India's paradox and ambiguity in nuclear affairs

Posted in India , Peace and Conflict | 09-May-10 | Author: Balaji Chandramohan

One of paradox of India's post-independent foreign policy is its ambiguity which oscillates between nuclear disarmament and deterrence. This gets highlighted every five years since 1970 in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Conference. This year's conference in New York is not an exception. It joins the other countries such as Pakistan, Israel and North Korea in not accepting NPT and it is not a signatory to the NPT which came into existence in 1970.

Another paradox is that that India never attends the NPT Review Conference though it is hugely followed in the country's foreign and strategic policy circuit.

India's ambiguity between nuclear disarmament and deterrence has been masked till 1974 when India conducted its first nuclear test called "Peaceful Nuclear Explosion". The Western powers saw this as a breach of trust as before 1974, United States and Canada were providing India with nuclear fission for its reactors such as Apsara and Circus. India's 1974 nuclear test was one of the reasons why the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

On the other hand, prior to India's 1998 second nuclear test, India's stance had been such It didn't accept nuclear have's and have not stipulated by the NPT. At present, 189 countries are party to the NPT , which divides them into two categories - nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS).India had serious reservations about the cut-off date for NPT. The NWS include states that had exploded a nuclear device before 1 January 1967, which includes the United States, Soviet Union (now Russia), United Kingdom, France and China. Only three states are non-signatories to the treaty including India, Israel and Pakistan, while Democratic People's Republic of Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.

The NPT is considered the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. Under the treaty, the NWS may retain their nuclear arsenals but are prohibited from transferring or assisting any NNWS from acquiring nuclear weapons. The NNWS are prohibited from building, acquiring or possessing nuclear weapons, but they can use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; and must accept full-scope safeguards on all their nuclear facilities to be administered by the International Atomic Energy.

After the 1998 nuclear tests and the establishment 123 agreement signed between

India and the United States as a part of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal which came into existence in 2008, India wants a NWS status. . India is the only non-NPT signatory which gets the benefits of transfer of nuclear materials for the civilian purpose for energy generation. Thanks to the Republican administration headed by George W Bush, this was an odd exception given to India. India argues that unlike other countries such as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, India is a democratic country since the formation of Republic in 1950 and its track record of non-proliferation is exemplary and thanks primarily to the concept of "Gandhisim and non-violence". Through this propaganda, India has been able to attract the International community in evading from the sanctions imposed in 1998 and so get the facilities of nuclear weapons state through civil nuclear deal.

Against this back ground, US signed a nuclear reprocessing agreement with India in

March 2010. This agreement is an extension of the civil nuclear deal and which will enable Indian reprocessing of US-supplied nuclear material under safeguards of IAEA. Nuclear reprocessing typically involves separating and managing components of spent nuclear fuel, potentially including producing weapons-grade fuel for nuclear bombs; The US fuel- supply guarantee involved an Indian commitment to separate and firewall its civil and military reactors and set up of a dedicated reprocessing facility which will function under international IAEA.

Now the final question comes on what prevents India from being the signatory to the NPT. As such NPT will take India as a NNWS which will be very hard for Indian government to sell to its domestic audience.

Strategic thinkers in India and Indian government understand that it will be difficult for the International community in the present world order to grant India as a NWS. It's understood that India might in fact be granted a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council but can't be granted the status.

Second, India will be very reluctant to nuclear disarmament in any International Legal document as stipulated by the Article VI of the NPT and especially when the India's two neighbors in China and Pakistan are increasing their nuclear stock pile. On the other hand, there are high doubts raised by former scientists from the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) on the thermo nuclear test conducted in May 1998. This has been reluctance of India to commit in any way at the international forum.

In other words, India is back to square one at the international area in nuclear matters. It can neither leave its pursuit of nuclear weapons nor can it pursue disarmament as a part of its national interest as stipulated by the Draft Nuclear Doctrine which was released in 1999. Therefore, the paradox and ambiguity continues for the near and foreseeable future.