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Nuclear disarmament

India must be ready to guard its interests

by G Parthasarathy

(July 11, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a conference on disarmament in New Delhi on June 9 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi's address to the UN Special Session on Disarmament on July 9 1998. Rajiv Gandhi had then presented an Action Plan calling on the international community to negotiate a binding agreement on general and complete disarmament leading to the elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2010.

Twenty years later we have a situation where, according to the Bulletin of American Scientists, the US has a stockpile of 4075 active nuclear warheads. Russia, France and the UK have 5830, 200 and 350 warheads respectively. India, Pakistan and Israel are said to respectively possess 100-140, around 60 and between 100 and 200 active warheads each. North Korea reportedly possesses 4-10 nuclear warheads. When Rajiv Gandhi presented his Action Plan in 1988 Pakistan had, thanks to liberal Chinese assistance and American acquiescence, already acquired a nuclear arsenal, prompting to direct his scientists, Dr P.K. Iyengar and Dr V.S. Arunachalam, to proceed with assembling an Indian nuclear arsenal.

Even as Rajiv Gandhi was calling for the establishment of a "nonviolent and nuclear weapons-free world order" duly backed by Mikhail Gorbachev, the nuclear weapons powers were moving to perpetuate their hegemony, by securing an indefinite extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which was concluded on July 1, 1968. With 189 countries now having acceded to the NPT and only four — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — living outside its provisions, the NPT can be said, as western experts aver, to have prevented the emergence of around 20 nuclear weapons states as was feared in 1968.

Thus, while India can legitimately claim that the treaty is unequal and discriminatory, it cannot ignore the fact that it will remain the target of signatories to the treaty, even from among its nonaligned partners like Iran and Egypt. These attitudes are partially motivated by a measure of envy, apart from concerns arising out of the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel. Countries like Iran demand a "complete prohibition" of nuclear cooperation with the countries which have not signed the NPT.

The July 9 New Delhi conference was called in the wake of an appeal issued jointly by Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former US Defence Secretary William Perry, calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The reality is, however, that the American establishment is nowhere near accepting these recommendations, with the authors themselves now becoming quiet. New Delhi should remember that none of these four new-found champions of disarmament, who were invited to the conference, chose to attend it. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, that one-time ardent champion of a "nonviolent and nuclear weapons-free world," chose not to attend the conference, though he was one of the invitees. The reality is that while world statesmen may pay lip service to disarmament, they are uneasy at associating themselves with India because it is a non-signatory to the NPT.

The NPT was founded on the "three pillars" of nonproliferation, disarmament and cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. While its proponents draw a measure of satisfaction from the fact that the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons today has not reached double digits, there is a powerful lobby, particularly in the US and in the European Union, which demands "universalisation" the NPT and measures to put pressure on non-signatories like India to accede to the NPT. China, which has a notorious record of violating the NPT by continuing transfers of nuclear weapon designs and technology to Pakistan, adopts a holier-than-thou attitude by demanding that India should give up its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT.

India, unfortunately, shows a lack of spine by refusing to allude publicly to these Chinese transgressions of the NPT. Similarly, India has been less than forthright in joining others to point out that NATO nuclear-sharing agreements which have led to Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey currently receiving nuclear weapons, which Canada continued to receive till 1984 and Greece until 2001, grossly violate the NPT obligations.

Finally, the second "pillar" of the NPT, which requires the nuclear weapons states to pursue negotiations leading to a "treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control", has been rendered meaningless by the reluctance of nuclear weapon powers to either give up nuclear weapons or even agree to refrain from the use or threat of use of these weapons.

India has now to prepare itself for the likelihood of the finalisation of two treaties — a Treaty on a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTBT) and a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) — in the not-too-distant future, especially if Barack Obama is elected as the next US President. As our former Ambassador to the UN Arundhati Ghosh recently noted, Prime Minister Vajpayee had already committed in the UN in 1998 that apart from observing its unilateral moratorium on testing, India would, in addition, bring its discussions with the US "to a successful conclusion" so that "the entry into force of the CTBT is not delayed".

Thus, despite protestations to the contrary, both former Prime Minster Vajpayee and the then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh have committed India to acceding to the CTBT once countries like China and the US ratify it.

The real challenge that India is going to face will arise when negotiations commence to conclude the FMCT, which will ultimately lead to an end to the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. (Conclusion of the FMCT will be a high priority during an Obama Presidency in the US.) It is here that India should stand firm, holding that it will accede to such a treaty only if it is non-discriminatory and internationally verifiable.

Any loophole that permits China to either build up its arsenal while India is prohibited from doing so, or permits China to clandestinely transfer knowhow and fissile material to Pakistan should be categorically rejected. It would be worthwhile to convey this in unambiguous terms to key partners like the US, the UK, France and Russia, other members of the G-8 and to friendly countries like South Africa and Brazil.

India should reaffirm that while it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons, it will also resist pressures to accept treaties that will undermine the efficacy of its nuclear deterrent. We will also have to recognise that while global nuclear disarmament is desirable, the prospects for nuclear disarmament in the foreseeable future are virtually nonexistent.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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