Route To Nuclear Disarment
Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

The international community, as a whole, has never really moved in any purposive and concerted fashion to achieve the objective of a nuclear weapon free world. While there have been many calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, progress has been limited as the five nuclear weapon states, recognized as such by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), have, generally, not been serious about a world free of nuclear weapons.

The USA and the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation) have, ofcourse, over the years concluded several bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreements which have greatly brought down their nuclear weapon holdings. As a result of these agreements the global nuclear warhead stockpile, over 95% of which is held by the USA and Russia, has come down to the present day level of around 23000. While this represents a significant drop from the 1985 peak of 650001, current day holdings of nuclear warheads are sufficient to destroy the world several times over. The reduction in nuclear warheads effected by the USA and Russia was driven not by any desire for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons but by the logic of their relations. Accordingly, the agreements concluded in this regard by the two neither led to, nor even envisaged, the subsequent involvement of the other nuclear weapon states in discussions which could ultimately lead to a nuclear weapon free world.

Instead of working for a nuclear weapon free world, through cuts in their nuclear weapon inventories and a reduced salience of nuclear weapons in their defence doctrines, the nuclear weapon states have steadily modernized their nuclear arsenals and integrated them into their war fighting doctrines and mechanisms. Most spurn the No First Use (NFU) doctrine and envisage the use of nuclear weapons even in conventional conflict situations and some project their use in preemptive and preventive modes. The nuclear weapon states have, therefore, legitimized nuclear weapons and enhanced their importance as a currency of power. This, in turn, has over time served to encourage proliferation.

The nuclear weapon states have historically remained focused not on addressing vertical proliferation, but on horizontal proliferation while, at the same time, maintaining their monopoly on nuclear weapons. The NPT was their instrument of choice for this purpose. The Treaty was essentially a bargain, whereunder while the nuclear weapon states committed themselves to “pursue negotiations in good faith” for nuclear disarmament, the non nuclear weapon states undertook to forswear nuclear weapons for all time. In addition, the latter were guaranteed unfettered access to civil nuclear technology.

The NPT was buttressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as a host of informal multilateral regimes incorporated by bodies such as the Zangger Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement, and initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), UN Security Council Resolution 1540, etc designed to ensure that the non nuclear weapon states kept their end of the bargain and did not go nuclear.

Unfortunately, the efforts to prevent horizontal proliferation under the NPT regime have not been matched by similar moves to prevent vertical proliferation. This flaw stems from the NPT itself which was mainly geared to addressing horizontal proliferation and which did not similarly address vertical proliferation. Thus while the non nuclear weapon states were required to upfront renounce the acquisition of nuclear weapons, the obligation on the nuclear weapon states was more nebulous entailing only “good faith” negotiations towards “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. Moreover, while the Treaty had specific provisions to curb horizontal proliferation, by way of the requirement of IAEA safeguards on non nuclear weapon states and restraints on supply of source, special fissionable materials and equipment to them, there were no similar stringent obligations on nuclear weapon states in achieving the stated goal of nuclear disarmament by way of a time frame or even rough benchmarks.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that the NPT regime has failed to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and thereby banish the threat of a nuclear holocaust which has confronted mankind for decades. How close we are to the use of nuclear weapons is reflected in the fact that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2007 moved the hands of its Doomsday clock forward from 7 minutes to midnight to 5 minutes to midnight.2 The situation is worse today than even for much of the cold war, partly on account of the increased likelihood of non state actors getting access to nuclear weapons, and partly on account of the near doubling of the nuclear armed states, many of which do not have the benefit of years of safeguards put in effect by the nuclear weapon states to prevent nuclear accidents, misjudgements and unauthorized launches. Moreover, whilst through the cold war a nuclear exchange was, essentially, a binary function and thus more controllable, this is no longer the case today and with so many nuclear armed states the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons has increased exponentially. Finally, the legitimization of nuclear weapons, resulting from the policies adopted by the nuclear weapon states, can result in another 30-40 states going nuclear at relatively short notice as they now enjoy the capacity to do so. It is in this context that, in 2005, Robert McNamara argued that “If the United States continues its current stance, over time, substantial proliferation of nuclear weapons will almost surely follow. Some, or all, of such nations as Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Taiwan will very likely initiate nuclear weapon programs, increasing both the risk of use of the weapons and the diversion of weapons and fissile materials into the hands of rogue states or terrorists.” 3

Indeed, the NPT regime seems to have reached the limits of its success and will in coming years produce diminishing returns. It is, therefore, imperative that a more determined effort is made within a time bound framework for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Progress on non proliferation can ultimately only be ensured by progress on nuclear disarmament. One without the other is not sustainable.

It is heartening that, in the backdrop of the increasing possibilities of proliferation and of non state actors acquiring nuclear weapons, in the last few years there has been a groundswell of opinion in favour of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. In the USA in a sharp break from the past the first salvo in this regard was fired by the “Gang of Four” comprising George Schulz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in a set of two articles in the Wall Street Journal of January 4, 2007 and of January 15, 2008. They argued for a nuclear weapon free world on the grounds that the end of the Cold War rendered the doctrine of US-Russian deterrence “obsolete”, the multiplicity of nuclear armed states made reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective”, and the increasing likelihood of terrorist outfits, “outside the bounds of a deterrent strategy”, getting nuclear weaponry. They acknowledged that the non nuclear weapon states had “grown increasingly skeptical of the sincerity of the nuclear powers” in fulfilling their disarmament commitment, that the non proliferation efforts currently underway were not adequate, and that it was essential to have a vision of a nuclear weapon free world along with a series of steps towards that goal to pull the world back from the “nuclear precipice.”

This call for a nuclear weapon free world found resonance amongst many leaders, particularly in the West, most notably in the US and UK. As a consequence many think tanks, the world over, are now providing an intellectual underpinning to the cause of a nuclear weapon free world. Additionally, the Australian and Japanese Governments launched an International Commission on Nuclear Non proliferation and Disarmament in September 2008, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution launched the National Security Initiative and in December 2008, 100 leaders from around the world launched a Global Zero campaign. The latter proposed a plan for the phased, verified elimination of nuclear weapons, starting with deep reductions in the U.S. and Russian arsenals, to be followed by multilateral negotiations among all nuclear powers for an agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons. In a public opinion poll commissioned by Global Zero in 2008 substantial popular support was found for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons through an agreement in a timebound framework. In 20 of the 21 countries surveyed large majorities ranging from 62 to 93 percent favored such an agreement. The only exception was Pakistan, where a plurality of 46 percent favored the plan while 41 percent were opposed. All nations known to have nuclear weapons were included in the poll, except North Korea where public polling is not available.

In a refreshing change from the past President Obama, after assuming office in January 2009, also called for a world free of nuclear weapons. In this context, he undertook to take deep cuts in US nuclear weapon holdings, reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in US doctrines, ratify the CTBT, and urge all concerned to commence negotiations on the FMCT.

The START II agreement signed between the USA and Russia in April 2010 does envisage some cuts in the weapons holdings of the two countries. It requires each country to deploy no more than 1550 strategic nuclear warheads and 700 nuclear delivery vehicles with 100 in reserve. These limits are to be achieved seven years after the entry into force of the agreement which seems a long way off as the USA is yet to ratify the same and ratification is increasingly uncertain with the recent Republican gains in the Senate. The reductions in terms of warheads is small since under the SORT agreement concluded between the USA and Russia in 2002 both countries were required to reduce their warheads to between 1700 to 2200 by 2012. The reduction in delivery vehicles to 800 is much more significant as under START I these had been pegged at 1600. Nevertheless, with MIRV technology and with each bomber, which can carry several warheads, being counted as one delivery vehicle, these reductions appear puny. Above all, with non strategic nuclear weapon systems not even entering the calculus and with a seven year draw down period the reductions envisaged under START II are not particularly meaningful for promoting the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

The US Nuclear Posture Review of 2010 has seen some reduction in the salience of nuclear weapons in the US doctrine most notably in terms of an assurance that the USA would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non nuclear weapon states party to the NPT and in compliance with their non proliferation obligations. While projecting that it “would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners” it stops short of embracing the concept of no first use and clearly retains the idea of continuing to provide nuclearised extended deterrence to its allies. In addition it envisages increased investments in the nuclear weapons complex of facilities and personnel for “the long-term safety, security, and effectiveness” of its nuclear arsenal.

While Obama’s assertions and actions are certainly a welcome advance over the positions taken by earlier US leaders who, barring Reagan, were not even prepared to contemplate a world without nuclear weapons, they have nevertheless been tentative and halting. Not only has he so far failed to ratify START II he has also not succeeded in ratifying the CTBT or in ensuring the commencement of FMCT negotiations. It is also significant that Obama neither put any time line for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, nor presented any concrete programme of action as to how one would arrive at that goal, apart from suggesting that after the US and Russia took deep cuts in their arsenals other nuclear weapon states should also join in the process of nuclear disarmament. On the contrary, he admitted that the goal of a nuclear weapon free world may not even be achieved in his lifetime.

Obama’s efforts in support of the cause of a nuclear weapon free world, therefore, appear lacking in urgency and it is obvious that the USA primarily looks to strengthen the NPT regime as a means of addressing proliferation. Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution 1887, personally sponsored by Obama, calling for the universalisation of the NPT, was essentially focused on curbing horizontal proliferation by a further tightening of restraints on the non nuclear weapon states with nuclear disarmament receiving scant attention. Out of the 29 operative paragraphs of the resolution, only two deal with nuclear disarmament, and that, too, in a generic fashion, with no direct appeal to the nuclear weapon states to show greater sincerity and urgency in fulfilling their obligations in this regard as required under Article VI of the treaty.

It is unfortunate that neither Obama, nor the gang of four, nor most of the think tanks involved even in the prevailing more progressive international environment for nuclear disarmament, are seriously looking towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a time bound framework through a universal, multilaterally negotiated, non discriminatory and internationally and effectively verifiable convention. The absence of such an approach, barring on the part of the Global Zero campaign, raises suspicions that this exercise is essentially geared towards inducing the non nuclear weapon states to take on even more onerous obligations, through a further tightening of the NPT regime, in return for some rather limited nuclear disarmament measures undertaken by the US and Russia and promises of a nuclear weapon free world in the very distant future. As Mohamed ElBaradei has argued it is unlikely that the non nuclear weapon states will “move forward very much to tighten the nonproliferation regime except in sync with the NWS making good on their commitments. Only if the weapon states demonstrate that they are moving irreversibly towards disarmament through concrete [steps] can they have the moral authority to call on the rest of the world to tighten the nonproliferation regime. The shortcomings in the system will not be [remedied] unless the NWS understand the inextricable link between disarmament and non proliferation.”4

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons would require sincerity of purpose on the part of the nuclear armed states, as well as statesmanship, perseverance, and negotiating skill of a high order on the part of the international community as a whole. The main responsibility for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons rests upon the nuclear armed states as it is they who would have to give them up. However, the non nuclear weapon states also have a role as they have to be prepared to take on even more onerous obligations so as to provide credible assurances to the nuclear weapon states that they will never acquire nuclear weapons.

There are essentially two approaches to nuclear disarmament. One, timid and incremental, the other, bold and direct.

The first envisages the adoption of several measures designed to pave the way for working towards a nuclear weapon free world, but usually stops short of detailing a precise road map for the same. Most of the recent converts to the desirability of a nuclear weapon free world from the West and those allied to it are proponents of the incremental approach to nuclear disarmament.

The incremental or step by step approach is based on the assumption that progress in working towards a nuclear weapon free world is contingent on US-Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation and the addressing of many other knotty politico-security issues such as extended deterrence, imbalances in conventional weapon capabilities, China-India-Pakistan relations, the middle east issue, the Iranian and North Korean imbroglios etc. It also suggests that progress towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons would only be feasible essentially through a series of steps such as deep reductions in US-Russian nuclear arsenals, participation of all nuclear armed states in reductions and controls, doctrinal/deployment norms and rules reducing salience of nuclear weapons, enforcement of CTBT, ban on fissile material production for weapons purposes, proliferation resistant fuel cycle regime, tightening of the NPT regime etc. These steps while useful in themselves would also help built confidence and trust amongst all concerned. However, this approach would entail a long drawn out process with no clear timeframe and beset by many uncertainties.

The second approach advocates the need to take the bull by the horns and achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a time bound framework through an internationally negotiated multilateral convention or treaty. Most non nuclear weapon states along with India are supporters of this direct approach.

It is, ofcourse, true that there are both technical and politico-security challenges in negotiating an agreement on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. While the former are, in themselves, formidable, given the complexities of the issues involved, the politico-security factors which militate against the nuclear armed states working towards this end are far more serious. Technical issues always have technical solutions and can ultimately be resolved through sagacity and accommodation but politico-security factors, which condition the political will of the key players, notably the nuclear armed states, can only be dealt with through a radical change of mindset.

The reluctance of nuclear armed states to renounce nuclear weapons may be attributed to many factors some of which may be listed as follows:

1.Nuclear weapons are a currency of power. It is not for nothing that the recognized nuclear weapon states are the only permanent members of the UN Security Council and have a preferential status under the NPT regime as compared to the non nuclear weapon states. It is debatable if countries like the UK and France would remain permanent members of the UN Security Council in a nuclear weapon free world.

2.Nuclear weapons are regarded as the ultimate shield both against aggression or external destabilization. The nuclearisation of Russia and China immunized them from US meddling. Similarly, the kid glove treatment of North Korea and of Pakistan by the US is explained by their having acquired nuclear weapons.

3.Nuclear weapons are an integral part of the war fighting capabilities of the nuclear armed states, particularly as all of them barring China and India, do not have a no first use doctrine.

4.One or another of the nuclear armed states see nuclear weapons as an equalizer against the stronger country. This is true of both Russia and China vis a vis USA, and of Pakistan vis a vis India. Accordingly, some of them could insist upon a balanced reduction in conventional weapons before agreeing to renounce their nuclear weapons.

5.The existence of political hot spots such as Taiwan, Palestine, the Russian periphery, North Korea, Iran etc involving the interests of one or another of the nuclear armed states make their renunciation of nuclear weapons problematic. Accordingly, they could insist on the stabilization of the situation in these areas before agreeing to renounce nuclear weapons

Apart from the reluctance of nuclear weapon states in seeing the end of nuclear weapons, those non nuclear weapon states enjoying the benefits of extended deterrence may also have reservations in this regard as this would lead to the attenuation of the security umbrella currently enjoyed by them.

While the aforesaid politico security factors militating against the elimination of nuclear weapons, when seen from the perspective of the nuclear armed states and those states enjoying the benefits of extended deterrence, are important, they pale into insignificance when objectively weighed against the consequences of continuing with business as usual. It is a near certainty that in the absence of rapid progress on nuclear disarmament nuclear weapon proliferation will increase exponentially and this will not remain confined only to states but will also extend to non state actors. The consequences of such a development will greatly increase the security risk to the existing nuclear armed states. Thus the balance of advantage clearly lies with the nuclear armed states abandoning nuclear weapons which, far from advancing their security interests, actually impinge adversely upon them. Waiting for resolving the international hot spots, or achieving balanced arms reductions, before abandoning nuclear weapons would be foolhardy as the desired outcomes in both those areas may never be realized, and as each day lost in not eliminating nuclear weapons means each day living with the risk of nuclear attack.

The technical complexities in concluding an agreement for complete elimination of nuclear weapons are, ofcourse, considerable but given the will these can be overcome through negotiations. Some of these are listed and examined below:
Que : What should be the scope of such an agreement? Specifically, should the agreement only confine itself to nuclear warheads or should it also extend to erasing the capabilities to produce them, to delivery vehicles and to ballistic missile defences?

Ans. While the NPT has no definition of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices the 1967 Tlaltelco Treaty has a definition which could be accepted and which reads as follows: “A nuclear weapon is any device which is capable of releasing energy in an uncontrolled manner and which has a group of characteristics that are appropriate for use for warlike purposes.” Such a definition would limit the scope of the proposed agreement to nuclear weapons per se and not to delivery systems—land, sea or airborne—or ballistic missile systems. Indeed, the latter could facilitate the complete elimination of nuclear weapons as they would provide some insurance to nuclear armed states from those that may have cheated.

Any extension of the scope of the agreement beyond that contained in the definition of nuclear weapons as cited above would make policing near impossible apart from enormously increasing the costs. The question of extending the scope of the agreement to erasing the capabilities of the state to produce nuclear weapons would be over ambitious and verge on the foolhardy.

Que: In determining a time table for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, should the differential in the warhead holdings of each state be taken into account in stipulating when each of them starts to dismantle its warheads? Furthermore, how should it be ensured that each of them is not unduly threatened by the other during the process of dismantlement?

Ans. Since the nuclear warhead holdings of USA and Russia are several times greater than those of any of the other nuclear weapon states they must be required to first drastically reduce their stockpiles. Once these are down to about 1000 or 500 warheads each then all the nuclear weapon states should be required to go in for proportionate cuts in their respective holdings till reaching zero. In this manner all of these states would reach zero at the same time but the differential in holdings between each of the states would be maintained as per the differential achieved when US and Russia warhead holdings have been reduced to a level of 1000 or 500 each which is in excess of the current level of holdings of each of the other nuclear armed states. Since all the nuclear armed states would reach zero simultaneously none should feel overly disadvantaged vis a vis the other as they would till the very end retain some deterrent capability.

Que: Should countries be allowed to enrich and reprocess nuclear materials for non weaponisation purposes or should this be internationally controlled? This issue assumes considerable importance as the salience of nuclear energy is set to increase exponentially in order to address the challenge of climate change and to meet legitimate energy requirements.

Ans. Since the nuclear fuel cycle lends itself to misuse for weaponisation each country should be required to maintain complete transparency of its operation in the facilities under its control. Such transparency may be enhanced by making it mandatory that these facilities be operated with multilateral participation and under IAEA safeguards. In any case, all new facilities should be under multilateral control and under IAEA safeguards.

Que : What should be the standards of verification? Should there be challenge inspections? Should verification be undertaken by the IAEA or should another entity be set up for this purpose?

Ans. Both verification as well as enforcement should be of the highest order in order to persuade the nuclear armed states to give up their nuclear weapons. Until and unless they are absolutely certain that no other nuclear armed state will be able to retain its nuclear weapons and that no other state is able to clandestinely acquire them they will not agree to renounce their nuclear weapons. In these circumstances, highly intrusive verification should be the norm including challenge inspections as provided for under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Since the IAEA is already operating the safeguards system under the NPT it would be the most appropriate organization to be entrusted with the task of verifying the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and ensuring that weaponisation is not undertaken clandestinely.

Que: What should be the mechanics of verification? There is little expertise on this as no state has verified the end to end process of dismantling and decommissioning of warheads.

Ans. While this will be a new area of work the problem is not unsurmountable. As a first step the nuclear weapons to be eliminated by each country would have to be tagged, sealed and stored under IAEA control. Thereafter, action to deactivate and destroy them would be required to be undertaken under IAEA control and supervision. In this context, it may be mentioned that the entire process would need declarations by each country of its weapons holdings, annual production of fissile material for weapons purposes and past production thereof. This is essential for the IAEA not only to obtain an accurate idea on the magnitude of its task in each nuclear armed state but also in order to be able to engage in meaningful material accountancy critical to verification.

Que: Who should pay for verification? Should the burden be placed upon the nuclear weapon states or upon the international community as a whole?

Ans: Each nuclear armed state should be liable for all payments for the elimination of its own nuclear arsenal and associated inspection costs. However, in respect of ongoing inspections required to ensure that all states keep on the straight and narrow and desist from weaponising payments should be made by each state on the basis of its dues as per the UN scale of payments.

Que: What should be the enforcement mechanism? The UN Security Council, the P9, or a separate entity?

Ans: This role has traditionally been exercised by the UN Security Council but since political considerations rather than merit have usually determined its decisions its enforcement capability has not inspired confidence. In these circumstances, it may be more appropriate to grade different types of violations in advance and stipulate the type of sanctions applicable to each case. This would remove the politics in the application of sanctions and introduce greater automaticity and transparency in their imposition which would make for a more effective and fair enforcement regime.
Furthermore, it may be more appropriate to have the nine nuclear armed states rather than the UN Security Council to be the enforcement mechanism authorized to take decisions on the basis of a majority ruling. This would eliminate the exercise of a veto by any of the nuclear weapon states in order to block action and reduce the role of politics in the enforcement mechanism.

Que: Should there be an internationally controlled nuclear arsenal and how should it function?

Ans: While the complete elimination of national nuclear weapon arsenals must be undertaken, it is important that a few nuclear weapons remain available under international control to deter use or threat of use of a nuclear weapon which a state may somehow have clandestinely acquired. Perhaps, 10-20 nuclear bombs may be kept under international control for this purpose. These may be located in the USA and Russia as both countries have the most secure facilities and have the longest experience in the safe retention of such weapons.

Que:Should there be a withdrawal clause?

Ans: A withdrawal clause weakens any international regime. Accordingly, for as critical an agreement as a Nuclear Weapons Convention there should not be any such clause. This alone would ensure that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is irreversible.

The foregoing are only a few of the many technical issues which present themselves when one contemplates the conclusion of a Convention on the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Some argue that these issues should first be thoroughly debated amongst the parties concerned in order to find appropriate solutions. It is, however, submitted that these can best be resolved in the Conference on Disarmament in the process of negotiating the Convention on the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. It is only under the pressure of actual negotiations that solutions to difficult issues will emerge on the basis as much of technical feasibilities as of political give and take.

It is quite clear that these negotiations will be complex as they will not only deal with the extremely difficult technical issues involved but also with the establishment of a new security system necessary in a nuclear weapon free world. The latter will have to be put in place as the NPT regime based upon nuclear haves and have nots would be an anachronism in a world devoid of nuclear weapons. It would have to be a much more equitable security order designed to keep the world free of nuclear weapons and in which the same rules would apply uniformly to all states whether in terms of inspections or sanctions. Accordingly, the focus of many of the protagonists of the step by step approach to nuclear disarmament on the NPT regime is misplaced. In view of the fact that in a nuclear weapon free world the NPT would have no place it makes little sense to advocate to further strengthen it. Indeed, if one gets into a negotiation on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons many of the problems facing the NPT regime would be finissed. As Mohamed ElBaradei stated in his interview to the Hindu as published in that paper on October 7, 2009 “….once we decide to go to zero, we have to have in place a new security system that assures every country that its security is not diminished, that it is protected and that it has built in a very stong mechanism for detecting and deterring any country that might think of violating that. That’s why I continue to argue that we need to start working on that alternative security system in parallel now. That obviously requires a different Security Council, a different security paradigm, a very robust verification system, a very transparent international community in so far as making sure that they are in compliance.”
Obviously, the proposed negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament are likely to be difficult, long drawn out and perhaps even stormy. While they will not secure the complete elimination of nuclear weapons overnight they should be able to do so within a timebound framework. It is entirely possible for the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament to last three to four years and arrive at an agreement calling for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons spread over a further 5-10 years. It is, however, essential that the agreement arrived at is universal, multilaterally negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament, non discriminatory and internationally and effectively verifiable.

In order to minimize the dangers emanating from the existence of nuclear weapons pending their complete elimination it would be desirable that along with the commencement of negotiations on the proposed agreement on complete elimination of nuclear weapons the following actions are taken in parallel:
1.A US-Russian bilateral, legally binding and verifiable agreement reducing the total number of nuclear warheads in their respective arsenals to levels of about 500 to 1000.

2. Adoption of a UN resolution declaring the use of nuclear weapons as a crime against humanity.

3.Reduction in salience of nuclear weapons in the doctrines of the nuclear armed states accompanied by a declaration that they would not use nuclear weapons against non nuclear weapon states under any circumstances and, in any case, would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Their sole purpose pending their elimination would be to deter nuclear attack.

4.Operationalisation of the CTBT by requiring all countries to sign and ratify it.

5.Immediate initiation of negotiations on the FMCT on the basis of the Shannon mandate since it will constitute a critical element for the verification of the Convention or Agreement on the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

The groundswell of public opinion the world over in favour of a nuclear weapon free world is a welcome development. It is in conformity with India’s historic and current position on this issue. As pointed out in “Abolishing Nuclear Weapons” by George Perkovich and James M. Acton India is “the most willing of all nuclear-armed states to participate in the global elimination of nuclear arsenals.” This is also borne out by its repeated calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, its reluctant and long delayed weaponisation, and its nuclear doctrine, which is firmly committed to the concepts of Non Use and No First Use with minimal qualifiers.

There is sound logic in India’s commitment to a nuclear weapon free world as it is in such an environment that its security interests would be best served. A world free of nuclear weapons would not only obviate the possibility of a global nuclear holocaust, a regional nuclear exchange, or a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons, it would also deprive Pakistan of a nuclear shield behind which to engage in terrorist actions against India as it has been doing for the last several years. Some have argued that nuclear weapons provide India an equalizer against China. This argument may have been valid if India had hostile intentions vis a vis China, much as Pakistan has vis a vis us. Since this is not the case, India does not need nuclear weapons if China does not have them, as conventional forces are sufficient to keep the latter’s hostile intentions in check. India’s need for nuclear weapons has arisen only because China and Pakistan had them and its use for them is purely as a deterrent.

Accordingly, it would be worthwhile for India to lead a movement for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Being a nuclear armed state should not inhibit India from vigorously supporting the complete elimination of nuclear weapons particularly, at a time when international opinion is similarly inclined. India’s traditional advocacy of nuclear disarmament, its security interests, and the international acclaim that is there to be garnered, demand that the country play a proactive role in promoting the cause of nuclear disarmament and take a leadership role in this regard.

2: The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is estimated to be to global disaster. Originally, only a global nuclear war was under consideration but now climate change and "new developments in the life sciences and nanotechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm" are also factored in by some scientists. The gravity of the situation is borne out by the fact that the Doomsday Clock has steadily moved down from 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 to 5 minutes to midnight today. Indeed, even for many years during the cold war the hands of the clock were further from midnight than they are today.
3: Quoted from “Securing our Survival (SoS) : The Case for a Nuclear Weapon Convention” p.17 by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, International Network of Scientists and Engineers Against Proliferation, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
4: Mohamed ElBaradei’s interview to the Hindu published in two parts on Oct 3 2009 and Oct 7 2009.

Published in Eternal India, January 2011

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