India’s Role in the Nuclear Race

In an editorial last month (July 05, 2014), The New York Times lamented ‘India’s role in the nuclear race’ in South Asia and questioned the double standards being applied in a country-specific preferential treatment to it by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-member body established in 1974 after India’s first nuclear test to ensure that civilian trade in nuclear materials is not diverted for military purposes, as was done by India itself in pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapon program with materials and equipment that it acquired from Canada and the US ostensibly for peaceful purposes.

Those who have researched into India’s nuclear program know the fallacy of conventional perspectives on the development of Indian nuclear deterrence’ “ that the Indian nuclear programme entailed ‘exclusively peaceful uses’ during the Nehru era and that the nuclear weapons capability was initiated by Shastri government after the first Chinese nuclear test in 1964. There is incontrovertible evidence now that Dr. Homi Bhabha, the architect of India’s nuclear programme, had with Nehru’s approval already built a nuclear weapon development strategy within the framework of India’s civilian nuclear programme.On their coming to power in Delhi in 1998, the BJP sought to resurrect the legend of greater India and lost no time to implement its militaristic and communal agenda by a series of actions that only aggravated the security environment in our region. The BJP agenda publicly announced its intentions ‘to exercise the nuclear option and induct nuclear weapons, occupy Azad Kashmir and to demolish mosques to build Hindu temples.’In April 1998, Pakistan’s prime minister addressed a letter to the G-8 heads of state and government drawing their attention to India’s threatening nuclear designs and the consequences that would ensue from its induction of nuclear weapons.

India’s five nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998 proved us completely right. We knew at that time that peace was hanging by a slender thread in South Asia. In the absence of any assurances or security guarantees, we had no choice but to take measures to protect our freedom and independence. Our tests later in the month (five on May 28 and one on May 30) restored the regional strategic balance serving the larger interest of peace and stability in South Asia. The world did recognize that it was not Pakistan but India which ‘inducted’ the nuclear dimension into the volatile security environment of South Asia.

The UN Security Council resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998, which inter alia, condemned the tests and called for a roll back by both countries of their nuclear capabilities, clearly recognised that the tests were conducted first by India and then by Pakistan. It is also known to the world that since the negotiations for the NPT in 1968, every single non-proliferation initiative came from Pakistan. Irrespective of who inducted the nuclear dimension into the security environment of South Asia, it is a reality now.

If the turbulent history of this region has any lessons, world’s engagement in this region must have been aimed at promoting strategic balance rather than disturbing it. A stable nuclear security order is what we need in South Asia. Any measures that contribute to lowering of nuclear threshold and fueling of an unnecessary arms race between the two nuclear-armed neighbours are no service to the people of this region. India’s triad-based nuclear doctrine, its aggressive ‘Cold Start’ strategy and its introduction of anti-ballistic missile system constitute ‘overkill’ for the region’s stability.

Since Pakistan’s actions in the nuclear and missile fields at each stage are force majeure in response to India’s escalatory steps, an element of mutuality in restraint and responsibility is required for nuclear and conventional stabilization in our region. Pakistan has been pursuing credible minimum deterrence as its doctrinaire policy and remains opposed to a nuclear and conventional arms race in the region. It continues to seek the establishment of a strategic restraint regime with India involving three interlocking elements: conflict resolution, nuclear and missile restraint, and conventional balance.

India however remains averse to these proposals and keeps citing its extra-regional concerns while its force potential remains Pakistan-specific. Obviously, in the face of India’s fast developing capabilities, including its dangerous weapon-inductions, aggressive doctrines and devious nuclear cooperation arrangements enabling diversion of nuclear material for military purposes, equally dangerous options in response also become inevitable.

It is this reality that the NYT has now editorially flagged to question India’s special waiver-based eligibility for NSG membership. Recalling that India has long sought to carve out a special exception for itself in the nuclear sphere, The New York Times urges the NSG not to accept India’s bid for membership until  ‘it proves itself willing to take a leading role in halting the spread of the world’s most lethal weapons. One way to do that would be by opening negotiations with Pakistan and China to end the dangerous regional nuclear arms race.’It is a sound advice.

In effect, the NYT endorses Pakistan’s stand for a criteria-based approach in the NSG. It is also a timely reminder to world’s major powers, especially the US, to understand the gravity of the damage they are doing to the cause of peace and stability in this region by giving India country-specific nuclear waivers. Despite the new opportunities that Narendra Modi’s India now offers to these powers for lucrative defence and energy contracts, they must not accede to India’s NSG membership until it meets certain non-proliferation benchmarks and resumes talks with its regional rivals on nuclear restraints.

This also brings into ominous focus the US-India nuclear deal and the subsequent carte blanche that India has received in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for access to nuclear technology in violation of equitably applicable criteria. India is also seeking exemptions in any future Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) similar to those it has been granted under the iniquitous US-India deal which enables India to keep its eight “civil” nuclear reactors and the breeder program outside IAEA safeguards which can produce a significant amount of weapon-grade plutonium.

Pakistan, for obvious reasons is opposed to any exemptions in a future FMT and remains concerned over NSG’s preferential treatment to India in terms of its access to nuclear technology in violation of the global non-proliferation regime. It has been urging Washington to revisit its discriminatory nuclear deal with India. Unless it is matched with a similar arrangement with Pakistan, the Indo-US nuclear nexus will seriously undermine the cause of peace and stability in this region.

It is no less ironic that the NSG which was set up in response to the first act of nuclear proliferation by India’s first nuclear test in 1974 should now be rewarding it in violation of the non-proliferation regime that it claims to champion. Given the consensus rule anyone of these 48 nations could have blocked this decision. The fact that they did not do so was because their profit motives got the better of their principles or they simply lacked the courage of their convictions.

Since the group operates on consensus, the NSG membership would give India a veto over decision making, including any future decision involving Pakistan, which at the moment is not being considered for membership. The NSG must rectify its lopsided approach and allow a criteria-based treatment to Pakistan at par with India. Its discriminatory approach does not serve the cause of peace and stability in the region and also weakens the US-sponsored global nuclear security process.

The writer is a former foreign secretary

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