June 06, 2020
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Hush...The Bomb Squad

The West is sure to intensify pressure on New Delhi to kowtow on non-proliferation

Hush...The Bomb Squad

BJP leader Jaswant Singh had just finished giving his keynote address at the concluding session of a seminar on security and nonproliferation issues in the early afternoon of the 6th of March. One of the foreign participants leaned over and asked me: "Is what Mr Jaswant Singh said for real? Is this man going to be influential in national security and foreign policy formulation in the coming months?" I told the gentleman that what Jaswant Singh said was "for real", as he articulated a general consensus in Indian public opinion, and  added that as the BJP is likely to form the next government, his voice is likely to be an influential one.

My interlocutor's reaction: "Man, things are really going to get dif-ficult." All that Jaswant Singh had said was that, given the nuclear weapons capacities of the five nuclear weapon powers and their strategic postures and given the emerging security environment around India, New Delhi would certainly focus attention on improving its nuclear technological and weapons capacities, as this was essential to safeguard national security and India's strategic interests.

The exchange with the foreign participant in the seminar made one conscious of the need to focus attention on the continuing pressures, formal and informal, being generated on India to abandon its nuclear security and strategic options. One is precluded from detailing the discussions in this joint seminar because the proceedings of the seminar are confidential, non-attributable and barred from media coverage.

But one point which can be made, without violating these stipulations, is that this seminar was part of an exercise at track two nongovernmental persuasion of India to become reasonable and join the mainstream of discriminatory horizontal non-proliferation, without any substantive quid pro quo being envisaged on the part of the five nuclear weapon powers.

Prior to analysing the patterns of pressures being faced by India, it would be pertinent to answer two questions. Why is India a special focus of attention for these pressures? And what has India done in the sphere of nuclear proliferation, which has made India subject to such dubious attention? To answer the first question, there are now six threshold nuclear weapon-capable states—namely, India, Pakistan, Israel, Japan, Germany and South Africa. I have included Japan, Germany and South Africa in this list despite their having signed the NPT on the basis of their confirmed technological capacities. Out of these six, Israel, Japan, Germany and South Africa are in the procedural mainstream of the current non-proliferation movement. They also are under the umbrella of the US' security and strategic arrangements. It is only Pakistan and India which constitute a category of their own because of their adversarial relationship, their nuclear weapons capabilities and their refusal to sign the NPT. The general perception is that Pakistan would automatically abandon its nuclear obduracies if India could be persuaded to give up its nuclear strategic and security capacities.So the focus is on India. The rest of the threshold states are persuadable/manageable.

To answer the second question, we have to recount some events and policy stances reflecting India's nuclear policies since the beginning of this decade. India was a cooperative participant in the negotiations bringing into force a chemical and biological weapons convention. India was equally cooperative in the initial stages of discussions on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty  (CTBT). India was also willing to join any fissile material cut-off agreement if both the CTBT and the FMCT were drafted in a framework similar to that of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This was the rationale which made India co-sponsor documents and resolutions on the CTBT and the FMCT in multilateral fora between 1992 and 1994.

Assurances were also given to India that the further extension of the NPT, when it came up for renewal in 1995, would be done in a manner which would be responsive to the requirements of time-bound non-discriminatory disarmament and taking Indian concerns into account. But from the summer of 1993 onwards when Clinton came to power, the US administration again started suffering from what I would call the "Jimmy Carter syndrome" of being assertively and insensitively censorious and demanding on non-proliferation issues. The delicate structure of negotiations which India and the US had built up throughout 1992 and till 1993 to find a common meeting ground on non-proliferation issues disintegrated by the summer of 1994. The NPT was extended for an indefinite period. Negotiating trends relating to the CTBT indicated that it would be a discriminatory arms control rather than a disarmament measure with unilateral coercive stipulations against states which may not adhere to it.

India, therefore, refused to endorse the CTBT, resulting in the Conference on Disarmament being bypassed and the United Nations commencing proceedings to bring it into force at the unilateral initiative of the nuclear weapon powers led by the US. Meanwhile, India had taken steps to make the Prithvi missile operational and had completed a technology demonstration test of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Agni against repeated advice from the US. Though further testing of Agni has been on hold since the beginning of 1994 and the deployment of the Prithvi missile system has been delayed, India's declared policy was that it will not put a stop to its missile development programmes.

SIMULTANEOUSLY, senior Indian scientists like Dr Raja Ramanna stated in interviews that while India has acted with restraint and not conducted nuclear tests since 1974, India has kept track of technological developments and increased India's nuclear technological capacities. The consequence is a series of pressures being generated on India since 1993-94: (a) restrictive regimes stipulated by the London Nuclear Suppliers Club, the Canberra resolution and the Missile Control Technology Regime started getting implemented more strictly, affecting vital technology transfers to India; (b) the export policies related to technology exports from the North American Free Trade region and the European Community were tailored to the above restrictive stipulations and started getting applied to India; (c) a series of official statements were made by spokesmen of the western nuclear weapon powers, particularly the US and the UK, warning India about the negative consequences of her not joining the mainstream of non-proliferation programmes and policies (both US ambassador in India Richard Celeste and US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderfurth have cautioned India not only about the negative political, but technological and economic consequences that India might have to face if it persists in operationalising its nuclear option); and (d) pressures through NGOs, media, academic institutions, think tanks and strategic institutes are being generated on India through the instrumentalities of seminars, workshops, position papers and in-depth articles. This category of pressure is in increasing evidence since 1994.

The BJP's manifesto, stating that it will re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons and that it will expedite the development of the Agni series of ballistic missiles, has increased the critical concerns of the nuclear weapon powers about India. This concern is heightened by the BJP's categorical rejection of what it calls the "policies of nuclear apartheid" and its intention to actively oppose attempts to impose hegemonistic nuclear and missile regimes. We have to contrast this with the official affirmation of John D. Holum, director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, that arms control is a central element of US foreign policy. He states that this is a cardinal objective of US foreign policy and national security strategy. (Please note that it is not time-bound disarmament or complete non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but only arms control, which is the objective.) James Steinberg, deputy assistant to US president Bill Clinton for national security affairs, declared in June 1997 that there is no higher priority for US national security policy than non-proliferation. The US has declared its intention to further this objective through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and, where necessary, by coercive political and other means. The ascending pressures on India on non-proliferation will continue in content and in range. This will not be limited to our defence policies. They will extend to various vital aspects of our national existence.

Given the BJP's declared intentions, the pressures are likely to increase. India faces the profound challenge of reconciling the demonstrable requirements of its national security with the contradictory motivations and orientations of mainstream international thinking on non-proliferation issues. We should not be confrontationist but it is clear that we must stand firm in nurturing and expanding our political and defence capacities to safeguard our interests regardless of the threatened consequences.

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