Universal Nuclear Disarmament: What Can India Offer?

4. India’s Ideas for an NWFW
The diplomatic energy and forward looking ideas that India invested into the pursuit of universal nuclear disarmament in the first four decades of its independence are well documented.11 The Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT) are all treaties that were originally proposed by India as measures aimed at nuclear disarmament.18 It is a different matter that they ended up as purely non-proliferation measures that were unable to address the threat perceptions of India and hence evoked little enthusiasm in or support from the country. In fact, over the last two decades the feeling of frustration, cynicism and a sense of being let down by the international community appears to have swayed Indian foreign policy. This has led to a relative silence on India’s part on nuclear disarmament. Therefore, during the recent developments in this field, India has largely adopted a wait and watch approach. These have been perceived as welcome developments, but given the country’s long experience of having drawn a blank on similar steps in the past, India has chosen to watch from the sidelines.

Of course, the country still introduces the resolution entitled “Reducing Nuclear Dangers” at the UNGA as it has done for more than the last two decades now. The Prime Minister and India’s representative at the UN continue to reiterate India’s firm commitment to disarmament and have listed seven steps towards nuclear disarmament. These include:

  • Reaffirmation of the unequivocal commitment of all nuclear weapons states to the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons;
  • Adoption of measures by nuclear weapon states to reduce nuclear danger, including the risks of accidental use of nuclear weapons;
  • Negotiations of a global agreement among nuclear weapon states on ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons;
  • Negotiation of a universal and legally binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states;
  • Negotiation of a convention on the complete prohibition of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; and
  • Negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, and on their destruction, leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified time frame.

While India’s championing the cause of disarmament has been consistent, it is also true that there have been no proactive new proposals that India has made in the last few years. To some extent, this is understandable. Given the lack of support that some of the Indian proposals have evoked in the past, it is inevitable that the Indian foreign policy establishment should approach nuclear disarmament with far greater cynicism. However, despite this apparent loss of enthusiasm, there is no denying that the ultimate, final nuclear security for India lies in the universal abolition of nuclear weapons. Hence, it is of utmost importance that India should continue to aspire towards universal nuclear disarmament since in that ideal state lies the promise of better security for the nation, as also for the rest of the world.

Before India conducted the tests in May 1998, there were many who dismissed India’s initiatives towards elimination of nuclear weapons as a case of sour grapes. It was said that since India did not possess nuclear weapons, it canvassed for their elimination so that none would have the advantage. After 1998, there are many, especially within the country, who have argued that India must now give up its moralist stance on nuclear disarmament and concentrate instead on building an effective and reliable deterrent.

But the truth of the matter is that for India, an NWFW is best suited for national security. The requirement for India’s nuclear weapons is only to meet the nuclear threat from the adversaries in the region. So, India’s position on universal nuclear disarmament is rooted in the national security interests of the country and it must continue to contribute to the search for ways and means to achieve nuclear abolition. It cannot afford, least of all for the sake of its own and the larger security, to remain detached from the evolving debate on universal nuclear disarmament. It must remain engaged in the nuclear abolition discourse and continue to generate fresh thinking on enhancing the desirability and feasibility of universal nuclear disarmament.

To this end, this section of the study suggests some ideas that India can champion in international fora today for the early realization of universal nuclear disarmament. These are largely derived from the Indian nuclear doctrine and, therefore, are being practiced by the nation itself. Most of these ideas are premised in reducing the salience of nuclear weapons so that over time, as they lose their perceived utility, it could become easier for nations to give up national controls over these weapons. Human nature does not permit the discarding of anything that it considers to be of value. Therefore, a devaluation strategy that deprives the weapons of utility and renders them unusable through a series of measures can prepare the ground for their eventual elimination.

4.1 Restricting the Role of Nuclear Weapons
One way of leaching nuclear weapons of their perceived utility would be to restrict the role and the circumstances in which the weapon can be used. If there is a universal treaty or understanding circumscribing these two parameters, the weapons will be restricted to a very limited utility and over a period of time it would then be possible to remove them from national arsenals. Fortunately, it is for the first time that the idea of reducing the role of nuclear weapons found an echo in President Obama’s speech at Prague in 2009. Among the steps that he outlined for reaching a world without nuclear weapons was the acceptance of a set of measures to be taken by the US to reduce the role of the nuclear weapons in US national security strategy. The Nuclear Posture Review 2010 of the US also conceives the use of nuclear weapons only in “extreme circumstances”. This is a move away from the US National Security Council Report 68 of 1950 which mandated the use of nuclear weapons against the overwhelmingly superior Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the Russians given the state of their conventional weaponry seem to have adopted the earlier American position today. Difficult as it would be, a reassessment of nuclear doctrines to make nuclear weapons less attractive by restricting and eventually obviating their role in international politics is imperative.

The Indian nuclear doctrine grants a narrow role of nuclear deterrence to the weapon. It is firmly rooted in the belief that nuclear weapons are a political instrument for deterrence and not a military tool for war-fighting. This assertion for India emanates from the comprehension of and abhorrence for the high destruction potential of the nuclear weapon that makes its use unthinkable for any rational political end.

An articulation of a narrow role for nuclear weapons holds the promise of disarmament as against doctrines that ascribe a multi role utility to them. Several countries see them as a weapon to offset their conventional military inferiority (Russia and Pakistan), to deter chemical and biological weapons (USA, Russia, France and India), to guard against regime change (North Korea), to retain prestige and status (UK and France), and to deter interference in the conduct of their foreign policy (Russia and China). Each one of these perceptions enhances the utility of the nuclear weapon beyond its primary purpose of nuclear deterrence and hence motivates others to reach out to them. Therefore, as a first step, it would be necessary to undertake some redrafting of nuclear doctrines to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. India, in this regard, leads by example.

4.2 Adopting Comprehensive Security Assurances19
Nearly all states with nuclear weapons continue to maintain the centrality of nuclear deterrence for national security. While conceding that the nuclear weapons have lost some of their earlier relevance in the contemporary security environment, and expressing a willingness to reduce (or, should one say, rationalize) the numbers of nuclear warheads in their arsenals, the nuclear weapon possessors have nevertheless been chary of renouncing them owing to the uncertainty of the evolving security environment. Such a position, obviously, raises the attractiveness of the weapon for the non-possessors too.

It was at least to partially remove the attraction of nuclear weapons as a strategic equalizer that the concept of negative security assurances (NSA) to the NNWS party to the NPT had first developed. It amounted to the NWS providing an assurance or a guarantee not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons as instruments of pressure, intimidation or blackmail against states that had formally renounced them. However, none of the NWS as recognized by the NPT has actually made these assurances available unconditionally or as part of a binding legal agreement. For instance, nearly all, except China, maintain the right to use nuclear weapons to respond to attacks by NNWS in alliance or in association with other NWS. The Indian nuclear doctrine too has stated that the country would “not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon power.”20

It is noteworthy that the recently concluded NPT RevCon 2010 has called upon the Conference on Disarmament to begin discussing effective international agreements for extending legally recognized negative security assurances to NNWS. The Action Plan put forth by the RevCon requires the CD to “discuss substantively, without limitation, in order to elaborate recommendations, including an internationally legally binding instrument.”
Meanwhile, positive security assurances, or the guarantee that other NWS would come to the rescue of a state under nuclear attack have been held out on the basis of the alliance systems that existed during the Cold War period. This assurance of extended nuclear deterrence is believed to have halted nuclear proliferation since the allies were promised protection under the nuclear umbrella of a NWS. But, it today stands as one of the many hurdles in the path of nuclear disarmament. It is feared that in case the NWS take away the promise of nuclear protection from their allies, the latter would be tempted to develop/acquire a capability of their own.

Negative security assurances offer one way to address this challenge. The conclusion of a legally binding agreement that pledges this assurance would reduce the attractiveness of the weapons for the non-possessors, whether allies or non-allies of other NWS and eventually remove the need for extended deterrence since NNWS would not fear a nuclear attack from other NWS. At the same time, universal instead of alliance-based positive security assurances would also significantly allay threat perceptions and reduce the desire for acquiring a national nuclear capability.

Comprehensive security assurances would provide credible guarantees of non-use of nuclear weapons against NNWS as well as the promise that others would come to their aid in case they were threatened with nuclear use. Moreover, a mix of positive and negative security assurances would be far more credible for the NNWS than a mere reduction in arsenals of the NWS, which are undoubtedly useful, but of little relevance since even a few hundred warheads are as threatening as several thousands. Meanwhile, this step would also provide the benefit to NWS of not having to immediately renounce their nuclear arsenals, thus allowing them to maintain their national sense of security until they are ready for the last step.

4.3 Accepting No First Use of Nuclear Weapons
While security assurances to the NNWS would significantly reduce the attraction of nuclear weapons, a universal acceptance of NFU by nuclear weapon possessors would remove the possibility of a nuclear exchange between NWS too.21 In fact, adoption of NFU would be a crucial step towards the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons since it would involve an assurance from every country that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. Since there will not be a first, it would effectively mean no use of the nuclear weapon and hence a reduced dependence on the weapon in national security strategies over a period of time.

Of course, there are critics of the NFU who dismiss it as nothing more than a declaratory policy that means little once hostilities break out between nuclear nations. Such criticism, however tends to overlook the fact that the adoption of NFU automatically translates into a certain kind of nuclear force posture, strategy and deployment pattern that ensures that the promise of NFU is kept. Doctrines that ascribe a war-fighting role to nuclear weapons envisage ‘first use’ to retain the military advantage and, therefore, adopt launch on warning or launch under attack postures as also pre-emption. To undertake pre-emption both sides need a large infrastructure in the form of command and control, early warning, etc. NFU, on the other hand, frees the nation of such requirements. It allows for greater response time for self and a more relaxed posture for the adversary since he is liberated of the ‘use or lose’ syndrome. In fact, it must be highlighted that a universal NFU would be even more relevant as nuclear weapons reduce. With small nuclear forces, the temptation to launch a disarming first strike would be high because of the ‘use them or lose them’ compulsions. But an NFU posture would remove this temptation for self and the adversary. If the adversary is under constant fear that a nuclear strike is imminent, its own temptation to use nuclear force would be higher. Therefore, substantive reductions in warheads accompanied by acceptance of NFU would be significant preparations for an NWFW.

Acceptance of NFU enables de-alerting, de-mating and de-targeting, all three steps that are critical for reducing the existential dangers that accompany nuclear weapons. India’s draft Resolution “Reducing Nuclear Dangers” that has been tabled in the UNGA every year since 1978 highlights that the hair trigger posture of nuclear forces carries the unacceptable risk of unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons. However, while this resolution has had the support of NAM nations, it continues to be opposed by NATO and European states who have questioned India’s sincerity in sponsoring a resolution that calls for a change of posture of the NWS but has little application for India.12

The fact of the matter is that India’s no first use posture liberates it from the need to maintain its arsenal on a hair trigger alert. If other nations too were to accept NFU through the conclusion of a universal NFU treaty, it would not only reduce the dangers of an accidental launch of nuclear weapons, but also heighten the chances of no use of nuclear weapons. In fact, a de-alerted and de-mated nuclear arsenal provides for a ‘graduated deterrence’ response thereby allowing more time to resolve the crisis even as the nations move towards a state of full alert. Overall, an NFU has the potential to lessen inter-state tensions, increase mutual confidence and thus reinforce a cycle of positives. It would enhance the inclination towards non-proliferation by sending a strong signal of the diminishing utility of nuclear weapons. This would be a first-of-its-kind agreement amongst all NWS and would signify great symbolic political value. It would lessen the drive of each NWS for new and modernized nuclear arsenals and thus lower inter-state tensions.

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