The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- India must preserve the autonomy of its nuclear programme

The principles for nuclear non-proliferation were first enunciated by India in 1965, yet India refrained from becoming party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that came into force in 1970. India had reservations that the treaty only legitimized the continuing possession and multiplication of nuclear stockpiles by the few states possessing them rather than addressing the central objective of universal and comprehensive non-proliferation. Twenty-five years later, during the conference convened to review the NPT, the treaty was extended indefinitely, ignoring the earlier commitment towards nuclear disarmament.

While addressing the third special session on disarmament at the United Nations general assembly in 1988, Rajiv Gandhi argued, 'We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of mankind...nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production. History is full of such prejudices paraded as iron laws: that men are superior to women; that white races are superior to the coloured; that colonialism is a civilizing mission; (and) that those who possess nuclear weapons are responsible powers and those who do not are not.'

It was 1954 when Jawaharlal Nehru expressed commitment to a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. Yet in 1995, India's external affairs minister had this to say at the UN general assembly, 'Two years ago, the international community at last agreed to negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty. We are glad that negotiations are in progress, but we also note that nuclear weapon states have agreed to a CTBT only after acquiring the know-how to develop and refine their arsenals without the need for tests.

In our view, the CTBT must be an integral step in the process of nuclear disarmament. Developing new warheads or refining existing ones after a CTBT is in place, using innovative technologies would be as contrary to the spirit of CTBT as the NPT is to the spirit of non-proliferation. The CTBT must contain a binding commitment on the international community, especially the nuclear weapon states, to take further measures within an agreed time-frame towards the creation of a nuclear weapons-free world.' Not surprisingly, India's voice went unheard and India chose to stay out of the treaty, which later even the United States of America refused to ratify.

With two discriminatory treaties in their bag, the 'nuclear haves' are touting the fissile material cut off treaty to ban production of fissile materials for weapons as yet another major nuclear treaty to be negotiated by the forum conference on disarmament. With consistency, India considers such a treaty to be an integral part of the process of nuclear disarmament and believes that it should be a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable treaty covering only materials for weapons, permitting production for civilian use. So far no progress has been made on this treaty, but history should teach us that a multilateral treaty of this type is a pipe dream.

In 1996, the World Court ruled that countries possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to commence negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the principles of international law. Notwithstanding this, the US nuclear doctrine talks of the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom and France have reserved their right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states if attacked. Use of nuclear weapons remains an integral part of Nato's strategy and the earlier Soviet pledge of no-first-use has been discarded by Russia.

China has claimed a no-first-use pledge only against countries that are parties to the NPT or members of regional nuclear-free zones, which leaves out India. Clearly, when it comes to nuclear weapons and national security, some nations are more equal than others. Two decades on, Rajiv Gandhi's words still ring true.

What about India's national security compulsions' Unfortunately, this is an area that seldom elicits in- depth discussion. After recent discussions in Washington on the proposed Indo-US nuclear deal, the foreign secretary said, 'What we have at this point of time is an extremely carefully, delicately balanced understanding. Whatever legislation is passed must remain within those parameters. We have preserved all our basic positions. We have preserved our basic interests.' It is ironical that while there is intense diplomatic effort to woo US Congressmen, the parliament and people of India are not privy to this delicately balanced understanding and what the basic position sought to be preserved is. Not surprisingly, there are grave apprehensions in the minds of some security analysts.

In military power terms, India remains weaker-willed than many nations. Having embarked on the route to testing and declaring its overtly nuclearized weapon status, it declared a voluntary moratorium on further testing and a nuclear doctrine of 'no first use' with a minimum deterrent capability, thus imposing severe limitations on its own nuclear technological upgradation and strategic options. While the nuclear powers have spent decades in developing, testing and refining their nuclear arsenals, running into over 30,000 tests, and continue with new development programmes, we are content with five explosive tests and equally scant missile tests.

In his suo motu statement to parliament on the proposed US-India nuclear deal the prime minister had pledged, 'However, this august House can be assured that the limits are determined by our overarching commitment to national security and the related issue of the autonomy of our nuclear programme. Our Government will take no step that could circumscribe or cast a shadow over either.' Yet recent reports emanating from various quarters are cause for concern.

India needs to acknowledge that military power today enables economic growth and prosperity and the only insurance against the very high technology war- fighting capability of some nations is provided through qualitative and quantitative nuclear capability. One only has to see how Iraq and Iran are treated while China can impound a US military aircraft and crew and get away with it. So far India has not been at the receiving end of such sabre rattling. But can anyone see the future'

There is little doubt that a growing strategic partnership between the US and India is a welcome change and will serve the interests of both. It would, however, be na've to believe that the US will subsume its national interests to serve India's. The reverse must also be true. The recent Indo-US initiative towards cooperation in the field of nuclear energy is welcome, but the conditions being imposed and the methodology being adopted for its implementation are warnings that US commitment to the non-proliferation regime has not waned. Already doubts have been expressed about the ingenious ways in which efforts are being made to limit India's nuclear weapons capability, whether it be through placing indirect restrictions on future testing, producing fissile material or defining its minimum deterrent in quantitative terms. The waiver authority bill before the US Congress, if passed, will subject the nuclear deal perpetually to presidential certification regarding Indian compliance. In this ever-evolving scenario, India cannot be seen to be departing from its principled stand and strategic security autonomy sustained over decades.

Many anxious countries want to keep India's nuclear capability capped. One way of doing this is to limit India to an India-Pakistan zero-sum game. The other is to hold it to agreements woven into the nuclear energy deal. India must avoid this diplomatic minefield. Its nuclear capability must encompass all possible strategic options, which can only be achieved by testing and operationalizing thermo nuclear warheads along with intercontinental delivery systems. These need extensive tests and proving trials, as the nuclear haves have shown. The question of quantifying the minimum deterrent is related to an ever-changing international security scenario and India's threat perception. It cannot be open to negotiation or fixed in time. If, as is being feared, the evolving Indo-US deal compromises any of these even in an indirect way, then the delicate understanding and basic positions the foreign secretary talks about will jeopardize India's strategic interests and will be contrary to the spirit of prime minister's assurance to parliament.

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