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Potential Shift in India's Nuclear-Arms Policy Draws Dismay

India's Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi delivers a speech during the release of the party's election manifesto in New Delhi on Monday. The opposition party, which is widely anticipated to win national elections, said it would update the country's nuclear doctrine if brought to power. India's Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi delivers a speech during the release of the party's election manifesto in New Delhi on Monday. The opposition party, which is widely anticipated to win national elections, said it would update the country's nuclear doctrine if brought to power. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

The Monday announcement by India's front-runner party that it wants to revise the nation's nuclear doctrine has unnerved some international observers.

The Bharatiya Janata Party in its election manifesto promised to "study in detail India's nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times," the Indian Express reported.

"There's been this unspoken worry within the diplomatic community on whether a BJP government will attempt any repeat of what it did in 1998, and today's manifesto has only added to those worries," an anonymous Western European diplomat told the Indian Telegraph.

India's nuclear posture was first developed by a BJP-led coalition government one year following the country's 1998 atomic tests, the Express reported. Since then, New Delhi has observed a no-first-use doctrine, promising it would never be the first in a conflict to use nuclear weapons and would not use such armaments against countries without similar arsenals of their own. India has also voluntarily refrained from conducting further nuclear tests.

South Asia expert Michael Kugelman in an interview with the London Guardian said, "Given the existing tensions with Pakistan and the fact that those tensions are likely to rise as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan [at the end of the year], this could well cause stress in Pakistan's security establishment which is really not something anyone [in Washington] desires."

Bharatiya Janata Party member Nirmala Sitharaman, who is involved in foreign policy development, told the Express, "It will be a comprehensive re-look at the nuclear doctrine with an open mind." She did not take off the table the chance of re-examining the no-first-use doctrine.

The current governing Congress Party supports maintaining the no-first-use policy, however the party is not expected to do well in India's six-week national elections, which began on Monday.

"Why should we tie our hands into accepting a global no-first-use policy, as has been proposed by the prime minister recently?" said Sheshadri Chari, a BJP member involved in drafting the national security section of the party's manifesto.

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