NEW DELHI — Amid one of the worst phases of border tensions with Pakistan, the defense minister of India said Thursday that the country’s pledge not to use nuclear weapons first amounts to “giving away your strength.”
Speaking at a book launch in New Delhi, Manohar Parrikar said, “A lot of people say India has a no-first-use nuclear policy, but why should I bind myself? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly.”
Parrikar added that it was his personal opinion and that the government's policy has not changed.
“As an individual, I get the feeling sometimes, ‘Why do I say I am not going to use it first?’ I am not saying I have to use it first,” he said.
After conducting nuclear tests in 1998 and incurring international sanctions, India declared that it will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike and that its atomic weapons are for deterrence. Pakistan, which responded with a tit-for-tat test, has not adopted a “no-first-use” nuclear doctrine and has said that if it is invaded, it will use any weapon in its arsenal in defense. The two countries have not signed the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Since independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, the Himalayan region that both claim in its entirety. Hostilities between the two neighbors have grown in recent months, especially after alleged Pakistani militants attacked an Indian army base, prompting New Delhi to retaliate. At least a dozen Indians have since been killed in border fire.
Referring to India’s nuclear doctrine, Parrikar said: “A written defense strategy does not mean you have to follow it. It should be your guideline.” But he said he supported the strategy of being “unpredictable.”
“If there is some question mark or danger to the country, I will not open the book first,” he said, as the audience laughed.
Parrikar’s controversial remarks come at a time when India is negotiating hard to become a member of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group, but China has so far scuttled its bid.
The Indian Defense Ministry released a statement later saying that the government's official position has not changed.
But Parrikar's words elicited quite a few reactions on Twitter.