Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons in “punitive retaliation”, if the “policy of deterrence” failed. In an interview, Mukherjee spelled out his government’s nuclear policy and said that while India maintained nuclear weapons as a deterrent, “it will use them in punitive retaliation, which could inflict unacceptable damage to the aggressor”.
Mukherjee maintained that any nuclear retaliation would be consistent with the United Nations Charter that sanctions the right of self-defence. The interview was published in the ‘Force’, a magazine devoted to national security issues in India.
Mukherjee, India’s first non-National Democratic Alliance defence minister since the nuclear tests in 1998, also hinted at the need for tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). He said, “We are fully aware of the procurements made by our neighbours and our armed forces are prepared to meet any eventuality.”
The acquisition of TNW runs contrary to India’s declared no-first-use nuclear policy. During Operation Parakaram, when India had amassed its troops along its border with Pakistan, both political and military leadership deliberated on the need for TNW following apprehension that Pakistan might use its nuclear weapons against advancing Indian armour columns, which would have halted the war as well as lowered the morale of Indian troops.
Asked if like Pakistan, India should reduce the strength of its army, Mukherjee said, “I don’t think it is possible to reduce the strength of the army.” He said there was no proposal to review the procurement contracts made by the previous government. He said all the contracts, such as for Admiral Gorshkov, SU-30 and T-90 tanks, were in the pipeline.