25 Years to Pokhran- II: A Transformative Journey to Power

India’s nuclear weapon program offers a strategic advantage in safeguarding the country's sovereignty.
25 Years to Pokhran- II: A Transformative Journey to Power

On May 11, 1998, at 3:45 pm, India accomplished a significant feat codenamed “Operation Shakti” by conducting the Pokhran-II test, which took the world by surprise. This international outcry led to cementing India's status as a “Nuclear Power”. Every year since then, May 11 is commemorated as National Technology Day. A dream that was formulated back in the 1950s gained a concrete shape.

The major question that arises here is “Why did India choose to exercise the nuclear option in 1998 despite many sanctions from countries such as The United States”. Some of the grave concerns were:

•            China conducted as many as 45 nuclear tests and acquired its nuclear weapon back in 1964. This increased the concerns about India’s national security.

•            China had also conducted a nuclear test for Pakistan (May 1990), thereby boosting Pakistan’s nuclear confidence.

•            International pressure to sign NPT and CTBT.  If India signed on to CTBT, India would have been closing the nuclear option forever.

India’s rationale and intentions regarding the development of nuclear weapons were outlined in the Official nuclear doctrine. This nuclear doctrine created an assurance to the world about its usage.

This Nuclear Doctrine is based on three main pillars. These are:

1.           No first use Policy (NFU): This means that India would never be the first one to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Its nuclear weapons are purely for defensive purposes and will only be used in retaliation to a nuclear attack.

2.           Credible minimum deterrence: India’s nuclear posture of credible minimum deterrence means that India’s nuclear capabilities are designed to deter potential adversaries.

3.           Nuclear command authority (NCA):  India unveiled a 3-tier Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) to manage its nuclear weapons. This board framework was prepared by the National Security Board consisting of a political council, executive council, and strategic forces command.

Significance of India becoming nuclear weapon state:

The emergence of India as a nuclear weapon state has had far-reaching implications both domestically and internationally. This has impacted on various aspects of national security, regional dynamics, and global politics.

Enhancing National Security: India’s nuclear weapon program offers a strategic advantage in safeguarding the country's sovereignty. India’s nuclear arsenal acts as a strong deterrent, discouraging any potential threat from hostile nations and bolstering its national security posture.

Geostrategic Influence: Being a nuclear power state enhances India’s geostrategic influence in the region and beyond. It elevates India’s status as a key player in global affairs and grants India to engage in strategic partnerships.

Regional Stability: India's status as a nuclear power state has contributed to regional stability, particularly in South Asia. The possession of nuclear weapons by both India and its neighbor, Pakistan, has established a delicate balance of power, commonly known as nuclear deterrence. This balance helps prevent large-scale conventional conflicts.

 Non-Proliferation Commitment: India's journey as a nuclear power state has been accompanied by a commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament. As a responsible nuclear power, India adheres to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and maintains strict controls over its nuclear assets. It actively advocates for global nuclear disarmament and promotes non-proliferation efforts.

Technological Advancements: The development of nuclear capabilities has propelled India's scientific advancements. The pursuit of nuclear power has fostered the growth of indigenous nuclear research, development, and innovation. The knowledge and expertise gained from the nuclear program have been instrumental in other scientific disciplines, such as medicine, agriculture, and space exploration. 

Energy Security and Peaceful Applications: Nuclear energy plays a vital role in India's energy mix, offering a reliable and low-carbon source of electricity generation. The peaceful applications of nuclear technology, including nuclear medicine, agriculture, and water management, have significant societal benefits and contribute to India's overall development.

Challenges of India being a nuclear weapon state:

Just like the two sides of the same coin, India faces several challenges in the nuclear domain as well. Here are some of these:

 Non-Proliferation Regime: India is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which poses challenges in terms of accessing certain nuclear technologies and materials from the international market.

Limited Uranium Resources: India has limited domestic uranium resources and relies heavily on imports to meet its nuclear fuel requirements. Securing a consistent and affordable supply of uranium is crucial for India's nuclear energy program and poses a challenge due to global demand and supply constraints.

Safety and Security: Ensuring the safety and security of nuclear installations is a critical challenge. India has experienced incidents such as the Bhopal disaster and the radioactive leak at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station. Maintaining high safety standards, preventing accidents, and safeguarding nuclear material from theft or misuse requires significant resources and expertise.

Technological Advancements: India aims to develop advanced nuclear technologies such as fast breeder reactors and thorium-based reactors. However, achieving technological advancements in the nuclear domain requires substantial research and development.

 Public Acceptance and Environmental Concerns: Nuclear energy often faces public skepticism and concerns about safety, waste management, and the potential for accidents. Building public acceptance and addressing environmental concerns associated with nuclear power plants, radioactive waste disposal, and potential radiation hazards remain significant challenges.

Waste Management: Radioactive waste management is a significant challenge in the nuclear domain. Proper handling, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste require robust infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, and long-term planning. Developing effective waste management strategies and implementing them responsibly is crucial to minimize environmental impact and public health risks.

NFU Policy:

The main concern here also lies in whether we should revisit the NFU Policy or not. India’s NFU policy has been criticized on some grounds. Firstly, it limits strategic space for Indian decision-makers in crises where they have limited room to execute some measures. Secondly, the Continuation of attacks like- Kargil in 1999, and the Mumbai attacks in 2008 is seen as evidence of the failure of nuclear deterrence.

However, the good always outweighs the bad and it has pros too. Firstly, it eliminates the need for pre-emption, which would otherwise create significant pressure on Indian decision-makers to execute a nuclear first strike during a crisis.   It also helps India to avoid the pitfalls of building a technologically advanced nuclear capability deployed on hair-trigger alert, which is a financially costly nuclear posture. Furthermore, conventional attacks and incursions can be addressed using conventional means, without involving nuclear weapons. Surgical strikes by India in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in 2016 and air strikes in Balakot in 2019 are examples of this.

Acquiring the status of being a Nuclear power state is a blessing in disguise as it carries immense significance for the country and the world. It ensures India's national security, enhances its geopolitical influence, and contributes to regional stability. Furthermore, nuclear technology's technological advancements and peaceful applications bolster India's scientific and societal progress. As a nuclear power state, India occupies a prominent position on the world stage and plays a crucial role in shaping the dynamics of global security and disarmament.

However, at the initial stage, India must prioritize addressing immediate security threats by strategically developing an adequate and robust retaliatory capability to effectively demonstrate credible deterrence. And at the second level, India needs to make long-term innovative diplomatic investments toward the creation of a global environment conducive to peace and universal nuclear disarmament.