Universal Nuclear Disarmament: What Can India Offer?

5. Conclusion
In 1988 Rajiv Gandhi said, “Humanity is at a crossroads. One road will take us like lemmings to our suicide. That is the path indicated by doctrines of nuclear deterrence, deriving from traditional concepts of the balance of power. The other road will give us another chance. That is the path signposted by the doctrine of peaceful coexistence, deriving from the imperative values of non-violence, tolerance and compassion.”

Humanity is still poised at the same juncture today. This is both a fortunate and an unfortunate reality. It is fortunate because mankind has not yet blown itself up in a nuclear holocaust and the numbers of nuclear weapons have progressively reduced. At the same time, it is also an unfortunate fact that humanity has not progressed down the road to a nuclear-weapons-free world. So, while the numbers have reduced, the dangers from nuclear weapons remain and have only grown in dimension and become more sinister since then. We inhabit today a world where far more numbers of states have nuclear weapons; where even more could be tempted to cross the threshold, thereby leaving a large tear in the non-proliferation fabric; where non-state actors are powerful enough to pose threats to state security; where the possibility of non-state actors acquiring nuclear material or weapons for terrorism, either with or without state complicity have multiplied; where inter-state relations are mired in mutual mistrust; and where the possibility of a nuclear incident – terrorist triggered or state sponsored − occurring somewhere in the world poses a risk. President Obama stated at the Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010, “It is an irony that while the risks of a nuclear confrontation have come down, the risks of a nuclear attack have increased.”

With an increase in the nuclear dangers, there must come a simultaneous progression in the understanding that the only sustainable route to mitigating these dangers has to pass through a nuclear-weapons-free world. The problem in going down this route, however, is that it is not well laid out and hence calls for taking a far greater risk of the unknown variety. As NWS move down to lesser numbers and eventually to zero, how would inter-state security look? Would conventional wars become easier and more rampant with the disappearance of deterrence? After all, it is widely assumed that the presence of nuclear weapons has imposed constraints on the conduct of war. The US and USSR never did risk a direct confrontation. Nor did India and Pakistan overstep certain national boundaries in moments of crisis since 1998. However, the problem with applying this premise forever into the future is that it can never guarantee the non-use of a weapon that is available with nations. In fact, the norm of non-use could be threatened by a number of factors. It is for this reason that the norm should be made legally binding through a set of interlocking mechanisms between the NWS and NNWS.

Would not some countries still be prone to cheating on their commitments of not developing nuclear weapons? Would disarmament be able to stop every incidence of nuclear terrorism? Unfortunately, there are no easy or definitive answers to these questions. Yet, it can be said with utmost certainty that as new actors emerge and multiple nuclear poles crystallize, the game of deterrence would get more complicated. Also, given the nature of contemporary human habitation in mega cities, any use of nuclear weapons – deliberate or unintended, state, non-state or a hybrid version – would mean catastrophic damage of unimaginable proportions. Hence, the criticality of a credible nuclear disarmament plan cannot be underestimated. The four steps towards disarmament, as explained in detail in the paper, hold the combined promise of reducing the salience of nuclear weapons, reducing the risk of proliferation, lessening the danger of a nuclear war, reinforcing the irrelevance of nuclear weapons, strengthening the norm of non-use, and most of all, reducing the threat perceptions between states. Holistically taken, they would contribute to a stable world order.

Nuclear weapons can only be abolished when the belief systems behind their utility and use change. Existing norm of non-use of nuclear weapons needs to be institutionalized into a legal regime before the scars of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fade from human memory. In this context, it would be useful to draw upon the experience of the outlawing of the chemical weapons. These weapons were banned from being used by the Geneva Convention in 1925 and it was only almost seven decades later in 1993 that the Chemical Weapons Convention actually came into being. Over the seventy odd years, the chemical weapons continued to exist with nations, but their utility steadily diminished and the norm of their non-use got strengthened. Following nuclear weapons could also be made dysfunctional by first restricting their role, then reducing the circumstances in which their use could be considered and finally delegitimizing their use or threat of use. As the value of the stock of nuclear weapons falls, nations will find it less painful to discard them. Universal nuclear disarmament can then become a reality.

The US representative to the UN in his reply to the appeal in 1956 for an agreement on cessation of nuclear testing by Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister of India then, had said, “The simple fact is that in the absence of arms control and in the face of constant new developments, a wide variety of weapons is required to provide the versatility and flexibility essential to defend against aggression whenever, wherever and however it may occur.”13 If every country takes recourse to such a justification then we would be heading towards a chaotic and armed to the teeth world order. In the course of history it has been repeatedly demonstrated that there can be no permanent monopolies over armaments. Gunpowder, machine guns, tanks, nuclear weapons have all provided a temporary advantage for those who acquired them first. Thereafter, the weapon spread to new capitals and shores. Unfortunately, in this spread, humanity always came out the loser.

Prime Minister Nehru had cautioned the world in 1962, “Time is limited. If you do not put an end to it soon enough, it may later on be beyond the capacity of human beings or nations to stop it.” The time is even shorter now. It is absolutely imperative that nations stop this slow march to humanity’s destruction.

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*. This paper was originally written for the Global Consortium for Security Transformation.
**.The terms nuclear disarmament, nuclear abolition and elimination are used interchangeably in the paper to mean a world free of all nuclear weapons.
1. Jasjit Singh, Manpreet Sethi and Garry Jacobs, “Abolishing Nuclear Weapons,” Futures 39, no. 8 (2007).
2. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, A World Free of Nuclear Weapons. Wall Street Journal. Published on 4 Jan 2007.
3. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, Toward a Nuclear Free World. Wall Street Journal. Published on 15 Jan 2008.
4. Ibid.
5. A K Chopra, India’s Policy on Disarmament (New Delhi: ABC Publishing House, 1984), 3
6. Rajendra Prasad, “The Case for Unilateral Disarmament”, India and Disarmament: An Anthology (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 1988), 139.
7. Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi, Eliminating Nuclear Threats: Report of the ICNND (Canberra: ICNND, 2009), 186.
8. Ibid., p. 204
9. Ibid., p. 205
10. Jasjit Singh, “Introductory Remarks to the New Delhi Conference”, in Manpreet Sethi, ed., Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 2009), xvi.
11. Government of India, Ed., India and Disarmament: An Anthology, vol. 1 and 2 (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 1988).
12.”2008 First Committee Resolutions,” Disarmament Diplomacy no. 89.( 2008).
13. JP Morray, From Yalta to Disarmament: Cold War Debate (New York: MR Press, 1961), 267
15. Full text of the Indian nuclear doctrine is available at Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India website.
16. Statement of V C Trivedi as reproduced in Documents on India’s Nuclear Disarmament Policy, vol. II (New Delhi; Ministry of External Affairs), p. 590.
17. As cited by Rajiv Gandhi in his address to the United Nations Third Special Session on Disarmament in June 1988. This is when he presented the Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order. For the action plan see, Manpreet Sethi, ed., Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World (New Delhi: Knowledge world, 2009), 151-156.
18. For a detailed account of India’s efforts in this regard see Manpreet Sethi, “The Struggle for Nuclear Disarmament”, in Jasjit Singh ed., Nuclear India (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 1999), 75-92.
19. Arguments developed in this and the following sub-sections of the paper are derived from an article written by the author for the ICNND in 2009.
20. Para 2.5 of the Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine, 17 Aug 1999 as available on
21. At present, only two countries – India and China – accept NFU. China’s NFU, however, does not apply to its own territory or territories that it claims as its own. Hence, there is ambiguity regarding the possibility of Chinese nuclear weapons in a conflict over Taiwan, or Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state to which China lays claim. Meanwhile, the Indian NFU which had been unconditional as spelt out in the draft nuclear doctrine presented to the government on 17 Aug 1999 by the first National Security Advisory Board, has since been somewhat diluted by a Cabinet Committee on Security note on operationalisation of the doctrine put forth on 04 Jan 2003 and which does not rule out India’s nuclear use against a chemical or biological weapon attack.
22. The author is grateful to Air Cmdr Jasjit Singh, Director, Centre for Air Power Studies, for bringing out this point in a private conversation.
23. The full text of the Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-violent World Order is available as Appendix 2 in Manpreet Sethi ed. Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 2009), 151-156.
24.UN General Assembly Resolution 63/75 (L.15).
25. See “Appendix: Summary of Resolutions”, Disarmament Diplomacy

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