative years of Patent law and Nuclear legislation. He is a member of several scientific and social organizations including Rotary Club and Masonic fraternities.


  1. BJP should not be too eager to revisit the Nuclear Doctrine. It is important not to jeopardize our road map to make nuclear power as an important component for our energy starved nation. Planning commission under the last regime has projected about 60,000 MWe of nuclear power in the next two decades. It is a tall order and to achieve it, central govt. needs to deal with the environmentalists at home and nuclear hawks overseas. It is heartening to learn that the present govt. is keen to facilitate the setting up of nuclear power plants by addressing to the irritants for seeking the help of Nuclear Supplier Group countries. Policy of keeping our nuclear weapon program on course require addressing to the proliferation issues under nuclear watch dog. Confrontation will retard our nuclear program.
    There is a need to set up schools of research on Thorium, which can be a game changer for India’s future energy needs.

    1. Nuclear power is certainly a desirable component in India’s energy mix and we must have it to the fullest. But there are several other equally and even economically more favourable alternatives. For instance, the solar energy units for domestic/street lightings, seasonal micro- and mini hydro plants and the localised wind power units can contribute almost equally to, if not more than, the costlier energy from nuclear plants. Efforts to reduce transmission losses (presently 27-35% as compared to 3-4% in Europe) would be a great achievement. It is not to suggest the rejection of nuclear power but to advocate a balance effort on the other sources of energy. Nuclear has, of course no parallel for strategic purposes even if as a deterrence To live a life in luxury is certainly good but to live a life with dignity is equally important.

      1. In response to a question, the Minister of state in PMO states on May, 2012 in parliament that the cost of production of nuclear power is minimum amongst different sources of power production (94 paise/ kWh – Rs 3.40/ kWh for nuclear vis-à-vis. Rs. 1.06-4.18 for coal, Rs 3.55 -5.33 for wind and Rs 15.39 for solar (Brahma 2012) . It is also the cleanest , even cleaner than the renewable sources and of course much cleaner than the fossil fuels. Issues of nuclear waste and safety are important but technology has improved by leaps and bounds in these areas and TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima were based on the technology of 60s.

  2. Dear Dr Singh,
    The present doctrine attempts to address expected actions or response to actions from ROGUE nations. To make the doctrine more comprehensive it is necessary to include/address the problem of terrorist groups clandestinely working from certain countries with or without the support of the state.
    Suggestion: Govt of India’s “No First Strike” option should not be applicable to countries offering safe heaven to terrorist groups.

    1. India is poised to be among mojor economic powers in the world and it is imperitive that India should also be militarily strong. Nuclear weapons form one of the most important components in India’s defence preparedness. We need not define a number (one pound, four pounds TNT etc) for enhancing our technology of nuclear weapons. Our designers should decide the number and government should work towards getting that number accepted by the nuclear community.

  3. It is necessary to ensure security. But over doing on it, shall be avoided. However, it is tough to judge where is cut-off. But in case of nuclear weapons, it is simple that once capability is demonstrated, that should be considered sufficient till war breaks and need is felt of the nuclear weapons. One can store nuclear grade material, for maintaining the capability.
    Present need of our is to uplift Nation from Poverty and hardship. Thus Nation should devote all its energy towards these-may it be improving energy availability, improving water resource etc.
    Let us all of work for expeditious improvement in our living conditions and employment conditions and not divert elsewhere.

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