Sunday, Jan 29, 2023

The nuclear games begin

As many skeptics had suspected,123 Agreement was not going to be the end of India's quest for recognition in global order.

As many skeptics had suspected,the 123 Agreement was not going to be the end of India’s quest for recognition in the global order. Indeed,it was very clear to many,from the start,that the 123 Agreement was part of an attempt to bring India into the non-proliferation tent. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Siddharth Vardarajan (who alone superbly uncovered goings on at the G-8) it has now become clear that India’s quest for nuclear recognition is far from over. The recently concluded G-8 statement on non-proliferation opens up the possibility that India will be denied crucial enrichment and processing items. To be sure,it cannot be categorically concluded that India will be denied ENR. The relationship between the G-8 declaration and NSG still has to be worked out. But certainly the developments at the G-8 are worrying for India. If followed through the G-8 will make mockery of that rather simple phrase “full civilian and nuclear cooperation.”

There is no doubt that there is great pressure to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. India will be under great pressure not just to sign the CTBT,but the NPT and FMCT as well. But the simple fact is that while non-proliferation and even possible disarmament is gaining greater ideological legitimacy,there is still no sign that the existing nuclear powers are willing to give up their special privileges and perpetuate a nuclear order that is patently discriminatory. While the US and Russia have been talking about significant reduction in their arsenals,the simple fact is that the great powers are still a long way off from delegitimising nuclear weapons as part of their strategic doctrines. None of them will be willing to go by the International Court of Justice’s suggestion that the mere threat of nuclear weapons be regarded as a crime against humanity. And Britain and France,let alone China are still modernising their arsenals. It is very difficult not to shake of the view that all the current talk of non-proliferation and disarmament will do nothing to alter the structure of discrimination in the international order that led to proliferation in the first place.

To be very honest,India does need a far reaching domestic debate on its nuclear programme: both the civilian and military aspects. As often happens in our discourse,we convert a means into an end. The 123 Agreement was supposed to be an instrument that enabled our nuclear programme to be recognised and for it to flourish. But we have to be very clear about what our own expectations from our nuclear programme are,and the sort of resources we are willing to commit to it. Is the civilian programme merely about energy or is it also about potentially being a technological leader? If so,what impact does the G-8 position on ENR have on our research ambitions? On the military side,we need clarity over the conditions under which signing the CTBT or FMCT will have little or no impact on our deterrence capabilities.

The only circumstances under which it makes sense for India to sign these treaties is if there is a clear path to global disarmament. In fact,that could be made more than a mere promissory note. The validity of these treaties could be made conditional on concrete steps towards disarmament. If those steps are not met,the treaties become null and void. The possibility of this happening is remote. But it will at least call the bluff of major powers who still want to use the nuclear issue to maintain a hierarchical and discriminatory world order.

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The Obama Administration is once again dominated by traditional non-proliferation types; there are efforts underway to ensure that only a few countries can participate and control the fuel cycle. India’s position in the global nuclear order is not as unambiguously accepted as we pretend after the 123 Agreement. We will once again need to be diligent and clear headed about what we want and how to get it.

First published on: 13-07-2009 at 13:06 IST
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